Friday, January 20, 2017

Book Review: Safety Skills for Asperger Women

Safety Skill for Asperger Women: How to Save a Perfectly Good Female Life, by Liane Holliday Willey, EDD

The title of this manual is a little deceiving.  While it does spend time on what I would term "safety skills," like preparedness, using the buddy system, using caution when dealing with other people and unfamiliar settings, etc... The book also focuses on the author's life, mistakes, and autistic girls and women in general.  A better title might be, "An Asperger Woman's Guide to Life." 

The first couple chapters of this book made me sad.  The author has had a lot of bad experiences, lacking the social intuition everyone takes for granted.  And she seems to have started out particularly naive, which meant she got taken advantage of a lot.  I read her anecdotes, and while I was emotionally wincing in sympathy, I was also wincing over my similar mistakes.  Whereas she seems to have perked up and worked past her various bad experiences, the experience of being abused and excluded made me stop trusting people and start looking for ulterior motives in everything.  It's not that I had decided everyone was bad, it's that I'd learned I couldn't expect people to treat me like a fellow human being unless they had reason to.

I put my brain to work, as I grew.  I'm still more reactive than I am proactive, but given a situation, I can usually extrapolate the surface motivations of the people around me.  Not in great detail, and certainly not in depth.  But enough to avoid stepping on toes, generally.  The foreword, written by Tony Attwood, talks about similar strategies to mine, which have been adopted by other autistic women.  It requires a certain flexibility of thought, which is difficult, but still doable.

The third chapter deals with flexibility and rigidity of thought, in the context of loss.  The author was 50 when she wrote this book, and so had seen more loss than I have yet.  I have yet, for instance to lose either of my parents.  I have, however, suffered sufficient losses in life to find the author's commentary on it useful.

Further into the book, we deal with anxiety and stress.  Or, as she calls it, "How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Day."  I almost smiled at that, as I've had a lot of perfectly good days ruined.  Most of them I'd think, because dysthymia and generalized anxiety disorder have no friends.  Willey describes getting stuck in bad memories, which is definitely a thing that happens, but what I didn't see noted was how depression can make bad memories just... spontaneously come to mind.  I don't know if there's a word for that, but if it happens with the right (wrong) memories, or happens often, it definitely kills your mood.  Y'know, in addition to the depression already being difficult. 

The book, as mentioned, contains various safety tips, suggestions for a better life, and specific guidelines.  I found some of the suggestions a little unnecessary, but... my experience as an Aspie woman is perhaps unusual.  My body and frame are large.  My father's side of the family gifted me with large bones and broad shoulders.  Between that and my body language screaming "go away," I haven't had that many problems with unwanted attention.  So things like bringing an inflatable "friend" in your car, ready to be inflated for if you feel unsafe driving alone somewhere, seem unnecessary to me.

That said, it is absolutely the case that developmentally disabled people, women especially, are very very likely to be abused in one manner or another over the course of their lives, so tips like these may be the difference between having a regular night and having an awful, life-changing-for-the-worse night.

Speaking of personal experiences and generalizing from them... this author, like a lot of autistic authors I've read, makes broad and sweeping assumptions about the autistic population based on her experience.  Like any population, some assumptions match the population, some don't.  Rather like asking a black person their experiences and taking those assumptions to every black person you meet.  When reading this book, and other personal experience books (and indeed, this very blog, though I try not to make too many assumptions about others on the spectrum), keep in mind that one person's experience is just that: one person's experience.  While they have relevant and valid experiences and viewpoints, what they say is not always the truth for every person on the autism spectrum.

Read This Book If

You're female and autistic or think you might be autistic, or if you want to know how autism can express itself in women and girls.  The most well-known traits and tendencies for autism are the male ones, since autism is more often diagnosed in boys and men.  That can lead to confusion, since autistic women do not necessarily act the same way as autistic men.  This book is a good read, if a sad one at times, and contains various interesting tips, ideas, and stories.  Well worth your time. 

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