Lyn Miller-Lachman is a married author, teacher, editor, and writing consultant/sensitivity reader on the autism spectrum. She loves traveling and is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, and English. She writes historical fiction featuring characters who are also on the autism spectrum. This week she discussed autistic portrayals in fiction and shared her experience working with the publishing industry, as well as how it can be more accessible to autistic writers.
In what ways does Autism affect you? How have you learned to self-advocate as a late-diagnosed adult?
Autism affects one’s entire life and way of looking at the world. It’s hard to narrow down to one thing, but one positive from being autistic is that I tend to approach issues and problems from a different perspective and am thus able to suggest novel solutions that others haven’t considered and that actually work.
Most of my successful advocacy is through my writing, particularly on my blog, where I’ve advised educators and others on ways in which autistic and allistic individuals can work together more productively, with topics such as effective group projects, internships, and creating supportive communities.
My article on autism and the publishing industry has reached a wide audience and helped to improve practices and procedures for everyone, which I hoped it would, because best practices for autistic students and workers are often best practices in general.
You wrote an article about your plans to self-publish and updated edition after your traditionally-published book Rogue went out of print. Is this still in the works? What’s the latest?
I’m still planning to bring out the new paperback and ebook edition of Rogue in the fall with Last Syllable Books, which is an authors’ collective distributed by IPG. I decided to work with an authors’ collective – a group of like-minded writers self-publishing together – rather than going it alone because of the distribution that will put the new edition into bookstores, schools, and libraries.
In the same article, you also discussed ideas for how the publishing industry could change to better accommodate autistic authors. What advice do you have for Autistic authors who are pursuing a contract with a traditional publisher?
Finding the right editor and agent (if you decide to go with a large or medium-sized house) are key. I know there’s a lot of controversy about disclosing, and the fact that writers should not have to out themselves as #ownvoices to get a publishing contract. But beyond that issue, I think it’s important for an autistic author to be upfront about needs, particularly in terms of communication and expectations. You don’t want to be put in the position of having to “read between the lines,” because if you’re like me, you could get it very wrong. Finding a mentor, coach, or guide is a good idea too. They can be an agent who understands the challenges autistic writers face, or a more experienced author.
In fact, allistic authors who write about autism and are committed to getting it right would make a perfect match.
In this article, you wrote about the problem with NT authors creating works of fiction that portray autistic characters. You said that stereotypical portrayals can be humiliating and frame the definition of what disability looks like and how it is discussed in society. What are some good best practices for NTs to follow if they want to write about autism (both for fiction and nonfiction)? I would assume consulting the Autistic community is a given, but to what extent? What does this look like?
Sensitivity readers are important, and I suggest consulting more than one because we autistic individuals are very different in terms of personalities, abilities, and experiences. A lot of sensitivity readers are writers themselves, but for a wider range of experiences, you should work with people who aren’t writers as well. Best practices also include buying, reading, and promoting books written by autistic authors and creating opportunities for autistic authors by mentoring and advocating on our behalf. None of us want to hear that there’s no slot for our books because the publisher(s) just bought them from an NT author.
What are some of your favorite fictional Autistic portrayals?
I normally don’t read speculative fiction, which is why Corinne Duyvis’s On the Edge of Gone, set in a pre-and post-apocalyptic Netherlands, is especially impressive. I love the way she explores the theme of a person’s worth to a community – is it what the person can accomplish for the greater good, or does every person have value simply for being human? I also appreciated Rachael Lucas’s The State of Grace for its depiction of both the protagonist and her community; in fact, I wrote about models for supportive communities for autistic protagonist in this article, using The State of Grace and Elana K. Arnold’s BAT series. I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade recently, and Sally J. Pla’s The Someday Birds is at the top of my list, along with Nicole Panteleakos’s recently published historical novel, Planet Earth is Blue. There aren’t a lot of historical novels with autistic protagonists that show us we’ve been here and part of our communities for a long time, and that’s what I’ve been addressing recently in my own writing.
What mistakes do neurotypical Autism advocates make?
The big one is speaking over us or speaking for us.
Do you have any other recommendations of books about Autism that are geared towards children, teens, or young adults? What type of literature should NT parents either read with or recommend for their Autistic children?
NT parents should make an effort to find books by autistic authors for their children, including books – like those by Mike Jung and other books by the authors listed above – that don’t necessarily feature autistic characters. My own debut YA novel, Gringolandia, reflects my obsession with history and human rights, but is another that doesn’t feature autistic characters. Beyond reflecting and validating their experiences – in other words, serving as mirrors – the most important thing is for autistic children and teens to see that autistic people can write well and have successful careers as writers, just as they can be successful in any other profession they choose. There’s a scene in Rogue, for instance, when a family friend gives my protagonist, Kiara, a book written by Temple Grandin, and Kiara thinks, “If Temple Grandin wrote a book, she must have turned out all right.”