We first met Chris in 2017 (face to face, I’d followed his page a long while). Eliza is in his book ‘What we love most about life’. Since then we’ve become very close friends and Eliza adores spending time with him. I’ve had the honour of reading his upcoming novel, Underdogs, which is incredible and is released next month! He’s one of our favourite geeky humans in the world and here are his answers to my questions:
Tell us a little about yourself
I’m a special needs tutor, formerly a primary school teacher, and I run the website Autistic Not Weird. Since starting it I’ve also become an international speaker and autism trainer, and a published author too- which wasn’t the plan but I love how it turned out!
What is your connection to autism?
Being autistic myself, diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 25. Having grown up before knowledge of autism was widespread, and being described as having a “slightly odd personality” in an official report at the age of ten.
What made you start a Facebook page/blog?
I left mainstream teaching in December 2014, having also worked in special education. In the gap between teaching and tutoring, I really came to miss having the opportunity to build up autistic people. So I thought I’d start up a website to write about autism while I was getting anxious and failing job interviews for a living.
Do you think there is enough support and resources in your area for autistic people and their families?
I waited literally five years between my diagnosis and my first follow-up appointment, so not particularly.
What are your thoughts about how autism is portrayed in the media?
We’re certainly heading in the right direction, although we’ll never get it perfect. Autism is just too wide and varied a spectrum for everyone to be represented accurately. But at the very least, we’ve moved on from the Rain Man days and started listening to feedback from people who are actually autistic!
What 3 books, related to autism, would you recommend to people?
(Not sure whether I can recommend my own. XD Happy to skip this one actually.)
Tell us about your novel that is due to be published next month.
Underdogs is a near-future war novel featuring autistic (and otherwise neurodiverse heroes). The whole of Britain has been taken over and imprisoned in giant walled citadels, under the watchful eye of countless cloned soldiers. Only a dozen people remain free in the abandoned countryside, eight of whom are teenagers who escaped the attack on their special school. Now they’re Britain’s last line of defence, learning how to play to their strengths in a world that’s always defined them by their weaknesses.
Turns out there’s quite a demand for neurodiversity in fiction- Underdogs has now had 2.5 times as many copies pre-ordered as the average novel sells in its opening year (and we’re not even at Day One yet!). It’s been endorsed by Steve Silberman (author of Neurotribes) and by Carol Povey of the National Autistic Society, which I’m utterly thrilled about, and I can’t wait to see everyone’s reaction once it’s released. Not least because the publisher has already accepted the sequel!
What do you hope the future holds for you as a writer and for your advocacy work?
I’ve never had any idea how to answer this question! I’m honoured to have such a well-read platform for my autism advocacy, astounded that people have even given me awards for it, and events such as having a novel published and speaking at Sydney Opera House have been totally outside anything I ever dreamed of in my teaching career. I think maintaining what I already have is absolutely enough. Although I’d love for the Underdogs series to be successful enough to continue beyond its current two volumes- I have four planned in total!
What would you like the world to know about autism?
I don’t think there’s enough room for me to answer that question! But mainly, I want the world to know that we get to be individuals too rather than just walking diagnoses; that the world becomes better for autistic people when we’re defined by our strengths rather than just our weaknesses; and that opportunities to play to our strengths do wonders for our self-perception.
You can find Chris on Facebook here: Autistic Not Weird
Website: ANW Website
Chris’s novel can be ordered here: Underdogs
Chris’s book ‘What we love most about life’: WWLMAL