Pretending to be Normal: Living with Asperger Syndrome.
By Liane Holliday Willey. Foreword by Tony Attwood.
Published by Jessica Kingsley, 1999. ISBN 1 85302 749 9 pb. 144pp.

Reviewed by Lucie Milne for OAARSN

Liane Holliday Willey is a doctor of education, writer and researcher who specializes in the fields of psycholinguistics and learning style differences. She is also a person who has Asperger Syndrome. With her autobiography Dr. Willey allows us all to know the world as one with AS perceives it. Dedicated parents and a supportive husband have been her lifelines. Her youngest of three daughters, a twin, also has AS. It was through the manifestations and diagnosis of AS in her daughter that Willey found insight into her own differences, that she had grown up, lived and was living with AS, like others “who never quite find their way, but never quite lose it either.”

The value of Willey’s writing about her 38-year life journey is that those with AS will recognize “the same perceptions, thoughts and experiences.” She gives hope, for she has successfully acquired an education and has her career. At a personal level, she has a good marriage with an understanding husband and children who accept her public self, while also she has friends who care and assist her in her struggles of living. In detail and with humour, the author describes her confused rambling Alice in Wonderland journey through childhood and college years, always trying to understand and adjust to her sensory and cognitive experiences:

– One does not make loud noises around others.

– Maps have to be drawn to guide one from class to class, building to building, without becoming lost or once again late.

– One is to dress appropriately. No overalls to the party, but the brown and grey school marm dress was hardly appropriate, either.

– Shopping on line avoided the confusion of crowds and the sensory overload created by the merchandise in stores, so one forgets or cannot find what one came to buy.

Lists and schedules get Willey through each aspect of daily life. She has learned to “pretend” and survive in a world that has created its standard of what is normal.

In the second segment of her book, the author shares her survival experiences and gives helpful aids. The sections included are:

I – Explaining Who You Are to Those Who Care

II – Survival Skills for AS College Students

III – Employment Options and Responsibilities

IV – Organizing your Home Life

V – Coping Strategies for Sensory Integration Dysfunction

VI – Thoughts for Non-AS Support People

VII – Support Groups and Other Helpful Resources

Definitely this book is a must, not only for people with AS but for teachers, medical doctors, specialists and therapists who support persons with AS.

Though not a person with AS, my own “rocky roads” have shown me that there is learning and meaning in all of life’s experiences. I would close this review, therefore, with Liane Willey’s own reflections on learning and meaning. She writes: “Yet, no matter the hardships, I do not wish for a cure to Asperger Syndrome. What I wish for, is a cure for the common ill that pervades too many lives; the ill that makes people compare themselves to a normal that is measured in terms of perfect and absolute standards, most of which are impossible for anyone to reach. I think it would be far more productive, so much more satisfying, to live according to a new set of ideals that are anchored in far more subjective criteria, the fluid and affective domains of life . . . the stuff of wonder . . . curiosity . . . invention . . . originality. Perhaps then, we will all find peace and joy in one another” (p.121).