In Stories of Autistic Joy, Laura Kate Dale and 15 other autistic authors from around the world open the door and invite you to explore and celebrate the candid, uplifting and intimate moments of autistic joy. In this exclusive extract, adapted from the book’s introduction, Laura discusses the importance of hearing stories of autistic joy, and tell us what she hopes for the book.
For those of us with a formal autism spectrum diagnosis, that diagnosis usually comes as a direct result of struggle, suffering, and impairment. Whether diagnosis comes as a result of a parent concerned we’re not making social connections comparable to those of our allistic peers, or from our own experiences struggling to manage basic sensory data and changes in routine that seem to be so simple for those around us, a formal diagnosis usually means that someone was concerned that we, as autistic people, are struggling to live the same kind of life as those around us.
When all you see of a person is the ways they struggle to assimilate, it is easy to assume that behind that experience is an inherently lesser life.
When first deciding I wanted to put together this anthology of stories of autistic joy, the balancing act for me was assembling a collection of stories that focus on autistic joy, but without erasing the fact that the condition is a disability, or going in the opposite direction and painting autism as purely wonderful to live with. I wanted to make sure I centered joy, without painting a one-sided picture of life.
A little background about myself: my name is Laura Kate Dale, and I am a published author and media critic. I am 32 years old, queer, and transgender. My memoir, Uncomfortable Labels, published back in 2019, focused on the intersection of living as both trans and autistic, and the ways that those facets of my life intersected and overlapped. When I wrote that book, a lot of my focus was on struggle and challenge. A lot of my life prior to formal diagnosis was defined by my struggles as an undiagnosed autistic person living without support tools or accommodations for my condition, and it felt important to talk about what was difficult, to help those who read the book to understand why I am, fundamentally, the person I am today.
But in the years since that book was published, and generally in the years since my diagnosis, my relationship with my autism diagnosis has actually changed quite dramatically. Sure, I still struggle with elements of my life as a disabled person, but I have over the past decade become a lot better at seeing, and articulating, the unique joys I experience, day to day, in life.
What I think sets this anthology apart is the fact that it is entirely a collection of own voices stories shared by autistic writers, which attempts to shed light on autistic joy through an unapologetically introspective autistic lens, focused on the minutiae of the ways we experience joy. In my own essays, which make up around one quarter of this collection, as well as the essays of our wonderfully varied contributors, we aim to explain experiences of autistic joy through a lens of subjective, internal, personal experience. My hope as this collection’s editor is that for anyone reading who is not autistic themselves, each essay can give you some insight into the autistic experience that sheds light on why autistic life isn’t entirely about struggling and suffering, and how the areas where we find joy, and suffering, are often two sides of the same coin.
From stories about the joy of sorting, organizing, and collecting, to stories about the unique joys of autistic socialization, the beauty of hyperfixations, and the freedom that comes from comfort textures, this anthology aims to show the autistic experience not as one that is always amazing and without struggle, but one full of small unique beautiful joys, as told by the people living autistic lives.
Suffering is a part of autistic life, but it’s often not the focus, and in this anthology that is what I hope to capture. These stories focusing on joy are not erasing the fact that suffering and challenges come hand in hand with being autistic, but are aiming to carve out a space to explain and contextualize autistic joy, on autistic terms, from an autistic perspective.
These stories come from a variety of wonderful autistic authors with a wide range of support needs, from a wide range of different countries, and with a variety of different backgrounds. The essays were selected in part to ensure a variety of perspectives on the autistic experience, prioritizing giving space to those from backgrounds who face additional barriers to diagnosis, or whose stories as autistic people are too rarely given a spotlight.
For those of you reading who are not yourselves autistic, I hope you come away with some new understanding of the unique shapes that autistic joy can form.