Why A Kind of Spark is so important to me as an autistic woman

Before A Kind of Spark was even an idea, I was living out Addie’s life in full. In year six I had a teacher (we’ll call her Mrs S) whose approach to teaching was that she wouldn’t give any child “special attention”. For an eleven-year-old autistic child, this was the start of my year of hell.

Stimming was banned in class as it was seen as disruptive. Anything I’d stim with would be snatched out of my hand or I’d be sent out of the classroom. If I didn’t answer a question quickly enough or didn’t know the answer, it would be shouted in my ear. 

I remember how hard it was to grasp the concept of prime numbers and I ended up having a meltdown, so Mrs S kept me back instead of letting me play and then ended the extended lesson with “see, you didn’t need to get so worked up about it.”

If I had any arguments with friends, as children do, she would tell me I was untrustworthy and this is why people didn’t like me. I was being severely bullied at the time, but she was passing this off as my fault. Throughout that year my confidence disappeared, I didn’t speak in class and I had meltdowns every morning and night. My mum tried to go in and speak to the headteacher, but nothing really happened.

Because of this experience, I then turned into Keedie when I left school. For ten years I didn’t tell friends I was autistic, I masked at all times and then wondered why I couldn’t stay in a job for more than a year. I was heavily depressed, anxious all the time, tired and would have a breakdown which always ended with me quitting whatever job I had at the time. It was a long road to realising that most of my problems were down to masking.

Reading and watching A Kind of Spark was so incredibly important to me. I cried a lot at Addie’s experience with her teacher, as it was validation that I hadn’t been a bad child, I had just had an ableist teacher. 

I also found comfort and relatability in Keedie and her struggles with masking, and how important it is to be authentic. 

I adored sharing the book and series with my family and friends, as I can show them both Addie and Keedie and say “this is who I was, this is how I struggled, and this is how I survived.”

It gives people an insight into what I have been through as well as educating them about autism and how you should/shouldn’t treat autistic people.

My hope is that more schools and teachers will pick up this book and watch the series, and no child will ever go through what many autistic children have gone through.

I also hope that neurotypicals understand their ableist views (even if they don’t realise they are being ableist) and understand how harmful masking is. 

Maybe then we can have a future where we are encouraged to be authentic instead of being asked to conform to neurotypical standards.

I didn’t have a Keedie growing up. I didn’t have someone who explained my autism to me because they too were autistic, someone who handed me ear defenders, when the world got too loud and understood my moods.

Reading this book, however, brought so much comfort to both my inner child and me as an adult. 

We all go through hard times as autistic people, trying to get by in this world, but we all have a spark in us to make amazing things happen, and I thank Elle McNicoll and the cast for helping me see this.

A Kind of Spark is available on BBC iPlayer in the UK and BYUtv in the US now is and on CBBC in the UK from 17th April. You can find all the ways to buy the book on Elle’s website.

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More than a Cookbook: The Autism-Friendly Cookbook by Lydia Wilkins

Disclaimer: The Autism-Friendly Cookbook was kindly sent to Marie to review, this has not influenced her views.

When I told someone I was reviewing this book, their first question was “how is a cookbook for autistic people different to a cookbook for neurotypical people?”. 

I had to admit that I honestly wasn’t sure. I know how my physical disability and ADHD affect me in the kitchen but being someone who didn’t realise they are autistic until recently, I hadn’t really thought about how my autism impacted my ability to follow a recipe and cook a meal. 

So I approached Lydia’s book hoping not only to discover some tasty food, but also hoping to learn more about my autistic self. 

I soon discovered Lydia’s book is more than a cookbook. 

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Heartbreak High’s Quinni is the authentic autistic representation we’ve been desperate for

Age fourteen, after my mental health crisis, I sat in front of the first professional who told me I was probably autistic. It didn’t make any sense – the very specific notion I had of autism was of a cisgender white boy, one who was good at maths and didn’t want to speak to anyone. How could that be me? 

It took several years of unpicking to understand what being autistic really meant, and what it meant for me specifically – it certainly wasn’t being good at maths or liking trains. There was nothing in the mainstream media that looked any different to the boy I knew from primary school, constantly compounding the idea I always had. 

Rain Man is still cited for autism representation today, The Big Bang Theory caused the savant idea to be pushed even further, and Atypical, though more recent, is not much better. They all have much of the same characteristics in common, as well as being played by non-autistic actors. Sia’s Music was no more than a caricature of autism, causing ableist harm, particularly to non-speaking autistic individuals. 

But seven years later, enter: the Netflix reboot of Australian TV series Heartbreak High – a beginning to the representation we have all so desperately needed. 

Chloe Hayden, autistic actress and well-known TikToker, stars as Quinn Gallagher-Jones, known more commonly as Quinni. From the moment she steps on screen covered in glittery makeup and star stickers, it is obvious she is not your male autistic stereotype. She is a queer, autistic girl, there as part of the main cast of school kids, and there is no fading into the background here. 

For those of us who are autistic ourselves, the representation is there quickly – Quinni bypasses social norms, asking difficult questions in a room gone silent, and is shown stimming in the first episode. 

But it is the second episode where Quinni comes into the forefront and the representation becomes more than something background or implied. 

We watch as Quinni faces something so many autistic people will relate to, where she sits in a restaurant unable to focus on the words of Sasha So (Gemma Chua-Tran) as they fade into the background. The editors of the show managed to master the way that we get to see Quinni’s overload through her eyes, zoning in on sensory input as she becomes increasingly overwhelmed.

She masks her overwhelm until she is in a safe space with best friend Darren, who already knows how to support her when in a meltdown, telling the others not to touch her.

The conversation that follows later with Sasha is one which is almost identical to many I’ve had, Quinni blurting out that she is autistic as she is being told her face wasn’t expressive enough and she didn’t seem interested in what was going on, things so many autistic people will have been criticised for too. 

Part of the beauty of the authenticity Quinni provides is not only the exposure it will provide to non-autistic people, but the liberation I feel, seeing myself on screen for the first time ever. I have never seen someone like me on a platform like this. I got to watch her have a meltdown like mine, sat on the floor at home, and watch her heart break as Sasha says that sometimes it’s “a lot for her”. 

Had I seen Quinni when I was younger, the way I felt about myself for years might have been different. I might have felt more self-assured, like I wasn’t broken, and like I could have been myself in school instead of hiding that I was autistic until I had left sixth form. 

Quinni’s part in Heartbreak High will be normalising so many aspects of being autistic that are seen as weird. The opening scene of one episode shows her following a multi-step daily routine to the letter, which is later challenged by Sasha; it is clear to the viewer that this is just a part of Quinni’s needs. She is not forced to speak when she experiences a non-verbal period after her meltdown, her friends again telling others that it is just a part of who she is. There’s no trying to “fix” or “cure” her.

Heartbreak High has managed to engage with so many of the nuances and layers of being autistic within its eight episode season. There is no pretending here that we don’t face significant ableism from our peers or when we are trying to engage with allistic society and relationships, feeling like we are too much and questioning everything. 

But, easily and effectively contrasted, there is also celebration of the beauty of autistic joy when we engage with our special interests, as we see Quinni do when she is enveloped by a blue wig, talking to her favourite author. 

The most crucial part of the representation we see here is the way it is intertwined into each episode regardless of whether Quinni is the focus. We see her stimming openly, infodumping to others, and taking things literally across parts of episodes where someone else is taking main stage. Her noise-cancelling headphones become a part of her outfits, silently signalling her looking after her sensory needs. 

We see an autistic, queer, non-male character getting to engage with relationships and embracing their sexuality, something almost unheard of. She talks about sex, she drinks alcohol and goes to parties, she swears – there is no infantilisation here, no acting as if we can’t engage with “taboo” topics.

Chloe’s Instagram post after the release of the show

Quinni is not the end point of authentic autistic representation; she should be the start, opening up the eyes of the media. Every aspect of her character is not only important for putting it on our screens, but the way it comes acted genuinely from Hayden’s lived experience. 

We need more of this, with every aspect of diversity – we need Black autistic people on our screens, non-speaking autistic people, autistic people with physical disabilities.

Hayden has given us something we have had so rarely until this point. I want to see more of it, because we cannot underestimate the way representation changes and saves lives. 

Heartbreak High is available to watch on Netflix, along with the original series.

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How Playdough Helped Me Accept My Autistic Repetitive Behaviour

To be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a person needs to have “persistent deficits” in three domains; social interaction, communication, and restricted/repetitive behaviour. “Restricted/repetitive” behaviour includes rituals, stereotypy (repeated movements), and restricted interests in specific topics, or “special interests”. 

I feel it doesn’t get as much attention, and as someone diagnosed with autism at the age of 10, I’d like to share a bit about how some of my restricted/repetitive behaviour evolved over time – using an analogy to illustrate why some things just “stick” and “become a thing”; how they become absorbed into my daily routines.  

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I’m Autistic but I Don’t Need to be “Cured”

When my parents told me I had autism spectrum disorder, it was just a formality. All of my brothers had already been diagnosed, and given that I spent more time at school in my own head than I did interacting with the people around me, it was pretty damn obvious.

I remember shrugging, even laughing, at the news, then tucking back into whichever Jacqueline Wilson book I was hyperfixated on at the time.

Words like ‘autism’ and ‘Asperger’s’ were thrown around as frequently in my house as phrases like ‘good morning’ or ‘Where is the remote control?’.

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The Problem With Parents who Make Their Child’s Neurodivergent Diagnosis About Them

TW: autism parents and parents acting like a disabled child means the death of a healthy child.

Paddy and Christine McGuinness did an entire documentary on their children’s autism called Paddy and Christine McGuinness: Our Family and Autism. Yet they still haven’t told their eldest children that they’re autistic. Christine claims it’s because their children are happy with how they are, and she hasn’t found the right time to tell them yet.

However, I buy the second excuse the least. Paddy and Christine have time to talk to journalists and their adoring fans about their children’s autism experiences but not their children.  

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How Discrimination in STEM Changed My Life

Trigger Warning: workplace ableism and academic ableism, lack of legal protection for students against discrimination.

In December 2019, I was in my first year of university and had accepted an internship in a medical school lab. It was Thursday afternoon in February 2020 and I was walking to my introductory biology class and got a message from the Principal Investigator (PI).

I should come by his office after my immunology exam. Not sure why, I immediately started to worry. I tried to keep calm: he probably wants to discuss my new project. Why worry when there have been no problems? I walked up to his office cautiously. 

He told me to sit down. I obeyed, hearing in his tone that this meeting had been something to fear. He said other people in the lab had a problem with me. While I knew they didn’t particularly like me, I didn’t think they had actual grievances. I was flabbergasted. “What problems? What did I do?” I asked. 

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As We See It is Being Hailed as a Bastion of Autism Inclusion, but is it?

This article contains spoilers, as well as discussion of ableism/sexism in the show that some readers may find distressing.

Growing up as an undiagnosed autistic girl, there was little positive representation of people like me on television. The first piece of ‘autism media’ I consumed was probably the 2003 novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which received criticism from autistic activists for its stereotypical portrayal of Christopher Boone, a ‘savant’ with an extreme talent for mathematics.

The book led many readers to believe that mathematic genius is typical among autistics.

For me, the stereotype of the (invariably male) maths geek loomed so large that I doubted whether I could, in fact, be autistic. In my early 20s, however, I started seeing more talk about ‘female autism’ online, and I was empowered to seek my diagnosis.

Several years on, autistic representation in popular media is thankfully richer and more diverse than in the past.

Therefore, when I heard about As We See It, an Amazon Original series billed as a wholesome comedy about three autistic friends living together (two males, one female), I was optimistic. Cute premise, I thought. Why isn’t anyone talking about this?

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Short Film LOVE shows why Neurodiversity in Media is So Vital

Editors note: the writer of this piece was given the tickets for free, this did not affect their review.

“One day he said to me, he could never imagine himself to be a lead in a film.”

LOVE is a short film starring Jules Robertson, an autistic man playing Oscar – but the production team says it is a film about unrequited love from his perspective, rather than a film about autism itself.

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As an Autistic Person, Lockdown Gave me Freedom, Then it Ended

Though the first lockdown ended a while ago, the effects of it have impacted my life up to today. For almost a year we were delegated to zoom calls and emails, or were furloughed -and for me it was glorious.

When speaking with neurotypical friends, they all expressed how they missed being in a room with a person. In my opinion, however, there was a freedom in not having to process everything that comes with communicating verbally.