photo of a young woman in the spectrum design

Meet the multi-talented Grace Liu, autistic writer, illustrator, musician and cat lover! Grace writes her own blog, Unwritten Grace. Here she shares her own life experiences and insights, from musings on autism and everyday social confusion, to her three part ‘pet lover’s debate’, which you can dig into here!

Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, Grace has also written a piece on social distancing and staying sane during the current ‘lockdown’ period, which you may find helpful

Grace spoke to us about blogging, her experience of being autistic, and her brand new feline-inspired illustration project...

When were you diagnosed as autistic?

I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome in 2002, when I was nine. I was born in Taiwan to an English mother and Taiwanese father, then moved to the UK aged four, so I was seen as "different" anyway. Some teachers thought I was "odd", "slow" and "strange", as I didn't know how to interact with other kids, and didn't have the same interests. Some even blamed it on my mum being a single parent at the time!

My mum and my stepdad married when I was eight and we moved in with him. I went to a new school and a lady from Autism Outreach came in to look at another autistic child and noticed me! I didn't get officially diagnosed until the following year, but my school were still supportive until then.

What is being autistic like for you?

I have trouble reading faces and body language. I struggle to interpret instructions if not given clearly. I struggle with physical co-ordination, though my fine motor skills, eg drawing, writing and making things are good. I find it hard to deal with sudden change or big decisions being thrown at me. I have very sharp senses, which means I don't like sudden touch, or touch from people I don't know well, and find busy, noisy places overwhelming. It also means I have a sharp sense of hearing with music, and am good at cooking. I'm good with written and spoken language.

Your blog is fantastic! What inspired you to create it?

In my late teens, I wanted to get more into writing but wasn’t sure how, so I tried blogging. This was partly prompted by one of my stepbrothers giving me Blogging For Dummies for Christmas. I didn’t specifically start off with autism in mind, but I frequently wrote about my experiences of being autistic. While I was at uni, I thought I’d try alternating between autism and non-autism-themed posts. Autism is both a significant part of my life but not the only part, and I want my blog to reflect that.

Autism is both a significant part of my life but not the only part, and I want my blog to reflect that.

In your blog posts, you write about different identities and people making assumptions about you. Could you tell us a bit more about that?

As someone in more than one minority, I find stereotypes and assumptions frustrating. I want people to talk to me and get to know me the same way they do anyone else, and only treat me differently when I ask them to. I’ve had strangers say “ni hao” (Chinese for hello) and “Konichiwa” (Japanese for hello), some well-meaningly, some mockingly. I’ve had people shout “Great wall of China!”. I frequently get asked “where are you from?”, then “where are you REALLY from?”. One time a woman approached me on the street and offered me Chinese literature.

As someone in more than one minority, I find stereotypes and assumptions frustrating.

When it comes to assumptions about autism, I’ve had people say “I bet you’re good at IT/Maths!” or assume I don’t understand emotions or jokes. I wish people wouldn’t tell me how autism works as if they know better than me!

If you could destroy one myth or stereotype about autism, what would it be?

I wish people wouldn’t think that autistic people can’t feel love or empathy. Although I’m not very outwardly expressive, I feel these things strongly, and have used this to help me learn how to be a good friend - it's superficial and/or practical communication I find harder.

You also talk about your experience of being an autistic Christian. Do you think being autistic influences your approach to faith?

I think being autistic means I analyse things a lot, and Christianity is no exception. It has caused doubt and confusion in some areas, but it also gives me a different perspective, without blindly following other people’s expectations.

Do you face any challenges as an autistic person in the Christian community?

I’ve had struggles in church before and I think that’s because a church is a community of people like any other. I’ve felt overwhelmed at church social events. I’ve fallen out with and grown apart from church friends and acquaintances. I’ve had people be impatient with me. But I’ve also found some really great church friends. In that way I’ve been very lucky.

Are you working on any creative projects at the moment?

My main project, along with my blog, is Aspie Cat, a series of graphic novel style drawings about a cat living among a lot of dogs and humans (including an autistic pre-teen girl), and experiencing struggles that parallel common issues autistic people have with neurotypicals. It was inspired by my love of cats, my own experiences, and my cat Bouncer, who my mum has described as being an “Aspie cat”. It’s based on an idea for a young adult novel that I worked on for my third year uni dissertation. I also have an unfinished draft for a non-fiction book based on my blog.

A sneak peak of Aspie Cat

comic strip cartoon illustration of a cat

An extract from Grace's blog piece, Social distancing and staying sane

We’re in lockdown, and I could argue that this is the most autism-friendly lifestyle that could be imposed on us. People aren’t allowed to get too close to each other. Any physical contact right now is unthinkable. Social gatherings have been banned. The only outings we’re allowed to take, besides essential ones, are solitary walks. Not so bad, right?

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