Sara Gibbs is a comedy writer with a list of enviable credits and now an autobiography Drama Queen to add to her accomplishments. Gibbs is also an autistic person, however, she did not find this out until she was 30. In Drama Queen Gibbs shares her experiences up until, and beyond, her late diagnosis.
Though we are increasingly aware of it, neurodiversity is still wildly misunderstood, in that curious manner in which people think they’re experts in it. Think to yourself how often being highly organised or not particularly social is described as ‘a bit autistic’ or ‘on the spectrum’. Considering one of the chapters of Drama Queen is titled Chatterbox and another notes how Gibbs lived in a room so messy she couldn’t see the floor it’s very clear that voices such as Gibbs are vital if we are to move on from the damaging assumption autistic people are either robots or Rain Man.
(I’m using the definition autistic person/people to align with Gibbs, as she explains in her book: “Other people are welcome to identify differently but given that I can’t leave my autism at home while I pop to the shops to get a few bits done, this is the way round I prefer it.”)
Gibbs discusses being simultaneously misunderstood and misunderstanding from an early age. Her meltdowns, ‘know-all’ behaviour and inability to eat food that wasn’t pizza was dismissed as attention-seeking, even though as Gibbs points out herself, the attention made life much more difficult and who wants that? What’s odd is that there’s little indication she was expected to grow out of it. I don’t know if this is linked to a Steiner school education (something that probably warrants an autobiography in itself) or a demonstration of one of two thing, Gibbs was written off early or was coping just enough to get by.
However getting by was increasingly exhausting for Gibbs. It is arguable that the running theme of Drama Queen is not autism but people’s insistence Gibbs adheres to various unwritten social rules. This starts off early in school, common enough, the popular girl decides you don’t meet her arbitrary standards and you’re out.
But what Gibbs highlights is how this continues into the adult workplace. It’s clear her actual work was not the problem, simply social behaviour. Social behaviour that doesn’t seem to be rude just not becoming of a young lady, unwritten social rules had to be followed by Gibbs but could be flouted by male co-workers. There are plenty of ways these situations could have been solved, working from home options, clearer social guidelines, private spaces to rest in, things I might add, that would benefit everyone. Being good at a job should be good enough.
But despite being physically exhausted by efforts to fit in, Gibbs is also tenacious and finally finds a place in the comedy world, an environment where being weird is often seen as a plus, hurrah! Though this is not the end of the struggle for Gibbs.
In spite of the very cover of my copy making it clear Gibbs was not diagnosed until she was 30, I kept expecting a diagnosis or suspicion to be voiced on the next page. It wasn’t. Like Gibbs, the reader is kept waiting for any answers. Helpfully the book is both opens and closes with an explanation as to why this label has helped Gibbs so much, I’d urge people to read this book for insight or maybe recognition into autism. Drama Queen doesn’t so much end as offer a jumping-off point, a fresh start.
Sara Gibbs, Drama Queen is published by Headline and available now, you can order a copy here!