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Sanctuary

"Martian in the Playground" book

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Sanctuary

This book by Claire Sainsbury was one of the first I read about Asperger's Syndrome and I recently re-read it. i think it's an excellent book and well-worth picking-up although it was written almost twenty years ago it's insights are still profound today. 

The book's focus is on childhood experiences of ASD. Claire draws on her own experience but also uses quotes from other individuals on the spectrum for a broader insight. Much of what she and the other contributors say will resonate with members here and although the focus is on childhood / teenage years the findings also have a lot of application to adult lives with ASD as well. The book covers many issues extremely well, not least "theory of mind" issues which can be difficult to explain well but are covered in a very accessible way.

A couple of points in the book struck me as particularly profound. One is her view on the usefulness of a "label" of ASD. She recognises that such a label can be used against an autistic person but just because someone doesn't have that specific label - or doesn't declare it - doesn't mean that they are not labelled. Individuals whose autism is undiagnosed or undeclared often find they are labelled very negatively in other ways, e.g. as "weird", "difficult", "anti-social". She very much comes down on the side of declaring autism and while that choice may not be right for everyone we all need to realise that we will be judged in any event.

Another is her suggestion that problems with anxiety and depression - sadly all too common among people with ASD - are often worse for "higher functioning" individuals. It seems ironic but the more able a person is to connect with the social world and engage with others the more aware they can become of their own difficulties and "outsider" status. This certainly resonated with me. I had an extraordinary lack of self-awareness as a youngster but that probably insulated me from negative thoughts. As I became more socially aware and - on the surface - more aware of social rules I became all too aware that I "didn't fit in". Another irony is that lack of self-awareness can give a person much more social confidence and - ironically - make them seem more appealing to others; greater self-awareness sometimes makes a person more anxious and unconfident and less socially attractive. It seems that often the most successful people are those who don't seem to be very reflective or self-critical because they seem to have an air of confidence and decisiveness about them. None of this is to say that these are good qualities - we should be reflective and self-critical - but our society seems to reward those who seem more self-centred to the point of arrogance. Although individuals with ASD are often unfairly accused of "lacking empathy" it is often neurotypicals, especially those in positions of authority, who seem most lacking in that quality and that may even explain their success.

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Aeolienne

I was a tad disappointed that the author didn't say anything about the pros and cons of single-sex education, particularly for girls. Maybe she steered clear of this topic because she didn't want to draw attention to where she was educated and have people judge her for having gone to a posh private school. Although she did reveal her alma mater elsewhere (viz, an interview in The Times for their 2001 charitable appeal in aid of the NAS): St Paul's Girls' School. That same article also mentioned that she is the daughter of Lord Sainsbury of Turville, so yes, she is related to the supermarket chain.

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Sanctuary

Thanks for that background Aeolienne. I had assumed from the book that she was educated at a state school of some kind. It probably is the case that autism will present challenges for students attending any type of school including the most expensive and exclusive in the land; it is also true though that coming from an affluent and well-connected background does increase the opportunities for support and improved life-chances. Type of schooling may affect the experiences and chances of autistic students and it would be worth exploring how these vary across state and private sectors (especially boarding schools), single-sex v co-educational as well as special schools and residential centres. University also presents interesting issues such as the different experiences of those who live away from home compared to those who attend a more local institution. I don't know if any research has been done on these matters but they would be good to explore.

PS

Do you have a date for the Claire Sainsbury interview in The Times? I checked the Times Digital Archive and found some articles on autism from 2001 but couldn't find any reference to her 

 

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