Monday, December 21, 2020

Aspergirls: Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome, by Rudy Simone (author), Lucie McNeil (narrator)

John Murray, July 2019 (original publication July 2010)

This is a very interesting and in some ways very useful book about high-functioning autism--or, as was still the officially accepted but already challenged label at the time of original publication, Asperger's syndrome--in girls and women.

There's a lot here about how under-diagnosed autism has been and still is in girls, compared to boys. It's very much grounded in Simone's personal experience, and her interviews with an unknown number of women and girls with Asperger's diagnoses. It's interesting and informative, in terms of how high-functioning autism can be both a genuinely different experience for females than males, and also less recognized in females because of different expectations that society has for women and girls vs. men and boys.

Yet, the anecdotal approach has real limitations, too. Rudy Simone doesn't have the scientific orientation of Dr. Camilla Pang, another autistic woman who has written about autism, and one consequence is that this book does not have the broader and deeper grounding of Pang's Explaining Humans:What Science Can Teach Us about Life, Love and Relationships. Simone doesn't seem to have looked at the experiences of women and girls who aren't a great deal like her, making this book, to use a term that I honestly never anticipated using in a book review, extremely cisheteronormative. (Not because there's anything wrong with the term; just because I'm a white cis woman in my sixties for whom many of the terminology that comes from greater awareness of intersectionality and its importance feel strange and alien to me, even though the ideas they express feel very right.) Most of the discussion of relationships in this book did not even in passing consider that some autistic/Asperger's women might not be white, might not be straight, might possibly be transgender. That last omission might be due to the original publication date, in 2010, when there was less open discussion of transgender issues--or the belief that there was less discussion of transgender issues may be a sign of the bubble I was living in on that subject, ten years ago. In 2020, though, it really stands out as a blind spot.

There is a lot of good, sensible advice here for teens and tweens and their parents dealing with these issues. That's the area where it's most helpful and valuable. It's less useful for adults, although the encouragement to pursue a diagnosis and meaningful help, if it seems appropriate, even in later life, is good.

Yet Simone seems to generalize far too much from her own personal experience, and not check in with the science and the data nearly enough.

Moreover, there's a distressing amount of what I call woo-woo. Simone believes that autistics may have psychic powers. No, seriously. Much of the anecdotal evidence she cites sounds to me a lot more like survival-based learning to read body language in other people, whether consciously or not. She's also quite taken with the idea that autism may be caused by digestive system problems. She conducts her own tiny (ten people), uncontrolled "study" with a food supplement for which the makers claim near-miraculous effects.

It's an interesting book, but a very mixed bag. I did really enjoy the first half of it or so, up to about chapter seven, but after that it seems to go off the deep end.

Still, it was an interesting listen, and there is good, practical advice for teens and tweens, and their parents.

I bought this audiobook.

No comments:

Post a Comment