I can’t believe I had never heard of “Invisible Differences” before this week. Luckily, a fellow late-identified autistic, Gwen, mentioned it in our interview together, and I decided to buy it.
It’s a graphic novel about a woman in her 20’s who finds out she has Asperger’s. Don’t worry, the author and illustrator acknowledge that Asperger’s is now an outdated term and that the proper term is autistic.
Why is this book so good?
It visually shows how Marguerite, a French woman, felt every day of her life before knowing she was autistic. It captures the sensory overwhelm, frustrations, fears, and fatigues in ways that are hard to grasp with words alone.
Many times I find graphic novels a bit overwhelming. There’s too much on a page and the pictures are too intense for my eyes. This was not the case at all with “Invisible Differences.” They use color to tell a story, starting in simple black and white images that eventually fade to red as Marguerite becomes overwhelmed. It’s also a large book (think the size of a printer piece of paper), which provides more space for images to not be crammed in.
Time and time again, there was something captured in the book that had me whispering, “Oh my God, yes.” As a therapist who specializes in late-identified autism, there is A LOT I know about autism. And yet, this book reminded me of lived experiences from my past that were tied to autism. For example, Marguerita gets into work early to beat the crowd of people who arrive on time. I used to do that when I was a high school teacher. This was prior to knowing I was autistic, and I had never considered that I was subconsciously doing that to avoid the sensory and social overwhelm. I just liked the quiet of the early morning.
My book is literally covered in post-it notes of all of the relatable moments. Normally I like to write in the margins of the book, but I didn’t want to interrupt the visual storytelling. Furthermore, I can see myself sharing this book with my clients or even using it in therapy.
“Invisible Differences” also perfectly captures the experience of learning one is autistic. It shows Marguerita deep diving into autism with lots of research. She then tentatively goes to a mental health provider, who completely dismisses her. This is, sadly, another lived experience of autistics (which I discuss in my essay Does Your Therapist Know Enough About Autism to Help You). Marguerita persists nonetheless and eventually gets her diagnosis. I love the joy and elation, as well as the ways she begins to honor her life.
Another superb aspect about the book is that it offers a realistic balance of the ups and downs. It shows Marguerita happily making changes to her day, but also her sadness as she decides to end her relationship and spends the week in bed. It captures her making requests with work and her doctors, but also being dismissed and ignored. It shows her making new autistic friends, and struggling with her current friend’s responses.
EVERYTHING about this book is relatable.
There are also illustrations that also perfectly depict the lived interior experience of autism. For example, a panel where Marguerita is at a party, feels overwhelmed, and eventually begins to disappear. I felt exactly like that so many times in the past.
I could go on and on, but how about I not spoil all of the book for you? Please read it. If you are a late identified autistic, it will speak to your experiences. If you are neurotypical, it will help you better understand and relate to autistic people. If you think you might be autistic, it will depict the journey that lies ahead.
So get the book. And no, I don’t make a damn cent from this recommendation. I just love the book that much.