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Review of But Everyone Feels This Way: How an Autism Diagnosis Saved My Life by

But Everyone Feels This Way: How an Autism Diagnosis Saved My Life

by Paige Layle

With most memoirs, I already have a good sense of who the author is, like in the case of Making It So, and I’ve picked up the memoir because I’m interested in hearing their story in their own words. In the case of But Everyone Feels This Way, I hadn’t heard of Paige Layle before. Instagram recommended a Reel by her. I don’t remember the Reel or what she said in it, but she mentioned her book coming out soon. I was intrigued, looked it up, and was able to get an eARC through NetGalley/Hachette.

Paige Layle is a twenty-three-year-old from Ontario, Canada—the same province as me, and a fact I only realized when I was well into the book and noticed she was using a lot of Canadian school terms, like saying “Grade 3” instead of “third grade,” and then she mentioned Toronto, and I was like, “CANADIAN. WE HAVE A CANADIAN HERE. FROM ONTARIO LIKE ME.” Sorry, I get unreasonably excited when unexpected Ontarians show up in my to-read list. Anyway, Layle is quite young to write a memoir, but they are passionate about being an autism communicator. Layle takes us chronologically through their life, sharing how they struggled through early childhood and adolescence. She expected her autism diagnosis, received at fifteen, to change everything and was surprised when it didn’t—but it allowed her to better express her needs, work on her relationship with her mom, and figure out what she wanted after high school.

Autism as a condition is drastically misunderstood. At its core, But Everyone Feels This Way is a first-person account of “discovering” autism. It has two major audiences: allistic people like myself who want to learn more about autistic people’s experiences, and young, neurodivergent people who might be autistic and not realize it. For that latter group, I hope some of them find this book illuminating.

Women in particular are underrepresented among autism diagnoses. This compounds misunderstandings about what it means to be autistic, what “#ActuallyAutistic” looks like, as the hashtag might say. I briefly perused Layle’s Instagram as I prepared to write this review, and I noticed a disturbing trend of comments like so: “You aren’t autistic, stop pretending. If you were autistic you wouldn’t be able to talk to us like this.” Now, it’s no surprise that the comments are a toxic trashfire. Still, I think these comments represent an unwillingness among the public to believe that autistic people can be verbal, can communicate with grace and elegance, can have complex and nuanced takes on things. This comes down to stereotypes—but I’d argue it’s also symptom of insecurity among neurotypical and allistic people who are invested in the idea that autism is something to be feared rather than embraced, at best tolerated as opposed to accepted and even celebrated. It’s these people whom Layle hopes to disarm, I think.

But Everyone Feels This Way is quite raw and pointed. While some will call Layle’s style simplistic, there is a difference between simplistic and simple, and Layle’s writing is the latter. It’s clear, and it’s honest—allistic readers are just used to people not saying exactly what they mean, engaging in ellipsis, etc. While I won’t litigate the legitimacy of Layle’s autism, let me say that Layle’s writing is, to me, one of the clearest indicators that they are autistic. It’s not bad writing; it’s just different from the range of styles that tend to be drummed into neurotypical writers—and if that isn’t your thing, cool, but I think you would be missing out.

What I found most compelling about this book is how Layle builds, layer by layer, our understanding of her experience of autism as she moves through the each year of her life. I like to think I had a good handle on general facts about autism, many of which Layle shares in various fact-box sidebars throughout the book. However, there is a difference between holding a mental list of autistic traits in my head and actually hearing an autistic person describe how she embodies and experiences those traits on a daily basis. In this way, this book serves its primary purpose as a memoir: to build a richer empathy for autistic life than a work of more general reference nonfiction could ever achieve.

As a teacher, I found the chapters in which Layle is in high school very helpful and challenging. She describes in detail the process of getting an IEP, an individual education plan (this is the point where I realized she’s in Ontario) and how some teachers would abide by this plan while others would … not. This doesn’t surprise met, but it does sadden me. I would like more Ontario high school teachers to read this book so they can hear directly from an autistic person why the accommodations in an IEP are not niceties, not wants, but needs.

The problem, Layle makes clear here, is not Layle themself. It’s that we built our society for neurotypical people, so neurodivergent people are often at a disadvantage in meeting expectations. School is difficult because you need to be quiet, sit still, not challenge your teacher’s authority or expertise even if you’re confused by how they are teaching you, etc. Neurotypical people, and most allistic, neurodivergent people like myself, learn how to play the game well enough to mostly fit in. (In my case, for example, I can relate to a lot of Layle’s experience in terms of being highly intelligent and academically motivated while not very socially involved. However, I didn’t experience her struggles to understand her teachers’ or peers’ emotions and motivations, so I had an easier time figuring out “how to behave” in high school. This is the privilege of an allistic brain.)

Ironically, for a book with a subtitle all about the diagnosis itself, this aspect of the book seems to be the least well-developed. I thought it was really interesting how Layle admits to disappointment that their diagnosis did not magically fix how people relate to them—there is a particular scene between Layle and their former best friend that highlights this keenly. I wish Layle had gone more into this side of things, but instead she focuses more on how the diagnosis changed her family dynamic.

This isn’t a perfect book, and of course it behoves me to observe that Layle in many ways fits the mould of influencer: young, white, woman. But Everyone Feels This Way runs the risk of being elevated into some universal tale of autistic experience because we would like it to be that simple. We like it when we can read one book about something and say we know about that identity. But it’s not that simple, of course. Layle can’t speak for all autistic people, doesn’t pretend to, and if you expect this to be a general crash course in autism, look elsewhere. Although there are some basic definitions and facts sprinkled throughout, this book is a memoir first—it just happens to be a memoir by an Actually Autistic person.

And that, in my opinion, is a good enough reason to pick it up. Layle’s unrelenting honesty, the way she matter-of-factly links her struggles to her suicide ideation and attempts, is a good enough reason to keep reading to the end. Because ultimately this is a book about someone trying to come to terms with the fact that the world was not built for them—and the people for whom it was built have no idea just how different things seem the people on the outside. Sometimes bemused, sometimes distraught, sometimes nonchalant, Layle’s memories reveal the kaleidoscope of rich, wonderful, uplifting, terrifying truths that accompany being a young autistic person coming of age in the 2010s and navigating adulthood in the 2020s.


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