Michael Barton, A Different Kettle of Fish: A Day in the Life of a Physics Student with Autism

Jessica Kingsley, 2014, ISBN 978-1849055321

A Different Kettle of Fish gives a fascinating and helpful insight into the perplexities of everyday existence for people on the autistic spectrum. Barton, a physics student with autism, takes us through one day in his life. He shows us how hard lots of language in normal use can be for anyone with a literal mind. The phrase ‘No need to bite my head off’ conjures up an alarming mental picture. He describes his fascination with detail as a boy: he talked endlessly about Pokemon long after any listener had lost interest. He tells us how hard distractions like background noise were and still can be. When a child has a meltdown in a supermarket he suspects autism, making the lights and the noise unbearable. He reflects ironically that the very negative adult responses to the tantrum demonstrate just the traits that many autistic people exhibit: lack of empathy, poor communication skills, rigidity of thinking.

While the book highlights some of the problems faced by people with autism, it is also humorous (full of Barton’s own quirky cartoons) and upbeat. University is a much more comfortable environment for him than school, because those around him share his interests and ways of seeing things. His point that the world desperately needs autistic people’s logical thinking skills to solve its problems is a very powerful one.

A useful addition to the library, for autistic and non-autistic students, professionals and parents.