Disability Studies Quarterly Blog
Review by Helen Rottier, University of Illinois Chicago, Email: email@example.com
Keywords: essays, art, autism, neurodivergence
Stim: An Autistic Anthology, edited by Lizzie Huxley-Jones, is an eclectic collection of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and illustrations that directly and indirectly express the experiences and creative power of autistic people. Taken together, the pieces in the collection articulate the validity of autistic people as artists and storytellers on topics including, but not limited to, autism. In the introduction, Huxley-Jones explains that contributors were encouraged to write on any topic. Nevertheless, autism and autisticness emerge in many of the pieces; Huxley-Jones describes this as “reflecting how many of us see our autisticness tightly integrated with the rest of our selves” (p. 4). The pieces, taken together, reveal a more nuanced and heterogenous autistic subject than traditional representations. By claiming space for autistic art, the contributors also make powerful claims about autistic artists. Autism narratives are often dominated by non-autistic professionals and parents, but this collection overwhelmingly features pieces from contributors who identify as autistic. Moreover, the pieces showcase the contributors’ agency, rhetoricity, and creativity—attributes autistic people are often believed to lack. The contributors dispel these misconceptions through their dynamic artwork.
The book is suitable for a general audience. While some pieces include adult themes or potentially triggering topics such as sex, substance use, and disordered eating, there are content warnings that describe what is contained within each piece. The content warnings allow educators to assign age-appropriate selections for youth and allow readers to make informed decisions about their own well-being. The reader is not expected to have prior knowledge on autism or disability, and the book includes a resource section about autism, how to support autistic people, and further reading. However, experts on autism, whether they are autistic or not, will also learn something about autistic people from this collection. The book can be assigned to future clinicians and researchers in hopes that it will challenge medical model approaches to autism and autistic people, or assigned in courses on disability and cultural production or literary tradition.
Many pieces focus on one or two autistic traits within a larger narrative, and this approach is a strength of the collection. For example, Reese Piper’s “Stripping While Autistic” focuses on Piper’s experiences of social learning and masking, while Helen Carmichael’s “Bluebells” explores sensory overload, and Nell Brown’s “This Love” deals with special or intense interests. While most texts reduce the person to their autistic traits or “behaviors,” these pieces offer an alternative depiction of the challenges and joys autistic people face, one that recognizes the autistic contributors as whole people, rather than a collection of symptoms.
While there are commonalities among contributors and indeed, among autistic people, the striking differences create opportunities of emotional resonance for many autistic (and possibly non-autistic) readers. Huxley-Jones opens with, “I have always been searching for myself in books” (p. 1), and perhaps the most powerful strength of the collection is how I felt when I found myself in the contributors’ reflective self-portraits. I have often described my experience with autism as living life without the rule book, and in “The Lost Mothers,” Rachael Lucas writes, “I felt as if everyone else had read the rules and I didn’t know how to be a person…” (p. 25). When I read this, I felt instant validation, affirmation, the feeling of being found and seen and known. Elsewhere in the collection, the contributors’ words allowed me to understand phenomena that I have not experienced, such as the family dynamics and cultural practices described in Grace Au’s “Hungry.” In its many depictions of autism, Stim offers readers opportunities for validation and understanding.
This review was published as part of Disability Studies Quarterly, Spring/Summer 2022.
Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated.
Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.