Writing my second novel has been challenging. In fact, getting to the point where I was ready to consider writing this story has been a long journey. My work in progress is about an autistic family. Put away your torches and pitchforks. I’m not talking about families who insist on defining their collective identities based on their autistic child/sibling. Almost every member of the family in my story are autistic.
What qualifies me to write such a novel? This is a serious question. The market is flooded with stories written by autism adjacent authors. Social media is full of parents shouting at people like me, accusing us of stealing focus from their children.
I am autistic. My dad is autistic. My grandfather was autistic. My aunt and two uncles were/are autistic. I have autistic cousins, nieces/nephews, and siblings. With all this family and personal experience, I was still terrified of speaking someone else’s truth, and not doing it justice.
Do I think I can write a story that encompasses all autistic experiences? Of course not. Then again, it’s taken a long time to overcome the mental barrier created by the idea any story with autistic representation needs to encompass the entirety of autistic life experiences.
The hardest part about convincing myself I’m allowed to write this story has been weighing what I want to say against the overwhelmingly negative representation of autism in the media. Can I write something that’s honest, without adding to this negativity? If I avoid portraying anything challenging in the lives of these characters, would the story be a shell of what it should be? If I focus on triumphs, will I be accused of glorifying autism?
If you don’t believe these concerns are founded, type “Glorifying Autism” into Twitter’s search function. It is disturbing. For some people, the only acceptable narrative is that autism is scary. These people refuse to accept any story about autism that isn’t founded on the idea autism is a tragedy and burden.
Having reached the point of being ready to write this book, the process is turning out to be extraordinarily difficult. I keep thinking I’m not being honest enough, but it is my characters who aren’t cooperating. They resist exposure at every turn. I can’t blame them. People have accused me of glossing over my struggles by focusing on the positive aspects of my life. I’m not obligated to convince people I’m qualified to write about autism by spilling out stories of my hardest days. This prejudiced, ableist world is the same one where I have to find a way to make a living and raise my children.
In order to write this story, I will have to force my characters to do what I avoid. They will have to expose insecurities hidden in the darkest corners of their minds. Since the book will not be devoted to a narrative of the tragic lives of a family cursed with autism, I’ll probably still be accused of glorifying autism. If this qualifies as glorifying autism, let the pride flags fly, because I’m all for it.