“Different… Not Less” is a compilation of life stories from 14 adults on the autism spectrum. The stories were brought together by Temple Grandin, who also has a chapter at the start and end of the book, and briefly introduces each of the writers at the start of their own chapters. Temple provides and reinforces themes through-out the book; her views and intent behind the book, are also clear in the choice of contributing authors.
The sub-heading for the book nicely sums up why you’d consider buying it, or who you might consider buying it for: “Inspiring Stories of Achievement and Successful Employment from Adults with Autism, Asperger’s, and ADHD.” One of the main reasons I bought it was to be able to share it with my son; to provide relevant and meaningful role models. However, having read it, I would be careful about when to introduce it to him: Some of the stories have adult content (though not graphically) and some are quite depressing at times, so I’d hold off sharing it with him until he was perhaps an older teenager.
The childhood stories of the contributors provide mixed backgrounds in terms of “level of functioning,” though they tend to be what most would call “high functioning” or at the mild / Aspergers end of the spectrum. This doesn’t mean their stories and experiences aren’t relevant or useful for those of us with more “challenged” children: Reading about how to encourage success and support people with social, sensory, and language issues, from the insights of their personal experiences, is helpful across the board.
As a parent, I found a few important lessons scattered through-out the book, but best summarised in Temple’s own chapters: About how to effectively utilise the intense interests of a child to help them towards employment, the importance of mentors and of using non-conventional means to find employment, and keeping an open-mind about what an individual autistic child might do with their lives (not letting the stereotypes – or even intense interest in autism itself – hold back or definitively define a child’s future).
As relevant as it was to read actual examples of these lessons put into practice – through the individual life stories – I personally did not enjoy and take away as much from those life stories as I did from Temple’s own words. I also found myself frequently (and uncomfortably) “clashing” with the writers’ personalities and the ways they treated and thought of other people in their lives. But perhaps that’s part of what the book reveals; inner autistic difference from “neurotypical” ideals and expectations.
I think that being a parent of a child who was so intensely and severely affected by their autism, also skews my view of the challenges these adults faced: Parenting a child who struggles with even the simplest communication, and whose repetitive behaviours get in the way of learning and basic social interaction, gives me a different reference point of the daily struggles of autism. To put it another way: I would be “glad” if my child faced the challenges these adults had faced, because that would mean he was doing amazingly well compared to what he currently faces.
For all that, I’m still glad I read the book. I think it provides multiple windows to the autistic mind, and provides strategies and insights for success (and not just for autistic people I might add!) I’d hesitate to recommend it to parents of particularly challenged autistic children, but yes I’d otherwise recommend it to parents and especially to young adult autistics who need inspiration and to feel like others have been there before and made it work. I did walk away from the book with a renewed respect and interest in Temple Grandin herself, and I will be pursuing more books by her to further access her insights on how best to help children like my son.