A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

Posts tagged ‘High-functioning autism’

At the Intersection of my Autism and Writing

In my last post I told about my hobby of writing novels. I would now like to elaborate more on it, especially how my being high-functioning autistic has influenced it. First I’ll tell a little bit about my books. They are currently part of a series of four books where the protagonists are a teenage couple Ray Malay and Lucy Nelson. The setting is in Nova Scotia, Canada, which is where I live. The first novel called Love and Photographs is a short novel spanning about 50,000 words. It starts with Ray who lives in Sydney, Nova Scotia having three stolen photographs from his family album. At about the same time Lucy and her family move from Toronto, Ontario to Sydney only to discover their new house is vandalised. Ray and Lucy meet and ultimately investigate into these strange happenings, which ultimately leads to a connection between their families. They also have to watch out for a few antagonists who are a nasty old woman Mrs. Palo and an evil couple called the Tomkens. The second book is about a murder of a family friend of the Nelsons down in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia where the Nelsons take Ray to their summerhouse.

One thing I would like to point out is that neither Ray nor Lucy nor anyone else in the novels is autistic. Yes, I have thought about the possibility of using an autistic protagonist in a novel like in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and I will certainly write at least a few novels of my own with this feature, but no one in the Ray and Lucy novels is autistic. This doesn’t mean, however, that my autism hasn’t influenced the novels to be what they are.

The first instance I’ll use of this is through my writing style and voice. Every author out there has a unique voice for telling their stories and mine is no exception. I think of my writing voice as very simple and very logical. For example, if I have Ray and Lucy go visit someone, I’ll have the house somewhat described, then I’ll have them be greeted at the door and shown into the living
room. Then I describe the living room, and then I have the characters sitting down and begin talking. Also, the descriptions that I use are quite simple in structure. As an example, here is how I once described a house:

Lucy ignored her, and they walked the rest of the way to Hannah’s house in silence. Her house had two floors with yellow siding and white shudders on windows arranged in a symmetrical way on the front of the house. There was a garage off of the house that was the same shade of yellow as the house. A cement pathway led up to the front door from the driveway. They went in and found themselves in the kitchen.

It’s kind of like the way description is put in Mark Hadden’s novel A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Simple, plain, and logical. It’s one of the reasons why I like this novel so much. It means that I shouldn’t have to “fix” the way I tell my story because of my autism if I am to be successful as a writer.

The second way that autism has influenced my writing is through the characters even though none of them are autistic. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that my social life in high school, which is when I started writing the series, wasn’t that good. This motivated me to give Ray and Lucy something that I never had in high school (and not even to this point in my life): A loving relationship. I decided that since it was very difficult for me to have any close friends, I’d at least give Ray and Lucy close friends, as well as a dating relationship that develops between the two of them to boot. Since Lucy was a new girl in town and would be going to a new school, I wanted to characterize her as an extravert, be very pretty, and be easily likeable. As a result, she would have a great social life as the novel unfolded. Ray, however, is probably closer to me when it comes to taking risks and social interaction. I still gave him, however, a few classmates he’s friends with and likes to hang out with. And as the story unfolded, I got him to know Lucy and eventually to have the courage to ask her out, which she accepts. This way I could still experience the joy of having more of a social life. Don’t get me wrong. It’s in no way a substitute. Just a way to keep me happy, while still trying to improve my own social life outside of my writing time.

Of course, it can be tough to write about a dating relationship between two other teenagers when you’ve never been in one yourself. When I started writing about Ray and Lucy my knowledge of how such relationships work was more than somewhat limited. And when I picked up the novel to revise it again a year ago and scanned through it, I had to wonder what on earth my 16-year-old autistic brain had been thinking. The revision I did last year included a more realistic approach to how I could get Ray and Lucy together instead of a simple “Hey, Lucy, I love you. Let’s go out” (and believe me I actually thought dating was that simple when I was 16). When I revised the novel this past year, though, I made their relationship develop at a slower and more realistic pace and the only time one of them told the other an “I love you” was when a cunning evil man had gotten Lucy drunk.

But I love the challenge. Even if I find myself stuck in some social gathering and I’m lost for words (which happens quite often), I stop trying to contribute anything to any conversation and just watch like a fly on the wall. It gives me ideas as to how I can get my characters to interact. In fact, I can pretty much find inspiration in any part of my life. I like to think of my own life as a story itself, filled with twists and turns and suspense. Which is partly why my passion for writing increased about a year ago. The more drama that occurs in my own life, the more inspiration I have. There is something to be said about the drama of my own life wearing me out, but leaving just the right amount of energy left for me to create dramas of my own.


Settling For What I Had

I was happy when nine years ago I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at the age of 13. I could justify my actions to myself without feeling weird about whom I was. I had gone on from elementary school at this point and was now in junior high. The biggest behaviour in my life at that point (and still sort of is today even though I think I’m progressing year after year) was how rarely I interacted with the people around me and how much I enjoyed being alone and doing various activities by myself. I accepted myself as autistic when I was diagnosed and then let my solitary life continue on its merry way.

I actually held this attitude throughout junior high and high school. It wasn’t actually until I was in second year of university when I realized that something had to change. I no longer could live without feeling more of a connection to people, especially my peers. There is more than enough to say on this change in my life in one single post so I’ll save that story for a future post. Mind you, this realization didn’t really happen overnight. It’s not as if I one day I was completely happy with my life of solitude and then the next day I had a desperate need to connect with others. Indeed, I occasionally felt a small desire to interact socially more in both junior high and high school. My subconscious, however, always got the better of me. Yes, I thought to myself, it would be nice to have closer friends, to have people over to my house (the only time that happened in junior high and high school was for my 15th birthday) or for me to go visit them (which never happened) and to have strong friendships. But why I bother? I was happy enough with the way things were, and even if I did try anyway, I’d probably do something wrong in the process, causing the people I would betrying to connect with to back away, saying what a weird person I was.

This was probably the greatest fear I had as a teenager. I had a lot of acquaintances throughout this time of my life. Only a slight minority ever really weren’t nice to me and large number of fellow students were actually impressed with me, particularly where I had passion and a large strength in mathematics, which I demonstrated several times in class. I wasn’t prepared to try to risk ruining my reputation as a quiet, but good guy. While I had very few enemies, I also had very few friends.