To conclude this year’s Autism Awareness Month, our ACORN intern Emily Dougherty (17) looks at M in the Middle: Secret Crushes, Mega‑Colossal Anxiety and the People’s Republic of Autism (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2016). Written by Vicky Martin and the students of Limpsfield Grange, a school for girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder and communication and interaction difficulties, M’s story draws on the real life experiences of teens with autism.
“There is no holiday from autism. There is no escape.”
M is a young teenage girl who has been diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). But, no one seems to know how to react to this. Her mum, while being her number one supporter and help, still struggles immensely with her. Her dad has moved in with his mother in London, but sometimes travels up to Kent to sleep on the sofa. Her brother acts like he’s embarrassed by her and ignores her any time he possibly can. And the worst is her school, who completely refuse to believe that she even has autism in the first place.
M develops her first crush on a boy two years above her called Lynx, and she wonders if this could be the start of her being “normal”, like Skylar is on her favourite television show and special interest* Skylar. She dreams of having all of the card shop moments – birthday cards for boyfriends/girlfriends, then engagement cards, then wedding cards, and then all the varieties of anniversary cards. But, as she says, “All the rules that work for everyone else, all the normal girls, don’t apply to me.”
M also makes two strikingly different friends – Shaznia, a popular girl who M believes to be the type of friend she’s “supposed” to have, and Joe, who disagrees with her friendship with Shaznia, describing Shaznia as a user, and tries to help her come out of her shell and help her understand the world.
The descriptions of how it feels to grow up being a girl with anxiety and autism, especially autism that has been diagnosed “late”, and knowing how it feels to finally be diagnosed and yet still be misunderstood, are the best I’ve ever read. I have grown up with both anxiety and autism, and I also know how it feels to have a late diagnosis and then have people still not know how to “handle” me.
M calls her anxiety “the Beast of Anxiety”, and I couldn’t possibly think of a better name for it. How it lurks around every corner and pounces at you when you least expect it to, weighing you down with all the forces in the world, suffocating you with every miniscule detail of what could have been, what you should and shouldn’t have done, and what you should and shouldn’t do.
The book is so well written, it works exactly how my autistic anxious brain runs, while still also having some differences, which to me just shows that it is written exactly how it should be. It does well in explaining that autism is a diverse and varied neurological disorder that presents itself in many different ways from person to person.
*Special interest: “Autistic people often have an intense and passionate level of focus on things of interest. Some have suggested that these “fixations” are essentially arbitrary and lacking in any real meaning or context; however, researchers note that special interests typically focus on the mechanical (how things work) as opposed to the psychological (how people work). It is important to note that the special interests are highly important and meaningful to the autistic person, similar to an intense hobby… It should be noted that many of these interests are also common with neurotypicals [non-autistic people]. The difference lies in the intensity of the interest.” – Source: http://autism.wikia.com/wiki/Special_Interests