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Write On! Features: That Scrap Of Paper, Autism, And Me by Charlie Steff

By Charlie Steff

An Insight Into Being A Writer With Autism

I am diagnosed with ASD, formerly known as Autism Spectrum Disorder. My brother was diagnosed with autism at a very young age, and myself much later. Sadly, there is much less research into ASD and the way it presents itself in girls. I was very lucky to even be diagnosed at the age of 15, while many other girls slip through the net for many years, or are even missed completely. Many people who know me personally will know I am very open about my ASD diagnosis. We all have a story; all have things that make us who we are.

As a 25-year-old woman on a path to becoming a recognised writer, I often find myself taking a moment to consider one word in my diagnosis: Disorder.

Disorder suggests a state of mess or confusion. As writers, a messy state of mind is something we can all relate to. A Disorder in the Oxford English dictionary is defined as something that ‘disrupts normal physical or mental functions.’ As hard as it may be to admit, this is definitely an accurate description of the chaos that unfolds for a person with ASD. But how does this affect pursuing a career as a writer? Let’s talk through it.

The first thing that comes to mind are my lists. Lists, lists and more lists. Constant ideas and constant ‘to do’ lists. I’m sure amongst all my crazy ideas there’s a bestselling children’s book waiting to be written. I just need to find the scrap of paper I frantically scribbled it on… I’m also sure that my endless to-do lists (tidy this, clean that, finish that book, find that scrap of paper.. you know the one, just find it!) could keep my whole street busy for at least a week.

ASD for me means feeling a lot of everything. I feel much too deeply, or struggle to understand what I feel. I can talk too much, or not at all, write obsessively for days, or not at all for months. As a child, it presented mostly as daydreaming. Whereas, in my teenage years it presented as mental health. When I did eventually snap out of my daydreams, I found a world I could never quite fit into. I very quickly learnt the art of escapism, through acting, song, reading and, of course, (the reason you’re reading my words now, dear reader) writing.

I’ve always been told to talk less, be less, stop daydreaming, stop writing things down all the time. “She’s dappy and always distracted,” they’d say at school. But if they looked closer, they’d see the little girl who skipped through impossibly bland school corridors with fairies dancing around her shoulders. They’d see a child who wasn’t half as incapable as they made her feel. They’d see a creator. Whether that be for herself, or others, too. They’d see the stories she wrote with her glittery gel pen, and the books she clung to with all her heart. They’d see the ink from those pages. It ran in her veins.

I cannot help but feel deep sadness for the little girl I was, even if she mostly existed in her own made-up land. Sadness, for the few times she snapped back to reality and realised her best friend sat on the opposite side of the room to her, on the ‘clever’ table, where only the children who were high achievers sat. Year Three in school, and there I would sit, wondering why I was separated and treated differently. Distant and dappy. “She’ll grow out of it,” they’d say– but she didn’t, and she wouldn’t.

I wish I had known then what I know now. I wish I could go back and tell the little girl who grew up so slowly compared to others that she was not stupid. Tell the confused teenager that things would make sense soon. I would tell her that she is wonderful, in all of her messy ways: wonderful, always. I am proud of the good and the bad in myself. A diagnosis is not a sentence that deems me unable to function, or unable to cope, though I may feel that way sometimes.

ASD isn’t all stress and lists and chaos. It’s a mind soaring at full speed, seeing the beauty in the mundane. And, as a writer, learning to love a world that never understood, by letting it inspire worlds that could.

From a wonderful teacher of mine, I learnt to tell myself to write like they never made you feel incapable. Write. And know you are not alone on this journey. We all run at our own pace. We’ll all win races in our own time. And I, even with my ASD, will write my award-winning piece in my own time, when I find that darned scrap of paper!

(c) Charlie Ellen Steff, 2023


Charlie Ellen Steff (Charlotte Ellen) is a 25-year-old woman living in Kent. She recently graduated from university with a 2:1 in Creative and Professional Writing with children’s books as her main focus. Charlie has worked with children as an entertainer, teaching assistant, teacher, and even a bouncy castle party host! It’s safe to say writing children’s books makes her writer’s heart happy, though strangely, she also loves a bit of thriller or sci-fi. Charlie loves anything related to the arts and worked in a theatre as an usher during the week, and at a Saturday performing arts school teaching five-six-year-olds over the weekend. In her spare time, Charlie reads, writes, paints, cuddles her cat, and performs in local plays and musicals.

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Issue 18 of Write On! is out now and you can read it online here. Find it in libraries and other outlets. You can find previous editions of our magazines here.

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Disorder suggests a state of mess or confusion. As writers, a messy state of mind is something we can all relate to but how does my disorder affect my writing?