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Beauty emerges from life of real discovery

Rachael Lee Harris; Rowman & Littlefield; 2015

Reviewed by Emilie Ng

RACHAEL Lee Harris’ memoir leaves you wanting to give her a long, gentle hug.

You’re left with this feeling not because she has Asperger’s syndrome, but purely because of her determination as a woman to find her place on this side of Heaven.

People can spend years searching for that one key which unlocks the mystery of their differences from the so-called “typical” person.

It took Rachael, a Brisbane native and registered psychotherapist, 37 years to find hers, but even before that blessed find, she pursued a personal mission to live.

My Autistic Awakening: Unlocking the Potential for a Life Well Lived follows Rachael’s journey from her birth to her ultimate freedom, her diagnosis as a woman with Asperger’s syndrome.

Rachael’s story is at best a contradiction to what most think about those with Asperger’s syndrome and autism.

Her life begins in 1969, more than 30 years before Asperger’s syndrome was even officially recognised.

Isolation, social anxiety and restlessness became normal in her childhood but, as is still the case for many on the spectrum, she was thought of as slow, unintelligent and lacking self-motivation.

The saving graces that brought her out of herself, came by words of encouragement from her mother Gabrielle, her Year 3 teacher Sr Agnes, her grandmother and older sister Sarah.

She walked down many paths – a career in beauty therapy, entering a Carmelite monastery for three years, marriage, motherhood, divorce and annulment, online dating, a new romance, and finally, starting a career as Australia’s first psychotherapist diagnosed with autism.

If you ever needed to look for inspiration on how to live beyond what society deems is possible for you, Rachael is your woman.

Beautifully written, her book cannot but move you to have compassion for all with autism who struggle to be understood and even loved in this world.

But it’s also not meant to leave you with pity for those in the autism community.

While there are already many films and books about people with autism, they only give an outline of what is already known – that autism is a “developmental difference” affecting social, emotional and mental behaviours.

Many don’t let you inside their mind, deep into their heart and walking alongside their faith journey.

On the contrary, Rachael’s photographic memories of some of her most powerful experiences including finding her voice in silent contemplation as a nun,  give a picture of a woman whose apparent difference makes her even more beautiful and dignified.

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