In December 2023, I was formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC), a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. More than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.
I was 42 years-old, and although I'd always felt 'different', I had no idea just how different I was to the hundreds of people I'd been comparing myself to, feeling as though I had been failing most of my life. Imagine everything you believed about yourself was suddenly shown to be wrong? It blew my mind! And as someone who has been happily married for 18 years, is father to two wonderful children, has held down a job in a major financial services company for 20 years (as well as publishing 20+ books), I don't meet the stereotypical expectation of someone on the spectrum.
But it explained so much: why I'm awful at small talk; why I prefer being on my own than with people; why I spend so much time scripting conversations, and replaying incidents in my head, trying to interpret whether what I said came across in the right way; and why I can't cope when routines change at the last minute. It also explains why I struggle so much to be my true self when meeting other authors and readers at writing festivals.
So, why am I sharing my diagnosis so publicly? The truth is I'm still coming to terms with what this means for me and my family. And I want more people to understand what autism is, how it affects those with this neurotype, and what you can do to support those of us on the spectrum. The biggest thing you can do is show understanding and compassion.
Autism is a lifelong condition, and for all the things I struggle with every day, there are several advantages to thinking differently to the rest of the world. For one thing, my neurotype allows me to visually see scenes in my head when plotting books. I often describe it as having a cinema screen in my head, and on the screen I can see each character interacting in each scene and chapter. And then when I sit down to write the book, I'm able to hyperfocus and write super fast. And I mean SUPER fast. Ask the average author how long it takes them to write a boo and they'll probably say a year, maybe they can write two books in a year at a push. Not me, though. I can easily write 3 - 4 books in a year, despite a very active day job and a young family. On average it takes me 50 hours to produce a well-structured first draft of a book. If that isn't a superpower, I don't know how else to describe it.
I also have fantastic attention to detail, which is ideal for the role I undertake at work. My imagination and 'out of the box' thinking allows me to find creative solutions to problems. But I am lucky. Autism affects individuals in all manner of different ways, and no two individuals suffer in the same way. I have managed to find a job that plays to my strengths, and with the understanding of my colleagues, I am confident I will be able to continue to deliver.
There are so many resources out there which will educate you about ASC, and I hope my journey inspires you to learn more about it.