Books by Donna Williams

Released: July 1, 1996

The third revealing volume in an ongoing autobiographical series that is beginning to take on the breathtaking quality of a thriller: Will Donna Williams find her real self? Will she and Ian build a life together? Will she reunite with her family? Williams, diagnosed as autistic, began her chain of memoirs (Nobody Nowhere, 1992) by offering herself as Exhibit A in an exploration of what it is like to be a person with autistic symptoms. For instance, like many other ``high-functioning'' autistics, she was unable to express or even feel emotions like anger or affection, and only mimed acceptable social behavior. Frequently overwhelmed by sensation—light, sound, touch—she would become confused, immobilized, at the most inopportune times, such as when crossing a busy street. Somebody Somewhere (1994) followed her struggles to reengage with the ``real'' world. More and more able to control disruptive flights of consciousness and ritualistic behavior, Williams moved on to replace false selves with real feelings. In this new work she describes her relationship with Ian, someone ``like me,'' who became her friend and then her husband. Together they worked to peel away the masks they had created to hide themselves from the world. Living together in an English cottage, they developed a system of ``checking'' each other. Were the choices they made- -about, for instance, what to have for breakfast—true choices, or simply the fulfillment of images imposed by parents, or television, or an indefinable ``should''? Together they came closer to understanding the feelings that other people call ``love.'' Williams's gift for metaphor, and her ability to render experience and feeling with a compelling clarity, open her world to a group of readers much larger than just those interested in autism. Sadly, Donna and Ian part, but they shared ``the heaven and hell which is the stuff of growth and development.'' What comes next? Readers are likely to be waiting impatiently for volume four of this extraordinary narrative. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 1994

A compelling continuation of Williams's determined struggle to break free from autism. Perhaps even more than her best-selling Nobody Nowhere (1992), this journal reveals the vision and courage of the author. It picks up where the earlier volume left off, with the completion of the first manuscript and its submission to a publisher. Then, Williams was heading back home from London to Australia, newly aware of a self. But with the bite of the apple of awareness, she was more emotionally vulnerable than ever, unprotected by the ritualistic noises and movements typical of autism and determined not to call on the false selves that helped her function in the world ``out there.'' With the help of an educational psychologist and a couple who began as her landlords and ended as loving counselors, and with the help also of colleagues and her students, she fought to move beyond the still detached world in which she lived. She had no comprehension of what other people were feeling, since she could not admit feeling herself. Sensitive to noise, bright lights and supersensitive to touch, she was sometimes overwhelmed by sensation, at which time the ``meaning dropped out of words.'' She heard, but did not comprehend, only hoping that a speaker's words would be stored somewhere in her memory so she could retrieve and understand them later. College, teaching, and a worldwide book tour added pressure, but Williams's amazing determination enabled her to break through bouts of the ``Big Black Nothingness''—a void of sensation and experience—to feel anger, pain, and pleasure. Descriptions of feelings at times take on the fuzzy terms of New Agespeak, but discovering as an adult what most of us experience from birth must overwhelm the power of metaphor. A poignant sequel to Williams's ongoing adventure, her experiences here more closely shadowing the emotional struggles of non-autistic adults. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1992

The singular battle of an autistic woman to connect with ``out there''—the world and the people outside her frightened self. From birth, autistics exhibit, among other symptoms, extreme lack of emotional response, repetitive behavior, and speech that mirrors what is being said to them. The symptoms mask what is often average or above-average intelligence, a conflict leading to rage, destructive behavior, and often, in children, to institutionalization. Williams believes that she was able to emerge from her autistic fortress in large part because of—ironically— her abusive mother. As a little girl, she warded off her mother's physical and verbal blows by assuming personalities that were acceptable to the outside world. Although her emotional core remained untouched most of the time, the need to act ``normal'' prevented her from totally retreating into a world where ``gentleness, kindness and affection'' had no part. Williams's role-playing helped her to get through school, including college, to get jobs and lovers, and finally to accept and give—on a limited basis—affection in her own person, as Donna. Fragmented and emotionally distant (``Welcome to my world,'' says Williams), the author's story offers insight into the autistic experience. The last chapters address specifically why typical autistic behavior, such as switching lights on and off, is comforting. How to deal with autistics? Through psychological warfare, Williams says, though that warfare must be waged with patience and a plan. A recounting of an amazing struggle that will help the frustrated parents, teachers, and clinicians understand more clearly what those unresponsive ``dead eyes'' see. A worthy complement to Judy and Sean Barron's There's a Boy in Here (p. 83). (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs—not seen.) Read full book review >