Lynne Soraya grew up in a world that did not always make sense. She did learn to make her way through, but it was difficult. As an adult, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome — then life began to make much more sense.
Soraya’s book, Living Independently on the Autism Spectrum: What You Need to Know to Move into a Place of Your Own, Succeed at Work, Start a Relationship, Stay Safe, and Enjoy Life as an Adult on the Autism Spectrum, is both very personal and straightforward: a clear and concise manual for those on the spectrum on how to navigate a world dominated by neurotypicals. It is also a valuable resource for those who have people in their lives on the spectrum. (The DSM5, I should note, no longer has Asperger’s as a diagnosis, but the term is pretty ingrained in our culture.)
I came across this book serendipitously. An individual came to me for counseling with a host of diagnoses: ADD, ADHD, OCD, and others. The more we talked, the more Asperger’s made sense, and we each came to that conclusion independently of each other. We have now discussed Soraya’s book, and in every instance the story is spot on.
The first thing I noticed as I looked through the text was a glossary of idioms and expressions at the back. I turned to it, expecting to find a list of words related to the spectrum, like “stimming,” “alexithymia,”and “neurotypical.” Instead it was a list of common idiomatic expressions, such as “take the high road” and “bottom line” — expressions that can cause great confusion and miscommunication when a person on the spectrum takes them literally. A very smart resource that knows its audience.
Throughout this well thought-out, well organized, nicely structured book are other great tools. Soraya has chapters for specific issues that cause problems for those on the spectrum. There are references to web and print resources. There are quotes from those on the spectrum talking about their own struggles and ways they cope. And there are the author’s own stories.
Soraya recalls a teacher who entered a piece Soraya wrote into a writing contest, which she won. It was not her dream to be a writer at the time, but the teacher told her that no matter what path she followed, he thought she would do great things, and it would include writing. She has had some very positive people in her life.
What really speaks to me is Soraya’s strength-based, positive approach. One of the consequences of a diagnosis is that it can be seen as defining a person in a problematic way. But labels can be a boon instead of a limitation. I was reminded of an excerpt from Thomas Armstrong’s The Power of Neurodiversity, a piece published in the April/May 2010 issue of Ode Magazine (now called The Intelligent Optimist) and titled “Your Brain is a Rain Forest.” Our traits and “diagnoses” are defined by the culture and time we live in. As Temple Grandin puts it, a person on the spectrum can feel like an anthropologist on Mars.
Soraya also writes that the spectrum is a continuum. (I think we are all on a continuum over our lifetime with varying traits and skills.) Her book is so concise that even those not on the spectrum would find at least parts of it useful. Soraya covers a range of topics: advocating for yourself, managing emotions, becoming independent, personal safety, dating, friendships, and career. About that last one, there are comprehensive chapters on figuring out what you want to do, finding a job, interviewing, and navigating office politics. Soraya even provides help with specific issues that may arise at work, such as how to deal with driving and how to face difficulties with stimuli like fluorescent lights or certain types of clothes.
The book emphasizes constructive positive communication with yourself and others. Soraya again gives stories from her own life, such as thinking her low-rent apartment was in a safe, friendly neighborhood because one evening two guys wanted to give her a ride home in their car. It was only when she told the story, she writes, that she came to realize what a close call she’d had, and that maybe she had misjudged her environment. (Her husband, a neurotypical, writes a touching section about their relationship and how they have grown and taught each other.)
Each chapter ends with a list of “points to remember.” When I got to the last chapter, I read the points, then turned the page expecting some sort of epilogue. There was none. At first I found that a little jolting and abrupt. Then I remembered: This was written for folks on the spectrum, by someone who has spent a lifetime wired in this special way. One of Soraya’s strengths from that wiring is precision and a strong focus. She has written a wonderful, straightforward, concise book that does exactly what it says — provide a guide for those on the autism spectrum to live independently in a neurotypical world. The ending is perfect.
Living Independently on the Autism Spectrum: What You Need to Know to Move into a Place of Your Own, Succeed at Work, Start a Relationship, Stay Safe, and Enjoy Life as an Adult on the Autism Spectrum
Adams Media, June 2013
Paperback, 272 pages