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Journalist Sarah Kurchak begins her memoir, “I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder,” with a disclaimer: “I do not speak for all autistic people. I will not try to. I do not want to.” With that out of the way, what follows is a superb ‘autiebiography’ — an autobiography written by an autistic person — which, though it may not reflect the experiences of everyone on the spectrum, is sure to resonate with many, myself included.
There is also much in this book for autism researchers — Kurchak extensively cites individual studies, as well as Spectrum. If you have ever wondered how autistic people think about your work and how we use it to understand ourselves, Kurchak provides an enlightening glimpse.
The term ‘autiebiography’ first appeared in the neurodiversity community in the early 1990s. There are now plenty of such books — enough that they can be considered their own genre. The mother of them all was “Emergence: Labeled Autistic,” the 1986 memoir by autism activist and animal science researcher Temple Grandin, which was the basis of a 2010 biopic.
At the time Grandin’s book was published, autistic people were widely thought to be incapable of self-reflection. (Sometimes we still are, although that is, thankfully, changing.) A contemporaneous review in the Los Angeles Times described Grandin as an “exception” and a “recovered autistic.” Of course, many experts now recognize that there is no such thing. People don’t recover from autism. We just learn to muddle on. And that muddling often comes with a cost.