Odd Girl Out: An Autistic Woman in a Neurotypical World by Laura James
Opening sentence: “‘Can’t you just enjoy the silence?’ Tim sighs.”
At the age of 45, journalist Laura James was diagnosed with autism – a moment she describes as, ‘at once shocking and liberating.’ In this memoir, she gives an interesting, informative and emotive insight into being autistic.
On the surface, it seems to be smooth sailing for her; she has a successful career as a journalist, her own communications agency, a husband of 20 years and 4 children, but scratch that surface and she’s frantically paddling to keep things on track. Laura has spent her whole life feeling different (‘The world is an alien place to me. One full of dangers’), knowing she was reacting to everyday situations unlike other people (‘Situations I can’t control and events I can’t predict confuse me, whether they are negative or positive’), finding basic socialising and interacting a struggle (‘If I don’t focus on people they fall into the background of my world’) and she just never knew why. It was a constant source of worry, anxiety and frustration for her until her diagnosis in 2015. That’s not to say after this point her life became carefree, but she now had a logical reason for feeling the way she did.
It’s not only Laura who has to get her head around her diagnosis, she also discusses how it affects her relationship with her husband, Tim, ‘It’s a subject that – like most not directly touched by it – he knows little about. He thinks Rain Man. The Curious Incident. The Rosie Project.’ This was a relatable point as, to be honest, these are my reference points for autism too, which is why Laura’s book is such an eye-opening read. Along with her biography, she mixes in quotes from experts to give a wider picture and lays out facts in an easy, digestible way.
I found it fascinating when she looked at possible reasons why her autism was not diagnosed earlier, explaining: ‘Copying neurotypical behaviour is an exceptionally strong coping mechanism in most autistic girls.’ This is why it can take so long to diagnose autistic girls and why Laura had a confused view of her sense of self, ‘I’m not sure, when I look back, what was authentically me and what was borrowed.’ There were also some really touching moments, like when she talks about how she escaped into books as a child and still now, simply stating, ‘Books are my greatest pleasure.’ She’s a woman after my own heart.
In November 2015, Laura wrote about her autism for the Daily Telegraph newspaper (which you can read here) and called it her coming out story, ‘I can’t quite believe I have written it. That I have bared my soul in a national newspaper. Logically, I know I did it for good reasons. As a journalist, I recognised it was a good story. When I tried to find other autistic women like me, I couldn’t, so this was a way to reach out to others like me, to tell them they are not alone.’ I thought that this was such a lovely, honest quote that really highlights Laura’s positive and inspiring reaction to her diagnosis. Odd Girl Out follows on from this article, going into more detail and showing that she is glad she now has a true understanding of what makes her, uniquely her.
I was sent this book in exchange for an honest review.