Book Review. How to be Autistic by Charlotte Amelia Poe

How to be Autistic is a non-fiction book of essays by Charlotte Amelia Poe on their experiences of growing up with autism, which hadn’t yet been diagnosed. This was a difficult book for me to read because I saw a lot of myself in it. Especially with how difficult it was being a teenager. There were so many good points made in this too, on autism and getting a diagnosis and, crucially, getting the help we need to be able to function in this world.

‘It was the beginning of my agoraphobia, what I refer to as my Lost Years. They would stretch from the age of seventeen to my late twenties. It’s really upsetting to realise that I lost an entire decade to my anxiety and depression, but that’s what happened,’

How to be Autistic Charlotte Amelia Poe

This text here is exactly what happened, is happening to me now.

‘I think a lot of people believe agoraphobia doesn’t really exist, and that’s because it is such an invisible mental illness. If you have agoraphobia and are referred to a psychologist, you’re not going to be able to go to your appointments, that’s the nature of the beast. So the system fails you and you fall through the net. I can’t imagine how many people are living like this, stuck at home with nothing to do all day but watch the television or browse the internet, longing for any kind of interaction or, at worst, the sweet release of death,’

How to be Autistic Charlotte Amelia Poe

It’s such a relief to read this quote and feel like someone understands me. Because a lot of people seem to think it is as easy as … wait for it … going out.

‘Re-engaging with life was one of the hardest things I ever did.’

How to be Autistic Charlotte Amelia Poe

This is such a tangible line from a passage of text, but so reassuring that it can be done. It is possible.

I loved the writing in this book, it was so engaging. Like you are listening to a friend talk. 

Poe’s voice is confident, moving and often funny, as they reveal to us a very personal account of autism, mental illness, gender and sexual identity.

As we follow Charlotte’s journey through school and college, we become as awestruck by their extraordinary passion for life as by the enormous privations that they must undergo to live it. From food and fandom, to body modification and comic conventions, Charlotte’s experiences through the torments of schooldays and young adulthood leave us with a riot of conflicting emotions: horror, empathy, despair, laugh-out-loud amusement and, most of all, respect. For Charlotte, autism is a fundamental aspect of their identity and art. They address their reader in a voice that is direct, sharply clever and ironic. They witness their own behaviour with a wry humour as they sympathise with those who care for them, yet all the while challenging the neurotypical narratives of autism as something to be ‘fixed’.

‘I wanted to show the side of autism that you don’t find in books and on Facebook. My story is about survival, fear and, finally, hope. There will be parts that make you want to cover your eyes, but I beg you to read on, because if I can change just one person’s perceptions, if I can help one person with autism feel like they’re less alone, then this will all be worth it.’

Punctuated by their poetry, this is an exuberant, inspiring, life-changing insight into autism from a viewpoint almost entirely missing from public discussion.

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