An incisive and deeply candid account that explores autistic women in culture, myth, and society through the prism of the author’s own diagnosis.
Until the 1980s, autism was regarded as a condition found mostly in boys. Even in our time, autistic girls and women have largely remained undiagnosed. When portrayed in popular culture, women on the spectrum often appear simply as copies of their male counterparts — talented and socially awkward.
Yet autistic women exist, and always have. They are varied in their interests and in their experiences. Autism may be relatively new as a term and a diagnosis, but not as a way of being and functioning in the world. It has always been part of the human condition. So who are these women, and what does it mean to see the world through their eyes?
In The Autists, Clara Törnvall reclaims the language to describe autism and explores the autistic experience in arts and culture throughout history. From popular culture, films, and photography to literature, opera, and ballet, she dares to ask what it might mean to re-read these works through an autistic lens — what we might discover if we allow perspectives beyond the neurotypical to take centre stage.
“Journalist Törnvall seeks comfort in the stories of other autistic women throughout history in her illuminating debut … An insightful and involving narrator, Törnvall movingly explores how women with so-called “high-functioning autism” persisted in harnessing their abilities whether or not they lived in a time that recognised their neurotype. This winning combination of memoir and cultural history stimulates and entertains in equal measure.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review
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“Personal, entertaining, educational.”
“She writes with clarity, the style is characterized with rigor and clear pedagogics, making it easy for the reader to learn a subject that for many has only had a stereotypical ‘Rain Man’-connotations.”
“Even if you ought to avoid hyping the autistic as superheroes, Törnvall shows that conformity to the norm is a ludicrous waste of the power in these beautiful brains.”
“[E]ven today, the adult autistic woman is a person who is difficult to grasp. She’s our civilizations’ elusive shadow. She’s the topic of of the thought-provoking book, The Autists.”
“The Autists is a medical, cultural, psychological history of autism research, diagnosis, and representation. It is framed as a memoir, but goes far beyond that … This will be an eye-opening and useful book for people with preconceptions about autism and autists … This is an excellent book to help you understand how autism works, full of clear and entertaining examples and anecdotes, beautifully written and translated (by Alice E. Olsson) so that it reads smoothly and swiftly. Whether you are neurodivergent, know someone who is, or are simply interested in seeing the world as it really is, there is a lot to be learned from this short entertaining book.”
Henry Oliver, The Common Reader
“A carefully and intelligently composed book that fills a gaping hole … It is part of a big knowledge building that is ultimately about getting girls and women on the spectrum made visible and noticed.”
“Törnvall was diagnosed as autistic at the age of forty-two, and The Autists takes her own experience as a lens through which to explore the phenomena and experiences of autistic women more generally. Its research is wide-ranging … I was particularly delighted by Törnvall’s chapter on language, ‘Too Much Faith in Words’”
Caitlin McGregor, Sydney Review of Books