A Q&A with Clara Törnvall

What inspired you to write The Autist's Guide to the Galaxy, and how did the idea for the book come about? What was your writing process like for this book?

After my first book, The Autists: women on the spectrum, I came into contact with many autistic individuals who shared their personal stories with me. Through these stories, I learned that the autistic community is filled with strength, wisdom, and a great sense of humour! Yet, autistics are often portrayed as victims in the media or in books on autism written by neurotypicals. I wanted to change that. I aimed to write an eye-opener that allows neurotypical readers to experience what it’s like to be described as deviant.

So, I decided to write a fun book from the autist’s perspective, a book in which being autistic is the norm. By flipping the perspective, it becomes funny, much like the Monty Python sketches ‘Working Class Playwright’ and ‘Bicycle Repairman’ that also play with the perspective of majority versus minority.

The book is mainly about miscommunication. It came to life through collaboration with many young autistic people whom I interviewed about their strangest encounters with the majority society. The misunderstandings and conflicts that can occur between autistics and non-autistics are often funny. When one interprets communication literally and the other ‘reads between the lines’, it’s bound to go wrong. However, the book also carries a serious purpose.

The title The Autist's Guide to the Galaxy is intriguing. Can you explain its significance and how it reflects the content of the book?

I loved the reference to Douglas Adams’ classic novel, because in his book, the meaning of life is 42, and I was diagnosed at age 42. The title positions the autist as the outsider, studying neurotypical society, but it also allows the autist to be the main character of the story — and the judge of ‘the galaxy’ (neurotypical society). This shift is crucial because it changes the perspective on what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. In my book, autistic people are ‘we’ and neurotypicals are ‘them’. That’s something new.

How do you see your book contributing to the current conversations about autism and neurodiversity?

It’s time to flip the usual scripts about neurodiversity, because something very important happens when you do. The effect isn’t just funny; it’s absurd. The reversed perspective reveals that the way society describes autistic people is also absurd: full of generalisations, stereotypes, and prejudice.

How have your personal experiences shaped the narratives and perspectives presented in the book?

I wanted to write the book I wish I had as a young adult. I spent so many years feeling like there was something fundamentally wrong with me, and when I was diagnosed with autism, it was a huge relief. I realised that I wasn’t a failed human being; I was a completely ordinary autistic person. I appreciate myself and my autistic traits, even though they can drive me crazy at times. It’s a constant struggle, but I wouldn’t want to be anything other than autistic. Society needs neurological differences, and we must stop viewing the neurotypical way as the “right” way. Let’s benefit from each other’s differences instead. There is no better or worse, just different.

How do you see the conversation around autism evolving in the next few years, and what role do you hope your book will play in it  to better support individuals with autism?

I hope the book will boost confidence in young autistic people. Ideally, readers will find it relatable, humorous, and thought-provoking, leading them to question their views on “normality”. For neurotypical readers, I hope it encourages them to avoid “reading between the lines” when interacting with autistic individuals. 😊

Some neurotypicals have found the book provocative, with reactions like, “That’s prejudice, we are not all like that!” Well, that was precisely the point of the book…Welcome to the experience of being part of a minority! 😊 My aim, however, is not to polarise but to foster better understanding among all of us.

Quick view

The Autists

Clara Törnvall

Cover view
Quick view

The Autist’s Guide to the Galaxy

Clara Törnvall

Cover view