I was truly excited to sit down to read Uncommon Sense: An Autistic Journey by Adam Mardero, my good friend and fellow advocate from the Facebook page, Differently Wired. I love a well-written autistic narrative, and in general, Adam’s perceptiveness and empathic understanding blow me away. But this book surpassed my expectations.
It is downright profound.
As an autistic writer, I am aware of the many pitfalls of writing an autobiographical work for others. One can be too defensive and afraid to show the true vulnerability of the most soul-crushing experiences. Or do the opposite and dwell in the pain while excluding the triumph, taking a deep dive into pathology.
Mardero deftly avoids these traps by maintaining his true perspective as he ages and grows while telling his story. His refusal to “cheat the ending” by taking on his adult perspective as he tells the story allows for both true vulnerability and a healthy pride in his achievements. This encourages genuine empathy and suspense, even though, in truth, we all know how the story ends with Adam as a powerful, popular, and charismatic self-advocate.
There is a similar needle to thread between pulling out the individual quirks of the author and finding a general commonality to the autistic experience and thus assuming too much, talking over others. It is not easy to tell a unique story and make it inherently relatable.
But Mardero’s storytelling through milestones does just that as he takes us through his triumphs and tragedies as an autistic young man coming of age. In a sense, he is an autistic Holden Caulfield, taking a less self-absorbed and more self-aware journey as both a quirky voice of his day. He is an Everyman.
I found myself holding my breath for this brave frightened child and young man but also seeing my own story mirrored over and over again. I saw my reflection as Adam suffered bullying, understood his diagnosis for the first time, was surprised by his first kiss, struggled through his first job, and got was excited, confused, gutted, and grown by his first sexual experience.
And Mardero tells takes us on this journey with him while seeming to effortlessly stomp to death the most common myth of autism: that autistic people lack empathy. His empathy is an obvious spoiler from page one, not simply for his young self but for his step-mother, his friends, his exes, and even his bullies!
Mardero seamlessly forgives and takes on other perspectives, even as he acknowledges his inability to always do so at the time. If I hadn’t known to expect this from Adam, it would have taken my breath away.
What in some ways I value the most as an autistic self-advocate is that Mardero does not jump up and down repeatedly on his autism and what separates him from others to tell a story or use it as a fetish for a Neurotypical audience. He simply tells his story and allows his autistic awareness to enter it as it happened in real life. He does not become artificially self reflective or maudlin. He allows his bravery to face his diagnosis to shine through as it did in real life.
In our autistic world, authenticity is a unique sapphire in a sea of uniformity.
Adam constantly references science fiction and his journey to become a true Star Fleet Officer or Jedi of his autistic journey, and this metaphor feels fresh and unforced. His journey is after all a quest or a saga of strength and self-acceptance. And like the stories he emulates, there are twists and surprises on his road.
Mardero himself appears shocked by the Empire Strikes Back level plot twist in his own story when he realizes that true mastery isn’t fitting in with Neurotypicals but claiming his true place on the Jedi Council of the autistic community.
The Journey from outright denying his autism and his destiny to forging his own lightsaber through his autistic blog and Facebook Page mirrored my experience so closely that I almost cried. The range of fears from feeling that autism made him too different from feeling at the end possibly “not autistic enough” to find true acceptance in the Neurodiversity movement as a former white male “aspie” in denial was the perfect foil to the trope of such individuals as heartless Aspie Supremacists.
This story from “not autistic enough” desperately trying to fit in to “embracing full autistic self-advocacy in a group of equals” needs to be told. And Adam tells it exceptionally well. He admits his mistakes, acknowledges and thanks his autistic teachers, and ultimately rejects stereotypes that do not work for who he is. He presents himself as he is and asks the NeuroDivergent community for acceptance at the end of his journey, rather than the Neurotypical one.
As an autistic self-advocate on a similar journey of self and group acceptance in the Neurodiversity community, I welcome Adam’s heartfelt piece with open arms. I acknowledge, as a white person, it’s NOT a reflection of every autistic experience; but as an experience, this story will resonate in a powerful way with many people who formerly identified as “aspies” as they level up on their autistic journeys and try to fit into the larger group space.
I love Mardero’s style: as an individual, a writer, a storyteller, a superhero, and, in some ways most importantly, an ANTIhero. The unapologetic guardian of his own legacy. And but one member of a community out for the greater good!
You can order a copy of Adam’s book here.