In brief

14th March 2003 at 00:00
A Real Person: life on the outside

By Gunilla Gerland

Souvenir Press pound;12.99.

It's difficult to know who started it, and it's certainly not before time.

But 60 years after an American child psychologist put a name to a baffling developmental disorder, autism has finally come out of the closet.

The condition remains as baffling as ever, but it's no longer for the want of being talked about. These days, Sunday supplements carry columns by the parents of autistic children, and autistic people write books about their lives.

But while most tell of articulate, middle-class families struggling to come to terms with the inexplicable, accounts such as Gunilla Gerland's are relatively rare.

For Gunilla was born in Sweden into a violent and unstable home, where her condition - the form of autism called Asperger's syndrome - remained undiagnosed until, in her twenties, she herself sought the help of a psychologist.

By that time, she had been to hell and back, suffering years of abuse at the hands of violent partners and an uncomprehending society. At one point, she decided the only way to appear normal was by becoming one of a couple.

"I didn't know how to choose, so I chose Miguel, the dirtiest and most down-at-heel man I had ever seen."

While overcoming the worst effects of poverty and heroin addiction, Gunilla continued learning to be what she calls "a real person", and this life-affirming account of her trance-like journey is a measure of her success.

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