Redefining autism with Edinburgh Libraries

Hope from Central Lending Library writes today’s blog, sharing her personal insight and bringing together responses gathered on Twitter during Autism Awareness Week on how we can correct assumptions around autism.

One thing which always gets me about the word autism is how cold it is, all clinical and science-y blue. No blood pulses through this word, no vitality, no humanity, which is ironic, as to be autistic is to be human in so many ways. 

On April the sixth, Edinburgh Libraries put a call out on Twitter to ask autistic people about perceptions about autism, and how these should be challenged. There is an appetite, now, to understand autistic people, but sadly this appetite comes with many misunderstandings, and well-meaning misconceptions. As an autistic member of staff at Central Library I find the desire to learn about autism among non-autistic people to be good-willed, and to come from a positive place – but like many others who responded on Twitter, I find that well-intentioned misunderstandings are still rife. 

Below we look at some of the responses about the reality of autism, as opposed to the perception. 

Alan Gardner, the autistic gardener, and Mairi Black, pointed out that all autistic people do not feel the same way – there is a huge range of needs, perceptions, interests and vulnerabilities within autistic individuals – as Alan Gardner says, ‘We are not a diagnosis, we are our own strength and needs.’ 

@ClearAutism said it was time we should redefine the autistic spectrum, highlighting Rebecca Burgess’ comic redesign of the Autism Spectrum which sees it as multi-faceted, full of wonder and deeply nuanced, showing the individual skills and needs and vulnerabilities of autistic people as a wonderful symphonic, complex, organic thing, which is so often misunderstood.  

Her cartoon (which struck a chord with me, as an autistic person who can ‘pass’ as neurotypical, until faced with a scary or challenging situation) can be seen on

@Bookishlaloba and @Mairiblack pulled out two of the most frustrating misperceptions about autism, that autistic people lack empathy and humour. This is emphatically untrue – autistic people can be funny, and their experiences of life and the knocks they have experienced can also make us deeply empathic. For me, personally, I may appear lacking in empathy as I don’t pick up on body language which would tell me someone was upset, or angry, however if they tell me verbally, then I am fully capable of understanding and empathising.  

Staff members at Kirkliston Library also spoke to Neurodiversity advocate Jess Rowlings, who spoke about masking, and the effort of appearing non-autistic, of constantly trying to fit in, and how damaging and exhausting this can be for autistic people. When asked what she would tell her younger self she said, 

“I think the first thing I would do is give my younger self a big hug, and tell her that things will be okay, even though it really doesn’t feel that way! I really struggled socially during my school years and wasn’t diagnosed with autism or ADHD until I was an adult, and I wish my younger self knew that there was nothing “wrong” with her. I would also tell her that she will find love and support from people who accept her for everything she is, she just hasn’t met them yet. As awful it was to struggle to fit in, I wish I knew that it wouldn’t be this way forever, and school isn’t representative of the adult world. Your people are out there, you just may not find them in school!’ 

By asking about, and dismantling misconceptions, I think the library has started to build valuable work. Staff are also undertaking training through organisation Dimensions in making libraries a more accessible and friendly place for autistic children, young people and adults, and Edinburgh Libraries have put together a teenage reading list of ebooks and audiobooks, both fiction and non fiction, exploring the experiences of autistic people. You can browse our Autism Awareness Week collection on Overdrive or via the Libby app.

We’re grateful to all those who took the time to respond to our questions and you can see more of those twitter responses below.

We asked:
What assumptions around Autism would you correct?

Emily Kenny, author replied:

Actor, producer, YouTuber and Autistic ambassador, Max J Green replied:

Reply from writer, Elle McNicoll:

And in reply to:
What would you tell your younger self about acceptance?
Elle said:

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