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Strong Female Characters (2)

I got back from holiday and there was the magazine to put out. Coincidentally we were short of a book review so I put one together from Fern Brady’s book, here it is:

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When I was on my over-heated summer holiday this year, not able to do anything but lie in the shade reading, I was very pleased that I had got such an interesting, unputdownable read. Fern Brady is a Scottish comedian who has written a no-holds-barred, eye-wateringly frank account of her life as a late-diagnosed autistic woman. It was a mix of funny, entertaining and also brutally honest. She describes her life, starting with difficult school years despite being academically exceptional, which ended in a psychiatric admission, followed by her time as a student at Edinburgh university where she moonlighted as a stripper due to financial hardship. She experienced episodes of homelessness and a relationship with someone who attempted to kill her. From there she progresses from journalism into stand up comedy and after successful tours and media appearances, finally, was diagnosed as autistic. She was initially reluctant to take on this label / diagnosis but for the first time she was able to understand her difficulties navigating life and have an explanation for her repeated meltdowns, during which she smashes up her home furniture. It was a very enjoyable but also at times, dark, read. She shines a bright spotlight onto our normal society’s hypocrisies, especially regarding the stripping clubs and when she later tries to pitch a production idea based on her own experiences, the media world is baffled as it doesn’t conform with their accepted stereotypes.

Why was I personally drawn to this, other than it being in the Sunday times bestseller list? Well I also have been coming to terms with a late diagnosis of neurodiversity (some autistic traits, some Attention Deficit traits). In trying to find out more about this I had found some sources of information, (for example, written by neurotypical experts for neurotypical parents of autistic children) depressing, patronising and dull. Fern Brady’s book was in a totally different category, no holds barred, outspoken but also empowering.

It now seems clear that there are much larger numbers of neurodiverse people than previously recognised, and with a very variable of mix and match of traits (such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, OCD, anxiety). They,or should I say, we, are out and about in the neurotypical world, keeping quiet about traits and masking unusual behaviours in order to fit in with societal norms. Oh and they (we) may show skills or abilities, honed by hyperfocusing. It seems clear to me that neurodiversity is a genetic variant that has evolved for a reason and should no longer be seen solely as a disorder or disability, rather a difference in neurological processing, that leads to a person needing varying degrees of support and acceptance in order to function better in every day life.

Fern Brady uses the term “allistics” to describe neurotypicals, as she moves from struggling to accept her diagnosis to embracing it. I have experienced my own struggles with this, you view your whole previous life through a different filter, have to accept your own sensory extreme sensitivities and their consequences (for me, shutdowns rather than meltdowns) and learn to work with them rather than block out or deny their existence. Another difficulty is the reaction of family and friends who may struggle with you dropping some of your “normal” masking and are disconcerted by your new openness about your difficulties, but it is a work in progress for all of us.

So my final word on the subject, if you like me have a vested interest in neurodiversity, for yourself or maybe family members, this is a great read on one person’s experiences. Although there was a lot which I did not share with Fern Brady, there was enough shared moments to ring a very clear bell for me. And you allistics may also find it an insightful read, shining light on the variability of human nature that is hidden by society’s expectations of normal.

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