Book Review: The Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide

The Spectrum Girl's Survival Guide

The Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide: How to Grow Up Awesome and Autistic, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, By Siena Castellon, Foreword by Temple Grandin, Illustrated by Rebecca Burgess

The seventeen-year-old author of The Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide, Siena Castellon, has met celebrities and won awards. She says that because she is “soft spoken and shy by nature,” she is an “unlikely candidate to write this book.” I’ve read the book, Siena, and you are the ideal candidate to have written it! As an award-winning young autism advocate and mentor who happens to be autistic, dyslexic and dyspraxic (not to mention also having ADHD), who better to speak to peers about being different?

Siena’s wish: to “help the journey of autistic sisters be less bumpy than hers.” I am a spectrum woman who was once a spectrum girl; and I could’ve used a book like this. Siena’s compassionate and intelligent voice hooked me as a fan early on, when she humbly stated in the “About Me” section, that her most treasured and satisfying moments are out of the limelight; when fellow peers reach out to her. That’s a young woman with heart and purpose.

The Foreword of this book, insightfully penned by Temple Grandin, reminds the reader to strike a counterbalance between autism as an important part of identity, and finding a meaningful career path. Siena’s accomplishments in prestigious programs for those gifted in physics and math, did not go unnoticed by Temple.

Temple says: “Siena shows autistic girls they are capable of doing anything.” This empowering message shines between the lines; throughout the entire book and it is an important message.

I did not grow up in the era of social media, sexting, and with all the internet safety issues that girls must face today on a daily basis. By bravely and honestly sharing her own personal stories, and then offering solid advice, Siena has truly written a Survival Guide for girls here. Interspersed with delightful illustrations, with captions like this: “There are loads of people out there like me,” this book hits on topics that will always be relevant such as personal hygiene, and navigating the topsy-turvy world of puberty and crushes. The book also discusses important and often confusing topics, such as masking, disclosure, self-harming, friendships, and bullying, When I was an isolated and lonely spectrum girl, oh how I sorely needed a voice to say “You are not alone.”

I would’ve read the chapter on “To Tell Or Not To Tell” over and over. I would’ve cherished a book written for me, about me, by someone like me.

Siena, wise beyond her years, had me thinking (many, many times throughout the book) from a perspective I hadn’t thought of before. For example, she got me rethinking common labels when she said that “the low functioning label ignores strengths and the high functioning label ignores weaknesses.”

And this: she explains how the neurotypical brain is optimally designed to facilitate socialization and then she goes on to describe how the autistic brain differs. Siena stresses that “neither is better or worse” and she poses the question “What if nature designed the two brains to be different for a reason?”

Indeed! This book is dedicated “To all the awesome autistic girls around the world who dance to a different beat.” But I’ll let you in on something, I’m not a young girl (only at heart), but this ‘woman-of-a-certain-age’ and fellow dancer to a different beat, has learned some useful information from this book too. To name a few things:

Giving myself permission not to socialize if I’m not up for it.

When finding something I actually like to wear, buy several!

The importance of turning certain spaces into comfy sanctuaries for myself.

People who shun you when you disclose autism to them, weren’t good candidates for friends anyway.

And I am going to take her advice for creating unique internet passwords too!

When I was coming of age and noticing how my differences were becoming very apparent to myself and others, there were not words like autism, alexithymia, dyspraxia, and social anxiety to describe me. I would not be diagnosed with those things until my thirties. When I finally found my people, it meant everything. Reading this book, so many things were on point and resonated with me as experiences I too, have had. I imagine girls of today will identify big time.

I’m reminded how lucky we all are, to live in a time now when young girls’ voices are deemed important, when they are heard. Young girls no longer have to accept that there is a terrible fate to bear, just for being different, just for being autistic. As the author states: “You deserve to be seen and accepted for who you are.” Thank you JKP for giving Siena Castellon a place to share her strong voice!

Kimberly Gerry-Tucker

Review by Kimberly Gerry Tucker, Art of Autism board member, artist, and author of Under The Banana Moon (living, loving, loss and aspergers/selective mutism)

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