Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Wizard Alone

I remember 2002.

There was this book I'd pre-ordered. I'd gotten the first four in 4th grade, realized it wouldn't end there excitedly when I saw the fifth in the library when it came out. It became a series I'd have to pre-order books for. This one had just came out. It was named A Wizard Alone.

There was fantasy, and all of what I looked for. It was one of my favorite books. What was different about this book though, was that one of the characters was autistic. He was presented as entirely in his own head, and it wasn't made clear (to me at least) how much that was autism and how much that was plot. In the end, he was magically cured, having chosen to give up his autism, when he was able to in a magical way.

This was also the year I was told that I was autistic. It wasn't in those words, and I didn't understand. I was a 13 year old, without much support when it came to this in particular (because of lack of knowledge), no matter how much people supported me in everything else.

I was told I probably had Asperger's. I didn't really understand what that meant, though I was given some information. I responded by hiding back into my books in confusion, though I'm not sure anyone realized. Of course, one of the books I returned to was A Wizard Alone, with its autistic character. With its character who was magically cured.

And I actually started figuring out myself with that, though not in the best way. I reacted with confusion from one of my favorite books being like this and my disorder being autistic spectrum and then "that's not me". I don't want to be cured, I shouldn't be cured. I reacted in the way I see so many people doing now, separating themselves from the people they call "LFA". I went strongly mentally into neurodiversity, but I didn't understand it. I wasn't understanding how someone could be impaired and want to be themselves. I couldn't understand my own impairments.

I had this internal struggle going on in many ways. I knew I was happy with who I was, and apparently had these labels, but I shared these labels with someone who it was clearly a wrong part of them in my favorite book. How could this make sense? It wasn't making sense, and I pushed it all away. I made it so that this could be a favorite without it saying any less about someone who was like me, I made myself different.

Yet at the same time, I related, and I kept returning. I reread this book more than the rest of the Young Wizards books in these years. When I was trying to understand myself autisticly, it was one of the places I turned, because it was a book that meant so much to me, and who's characters were important to me, and which autism was a part of. The fact that it ended up with the autism going away didn't mean that the autism wasn't there. I eventually started trying to find ways to justify it like it not really being autism, because I related to feelings even though the traits were so much more pronounced than mine, and didn't want that part, but didn't want to think any less of the book.

I figured things out eventually of course - I didn't keep othering people, splitting it so strongly into Us vs Them. But, it was after this strong reaction from this book of "I can't be that, I can't be someone who gets treated that way, they are, not me". And I didn't at first realize that they shouldn't either, or that it wasn't me vs them.

My early process was very defined by that book. It wasn't one that was negative about myself, but it wasn't one that was positive about disability, or other people, and it was one that was me not being able to recognize that I could be impaired. I don't now know how I viewed myself, as both having this disorder and having no impairments, but I did so.

This would all suggest though, that there are a lot of problems with this book. (No matter how much it was one where I read it I don't know how many times in my early teenage years. It really was one of my most read books.) And there are, the treatment of autism was really negative. But, what was awesome, was that the author recognized this, and worked on fixing it, and that itself is worthy of mentioning.

There was a new edition put out in 2012ish, where Diane Duane was fixing timeline consistencies and updating it for newer audiences. I bought but was terrified of reading A Wizard Alone, because of the treatment of autism. It could be done well, it might be done terribly. What came out of this update included references to the intense world theory, suggestions that autistic people are actually people, and a character who in the end had the choice whether or not to be cured and chose not to. There was actually an autistic character now, not someone who was there only to speak of the horrors of autism.

It was in many ways, saying that book that started my journey had been revised into one that didn't say I shouldn't exist. It could agree with autistic people. It wouldn't limit me into being someone either with impairments or with abilities. That was something needed and which is so hard to find in fiction.

When I started, I was someone young and trying to find my way, not aware, but not wanting to be treated badly. Now I'm being shown that I don't have to be. Progress is happening.

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