Guerilla Aspies, written by Paul Wady, was published in 2014 as an irreverent jibe at neurotypical society. In 2016, it was adapted into a production which went to Edinburgh Fringe entitled Guerrilla Aspies: The Show of the Book. Colin Hambrook talks to him about his work, autistic pride and future plans.
The full title of Paul Wady’s book Guerilla Aspies: The Guerilla Aspies Handbook: A neurotypical society infiltration manual is a bit of a mouthful, but it certainly gives a flavour for Wady’s unique sense of humour. The book, in his own words, is the ‘world’s first covert Neurotypicals Infiltration Manual’. In the liner notes it claims to be able to teach you how to ‘blend in’ to neurotypical society: ‘you too can: make small talk, get mutually emotional, listen to people (despite always having something more interesting to say)’. It’s hard not to chuckle at this. But what makes Wady laugh?
“The anti-vaccination movement and anyone who subscribes to Andrew Wakefield’s Cult. The science fiction conspiracy theory film Vaxxed [about an alleged cover up of the link between vaccinations and autism] is really funny. It assumes 100% integrity and thinks it changes history. It helps if you bother to come up with more than one argument apart from an insider who is clearly on script. Making up stuff is not big and clever, no matter how many gullible parents you can find. Otherwise, Spike Milligan, Ria Lina, Don Biswas and Jay Islaam. Also, Father Ted. Anything with a bit of sincerity and depth to it that is not crude.”
The name Guerilla Aspies certainly catches the ear. Wady is keen to share the meaning.
“Guerilla denoted a stealthy underground movement of disempowered people that was not passive. Aspies is a slang expression many autistic people use, which is a shortened version of Aspergers Syndrome. Perfect concept: empowering, motivating and a flag to rally behind. Whilst also suggesting single-minded people on their own mission in life.”
The production has taken him around the country, since its performance at Edinburgh. One of his latest gigs was at The Autism Arts Festival, a new arts event which happened 29-30 April at University of Kent’s Canterbury Campus.
“I received the honour of a perfect audience and had a great time with them. The entire event created an autistic space on campus and everyone liked it. We all found ourselves in the art, performance and talks of other Aspies. New friendships made, and old ones consolidated. No one talked about disability. The Autism Arts Festival must continue, as yet another free autistic space of empowerment to be us. In community. It definitely worked.”
Building on the success of previous show, whilst keeping with the ‘stealthy underground’ vibe, Wady’s new show currently in development is called Stealth Aspies.
“Stealth Aspies was born out of a survey I put up online. Three of us are the core team, Alain English and Annette Foster and I, but others want to join in, which is great. It is entirely a team effort and I hope the show will go on to inspire other versions of itself, just like Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. I want to release it later on as an Open Source pdf.
In it, Autistic people discuss life in the neurodiverse closet; such as getting a late diagnosis, and other things about our lives we would never usually get to talk about on stage. It is positive and it is not about being disabled. Rather it’s about coping, surviving and being you in a world that often won’t let you be.”
Wady’s comments allude to the burgeoning autistic pride movement which is gathering pace. As old models are eschewed, autistic people are increasingly speaking for themselves on their own terms.
“Previous problems have been with individuals taking over any advocacy groups they claimed to organise and facilitate, and doing anything they wanted. Personally, I’ve been everything from misrepresented to outright lied about at such groups. One man most famous for doing this was turned on by the committee of the organisation he set up, and disappeared. Then everyone recognised what had happened; he had created a world of his own, which people did not realise was entirely his idea of government, charities, individuals and how they all related.
I am glad that era of UK self-advocacy scene is over. Overall I think individual advocates are the future. Also, female autistics seem to get on best with others and organise well. I tend to mainly work with them now.”
So, what does this fledging movement stand for?
“Community empowerment. Positive identity and healing, where needed. Being able to be who and what you are; a neurodiverse or neuroatypical person.”
Wady feels his work feeds into these aims in a number of ways:
“I try to be a conduit for the autistic community. I use my skillset, performing, writing, organising and paying for everything (!) to give an authentic voice to those of us who cannot be so extrovert. If you do not like my work − tell me. I always want to re-write everything to accommodate new perspectives I do not have.”
This is one ninja/guerilla who is pretty easy to catch. At least over the next few months:
“On June 18th, we will be doing Autism Pride in Hyde park about midday. Later that same evening, I’ll be performing my show at the Reading Autism Pride. Jason Why is hosting us in Paper Tiger at the Tea House Theatre, London for an evening on the 29th June. I’ll be at the Edinburgh Festival from the 3-27 August. I have a great venue booking on the Free Fringe. Bar 50, at 1pm in the Cowgate area, beneath the bridges area of the city. So please come to everything. Including every single performance during the Fringe. Without fail!”
Paul Wady is also part of the Guerilla Aspies Collective performing Stealth Aspies: Autistic People Speak at the Edinburgh Festival from 11-19 August. For more information, visit Paul Wady’s website and follow @GuerillaAspies and @StealthAspies on Twitter.