Relationships

‘What It Feels Like to Have Autism’

Camilla Pang

When Camilla Pang was five years old, she asked her mother if there were a manual for humans…

Since she was on the autism spectrum, Pang had a hard time figuring out the people around her. “I needed to learn how to react, how to laugh in the right places, how to live among them,” she explains. Her mother said no, there was no such manual — which only inspired Pang. “I had to write my own,” she says. Two decades later, Pang is a postdoctoral scientist living in England, and her book comes out today: An Outsider’s Guide to Humans. Below, I spoke to her about what living with autism feels like.

What does it feel like in your mind? I was riveted by the description in your book about commuting by train across London and how that was such a sensory overload.
There’s a stoicism you have to have in a commute, even though it feels like everything is on a survival instinct. I really react to smells and the social labyrinth. Where do I stand? Is someone going to touch the back of my head? Is that their personal space or mine? A lot of people say, a commute shouldn’t be hard because it’s very normal. But it doesn’t feel normal to me. And I worry that I’ll fail my day before I even can express myself.

You say you feel like an ‘outsider’ around people. Can you talk more about that?
I don’t have a natural instinct of how to act, like other people. I can’t just intuit social norms, like many others can. Instead, I try to systemize how people will act or react. And I take things very literally. Because if I told you about a system that you weren’t familiar with, of course you’d take things literally.

What is an example of something you didn’t understand until you wrote your book?
As I got older, I found socializing really problematic — especially in groups. I never felt like I could naturally wrangle my way into belonging, be it girl talk, small talk, or even talking to adults, since I would speak to everyone the same way. Thankfully, my family members and mentors would explain things to me that were ‘obvious,’ such as how long to hug someone and why people talk in a certain way, which helped a lot.

That sounds like it would be hard in school.
I didn’t understand this concept of ‘cool’ — it was very abstract. But I knew it was something that people valued. I looked in magazines and tried to test whether it was something that people wear, say, or just have, like some magic fairy-dust ingredient. I wanted to be taught these things and do research around what these meant. I found it all particularly hard. So, I would end up staying with the same clothing pattern for a long time, as a safety routine — the same colors, same shape, same hair, and the order in which I would put them on like a spacesuit that would form a protective layer around me.

Why were patterns so important to you?
I would seek patterns everywhere — from the order in which I grabbed different colored pens from my bag, to the shape of a person’s fingernails — to try to reverse engineer and pick apart people’s communication style and how this reflected in how they treated people in making them happy or unhappy. When you’re investigating the world, you want to keep variables routine and constant — your clothes, your hair, the positioning of your chair — so you can change just one variable. And when you change one thing in the middle of an experiment, wouldn’t you have a meltdown?

What do you wish neurotypical people understood about people with autism?
I don’t like when people assume I have no empathy just because I can’t express myself in the same way in conversation. I’ve always wanted to live a life where I could go to university, have a loving partner, have friends that feel like family, and the independence and the autonomy that a job and adulthood promises people.

Why do you think it’s harder for girls, than boys, to be diagnosed with autism?
Ultimately it’s because there’s a kind of masculinization of autism. Diagnoses are biased toward symptoms that boys show — speaking robotically, playing computer games, etc. Also, girls often mask their symptoms.

Did you mask symptoms growing up?
Around age 17, I started to mask it so I would look like I had a normal life from the outside. It felt horrible to suppress myself and I felt tired by just existing. Really, all I wanted to do was play video games 24 hours a day, obsessively read, underline things, listen to music and exist in my own bubble. Today I do still have to mask some of my reactions at work — I just can’t sit at a desk from 9 to 5 without going completely hysterical and having panic attacks. So, I take lunchtime sprint walks and use a standing desk. And my boss understands that I need breaks — come back in five minutes, get a drink of water and we’ll start afresh — and that’s amazing. It didn’t take him reading a book, it took him being a human being.

You’ve said that your neurodiversity is your superpower.
The fact that I’m able to translate between both sides — it’s quite a unique thing for someone on the autism spectrum to do on behalf of others. I do feel like being on the spectrum has been a blessing and enabled me to be true to myself because I can’t be any other thing.

What do you want people to take away from your book?
Hope, in whatever form. I wanted to write this book for my mom so she’d know what was going on and have the transparency I wish I could have given her years back. A lot of parents have said thank you. And of course, I wrote the book for myself and for those who need a manual for people, so others can say, ‘I feel like that! I feel like this!’

an outsider's guide to humans

Thank you so much, Camilla!

P.S. How to navigate a special needs encounter, and 11 beautiful reader comments on parenting.

(Author photo by Greg Barker.)

  1. Hey! Thanks for such a powerful article! Such things make you think. I often read posts and books related to autism, since my child has autism, it is difficult, but I believe that people with autism are much stronger moral than everyone else. One of my all-time favorite autism books is ‘Odd Girl Out’ by Laura James. She made a very strong impression on me. Thank you for talking about this topic, it is important for people to know about this and read about this information!

  2. I’ll have to look for her book. My 15-year-old son has Aspergers and struggles with socialization. He has improved with age but it can be hard for him to navigate interaction. I’ve known girls on the spectrum too and most of what I’ve read has been geared more to boys. So glad she wrote this book!

  3. Claire says...

    What a great article- I am looking forward to reading Camilla’s book- hearing autistic voices really is one of the most important ways to learn about and understand autism.

    Other books I have loved about autistic women are ‘Odd Girl Out’ by Laura James, which illuminated my understanding of autism and girls. And the graphic novel, ‘La Difference Invisible’ by Julie Dachez is also brilliant, and I believe has been recently translated into English- well worth reading.

    I have worked with autistic children and young people for the OST 16 years. For teachers and other people working with autistic children, we made these short and snappy video clips a few years ago – https://padlet.com/ClaireCork/nf7ojoj9y1nu4484 – they may be helpful.

  4. Jessika says...

    I just love this blog and everything it has to offer! I’m a loyal follower, and will continue to be, but I was wondering if anyone had other suggestions for similar blogs? This is my go-to, but I just want to add some variety and extra reading material ❤️

  5. Megan says...

    This looks like a wonderful book and I can’t wait to read!

    I’m not neurotypical, either. I’m a closeted dyslexic. Like Dr. Peng, I also have a PhD. But because dyslexia is typically portrayed purely as a severe learning disability, people tend to think of dyslexics as unintelligent and illiterate, so I hide this. Although I have severe dyslexia and dyspraxia, and didn’t learn to read or write properly until I was about 9 or 10 years old, once I did so, I soared past my classmates in terms of scholastic achievement. This led to severe bullying, unfortunately, as I went straight from special ed to gifted classes and my new ‘smart’ classmates were threatened, I guess. Dyslexics aren’t dumb, we just learn differently and see things differently. I also have superpowers– I can visualize things with a dimensionality that I know most people can’t see. For instance, I rarely get lost and it frustrates me when neurotypical people depend on their phones for directions to somewhere they’ve been before. Both of my grandfathers were also dyslexics (the force is strong in our family lol). They joined the military because college was out of the question for them, and they both rose rapidly to high ranks, I think in part because dyslexics can be very effective strategic thinkers– it’s another manifestation of the visualization thing. I love my mind and wouldn’t wish away my dyslexia. But, like the autistic commenters here, I wish that dyslexia weren’t so mischaracterized and misunderstood.

  6. Cyndi says...

    This is eye opening, enlightened me to how my daughter acts/reacts to situations. Helps me understand how she sees things and why since middle school she has really struggled with friendships and any relationship. Thanks you for posting this. Getting the book now!

  7. Sandra says...

    My 10-year-old son is autistic and I really appreciate hearing from autistic adults and I can’t wait to read the book. I also SO appreciate people who don’t have anyone nonneurotypical in their lives taking the time to educate themselves about autism. And as I’ve realized “What it feels like to have autism” is a little misleading because each person with autism is different despite many similarities. As the saying goes, if you’ve met one person with autism you’ve met…one person with autism. We couldn’t even understand our son’s diagnosis at first because it wasn’t reflected in what we thought we knew about autism. My husband’s experience was based on one young man we knew casually and one character on a TV show, and since our son wasn’t like either of them it took my husband over a year to start to believe the diagnosis. I have a former neighbor who wasn’t diagnosed until adulthood, and he recently shared a pie chart with all of the ways a person can be affected by their autism. That was what finally made the most sense to me…my son has experience with some pieces of the pie, but others seemingly not at all. I look forward to reading the book, and am so glad the author wrote it. Autism can effect so much in a person’s life (job interviews, dating, school). Educating people about it is key. Hearing the author’s boss’s willingness to understand her needs brought tears to my eyes…we have an IEP meeting coming up and I feel like I am always fighting the good fight to get some people to understand my child’s classroom needs. Sometimes the goal seems to be to help autistic people work on “flexible thinking,” when really I think it is the rest of us who have some work to do.

    • R Rogers says...

      Ditto! I wish more people knew about autism and took the time to learn about it, beyond the quick stereotypes in movies and TV shows.

      Excited to read this book! And really glad the Cup of Jo team has highlighted it here ❤️.

  8. Kelly says...

    Fascinating interview. Thank you!

  9. Alexa says...

    Thank you so much for posting this. I knew my daughter was not neurotypical from an early age. Around age 3, I started navigating the maze of waitlists, facility visits, and evaluations that eventually led to her diagnosis at age five. Now, at age 7, I am still wrangling with the school to get her support because they don’t see her challenges. She is able to mask quite well. Autism can be very hidden, and for both parents and children, that is very isolating. And to be honest, the more I learn about my daughter’s high functioning autism and observe her struggles, the more I see myself. I commend you for posting on a topic that does not get enough attention, and for providing a perspective from someone who experiences neurodiversity firsthand. I’ll look forward to reading this book and, hopefully, eventually sharing it with my daughter.

  10. Jessica says...

    I’m a scientist as well, and reading through her interview, it struck me how beneficial her way of perceiving the world has likely been to her career in science. Her ability to dissect patterns would be so valuable in designing an experiment. I’m not always so perceptive, and there would be so many times when I’d be well into an experiment when a detail I had neglected suddenly presented itself as important and I would have to start over. Neurotypical people often have a bad habit of viewing these differences in perception as a disability, and certainly I see how it could make living amongst the “typical” difficult. But I can also appreciate what a gift these traits can be, as she articulated in her interview.

  11. Meg says...

    This interview was wonderful. Thank you. I agree, she is a gifted translator.

  12. ks says...

    I loved this article! The company I work for supports people with Autism, ABA Therapy specifically, and my time there has humbled and educated me many times over. Julie is an adult with Autism who I’ve had the chance to meet and her podcast – Neur-a-typical – is one that keeps me laughing and curious about her 20-30 something year old interactions with the world around her. Would recommend!

  13. “And my boss understands that I need breaks — come back in five minutes, get a drink of water and we’ll start afresh — and that’s amazing. It didn’t take him reading a book, it took him being a human being.” Important! Thank you, Dr Pang! Your book sounds incredible, I’ll be passing it along to family members…my nephew is on the spectrum- and I think we can all learn from your experiences♥

  14. miriam says...

    I am really excited to read this, I’d also recommend the wonderful “How to be autistic” by Charlotte Amelia Poe, a fantastic non-binary autistic writer, who describes in a unique way what it’s like to grow up as an autistic person.

    There is also a brilliant anthology of short pieces called “Stim”, all featuring ND writers and voices, fiction and non-fiction.

    There is a great memoir called Asperger’s – a love story, which is about a NT woman and her relationship with a ND man. Perfect for anyone in that particular dynamic, which has a lot of challenges! Incidentally, the author later discovered she was ND too :D

    For women/AFAB people who are wondering if they may be autistic, or have girls who are diagnosed or they are wondering about, I’d also recommend the work of Sarah Hendrickx. She is an incredible autistic advocate, speaker and campaigner, whose talks changed my life. She has some brilliant videos on YouTube which are well worth a watch.

    Yo Samdy Sam is another brill autistic woman YouTuber, who shares insightful and funny content that is worth a watch.

    There are SO many great ND writers, artists and creatives all trying to share our perspective, and I hope we can be seen and understood more. Features like this interview really help! :) It’s so important for more ND voices to be given a platform to share our stories, and not just have fictional retellings dreamed up by NT people, that are often harmful/stereotyped/romanticised. We all just want to be seen and heard in the fullness of our glorious, weird and wonderful selves. We deserve it too!

    • Genevieve Martin says...

      a great list, thanks for taking the time to write it!

    • mimi says...

      Temple Grandin film was an eye opener for me and so fascinating on how she thinks after she sees something. The film was very educational and inspiring for me. I highly recommend it.

    • Charlie says...

      Wow thanks for this! And thanks for the article. So much to learn and read and discover! XO

  15. Naomi says...

    I am a woman with autism, and so much of this was deeply relatable (almost comforting) to read. Thanks to you and Dr. Pang for this feature. I am excited to read her book.

    One thing I would push back on, however, is the framing of autism/neurodiversity as a superpower. I realize that Dr. Pang is speaking of her personal experience, and I respect that. And I understand that given all the misconceptions about autism it’s helpful in some ways to highlight its positive aspects and all the achievements and capabilities of people with autism. However, I think this “superpower” framing (which I have started to hear a lot from both autistic people and allies) can be damaging. While it’s true that autism can confer real benefits, including things mentioned above like reduced susceptibility to peer pressure and a heightened ability to recognize patterns, it also brings very significant limitations and challenges.

    I personally consider autism to be a disability, and neurotypical people need to understand this aspect of it as well, including (sometimes especially?) for “high functioning” autistic people. I have a successful career, an Ivy League graduate degree, a spouse, and a family, yet I frankly feel that I have achieved those things IN SPITE of my autism, generally not because of it. For me, autism has been fairly life defining in a lot of ways, most of them not positive. When I was a child and a younger adult, for example, I had very severe social limitations and was often unable to speak normally–sometimes not at all—with people outside my family. Obviously, this was a tremendous impediment in every aspect of my life, both personal and professional. This speech issue still happens to me sometimes, even though I am almost forty and have spent years practicing conversation and related social cues (both on my own and in autism-related therapy). Another example is that due to autism-related sensory issues, I can’t drive—this has obvious practical consequences.

    Yes, I am lucky to have the ability and willpower AND RESOURCES necessary to have somewhat overcome and/or worked around these types issues over a decades-long timescale. But it has been a very significant and painful struggle, which I will be engaged in forever. And this is just one example of the very real hardships of being autistic. Moreover, the more “neurotypical-passing” one becomes, the less people understand, believe, or care that the disability is there—which obviously makes getting accomodation and assistance much more difficult. I do very much appreciate recent gains in awareness of neurodiversity and the accompanying increase in understanding that autistic people can and do become professionally successful, be good spouses, etc. I just think it’s important to be clear that autism isn’t only another way of being—it in fact brings major challenges and limitations to most autistic people, no matter how “high functioning.”

    Again, great article—just wanted to highlight this further point that in my experience has been important for people to know.

    • Christina says...

      Naomi, I am a fellow autistic woman and I relate to your post. I have a loving husband and a rewarding career. My autism provides me with a unique perspective that can sometimes be used as a sort of superpower. At the same time, I struggle very much with social interactions and friendships. I feel like an outsider all the time. And I don’t drive. I am often reminded of the last line from Adrianne Rich’s poem “Power”: “her wounds came from the same source as her power.”

    • Laura says...

      Thank you so much for sharing your perspective!

    • miriam says...

      Completely agree, there is a danger of over-romanticising autistic people when you don’t acknowledge that it’s also a real disability, albeit to different extents in every person. Sia’s dreadful comments about the supposed “purity” and “special abilities” of autistic people, and her refusal to say that it is a disability – in light of her new movie being critiqued, sum that up perfectly.

      Not to mention the prejudices and restrictions of an ableist society that doesn’t recognise or understand limitations or accessibility issues. I really struggle with communication in group contexts, and this is such a problem in work. But it’s very scary to talk about this to my employers, in case they react poorly. And the complete exhaustion of trying to pass all the time! And so many other things that NT people may just not realise how difficult it can be to cope with.

    • R Rogers says...

      Yes!! Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. I’m an NT woman with an ND husband who “passes” — he has so many wonderful qualities and sometimes his autism IS a superpower but a lot of times it just makes life really hard — exhausting, frustrating, dispiriting — for him and for our family. I wish people realized his diagnosis was a real thing, not just me over-pathologizing him or him not trying hard enough.

  16. CJ says...

    Thank you for this post. I have several autistic family members, including my spouse. It’s what makes him himself, and many of the reasons i love him are tied up with that. I just wish it wasn’t hard for other people to understand and be respectful.

    I see autism a lot in the media these days but it’s often inaccurate (atypical, the Netflix show) or negative. My current favorite representation is Amy Schumer’s husband, and her explanations of their relationship. Let’s normalize recognition of this and other differences. Let’s acknowledge sensory overload and sensitivities and care for each other in a loving way.

  17. Genevieve Martin says...

    This is such an interesting feature, I went and found a few more review and interviews with Camilla Pang and now can’t wait to read this book.
    In the UK it’s called “Explaining Humans: What Science Can Teach Us about Life, Love and Relationships” (and has been out a few months) if anyone else is looking and struggling to find it :)

  18. Laura says...

    Thank you, Dr. Pang, for writing this book! I have been a teacher for students on the spectrum for a long time, so I’m always looking for more ways to get insight/experiences from people on the spectrum. I also highly recommend The Journal of Best Practices, by David Finch. It’s a first person memoir from a man who got diagnosed as being on the spectrum as an adult.

  19. Peony says...

    A colleague of mine is a psychotherapist who works with people who have Autism or Asperger’s. She has a lot of experience with what happens when diagnosis happens in adulthood and works with couples whose relationships are affected by having different ways of being in the world.

    http://www.karenlevinetherapy.com/

  20. Liz says...

    Thank you so much, Dr. Pang, for writing this book, and Cup of Jo for featuring it. I learned that my 8yo has Aspergers a year ago after various other (incorrect) diagnoses. It truly is a spectrum. Despite teaching being in education for 16 years, I never suspected it because he didn’t have the “typical” characteristics that people automatically think of. I want him to embrace his uniqueness and not see his brain that “doesn’t work like other peoples’ ” as a negative thing. I will definitely be reading your book.

  21. Abesha1 says...

    “Boomer and Me,” by Jo Case, is a memoir about a woman whose son got an autism diagnosis. She then realized she fits, too, and it is life changing for her to know that.

    No affiliations; it was a good read.

  22. Amy says...

    Add me to the chorus of people who can’t wait to read your book, Dr. Pang! What a valuable perspective. Thank you for sharing.

  23. Christina says...

    As an autistic woman, I am super excited to read Camilla’s book. I could totally relate to some of the things she mentioned in the interview: not understanding what “cool” means, not having a natural instinct re: how to act around people, and patterns — I love love love patterns. Hope to see more books / posts / etc featuring autistic women. There are a lot of us out there and we are just beginning to tell our stories. :-)

  24. Jen says...

    I have had a particularly difficult week with my 8 yo who is diagnosed ASD-ADHD. The moment I feel that we are in a good groove he has a developmental growth spurt and the whole world flips upside down again. I know that most parents experience this phenomena, but the intensity of the shifts with a neurodivergent child can really bring you right to the edge of sanity. The arrival of this book today is like a gift in my lap! Thank You COJ team for shining a light on this beautiful woman and especially on a topic that is so often misunderstood.

    I have just ordered the audiobook version. For anyone considering a purchase….Camilla’s voice is beyond AMAZING!!!

    • Meredith says...

      I completely empathize, Jen. We also have a 5 year old son with ASD-ADHD and reading about Dr. Pang was like a ray of light/Hope at the end of a dark tunnel. Thanks for sharing in such an eloquent way♥️

  25. Jessie says...

    Thank you for the interview, Joanna, & thank you for writing this book, Dr. Pang.

    On a related note, if anyone is interested in learning more about autism from autistic people, I highly recommend the Autistic Self Advocacy Network
    (www.autistic advocacy.org) and the Autistic Women & Non-binary Network (www.awnnetwork.org)

  26. Kristin says...

    Wow, this sounds like a totally fascinating read. Cant wait to pick it up! Great interview as well.

    • Kristin says...

      Also, your lipstick color is so pretty!

  27. Christy says...

    Ahh, wow, YES! I love this interview. She sounds amazing. I cannot wait to read this book.

  28. Lynn says...

    You’re a born scientist, Camilla! Thank you for what you do.

  29. K says...

    How wonderful. Thank you for the introduction to her work.

  30. Anon says...

    Fascinating. This reminded me of a book I read years ago: The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-Time. It was a fictional story written from the perspective of someone with autism. It was very well done, such a progressive choice to write the book from a different perspective.
    Thank you for sharing. I want to read Dr. Pang’s book.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh yes! I loved that book.

    • Lauren says...

      Loved this book as well! Some great non-fiction books I highly recommend:

      Freaks, Geeks, and Aspergers Syndrome by Luke Jackson. Luke is a teenager in the UK who writes eloquently about how Aspergers impacts his life. His insight and wit make this an informative, enjoyable read.

      Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism by Arthur Fleischmann and Carly Fleischmann. Carly is a non-verbal child diagnosed with severe autism who surprises her family when she communicates with them on their laptop at the age of 10. Her father writes about her struggles and triumphs. Best part of the book is the last chapter written by Carly.

      Raising Cubby by John Elder Robison. Father and son are both on the spectrum. Again, both experience many challenges. Father talks about his struggles with relationships and jobs, but also how he makes his strengths and areas of interest work for him.

  31. Megan says...

    I cannot wait to read it! Thank you for this interview. My 11 year old son has done the preliminary testing for autism and scored “highly likely” autistic. We’ve decided not to pursue further diagnosis for now.
    One of the joys of his personality is that he’ll crack up any time we use an idiom. Someone said “bite the bullet” the other day and he just howled.

    • Shireen says...

      I love this

  32. Brienne says...

    My daughter turns 7 on Friday and was diagnosed at 2 years old. We were so lucky to get her incredible support from such a young age, but as other parent’s have said, it is such a gift to have first person accounts like this book from Dr. Pang. I cannot wait to read it and learn from it, and someday I am sure my daughter will appreciate it too. Thank you Dr. Pang and thank you Cup of Jo for all of the incredibly eye opening content.

  33. maywyn says...

    Wow! I look very forward to reading Pang’s book! Great interview.
    It is often difficult, and very frustrating, trying to explain to a person, in such a way they can relate, and grasp not everyone processes the same ways. I’m told I look ok, therefore I am ok. Yes, I am ok, but not your ok.

    • E says...

      “I am ok, but not your ok.” Thank you for saying that – it’s such a succinct and powerful reminder of such an important point.

    • Laura says...

      I also love that: “I am ok, but not your ok.”

  34. b says...

    I immediately ordered her book. I spent a summer with kids and adults with autism and Asperger’s at a summer camp specifically for them – it was a powerful, eye-opening experience (and the hardest thing I’ve ever done). I have major respect for the parents and other caregivers helping these kids and adults on a daily basis.

    • ne says...

      Please Jo, can you please interview B?

      And thank you from the bottom of my heart to create such a safe space for all of us to grow!! I have been coming to your page for years and have come to appreciate you more and more as time has passed – for rising up to the challenges with such grace!!

    • b says...

      Ne, that’s so kind of you to say, but I’m not interview worthy in the least. I’m just a writer who used to be a teacher.

    • Olivia says...

      Just wanted to throw it out there that Aspergers is no longer a formal diagnosis as there is no clear distinction between Aspergers and the rest of the spectrum. Additionally, many people on the spectrum find it harmful to draw that distinction for “high functioning” (also a term on its way out) individuals. (I know some folks really identify with the Aspergers label, but others still find the distinction, especially from NT people, to be harmful). ty!

  35. Jules says...

    What would someone do if they were starting to wonder if they might be on the spectrum? Does it help as an adult to learn these things?

    • Caitlin says...

      I’m a therapist who often works with adults on the spectrum – including those who are diagnosed as adults. I get asked this question a lot. I think a lot of people find it useful from a self-knowledge perspective to understand more about this diagnosis and how it presents in their life. But even if you didn’t “technically” qualify for a diagnosis it can be illuminating to look into the behaviors or experiences that are making you wonder. I usually suggest adults start with a therapist who has knowledge about autism to explore their traits, process, and possibly do some behavioral interventions. Technical diagnoses are important for kids because they unlock funding for services, it’s a little different as an adult. Wishing you the best, Jules!

    • Kiana says...

      Hi Jules! My little girl is on the autism spectrum but before she got that diagnosis, she was diagnosed as having sensory integration disorder. When I discovered that and learned about it, I was realized I actually have that myself. It explains why I find it so tiresome to be in noisy or crowded places, why certain sounds give me a fight or flight reflex, why I’ve always been a bit of a neat freak because clutter bugs me and makes me anxious. So, I think a diagnosis at any age is helpful because you start to understand yourself and, if you have kids, you can understand them better too.

    • Leigh says...

      Jules, I highly recommend getting tested and learning whether you fit the criteria. I was diagnosed last year in my 30s and it felt like coming home. It’s helped me accept the parts of me that made me feel different and cherish the parts that make me special. I still haven’t shared the diagnosis widely, because it’s important to me that this doesn’t change my relationships with others. But it definitely has helped me understand myself better. Good luck!

    • K says...

      Not sure where you live, I am in Australia and got diagnosed as an adult through a psychology practice that specialises in autism. They did a bunch of interviews with people who knew me and I did some questionnaires and a TASIT test. There is no blood test or anything. I did it because I wanted to know, having felt on the outer socially my whole life. It has been useful to me, but while I have tried some psychologists to help with social anxiety etc since my diagnosis, that hasnt really worked for me. I am on psych medication, which I was on prior to my diagnosis and that really addressed a lot of my ongoing social anxiety and repetitive/black and white thinking.
      Like Naomi, I wouldnt say my autism is a superpower, and I have no rainman like abilities. I am happily married with a child and a good career. As an adult, I feel you sort of find your people, have more control over your life and things are easier – you’re not forced to spend time with bullies in the same way as during school, and of course your Mum doesnt get to nag you to make eye contact with strangers all the time!

  36. Caitlin says...

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. As a parent who is not on the spectrum, I’m constantly trying to imagine what the world feels like to my daughter. I think her autism is her super-power and I want to teach her how to use it!

    • This is such a wonderful approach and a gift for your daughter that you see it this way. Beautiful.

  37. DHJ says...

    This reminds me so much of what my immigrant mother-in-law has told me about being new to this country from Asia as a young girl. Learning nuance to something you did not naturally learn as a child is indeed working your way through a foreign culture whether you are autistic or new to a place.

    Thank you for sharing your experience Camilla!

  38. Molly says...

    I wonder if he would feel bad to even learn what autism is? I know I had a lot of obsessive tendencies (researching compulsively around my most anxious topic, reassuring myself, and ruminating constantly) and it was kind of freeing when a psychiatrist “diagnosed” me with Pure-O/OCD. It helped me to know there were research-based solutions to my issues. I do truly think mental health and neruodiversity are a spectrum! I have times of being more obsessive, and times of being more balanced. We are all on the spectrum, but it might be helpful for your son to know there are people who have the same issues as him, and there are some ways to cope with this issue, even if he never chooses to identify as autistic.

  39. Lilj says...

    Oh, how we need each other! This chorus of recognition and identifying with each other just reinforces how everyone’s voice is needed to interpret this thing called life. Thank you!

  40. Clare says...

    So interesting, thank you. I would love this same thing but for dementia. That said, I realize it’s impossible bc to have bad dementia is to (likely) not be able to write a book explaining your experience. But my dad has Lewy Body Dementia and I so wish I could know/feel what it feels like to him. Like if I could put on those drunk driver glasses cops used to show kids to scare them of drunk driving. but for dementia instead.

    • Brodie says...

      Still Alice by Lisa Genova is a novel vs. a non-fiction account, but the main character receives an early onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis and provides a first hand experience with the disease as it progresses. The author has a PhD in neuroscience and I found the novel really illuminating and maybe you would as well.

  41. My 17-year-old daughter has autism and I love showing her articles about other girls with autism. I especially love when they are talking with confidence and pride about their neurodiversity. I want my daughter to OWN her neurodiversity and articles like this help. They also help with spreading awareness and empathy for our amazing spectrum girls.
    I’ll be getting the book to put under the tree. Thank you for posting. I cried when I saw it.

    • Hilary says...

      Shena-

      Have you and your daughter watched Greta Thunberg’s documentary “I Am Greta?” She is one of my favorite people and an amazing role model for everyone, and she is also neurodiverse!

  42. Shirley says...

    I can’t wait to read this book. Thank you, Dr. Pang, for your bravery and willingness to be vulnerable in order to help others feel less alone. Also thank you for your persistence in breaking through stereotypes in so many ways. You seem like a brilliant scientist and a true role model for girls (and boys), especially those interested in STEM. I am a psychotherapist who works in psychosocial rehabilitation with those diagnosed with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. These interactions that you describe are exactly the kinds of things we teach our clients- socialization “norms” that neurotypical folks typically take for granted. We also coach them on how to live more independently outside of their families, how to obtain and keep a job, manage their diagnosis, etc.

    Also, as an Asian female who immigrated to the US at a young age, I very much can identify with feeling like an outsider and not knowing “norms.” There are so many different ways that “regular” and “normal” socialization and interactions exclude others. Thank you for creating a bridge to help close the divide.

  43. Amanda says...

    This looks like a fascinating read. Not to put it in a category, but something critically needed for others to understand, like “The Collected Schizophrenias” by Esmee Weijun Wang. This interview makes me wonder what “neurotypical” is anymore.

    • Shirley says...

      I loved “The Collected Schizophrenias.” It was such a well written book that really helped me to understand from a first person account what schizophrenia is and how difficult the hospital experience can be. It also gave me so much more empathy and connection to my clients. I feel that the best part of the book, however, is that one does not need to be limited by their diagnosis and one can, and many DO lead highly functioning and accomplished lives. A diagnosis is really only a guide map, not a life sentence. It sounds like this book also provides the same kind of hope and helpful revelations for those with autism and the family members supporting them.

  44. MB says...

    Thank you for writing this book Dr. Pang! If people want to watch a really interesting show I suggest “Love on the Spectrum”. It’s so sweet & insightful & it really shows that there is a wide spectrum to autism. I believe my tween son is on the spectrum. He has said that it’s hard to read body language & to understand all the social norms we take for granted. Conversation with peers is so tricky & basically nonexistent now with no in person school. He has no friends & reads almost the entire day. He hasn’t been diagnosed so I hate to give him this book & make him feel worse but I bet it would help to decode the world around him & give him some kind of guidebook. I try to help but without practice, it’s hard to make changes.

  45. Thyme says...

    “I can’t just intuit social norms, like many others can.”

    Interestingly enough, I see a parallel to when I was learning English in 2nd/3rd grade, when I asked about a specific grammar rule (when do you use have/has/had or could/can. Why is it “I have” but “she has” even though they’re both singular?), my teacher would say something like, “Well, if you say it out loud, does it make sense?” and she couldn’t understand that I didn’t speak English long enough or frequently enough to have it “make sense” to me. I needed a system to learn English grammar and all the exceptions too.

    I didn’t think that Camilla’s story would resonate with me in this way. What an insightful book, it seems. Would love to read it!

    • Midori says...

      That just sounds like a terrible teacher who has the very same deficit in perspective-taking that people with autistic traits are expected to have! She was not able to put herself “in your shoes”–which is why neurodiversity is so important. Just because a large group of so-called neurotypicals think a certain form of social behavior is “normal” does not make it inherently better; it is simply an unspoken group agreement. The truth is, many, many people have difficulty understanding the perspectives of others, and the world would be a better place if everyone acknowledged that.

  46. I love this so much. There’s a great non-profit in Kansas City, Camp Encourage (they offer day, overnight and other kinds of summer camp experiences for children on the spectrum). Their biggest fundraiser every year is called “An Evening with the ‘Rents” and for the first 4 or so years, autism parents would write, practice and finally perform a stand up comedy show about their experiences and some of the commonalities between them as Autism parents. It was fully heartwarming, but things got even more amazing, profound and hilarious when adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders started performing, too. Going to tie this into a #GivingTuesday shout out for Camp Encourage. Or check out YouTube for performances from years past. Ryan and Joe are two great adults on the spectrum who illuminated their experience for the audience while making us laugh so hard.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      ow, this sounds amazing, allyson! thank you so much for sharing. I’ve also been interested in Camp Alsing in Maine. they do overnight camp, and it looks really great: https://campalsing.com

      going to look up camp encourage (love the name) right now: http://campencourage.org

    • b says...

      Also, shoutout to Camp Royall in Pittsboro, North Carolina – they have a dedicated staff doing amazing things for kids and adults with autism and Asperger’s.

    • Rachel says...

      Thank you for these camp links! I have a fifth grader who is high functioning on the autism spectrum. Summertime is often its own challenge—day camp typically is often loud and hot and and chaotic and doesn’t have enough structure to be a successful experience. It has been hard to decide what part of my own beloved childhood experiences and memories (sleep away camp!) to put away and parent the kid that I have. To know these camps exist, is a great boost.

      Joanna, I love that you are featuring differently abled individuals. I also have two brothers (ages 7 and 10). Since the pandemic has meant close quarters, the sibling relationship has been the toughest/roughest part of navigating the last 6 months. A few years ago, I heard Walter Siskind speak about his organization Sibstrong. If you’re looking for a follow up post, would love this topic explored: https://www.sibstrong.org/about/

  47. A says...

    Thank you, Dr. Pang! I am an occupational therapist and a teacher, and this book is so needed and appreciated!

  48. Tim Jussaume says...

    Thank you, Dr. Pang! I am an occupational therapist and a teacher, and this book is so needed and appreciated!

  49. analisa says...

    Wow.
    I mean I relate to everything she says. I wonder if I’ve been “masking” my entire life so far. Guess I should get tested.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so interesting, analisa. I know a few men and women who have realized they are on the spectrum later in life and they’ve said it’s very freeing/illuminating. xoxo

    • Hannah says...

      I am 40, and didn’t figure out I was on the spectrum until I was 36, and only bc my friend whose kid had gotten tested, actually got tested herself, and then told me that I should really look into it. It’s been helpful to understand a little bit about why I am the way I am, but be aware they still don’t really know much about the autism spectrum, how it presents in women, and most researchers and doctors in this area are still neurotypical. My day to day is still a struggle, and knowing why sometimes makes it more frustrating. Some people do find it a huge relief to have an explanation for why they are the way they are. Good luck! Autism Speaks is an organization that is harmful to ASD people and I do not recommend it.

  50. Ramona says...

    “And my boss understands that I need breaks…” that sentence is powerful. Thank you to everyone that accepts everyone. 🙂🌟❤️💯

  51. Claire says...

    Thank you so much for writing this book and sharing your insights here on COJ, Camilla! My first boyfriend, who I met at 22, has autism. During the course of our seven month relationship, he often mentioned that there was something he was scared to tell me, as it had resulted in the end of previous relationships for him, but he didn’t feel ready to tell me. The day we broke up, he told me that he was severely autistic. I’d often wondered if he was on the spectrum, but respected his autonomy to share this if/when he felt safe to do so. Still, I (perhaps selfishly) felt heartbroken that I hadn’t known sooner as I’d always longed to know how he preferred to communicate and what felt most supportive as his partner in our relationship. After our relationship ended, I’d wished there were more resources available to support partners in neurodiverse relationships.

    I am so grateful to you for writing this book, Camilla. Although it’s been a couple of years since that relationship ended, I know this book will be hugely insightful resources to so many individuals. xo C

  52. Calla says...

    Wow can’t wait to read this book! Thanks so much for sharing this perspective!

  53. PG says...

    Thank you for this profile about CamilIa Pang. I will get this book for my family. My son is autistic and has been selectively mute since he was a toddler and as his parent, I worried about how the world would treat him. In his early years of school, it was near impossible for his teachers and peers to accept that he didn’t speak aloud. It was hard for me, too, but my son was trying to communicate the whole time in his own way. We just didn’t get it.
    We live in England and we were fortunate to join a programme called Early Birds which is a group for parents with autistic kids. We shared our experiences and our fears, and most importantly talked about ways to support our kids. It changed our family dynamic for the better and my son is himself at home and more confident to be that outside more and more as the years go by.
    I really appreciate that the author wanted to write her book for her mother to know what she was going through. That is a very special tribute that I bet will be treasured.

    • suki says...

      As a young adult someone I knew lived on a “silence fast” for over a year. He wasn’t on the spectrum, just immersed in a deeply yogic/hippie search for meaning. Everyone supported his practice and he even secured a business loan and opened a successful restaurant, in multiple locations!, with his friends.

      I think it’s ok to let kids integrate into the world at large on their own terms, in their own time. One of the most influential books I’ve ever read on child development was called, “Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing” by A S Neill, and which happens to be located in England. It is out there in approach but also inspirational.

  54. amy says...

    this is incredible, Dr. Pang. my son is on the spectrum and I can never find things written from a person’s POV who has autism. please add me to the chorus of parents saying thank you!

  55. Agnès says...

    I hope it will soon be translated in french, it sounds really interesting. Brava Camilla!

  56. Sarah says...

    So fascinating, Dr. Pang! I love this interview, and the descriptions and I feel like this is a book that is critically needed. Perhaps especially because it comes from a rarer female perspective. Thank you for sharing, and for your work to publish this!

    • Well, this one hits close to home (diagnosed when I was 34, turning 42 in a couple of days)! I was smiling and trying not to cry at the same time when I read this.

      “Masking” was my go-to coping mechanism throughout highschool, university and the first ten years working in finance. Also: always “mirroring” people.

      Thank you for introducing me to Camilla’s story and her book. ❤️