Linh Nguyen

"But you don't look autistic at all" Book Review

I finished Bianca Toeps’ “but you don’t look autistic at all” book on a sunny, but cold afternoon. 

The book opens with: “You walk out of the aeroplane via the jet bridge”. 

Man, I was hit with nostalgia. The feeling that I was craving for after more than a year of lockdown. But that nostalgia faded quickly. I was now intrigued. Why did Bianca open her book with that? How does this relate to being autistic? 

Bianca invites her readers to imagine the following scenario: think of how you feel when you first step out of the airport in a foreign country that you have never been to up until now. 

  • Point A: You are lost. Signs are in a different language that you cannot seem to figure out. 
  • Point B: The customs are different leading to you breaking “dozens of social rules”.
  • Point C: You are also tired after your journey. Naturally, you are overstimulated with “all the signals that are fired at you” - signals that you cannot seem to fully understand.  

That, according to Bianca, is what being autistic is like. 

Bianca’s book is an easy, interesting, playful, but extremely crucial read. It is lighthearted through a series of funny anecdotes while serving as a crucial piece for its representation of autistic females. Through a series of interviews with other autistics, the majority of them being female, Bianca successfully demonstrates what it means to be on the autism spectrum; how there is no one correct way of being autistic. Some autistic people do not mind crowded places and loud noises. Others do not need routines to guide their daily lives. In addition, her late diagnosis places her in a credible position to comment on the shortcomings of the current diagnostic measures and the effect that undiagnosed autism can have on an individual (i.e: masking and burn-out). 

I particularly enjoy dipping into the various topics that this book covers. While it does not answer every question I have about autism - realistically it should not - it gives a compelling overview of a considerable amount of the most debated topics with regards to autism. And the ending? Simply genius. I had such a good laugh when the book ended with a simple “no” to the statement “It’s probably because of the vaccinations”. 

As I closed my book, there was a lesson that I learned that day: refrain from telling someone that they do not look autistic, even if you mean well. It is not as nice of a compliment as you think it is. Needless to say, Bianca shattered quite a few stereotypical notions that I had about autistic people, and I thank her for that. 

I highly recommend you to check out her blog.