Recently I was browsing through Amazon, looking for something autism related to read when Temple Grandin’s Different… Not Less came up on my recommendations list. I felt like kicking myself in the nuts. My business card says ‘writer, autism advocate’ and I’ve never even read any Temple Grandin before! I promptly added three of her books to my shopping basket. When Different… Not Less arrived I found I regretted my decision slightly. It’s a thick, glossy, 400 page brick of a book, and I had no idea when I was going to find time to read it. That evening I sat down with a glass of wine for what I’d thought would be an hour of flicking through the book before bed. Several hours later I was sat in the same position, my eyes glued to the book, 200 pages already demolished. Finally, I had found the book about autism I’ve spent years looking for.
Different… Not Less is a selection of autobiographical pieces written by adults on the autism spectrum, concerning their childhood, how they overcame barriers relating to their disability, found success in the world of employment and eventually received a diagnosis. It is written in a straightforward, direct manner with very little hyperbole or cold, scientific language. I believe the intent behind this book is to provide insight into the autistic mind and celebrate neural diversity, rather than provide a diagnostic criteria.
Since most of the authors are now in their fifties, many of them grew up without a diagnosis, and consequently with very little support, or understanding of why they found it so hard to navigate a neurotypical world. The fact that these authors achieved so much without the proper support for their condition should be an inspiration to everyone. There was a general consensus that receiving a diagnosis (however late in life) was a huge relief. ‘At last, I knew why I had felt so different all of my life. I knew I wasn’t just an individual “weirdo”- about one percent of the population are weirdo’s with me!’ (Forge, p. 377). This kind of attitude was a refreshing change from what I’ve come across in other books concerning autism, particularly Nuala Gardner, who compared her son’s diagnosis of autism to cancer and child loss in A Friend Like Henry.
Whilst all the authors were frank about the issues they’d faced, not one of them described these issues in order to elicit sympathy or portray themselves as victims. Indeed, I felt that certain life events (such as the death of a loved one, mental illness or attempted suicide) were often underplayed.
Bullying was a common theme when the authors described their childhoods. Sadly, this is something most people on the autism spectrum face at some point in their lives (including myself). It warmed my heart to find out that so many children who were cast out and rejected by their peers went on to find high paying jobs and maintain successful adult relationships- no mean feat for anyone on the autism spectrum! For that reason alone, I would heartily recommend Different… Not Less to teenagers with a diagnosis of autism, and to the parents of autistic children. I believe it will offer hope to people who are struggling, and act as a reminder that people with autism really are different, not less. With the right support, we can achieve just as much as any neurotypical.
Indeed, some of the authors expressed the opinion that they had achieved so much because of their autism, and would have ended up on a very different career path if they had a “normally functioning” brain.
‘Autistic people are focused individuals, and I see that as our strongest attribute, because we can impact society in a positive way. Our difference from the norm is a good thing, not a bad thing.’ (Sepal, pp. 162-163)
‘Obviously, I’ll always have Asperger’s Syndrome, but I’ve grown so much as a person that I feel it’s only an asset to me now and not a hindrance.’ (Lesko, p.202)
Not everyone in Different… Not Less has achieved a successful career. One Woman (Moppy Hamilton) implied that she would rather not work at all, and felt trapped in her job because she needed the money. Just as in neurotypical relationships, there were also many stories of bitter divorce, or failure to maintain romantic relationships. However, there were just as many examples of successful marriages and the overall portrayal of autism was overwhelmingly positive.
Different… Not Less really is everything its’ tagline promises: ‘inspiring stories of achievement and successful employment from adults with Autism, Asperger’s and ADHD’ (Grandin). A lot of memoirs and autobiographies concerning autism tend to be written in the style of a “misery memoir”, with neurotypical parents attempting to elicit sympathy from their readers at every turn simply because they have bought up an autistic child. Different… Not Less is written by autistic people, for autistic people. Despite each chapter having a different author it is coherent, easy to read and the writer’s voices gel together nicely. It is not a misery memoir, nor is it a voyeuristic freak show that presents the autistic mind as a whirlwind of self-destruction. Each character in Different… Not Less feels more human than all the other autobiographical accounts I have read put together.
I would recommend Different… Not Less to anyone who wants to learn more about autism, or simply wants something interesting and inspiring to read. However, I think it should be considered essential reading for people who’ve just been diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s and ADHD. I believe Different… Not Less could be particularly helpful for autistic teenagers, as there is a limited number of role models out there for autistic people, and these depictions of successful marriages and careers remind us that autistic people are capable of just as much as neurotypicals, and a diagnosis of autism doesn’t necessarily mean you must change the goals you had for your future. I wish I’d been given a copy of this book when I was younger and still coming to terms with my autism.