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Book Review: ‘Nurturing Your Autistic Young Person' by Cathy Wassell

Book cover of 'Nurturing Your Autistic Young Person: A Parent's Handbook to Supporting Newly Diagnosed Teens and Pre-Teens' by Cathy Wassell, depicting a colourful circle.
'Nurturing Your Autistic Young Person: A Parent's Handbook to Supporting Newly Diagnosed Teens and Pre-Teens' by Cathy Wassell

New from Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Cathy Wassell’s guide for parents and carers provides insight not only into the diagnostic process for those who have decided to pursue a formal diagnosis, but also ways in which supporters can better understand and support their neurodiverse young person in a range of areas.

Cathy Wassell is the CEO of Autistic Girls Network, a registered charity which campaigns for autistic girls (and non-binary people) and their families, particularly in the area of early diagnosis and recognising presentations of autism that are often missed. This book covers a vast range of topics, beginning with the basics of understanding what autism is and how it might present in a young person, all the way through to pursuing a diagnostic assessment and what to expect.

There is a lot of in-depth but easy to digest information about autism, including sensory differences, common myths, co-occurring conditions, and many more. As Cathy stresses throughout, every autistic child is unique, so while this book cannot tell you everything to expect from your young person, it does give a fantastic overview of many common autistic traits, and more importantly how to recognise areas where your young person may need you to advocate for additional support and provide solutions for issues such as sensory discomfort. With helpful tips throughout for how you can support your young person in a range of circumstances, this book is aimed at parents and carers with newly or about to be diagnosed young people to help them navigate advocating for support at school and outside of the house, and creating a calm, Low Arousal environment at home.

The message of cultivating a positive autistic identity in your young person is strong throughout, and all advice is given with the aim of helping young people to feel good about the things that make them unique, and work out ways to make their world as safe and comfortable for them as possible:

“Difference does not mean deficit. The world is becoming more aware, but not always – yet – more understanding. As an ally to your autistic child or young person and the autistic adult they will soon become, you can spread understanding to your friends and family, to their school. You can make your child’s world an easier place for them to navigate, and one more accommodating to autistic people.”

Autistic children deserve to grow up feeling supported and understood, and that is one of the key themes of this book. Supporting your child to live a full and thriving life will involve you advocating for their needs, and this book is a great place to start understanding neurodiversity and where your young person may struggle, or excel, depending on their abilities. It is important to support your young person to develop a positive autistic identity that doesn’t focus on a traditional medicalised model of difference:

“We’re all different, so why is there a default perfect human, and why are these so often white, cis, straight, not disabled, and male? Let’s challenge that notion and show that everyone has value. Some areas of business value ideas outside the norm, coining the phrase ‘thinking outside the box.’ The box is normality. I’m asking you to reframe your thinking around ‘normality.’”

As Cathy rightly points out, stereotypes of ‘typical autistic behaviour’ have led to many groups being under-represented and missed in diagnosis, particularly girls, black, indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC), and non-binary people. This means that these groups have struggled to have their needs met, as often a formal diagnosis is required in order to receive support. Late diagnosis leads to disadvantages at school, college, and eventually in the work force, where individuals have no pathway of support and are often forced to mask in order to get by. Masking for long periods of time can have a huge impact on mental health, and is especially common in autistic girls (although not only autistic girls mask) which is why they are so often missed when it comes to diagnosis:

“Of course it’s not the masking itself which is causing the depression, it’s a society which stigmatises difference so much that even a child subconsciously realises they need to protect themselves.”

Non-stereotypical autistic traits are only in recent years starting to be more widely recognised by professionals, and this book strongly advocates that we be more inclusive and accepting in our conceptualisation of autism as a society. There is no typical autistic person; everyone is unique. This book challenges societal perceptions of neurodiversity, such as that people are always in control of their behaviour or they are doing it for attention, and advises that we listen to and believe autistic people when they tell us about their experiences.

At Studio 3, we firmly believe in using Low Arousal and person-centred approaches to understand how an individual experiences the world, and do what we can as supporters to make that world a less hostile and chaotic place. The Low Arousal Approach looks firstly at the behaviour of supporters, and asks how we can change or adapt the environment to fit an individual’s specific needs. This book strongly aligns with our philosophies, stating that we need to challenge stereotypes and social norms in order to make the world a more welcoming and understanding place for autistic people. It stresses throughout that there is no ‘right’ way of doing things, and that there is nothing wrong with the way an autistic person engages with the world: instead, it is our perception that needs to change:

‘Once you let go of this notion that there is only one ‘right’ way of doing things, and loosen your grip on some of the social niceties we can’t really justify, it becomes a lot easier to reframe your thinking into a mindset which is going to create an environment which nurtures, not repels, your autistic child.’

It is important to accept your autistic young person as they are, whilst also acknowledging that there will be areas where they will struggle, needing your help and support. Full of practical information and advice, this book guides you through identifying areas where your child or young person is struggling, and provides tips for making reasonable adjustments at home or advocating for them at school or in the workplace. Throughout the book are real-life case studies which demonstrate where other parents have struggled, as well as advice on navigating specific areas such as advocating for your young person’s needs in school settings, transitioning from school to college, and the importance of ‘finding your tribe’ and cultivating a positive outlook on autism and neurodiversity.

For parents and carers who are beginning to think about pursuing a formal recognition of neurodiversity (e.g. a diagnosis of autism) in order to access support, this book goes into depth about how to begin this process and what to expect. There is a simple and easy to understand guide that takes you through all the steps of the diagnostic process, including understanding the diagnostic criteria and informing your child about their diagnosis. Studio 3 would highly recommend this book to any parents or carers who are at the start of their journey into understanding autism and how best to support their child or young person.

“It’s the environment around a neurodivergent person which needs to do the changing, rather than the person themselves.”

Buy 'Nurturing Your Autistic Young Person: A Parent’s Handbook to Supporting Newly Diagnosed Teens and Pre-Teens’ by Cathy Wassell here:

Written by Rachel McDermott

Studio 3 Information and Social Media Co-ordinator


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