I tagged this as “non-fiction” and “memoir,” but it’s isn’t, exactly. This is the story of Marguerite, a twenty-seven-year-old French woman who gets diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. It’s written by Julie Dachez, who is now thirty-six and who was diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2012.
So the reader’s assumption is that Marguerite has been constructed to be somewhat different from the real Dachez. Some details are not what actually happened to Dachez, for whatever reason, and those changes were large enough that she changed the name of the central character, while still presenting it all as “my story” (though “my” here tends to attach to Marguerite).
That’s Invisible Differences , a graphic novel published in 2016 in France and translated by Edward Gauvin for a 2020 English-language publication. Well, actually, I’m still simplifying. I originally thought Mademoiselle Caroline was purely the artist, but the book itself makes it clear that she also adapted Dachez’s script – maybe it wasn’t quite in comics-panel form to begin with, maybe it was but Caroline made changes for better panel flow and readability, maybe some other complicated working relationship to end up with these finished pages.
So it was written by Dachez and Caroline, to some degree. It’s the story of Dachez, to some degree. It’s accurate and realistic, but maybe not “true” in the purest sense of that word.
I know that people on the autism spectrum are often concerned with little details like that, which is one reason I go into such detail here. (The other is that I am concerned with those details, and fascinated by them, even though I’m not on that spectrum.)
Since I’m American, I’m used to seeing the competing “America is better than anyone in the world at X!” and “America is totally horrible at Y, unlike these other countries!” arguments. Invisible Differences is partially the same sort of thing applied to France. As Dachez and Caroline present it, Freudian psychotherapy still rules mental health in France, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is underdiagnosed and undertreated, particularly in women. There’s an extensive section of notes at the end about what Autism is and how it’s treated in France, which could be helpful to people newly diagnosed and their families and friends.
I’m happy to note that my own son (diagnosed as various things on the spectrum in his first decade-and-a-half before the ASM-5 consolidated it all into ASD in 2013) had good support and care; it’s rare to see some health-care thing that the USA actually does better than an EU country. This is more a book for people getting this diagnosis in adulthood, or maybe adolescence, than the typical US timing of early childhood.
There isn’t a whole lot of “story” here; it’s about who Marguerite is, how she learns there’s a label and an explanation for some parts of her life that have caused her friction and anxiety, and how she transforms her life to align with what she learns and what she decides she wants to do with her new knowledge. It’s a profound journey for her: she was unhappy in really central ways that she doesn’t seem to have even thought were able to be changed until her diagnosis.
I’m going to see if my on-the-spectrum son is interested in this book; if he does read it and tells me anything, I may add notes here or later. But, for now, and speaking purely as someone who knows a person on the spectrum, this is a thoughtful, honest book that I think will be great for ASD-diagnosed people, particularly those coming to the diagnosis later in life.