Saturday, April 1, 2017

‘The Rosie Project,’ fun to read, but book-club materials could be better

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is an amusing and fun read, but it includes book-club materials that demonstrate insensitivity toward the autistic community.

The book tells the story of Don Tillman, a genetics professor who takes a methodical approach to locating a “female life partner.” He drafts a 16-page questionnaire to screen for compatibility, but is brought together with a woman who wants to identify her biological father.

Rosie is everything that Don’s questionnaire indicates should NOT be his ideal match, but they are brought together by their joint project to identify Rosie’s paternity.

The Rosie Project was recommended to me by someone who’d read my list of books I recommend for an autistic readership. These recommendations by other people are an enjoyable benefit of my compiling the list.

Don, the main character, is on the autism spectrum, but originally does not know it. I could thoroughly relate, being part of the “invisible generation” who missed diagnosis in childhood.

The book is told from Don’s perspective, which I found particularly empowering. The autistic lead is allowed to tell his own story and experiences; he isn’t viewed through another character’s (possibly judgmental) lens. The story he relates is enjoyable.

I especially enjoyed the depiction of autistic traits as factors of Don’s success. In one notable scene, to obtain genetic samples from several father-candidates, he and Rosie work as cocktail servers at a social function where many of the candidates are conveniently attending.

In preparation for this engagement, Don memorizes a book of cocktail-mixing recipes and is able to flawlessly take orders. When the guests’ demands for cocktails outstrip the abilities of the people tending bar, Don calls out step-by-step directions complete with substitutes as-needed for unavailable ingredients.

But like I said before, while I enjoyed this novel, I have misgivings about its book-club materials.

Among the positives, an encouragement that readers take an Aspie-Quotient quiz has the potential of illuminating their own autistic-characteristic possibilities.

Among the merely thoughtless, a question asks readers, “Do you have anyone on the Autism spectrum in your life?” Phrased that way, the question erases autistic people from the book’s readership. During book-club discussions, this question could be phrased in a more inclusive way: “Do you, or someone you know, have autism?”

What most concerned me, was a suggestion that readers “Look at the website for Autism Speaks” and get involved by planning a walk or by joining another event.

To even make this suggestion demonstrated a real disconnect between the people who prepared this material and any autistic input. I would never take part in an Autism Speaks event, and imagine that many other autistic individuals hold similar views with me.

When evaluating an organization that purports to “speak for” autism, I recommend considering the degree to which autistic people actually shape the mission and discussion. And in this case ...

Autism Speaks may recently have added two autistic people to its governing board, but this organization has a long track record of vilifying people who are on the autism spectrum. It portrays us as soulless husks who are “missing” from our own lives; and our condition as some anthropomorphic monster that delights in destroying families; takes glee from “stealing” children and sending their parents reeling into divorce and bankruptcy.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network succinctly summed up this issue with Autism Speaks, in a statement issued in response to the board appointments:

“Unless and until Autism Speaks makes significant changes to their practices and policies of fighting against the existence of autistic people, these appointments to the board are superficial changes. Barring such changes, Autism Speaks will continue to fail to be an organization that can create real, positive change for the Autistic community.”

Autism Speaks has yet to prove it it is not still my enemy and the enemy of every autistic person, and by suggesting that readers become involved with Autism Speaks, The Rosie Project’s publishers promote a hostile environment toward readers who are on the spectrum.

1 comment:

  1. Given my dismay that this book's publishers would urge involvement with Autism Speaks, a move by U.S. President Donald Trump to light the White House up blue for "Autism-Speaks Awareness" is surely a case of bad to worse. For the record: Blue is NOT the universal color for autism, and when you choose to "Light it up blue," you are not behaving with respect or acceptance toward people with autism. (Disability Scoop, "As White House Goes Blue, Trump 'Cure' Comment Draws Backlash,"


Robust debate and even unusual opinions are encouraged, but please stay on-topic and be respectful. Comments are subject to review for personal attacks or insults, discriminatory statements, hyperlinks not directly related to the discussion and commercial spam.