World Autism Awareness Week 27 March – 2 April – A personal story Part 3

Following on from yesterday’s post Hope talks about working for Edinburgh City Libraries.

It was my boyfriend who suggested I apply to libraries. He thought the work would do me good, give me stability that seasonal waitressing and freelance writing didn’t.

I didn’t think I had a chance, but he found out that Edinburgh City Council have a scheme where they guarantee an interview to candidates who declare they have a disability. I felt a bit weird about using this, but I also remembered the libraries of my childhood, the magic there, the tales of courage and failure, as well as success, the way that books seemed to be the haven for kids who felt they were outsiders. With this in mind I applied and got an interview, where I spoke to the interviewer about how important libraries were to me as a child, how I’d like to see other children have similar positive experiences in libraries, how books could make a kid feel that he or she was not so alone after all. I thought I’d talked to much and made a total mess of it.

When I got the phone call to tell me I’d got the job I was delighted. Andrew, the interviewer, told me that my passion had come across and I’d given a good interview.

There have been challenges to working in libraries. One emotion I cannot recognise in others is anger, and this makes me edgy – aware of the potential that someone may become angry and I will not recognise it. A raised voice will frighten me for example, and I have mistaken customers’ legitimate frustration’ with anger directed at myself and my colleagues. But I’ve learnt to deal with this, communicating clearly with customers who have problems, and speaking with them about the steps we can take to ensure that the problem is solved.

Working in libraries has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, and I think that because of my experience as an outsider I can relate to library users who may have challenges in a more direct way than other staff members can. Of course, all staff will seek to help library users with disabilities, but I feel that wanting to help, and being able to relate are different things.

The customers are for the most part friendly, engaging and interesting, and something I’ve learned about people since I was a child is that whether they are on the autistic spectrum or not, they are all as keen to be liked as I am, and everyone has at one stage in their life had a time where they feel like an outsider; whether that is when they are starting a new role, or in an unfamiliar situation. Alienation is lonely, but also universal, and it took a long time for me to understand that.

Just today a member of the public came into the children’s library and asked about books on autism. He works as a play worker with autistic children, and was looking for resources. I pointed him in the right direction and we had a chat about his work, and how important it is. I didn’t tell him I’m on the autistic spectrum and I don’t think he guessed. Sometimes it’s nice to pass as normal.


World Autism Awareness Week 27 March – 2 April – A personal story Part 2

Following on from Hope’s post yesterday.

So how can I work in libraries, working not only within a team, but also serving customers, dealing with their enquiries, advising them on where to find a book, or how to get a bus pass, or which part of the library to go to?


Hope working in the Central Library

Ever since I can remember I have loved libraries; I remember the childhood treat of being allowed to choose new books every Saturday, which would be my bedtime stories for the week ahead, learning to read myself, making slow but crucial sense of the strange characters on paper which make up words, sitting on the little plastic orange chairs and reading story books about kids who also felt isolated, or awkward or were in some kind of jeopardy. The monsters who they fled from seemed similar to the bullies who I spent my lunch break hiding from.

The books in the library told stories of outsiders, kids like me who although they weren’t autistic, had something separating them, something which meant that they weren’t like all the other kids, something a bit magical. Through the magic of libraries and the kindness of librarians I learnt a lot, and even as a child, frightened of the world and the people in it, I always thought it would be sort of cool to work in a library.

As I got older I learnt to disguise my weirdness and fear, until the fear was far smaller and the weirdness transformed into something people called ‘quirkiness’ or ‘magic.’ I went to University and graduated at the height of the recession then worked as a waitress, because there was literally no other work. I found to my amazement that excepting the odd person, working with members of the public is kind of nice.

Tomorrow Hope talks about her experience of working for Edinburgh City Libraries.


World Autism Awareness Week 27 March – 2 April : A personal story

This is the first in a three-part series of blog posts written by Hope, who’s a member of library staff and who is on the Autistic Spectrum. In part one she talks about her experiences as a child.

It is not always obvious that someone is on the Autistic Spectrum. I am a thirty-one-year-old Library Adviser in  Central Library. I also happen to be on the Autistic Spectrum.

As a child, I was lost in unfamiliar social situations, filled with a fear of strangers, separate to that created by the ‘stranger danger’ messages with which all children are familiar. My fear was more complex, less easy to express. I was afraid of being disliked, of being thought of as weird, of seeing strangers’ eyes glaze over as I spoke to them, or worse, seeing them look sideways at the person next to them in a glance they thought I couldn’t catch – a glance which said – ‘isn’t she a freak?’

Work can be frightening for people on the Autistic Spectrum, as it entails working with people (members of the public as well as colleagues.) The fear comes not from the other people, but from the Autistic person’s inability (or their low perception of their own ability) to read social cues. Some people who have Autistic Spectrum disorders may talk too much to cover up nerves, some may hardly speak at all – both can be construed as inappropriate.

Tomorrow, Hope talks about the importance of libraries.

How much do you know about autism?

With the National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time coming to The Festival Theatre, we thought it would be a great idea to mark World Autism Day last week by engaging readers in a discussion about the novel.

And so last Thursday Central Library hosted ‘The Curious Incident of the Giant Book Group’.

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Councillor Ricky Henderson opened the event with a useful resume of council services and commitment to supporting those affected by autism.

Cerin Richardson, Learning and Participation Manager from the Festival Theatre then invited people to attempt the ‘Autism Spectrum Conditions Quiz’ which kick-started some interesting discussions among the groups present.

There are more males than females diagnosed with autism. True or false?

True! Well, actually, research suggests that the ratio of males to females diagnosed is about 4:1 although more recent research suggests that there are more females with autism than previously thought.

More than 500,000 people have autism in the UK. True or false?

Indeed that is also true:  research suggests that 1 in every 100 people has autism, and therefore, well over 500,000 have autism in the UK.

The MMR vaccination can cause autism. True or false?

Although there has been massive publicity on this topic, the weight of epidemiological evidence indicates that there is no statistically significant link between MMR vaccaine and autism…

Autism can be cured if treated early enough. True or false?

There is no cure for autism, but with the right support people can continue to learn and develop skills throughout their lives.

Cerin then went on to lead  a fascinating discussion, engaging those who had read and discussed in small groups,with invaluable input from Matthew Day, Service Coordinator at Autism Initiatives who has worked with adults on the Autism Spectrum for many years, and Amanda Wilson, whose son is on the spectrum. Amanda’s  personal experiences were very powerful and particularly appreciated by all participants.

‘ I particularly enjoyed the round table discussion and panel input, and linking the book to the play’

‘…Amanda’s account of being the mother of a boy with autism gave particular insight…’

‘I knew very little about autism at the start of the evening, but went away with much more understanding about the condition…’

Thanks to everyone who took part.

The Curious Incident of the Giant Book Group

Autism Awareness Day is on 2nd April. That’s a bit away we know, but there’s a good reason for bringing it up now.

That evening we’ll be hosting a Giant Book Group, where we’ll be discussing Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’.

As you may know, the stage version of the book is coming to Edinburgh at the end of April, and on our guest panel will be Cerin Richardson from the Festival Theatre, who have very kindly donated two pairs of tickets for the show which we’ll be giving away in a prize draw.

Joining Cerin will be Matthew Day from Autism Initiatives, who will discuss some of the challenges faced by people living with autism.

Prior to our panel session we’ll be holding small group discussions about the book . If you haven’t read it already you can of course borrow a copy from the library, and if you need a set for your book group we may be able to help you out.

The event itself is free, with refreshments provided. It all kicks off at Central Library, from 6.30pm, on Thursday 2nd April.

So what are you waiting for? Book your tickets now.

Part of a programme of events organised by Autism Edinburgh.




Scott vs Zombies at Stockbridge Library

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All photographs by Gareth Timms

Watch out! Scott Davidson  – inspiration for Alan Grant and Robin Smith’s Scott vs Zombies comic book – narrowly evades an unexpected guest at last night’s special Autism Awareness Day event at Stockbridge Library.

Thankfully our zombie was sufficiently pacified to help out with an auction of work by comic artist Robin Smith – raising lots of money to support people with autism.


A huge thanks to Scott, his mum Liz, Artlink, Councillor Ricky Henderson and everyone else who helped make this such a fun, informative and successful event.

IMG_9176 Councillor H SD Zombie small

Artlink is an arts and disability organisation based in Edinburgh with over 25 years experience of providing developmental activity for people with experience of disability.

Scott vs Zombies was a collaboration between Artlink, Scott, his mum Liz, writer Alan Grant and artist Robin Smith. The comic book aims to raise awareness of autism and get the message across that ‘it is okay to just be yourself’.

The event was held as part of Autism Edinburgh‘s support for World Autism Awareness Day.

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Five remarkable stories for Autism Awareness Day

The reason I jump by Naoki Higishida

Written by Naoki Higishida when he was only 13, this incredible book explains the often baffling behaviour of autistic children and shows the way they think and feel – such as about the people around them, time and beauty, noise, and themselves. Naoki abundantly proves that autistic people do possess imagination, humour and empathy, but also makes clear, with great poignancy, how badly they need our compassion, patience and understanding.

Dear Miss Landau by James Christie

James Christie is a Scot with Apserger syndrome. Juliet Landau stars in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This is the true story of their friendship.

Mary and Max

This claymation-animated movie starring the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman charts the correspondence between an eight-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne, with her alcoholic mother and inattentive father, and an obese 40-something Jewish New Yorker prone to panic attacks. The only thing the two have in common is their friendlessness and profound sense of alienation. Based on real events spanning continents and decades, this is a highly original, very funny and deeply moving piece of work.

A friend like Henry by Nuala Gardner

Determined that her autistic son, Dale, should live a fulfilling life, Nuala Gardner describes her despair after being repeatedly let down by the authorities. But their lives were transformed when they welcomed a golden retriever into the family and found that the bond between Dale and his dog helped him to produce the breakthrough they sought. There’s a sequel: All because of Henry

All cats have Asperger syndrome by Kathy Hoopmann

This book draws parallels between children with Asperger syndrome and the behaviour of cats, illustrating shared characteristics and evoking the difficulties and joys of raising a child who is different.

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