An Autistic Journalist But In His Book, That’s Not All

What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing?

I learned how big the LGBTQ+ community is within the autism community. I attended many autism events with lots of LGBTQ+ people, but I didn’t think, “This is something.” However, looking at the data, the number of people with autism who self-identify as LGBTQ+ is higher than neurotypical.

Credit…Kristin Herbruck

Another thing was that the increase in autism diagnoses was not just due to changes in the DSM. [“The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” a book used in the medical field to classify conditions] Not only in the 1980s, but also because the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 included autism as a disability and that meant schools had to report how many students they served. This formed the larger thesis of my book, because it said that the only reason people like me—I was born in 1990—have the resources is because of deliberate public policy decisions. It made me realize that my life had become significantly better because of him. I went to private school from the 7th grade, but before that I went to public schools and bought dormitories that would otherwise not be available. And I took private lessons at university and got disability services. These were the results of the ADA. Our lives are often determined by things beyond our control. People love to talk about personal responsibility and personal choices, but my ability to determine my destiny has been thanks to deliberate public policy decisions that have not been made before.

How is the book you wrote different from the book you started writing?

In the beginning I set out to be much more ambitious. I wanted to focus internationally, report worldwide. But things changed due to time constraints and then the pandemic.

My urge is always to report. I’m sorry, but – because I have a lot of friends who have written great memoirs about being autistic – I get the feeling that my story is interesting, but that’s not the whole story. Even though I’ve written a book that includes much of my personal life in it, I usually feel like I’m a very private person and have some things I’m afraid to share. And there are things that I don’t think are indicative of the entire autism experience. I wanted to be as holistic as possible.

Which creative person (not a writer) influenced you and your work?

If you read the chapter titles of the book, a lot of it comes from the songs. Growing up, I wanted to be a musician, so I draw as much inspiration from Black Sabbath as I get from journalists like Steve Silberman or Ta-Nehisi Coates or Rebecca Traister. As much as I am influenced by Woodward and Bernstein, I am also influenced by Bob Dylan’s words or the NWA. If I’m on my deadline, I tend to listen to really aggressive music: The Ramones, Metallica, the Misfits, Public Enemy. The thing that really impressed me when I was writing “We Didn’t Break” was listening to jazz music. John Coltrane sponsored the last three chapters of the book.

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