Penny Gotch finds shared experience in this guide to growing up with autism.
Although I had heard of Luke Jackson, I had not – and still haven’t – read his first book Freaks, Geeks and Asperger’s Syndrome. So when I sat down with his latest I did so with no preconceived notions of Jackson and his work.
I had no idea what I expected, but what I got was a book that I devoured in less than a day and could barely put down for an instant.
First and foremost, Sex, Drugs and Asperger’s Syndrome is a beautiful book. One of my personal peculiarities as an autistic is a strong distaste for dust covers: I’m convinced that if I leave them on, the book will end up slipping out and flying across the room. However, in this case, the whole design is so good that I’ve left it in place.
Everything about it has been put together perfectly; the cover images are gorgeous, the colour scheme works well and the title design is original.
The result? An extremely attractive piece of literature.
But handsome is as handsome does: more important is how the book reads. Stylistically, Jackson’s prose is exquisite. His writing is eloquent and explanatory, yet also witty and personal.
Reading Sex, Drugs and Asperger’s Syndrome feels like having a conversation with an older brother or cousin. He advises without preaching, explains without boring and throws in enough jokes to make the entire reading experience thoroughly enjoyable.
I also loved the way that Jackson uses repetition parenthesis to add levity and point out when he is making a joke. A good example of this is in the second chapter, when he adds “(NB: I might be being sarcastic.)” at the end of a paragraph. I laughed out loud: it amused me that much.
This light-hearted approach softens the blunt manner with which he approaches deeply personal topics, including his co-morbid condition of bipolar disorder; together, they combine to invite the reader into his world and create a feeling of inclusivity, as though Jackson is confiding in you as a friend. There’s a tremendous sense of intimacy to the contents before even considering some of the subject matters that it broaches.
From bullying to drugs, employment to nights out, and mental health to sex, it includes the entire spectrum of life without judgement, leaving no stone unturned and rendering no subject taboo.
Each chapter provides anecdotes from Jackson’s own life, which provide a ring of authenticity to the text, and a vast amount of useful information and advice on how the reader can cope with the end of adolescence and the beginning of maturity.
And it is that element of the book, the advice that it gives, that drew the most powerful responses from me on an emotional level. Sex, Drugs and Asperger’s Syndrome is the book that I needed to have when I was first diagnosed at 17. As I read Jackson’s words, the realisation hit me over and over again that reading this book could have saved me from much of the pain and many of the struggles that I have encountered in the past seven years. Every topic, every section, almost every page, I was nodding to myself and saying, “Yes, this is how the world works; this is what I needed to know.” I haven’t identified this strongly or felt another autistic’s words resonate this powerfully with me since I read Aspergirls by Rudy Simone.
The introduction chapter contains one of the best descriptions of autistic sensory issues I’ve ever read. The description of pretending to be neurotypical as “running an emulator” gelled perfectly with my own attempts to describe what it feels like to be functional as an autistic in a non-autistic world. And the idea of a “social hangover” after socialising is spot-on.
The fifth chapter, especially, was where my experiences seemed to match Jackson’s very closely. Entitled “Going Out and Staying In”, it talks about Jackson’s first experiences going out socialising and drinking. The way he describes socialising as an “adrenaline rush” and details how both the interactions and the alcohol can become addictive is note for note the same as what I went through when I first started going out.
Despite the differences in age and gender between Jackson and myself, reading his words and his experiences mirrored mine. They made me feel understood. They made me feel less alone.
If I could send this book back in time to my younger self, would I do so? Yes. A thousand times, yes.
Powerful, honest, funny and friendly, Sex, Drugs and Asperger’s Syndrome is a must-read. For young people on the spectrum, it’s an ideal guide through the uncomfortable and confusing transition from teenager to adult; for others, it’s a brilliant explanation of the experiences and struggles we go through and the way we view the world.
Sex, Drugs and Asperger’s Syndrome (ASD): A User Guide to Adulthood by Luke Jackson is published by Jessica Kingsley Hardback: £16.99 ISBN: 978-1-84905-645-8