The group considered this to be a unique book as no-one knew of another book about Autism written by a severely autistic person themselves. Most present had no real previous insight to autism and it was therefore a very revealing read and opened our eyes to the real struggles and difficulties faced by people with this condition. Like most of his age, Richard was not diagnosed until his twenties, so he and those around him really struggled to understand what was happening and what his real difficulties were. 'Normal' communication was very difficult as he did not know what was required and didn't know how to produce the reaction to situations which others obviously were able to produce instinctively!
He describes vividly how autistic people work with images of life — everything is converted to pictures which have to be processed before understanding takes place — this is mentally stressful and time consuming, giving the impression to others of being slow and uncommunicative. Richard considers himself to be highly intelligent, which has been a great advantage to him, but he deals in his mentoring work with many autistic folk who are also educationally sub normal and this makes their ability to communicate doubly difficult. When he goes into a room or meets people he is totally conscious of all the minute details of floor and wall coverings and dress and the sounds of people moving and talking, but finds it difficult to recognise faces. All this information can cause mental overload and therefore apprehension and even fear. No wonder it is difficult for him to communicate in the way others do! His perception of general conversation in a room is one of 'blah, blah, blah' continuously with consequently great difficulty in understanding what one person is saying to him. We could all see in our discussion that this was a case of inability to filter information as we would and concentrate only on what was important at that moment.
Amazingly Richard has built what he describes as matrices for dealing with common interactions, which he plays in his mind like a film, enabling him to interact with others in a seemingly normal way. He has learnt his vocabulary word for word and not by absorbing the meaning by its context as most of us do/. What a task!
Like most autistic people Richard has 'obsessions' on which he is extremely knowledgeable and can converse extensively when with like-minded people. For him it is cycles and cycling and also cameras and photography. He has to know in great detail how these work and how they should be maintained and looked after.
Richard has been well trained for the work he now does, but was very critical of the initial official ways of interacting with and trying to stimulate autistic people. He knew himself what really worked, which was very often complete stillness, to give time for the autistic person to process the situation and remove the fear. He has been able to influence the formaltherapies used with autistic people because he is one of them.
We were all conscious that autism covers a wide spectrum and that what we consider normal also covers a wide spectrum and we should all be careful in our dealings with others to be aware of this and deal individually without making sweeping judgements.
Many of us felt that we may not have persevered with the book if it had not been about Richard whom we had known for many years without being aware of the extent of his difficulties. The book was vey long due to many repetitions and lacked a real structure — any two or three chapters would have given the message quite fully, but the cumulative effect was powerful. However any editing would have robbed it of its authenticity — this was an autistic book by an amazing autistic person.
David Neville — November 2014