One Author Brings Neurodiversity to the Apocalypse

Image: Corinne Duyvis

If you’re neurotypical and able-bodied, apocalyptic scenarios can be fun thought exercises. You probably know the one: where would you go if the dead were rising? A wholesale warehouse, the mall, a top-floor apartment? Who would you trust to have your back? What would you stockpile for food, weapons, and long-term survival?

If you have any kind of mental health issue or disability, those thought exercises get a little more bleak. Someone close to me has insulin-dependent diabetes, which saps most of the fun out of it right there. The only example of a diabetic apocalypse survivor I can think of is from Larry Niven’s Lucifer’s Hammer, and that’s not a happy story. Similarly, there aren’t a lot of survivors with panic disorders, or limited mobility, or autism. That can make it hard to imagine a post-apocalyptic scenario where we’d be valued.

Autistic author Corinne Duyvis is providing a more positive alternative in On the Edge of Gone, a sci-fi novel set in the aftermath of a comet strike. Denise, the novel’s protagonist, is autistic, and is trying to make a place for herself in a post-apocalyptic society. Duyvis spoke with Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism about why she chose to write about an autistic girl in such extreme circumstances, and about the way Denise’s experiences reflect Duyvis’s own.

TPGA: During one tense exchange, a generation ship passenger accuses Denise of “not really being autistic,” because she has useful skills and can hold conversations. What do you think is a reasonable response to such accusations?

Duyvis: Well, my response as a teenager was to run out of class and have a minor panic attack. I’m not sure I would recommend that approach.

I face disbelief and surprise on a semi-regular basis, as I can pass as neurotypical on the surface. After years of online autism activism, I suppose this would be my ideal response: “Actually, autism can manifest in a lot of different ways. Not all autistic people struggle with [insert skill here], although you wouldn’t believe it from the way TV tends to portray us.” If they push: “Well, I’d rather take the word of my psychiatrist on this.”

Just because it’s my ideal response doesn’t mean I always succeed at saying it, though.

The whole interview is fantastic, and it sounds as though the book might be, too. On the Edge of Gone is available now.

[Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, via io9]
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