I became a writer, but it wasn’t easy. Being diagnosed as autistic (Autism Spectrum Disorder Level 1), I frequently took words and expressions literally. When I was three years old, my dad bought some stencils so I could start recognising and tracing letters. It was helpful that I was literate before I started school. My mother also frequently borrowed books from the local library and read them with me, so I was encouraged to read, and preferred reference books or books about transport rather than stories because I still couldn’t understand other people’s perspectives.
When I was about six years old, my family purchased a desktop computer for my mother to use when she worked at home as a property attorney. I used to enjoy writing compositions or stories on the computer, as I could simply focus on something and press the buttons without having to decipher facial expressions, body language and conversations that relied on innate understanding of pauses, intonation and prosody. Because I didn’t understand these things, I would frequently interrupt other people’s conversations, which was frustrating for everything.
In primary (elementary) school, my classmates and I would be writing stories. Although, since I could not understand other people’s points of view, it was difficult for me to write these stories or think of what to write, especially with a time limit to do so. The kinds of written work the pupils would do were fictionalised news articles about topics we studied, such as outlaws or criminals. The other pupils could take perspective and write a convincing fictionalised account of an outlaw’s behaviour and their relationships with other people.
In sixth grade, we did an exercise where a drama program was shown with the sound muted. We had to create the dialogue and doing this was a difficult exercise for me, and resulted in a very stilted version of what the dialogue was imagined to be. I found it very difficult.
It took me over a year to really appreciate writing. In 1997, when I was in 8th grade, my English teacher was an inspiring and energetic 58-year-old Irishman called Mr. McEntee who always cycled to work. He encouraged us, and the first thing we did in class was to write a paragraph about an experience. We then studied and wrote essays about it. The class wrote short stories during which I wrote about a hypothetical move to New York City and the cross-cultural adjustments that would be needed. Fortunately, I was ill with a cold the day the teacher read my story to the class. I would have been embarrassed, although I was subsequently told that I had written a good story and was congratulated for it.
Later, in 10th grade (1999), I wrote essays and analyses of poetry. I did not have a framework as yet for writing essays, but doggedly sat and wrote the essays, sometimes getting up at 5:00 a.m. on the day the assignment was due I completed the essay after a lot of procrastination.
In college, I studied English literature. I used my lecture notes to write the essays and subsequently did not receive the high marks I wanted. I decided that, because I enjoyed reading novels, as well as writing assignments and essays, and working on a laptop, I would be a writer. In 2006, I told the university librarian (previously my school computing teacher) that I wanted to be a writer. One of my aunts also encouraged me, saying “Why don’t you become a writer? You write so well.”
Having learned how to structure an essay (using a framework), I went on to study the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) in 2010 and 2011, with its inventor, Professor Anna Wierzbicka. The NSM is a linguistic tool for defining complicated and culturally specific words. It uses the 65 simplest words which occur in all languages, are innate and not bound to any culture. From 2013 to 2016, I wrote ‘How to start, carry on and end conversations: scripts for social situations for people on the autism spectrum’ (2017, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London and Philadelphia), to teach social and coping skills to autistic adolescents using lived experience, linguistics and ‘scripts for thinking’. This was hailed as a contribution to society and a way of assisting other autistics to learn to make conversations properly.
From then, I knew I wanted to write professionally, especially due to one of my grandfathers having been a prolific author. As Mr. McEntee said in 1997, writing is therapeutic. It’s also instructive.
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