Autism Interview #48: Gretchen Leary on Writing and Autism Advocacy

Gretchen Leary

Gretchen Leary is a poet and author with Asperger’s Syndrome. Gretchen has written  a variety of short stories and poetry. Her illustrated children’s book Quiet Bear helps raise awareness and promote acceptance of individuals on the Autism Spectrum. This week shared information about her writing process and general advocacy tips.

You write in a variety of different genres. Are there certain times (or moods) when you prefer to write poetry, prose, or work on projects for children? How often do you write?

I usually write poetry when I’m feeling overwhelmed or down. My children’s books are usually inspired during more positive times in my life.

Did you have the opportunity to socialize with other peers on the spectrum when you were younger? What did you understand about autism when you were diagnosed?

I was not diagnosed with Autism/Aspergers until I was twenty three. I knew one other child that had Autism but I didn’t know that I had it. I did a lot of reading about Aspergers and Autism when I was finally diagnosed and it changed my life for the better to feel like I finally understood myself.

You’ve written that when you are having a meltdown, even though your immediate reaction is to run away into isolation, what you actually want and need is the comfort and care of another trusted person. Do you have any advice for other people on the spectrum who also feel this way? Is it important to communicate your preferences to trusted friends, family, or others so they know how to best help in these situations?

Having a plan for meltdowns is very helpful when I’m in a relationship and I suggest that others make a plan ahead of time of what might help and even have a little box of things that might help during meltdowns (fidget toys)

On your website, you mentioned that your poem “Ivory at Night” was written to Beethoven’s Sym. No. 9 and that Josh Groban’s response on Twitter inspired you to continue writing poetry to classical music. What was his response and why do you find this exercise so valuable or significant?

Josh Groban shared my poem on Twitter and wrote “Absolutely beautiful Gretchen”. The fact that he read and shared my post about him with my poem meant the world to me and inspired me to remember that others do care. Knowing he cared at all inspired me to keep trying to be heard and to do a better job of hearing others.

You’ve written two children’s books (Really, Really Like Me and The Quiet Bear) that help young children understand and accept differences. How are these books different from each other?

RRLM is more of an interactive book of scenarios and The Quiet Bear is more of a classic bedtime story.

What mistakes have you seen neurotypical autism advocates make?

I try to focus on gratitude that others are trying. Avoiding stereotypes is a good idea though.

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