Rachael Lucas on autism, teenage girls and The State of Grace
Bestselling author Rachael Lucas tells us how both her own and her daughter's autism diagnosis inspired her story of a teenage girl with Asperger's, The State of Grace.
Bestselling author Rachael Lucas tells us how both her own and her daughter's autism diagnoses inspired her story of a teenage girl with Asperger's, The State of Grace.
'I wanted to write a book featuring an autistic girl because my daughter couldn't see herself in any of the YA books we shared.'
I've been asked a number of times how I started to write a character like Grace and the answer is simple: I just thought about myself at fifteen. Back then, long before I had an autism diagnosis, the world was a brilliant, loud, colourful place and everything I experienced seemed to be turned up to full volume. So in another way, the answer is hard: I had to look inside myself and remember just how it felt when life was completely confusing. The unpredictability of adolescence was magnified by a sense that for other people, life wasn't quite as complicated.
I wanted to write a book featuring an autistic girl because my daughter (who got her diagnosis not long before I did) couldn't see herself in any of the YA books we shared. Where I struggled, to begin with, was finding help and information on where to go for advice so I've put together some advice for parents with girls with aspergers or autism.
Diagnosing girls is harder because we're all so used to the male stereotype – the geeky maths genius from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, the little boy in The A Word. But girls present very differently and while you might wonder if your girl is autistic like Grace, you might find it hard to know where to start with looking for information. There is a helpful checklist here.
I found this very useful when getting a diagnosis for my own daughter – when she was a pre-schooler and I first expressed concerns, I was told that she couldn't be autistic as she didn't line up her toys. Lots of girls don't – instead they become fascinated by one topic – horses, in my case, and dinosaurs with my daughter. She used to carry her bag of fossils around everywhere, including one memorable trip to London where she asked me to hold her rucksack whilst she went to the loo. The bag weighed a ton and when I looked inside I discovered she'd taken the enormous bag of fossils with her 'in case they missed me'.
The National Autistic Society provide support, help and information for parents and their detailed breakdown of the diagnosis process is a great place to start. It can be a long and arduous experience with people waiting an average of 18 months for the final diagnosis. I didn't write about that in The State of Grace – Grace was diagnosed when she was much younger, hopefully reflecting the way things will move as society becomes more accustomed to the idea that autism isn't just for boys.
To finish, there is a lovely video by the girls of Limpsfield Grange, the only school in the UK which is exclusively for autistic girls. I think, somehow, that Grace would have liked it there…