One sunny day in August I went to meet a new client and that is where I met an adorable four year old girl, Georgia, with a mop of hair and bright eyes that saw the world in black and white. She had been diagnosed with autism at age three and her parents wanted me to teach her how to play pretend. That began our long journey together through years of therapy and friendship. At some point, Georgia, herself, became motivated to change. Georgia decided that she wanted to work hard to overcome those parts of her autism that kept her separated from the rest of the world while still maintaining those unique qualities that make her who she is. It was that decision that made change truly possible.
Today Georgia attends a rigorously academic private high school. When her parents enrolled her, they did not tell the administration she was autistic. They were not trying to hide that fact; they just did not feel that it was relevant anymore. Initially, the book How to Be Human was published under the pseudonym Florida Frenz, not to hide the fact that Georgia has autism but to protect her identity while going through high school. As soon as her college applications were completed Georgia proudly shared her book with her friends and teachers. Georgia has become a well-rounded person who excels in many areas. Her friends know that she is autistic but they don’t seem to care. It’s a beautiful human world that she lives in now, and I am glad to be part of it.
That intro was written by Shelah Moss, founder of Mosswood Connections, a compassionate woman who works with children on the autism spectrum. I had an opportunity to meet her and her Mosswood Connections partner, Sarah, for coffee at a popular cafe in Menlo Park on a bright sunny day. We could have talked for hours! They introduced me to How to Be Human: Diary of an Autistic Girl written and illustrated by autistic author, Georgia, under her pen name Florida Frenz. I had to find out more! Here’s my interview with the wonderful, creative and talented Georgia, a young autistic author:
A combination of selfish and selfless reasons inspired me to write How to Be Human. I had wanted to be an author ever since reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at age seven. I wrote a slew of adventure-fantasy stories throughout my childhood, but it was not until the age of fourteen that I considered my own life’s story might be of interest to others. It was then that Shelah Moss, my former autism therapist, told me that her sister, Marissa Moss, was helping to start a publishing company called Creston Books. Shelah asked if I would like to publish a book, and I replied, “Yes, of course!” Originally, How to Be Human only fulfilled my selfish desire to be a published author, but as I put together the book, I realized that my life’s experiences had real potential to help others understand autism and have compassion for autistic people.
What’s the best age range for reading the book?
Good question! The book is formatted like a children’s book and I know of many children who have read it and enjoyed it, but I know several teenagers and adults who have read it and enjoyed it as well. I truly think this is a book that people of any age can benefit from reading. I would say the best age to read it is the age at which you wish to gain insight about how the human brain works.
In your Foreword, you say that “I have become an empowered autistic.” Will you share your thoughts as to what that means?
I am an autistic who knows that I can overcome the challenges I face and lead a happy, productive life.
You have divided your “diary” into 23 steps to be human. Did each step come from your own personal experiences?
Yes, all twenty-three steps came from my own personal experiences. In real life, though, you don’t finish one step and move on. I am constantly revisiting many of the “steps”.
What is the most important step?
Step 23: Human or Alien is the most important one. In this step, I figure out that everyone has something that makes feel weird or lesser. At the bottom of the page, I drew a picture of stick figures and green aliens holding hands around the earth. I hoped that people would understand the symbolism of that drawing–that no matter where we come from or what obstacles we face, we can still live harmoniously and love each other.
What are some of the challenges you face as a female on the autism spectrum?
Nowadays, I do not feel that I do not face too many challenges as an autistic female, but when I was younger, I certainly did. Between the ages of seven-to-fifteen, the difference between social survival and social suicide was failing to notice the tensing of someone’s shoulders, the twitching of someone’s eyebrows, the sarcasm of someone’s voice. And even when I understood social cues, I often struggled in girl world because I am a logical yet idealistic person. One instance of this that I reference in my book is how I refused to pretend to have crushes on boys in middle school. My friends were all about giggling over boys, gossiping about the next dance, and wearing their best clothes and makeup (even when we went hiking!) I, on the other hand, thought it was irrational to be attracted to impulsive, naughty, middle-school-aged boys. Not that I was not starting to develop an interest in guys, it was just that my idealistic side wanted to wait until the guys around me were mature enough to be kind and romantic. So instead of gossiping about opportunities to date boys or preening for them, I continued to voice my interests in adventure-fantasy books and nature. Because of this, the people I had once called my friends started to roll their eyes and call me immature. Their boy crazy phase was slow to pass, so I eventually stopped hanging out with them because I did not want to conform to the group’s rule that I needed a man (or rather a twelve-year-old boy who was just as bewildered and awkward as I was as we prepared to plummet into the abyss of adolescence).
Did you have an author mentor who inspired you?
Yes, I would say J.K. Rowling is an author mentor who has inspired me. As I said earlier, the Harry Potter series was the reason I started to think I may one day want to be an author.
You are so wise at 17. And you are right, you are an empowered autistic and your book will help empower other autistics. What would you like to say to them as a final thought to encourage them with their lives?
Just keep trying. Emotions and people may be confusing but putting in the effort to understand them is worth it. You will be a happier person if you can identify who or what makes you feel a certain way.