Untypical by Pete Wharmby

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Untypical is a nonfiction book that talks about challenges autistic individuals can face in a neurotypical world. The book was written by the autism advocate Pete Wharmby. I had the privilege of meeting Wharmby virtually to discuss ideas and best practices about advocacy, book publishing, and voicing our unique perspectives among the crowd. By the time of our meeting, I had just received my copy of the book, and was already drawn in by how relatable it was as a fellow autistic individual.  

Throughout Untypical, Wharmby discusses the triumphs and challenges autistic individuals face in making and keeping friendships, falling in love with particular (and often niche!) hobbies, and the inconsistent relationship that many of us have with school, workplaces, and our own advocacy. In Untypical, for example, as well as teased in his popular LinkedIn posts, Wharmby discusses how the workplace is often stubbornly unaccommodating for autistic individuals. Diagnosed or undiagnosed, and disclosed or undisclosed, he lays out approaches that employers could make to get the most out of their autistic employees beyond the standard surface-level approaches.  

What struck me the most about Untypical was that not only did I find so much of the content relatable and validating, but I also noted that the book was a great learning opportunity for neurotypical individuals and others who do not identify as autistic. In writing, it’s difficult to possess the rare ability to have an influx of information invoke relatability. Wharmy achieves this through a concise storytelling format that makes the writing so engaging that it’s hard to put down. In the introduction section of Untypical, Wharmby states his talent best by saying “As a fluent speaker of both ‘neurodivergent’ and ‘neurotypical’, I’m taking it upon myself here to act as an interlocuter; I’m setting out to translate between these two very different neural demographics, to help the majority understand the minority they have overlooked for so long” (pg 8) 

Wharmby was diagnosed with autism a bit later in life. He found himself passionate about finding everything he could about the condition, how he relates to and is unique from other autistic adults, and how the world can better accommodate autistic (and, by extension, all of our!) needs. I appreciated his upfront disclaimer about the disparate and dynamic needs within the autism community. While all of us vary in needs within a spectrum of categories, he acknowledged the relative privilege that his demographic has compared with Black or nonspeaking autistic individuals as an example. He also noted how white, and speaking, autistic males are often seen as “the face of autism”, thereby releasing a host of harms and stereotypes for those who do not fit that mold. His inclusion of diverse autistic creatives in the book, coupled with his call for all of us to center a more representative demographic is commendable. 

Not only is Untypical a showcase of Wharmby’s talented communication style of being both validating and informative, but he proves that he lives by the principles mentioned in the book. Back in our virtual meeting, for example, I felt grateful that he was willing to help me, a more emerging writer in comparison, have the right toolset needed to speak out as well. Additionally, at the end of our virtual conversation, Wharmby asked me how he could help me get my own perspective further out into the world. The true ally and advocate that he is, he introduced me to a couple of his industry connections, before of course signing off to continue his work of educating the public. 

If it isn’t clear by now, let me state that I thoroughly enjoyed reading Untypical, and highly recommend it to both autistic and non-autistic readers alike. 

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Kala Omeiza is a Pan-African Neurodiversity Advocate through Literature, Initiatives, and Technology.  She is the author of novels about neurodiversity and autism awareness including Afrotistic (2022) and The Worst Saturday Ever (2023) as well as an upcoming nonfiction book Autistic and Black (2024). Kala is a 2020 MSc in Psychological Research graduate here at University of Oxford.