Freaks, Geeks & Asperger Syndrome by Luke Jackson

“Always remember that different is cool.”

Have you ever been called a freak or a geek? Have you ever felt like one? Over the years Luke has learned to laugh about the name-calling but there are other aspects of life which are more difficult. Adolescence and the teenage years are a minefield of emotions, transitions and decisions, and when a child has AS, the result is often explosive. Luke’s book gives guidance on bullying, friendships, when and how to tell others abut AS, problems at school, dating and relationships, and morality.

An autism diagnosis is a life-changing event. When our son Dan was diagnosed with autism at age three, we were catapulted into a new world of non-verbal communication, sensory sensitivities and resistance to change. We were also introduced to an overwhelming amount of advice from the experts, or so-called. Dan’s differences were evident quite early, but many children can fly under the radar for some time before receiving a diagnosis in late childhood or in their teens. By this time they may have already endured years of teasing and loneliness, of feeling different and not belonging. They desperately need to know that they are not alone and that being different is okay.

When Luke Jackson discovered he was on the spectrum, he searched for a book about autism for teens just like him. There weren’t any. Almost all of the books and resources about autism were written by experts with parents and teachers in mind. So Luke wrote his own. First published in 2002, Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome was a breath of fresh air for both teens and parents. Here was a young man going through the same things, struggling with school, dating and the non-autistic world, who could speak straight to teens. Dedicating the book to “those of you who feel that you don’t belong,” Luke’s central message is that “different is cool” and autism can be a gift, not a disability.

Luke covers a range of topics from whether kids should be told about their diagnosis (absolutely!), to coping with the school environment and the social demands of becoming a teenager. One of the most challenging issues for anyone on the spectrum, though, is dealing with the non-autistic world and Luke is quick to give his perspective on the many little things that seem absolutely nonsensical and illogical to the autistic mind.

One thing certain in this life is that it is not always fair- it seems as if there is one rule for them and one for us

Luke asks: Why is it okay for a lot of people to “eat, sleep and breathe football” but when autistics do the same for computers or trains or Star Wars, it is called an “obsession”? What is the issue with eye-contact? And why do non-autistics…

say things they don’t mean, miss out things that they do mean, (and) do all sorts of strange things with their faces which apparently change the meaning of their words?

He is also keenly aware of the pressures and contradictions of the society around him.

I think society and its way of shaping people and making them conform is rather pathetic. It seems to me that society as a whole is actually more rigid than AS people.”

Jackson approaches his subject with a cheeky sense of teenage humour, but he doesn’t shy away from the serious issues, such as bullying. Twenty years ago this issue was not taken anywhere near as seriously as it is now, but I suspect that just about every teen or adult on the spectrum would identity with his admission that, “All my life I have been bullied.” At school, that is. Luke describes how much of the bullying that occurs at school is often just accepted as normal by autistic teens. Something that just has to be tolerated. Kids are sneaky. They know how to avoid detection, and the introduction of social media has made things infinitely worse, however Jackson does provide some useful tips for dealing with bullies as well as strongly encouraging fellow teens to…

“take no more crap!

Some adults may find Freaks, Geeks & Asperger Syndrome a little repetitive and maybe even a little annoying at times, but as Jackson reminds the reader continuously – he is only 13! I first read “Freaks & Geeks” a number of years ago, and I laughed just as much at Luke’s keen observations and frank delivery the second time round. Many people will be familiar with World Autism Day, celebrated on April 2nd. Well today is International Asperger’s Day and Jackson’s message of acceptance is just as relevant for teens (and parents) today as it was in 2002. Teens do have a habit of growing up, though, and in 2016 Jackson wrote a follow-up called “Sex, Drugs and Asperger’s Syndrome (ASD),” about the pitfalls and challenges of the journey from adolescence to adulthood, which also sounds like a very interesting read.


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