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Alvar Roy: "I was raised by my middle-school library." (Autism, disability)

I was raised by “Oliver Twist”

a young boy who wanted more

out of life

who sought to please

but clung to goodness

who deserved everything

though fate initially, cruelly, gave him nothing

I was raised by “Paradise Lost”

a crafty fallen angel

on the lookout for my soul

who sought to trick me

as I tried to cling to goodness

who had everything

but gave it up for more

I was raised by “Pilgrim’s Progress”

an allegorical Christian

with his companion Faithful

who sought eternal life

as he fought against the wickedness and distractions of this world

who deserved nothing

but was given everything eternally and forever

I was raised by “Cut”

a girl more angry at herself

than at the world

who sought to blend in

but was forced to stand out

who thought life meant nothing

and gave up everything

I was raised by “To Kill A Mockingbird”

a tomboyish girl

always questioning everything

who sought to understand like her father

and looks back on her hard won wisdom

who almost lost everything

but was given it back by someone she once considered nothing

Books by assorted authors

from assorted times and genres

I began knowing nothing about life

and while literature may not have taught me everything

I was raised by my middle school library


I have always read anything I could get my hands on. I read the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) cover to cover as a 12-year-old. Despite its focus only on deficits and developmental delays when it comes to autism, I would argue that my advanced early literacy is a more impactful facet of my autistic brain than the various challenges I did and still do face. Mine is a neurotype more accurately defined by the extremes at both ends of the spectrum of myriad behaviors, characteristics, and traits.

A common inclusion on lists of what to look for, to identify autism, is that autistic children often seem to learn much more from interfacing with a computer, smartphone, or tablet than from interacting with other people. As a 33-year-old, I did not grow up with the same access to technology that kids nowadays do.

Instead, books were my main teachers.

I absorbed information from nonfiction texts and lessons about life from literature. Whether fact or fiction, I found myself grappling with the human condition as I sought to satiate my unquenchable thirst for knowledge and understanding. From birth to death, through tragedies and triumphs, I encountered the beauty and ugliness inherent in being human.

Beyond the informational and intellectual benefits of reading, books have been my refuge in this oft overstimulating and unkind world.

Considering the majority of my life and time is spent in my head, it is probably not surprising that I have an especially rich inner world. Unfortunately, as an autistic AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) user, it is perhaps even less surprising that I have experienced an obscene amount of abuse, assault, bullying, and trauma. And when I wasn’t being actively ostracized, I was mostly excluded or ignored.

Reading in the library was an effective way to physically escape my peers, as well as adults who I suppose were similarly offended by my oddity. More importantly, the emotional and mental safety I found in books was a lifeline and sanctuary for me amidst the constant chaos and overwhelm of existence.

As a kid/teen, I typically read two to three books a day, basically only stopping to use the bathroom or for P.E./sports. I read during class and while eating and even hiding under the covers at night with a flashlight when I was supposed to be asleep. In my bubble with a book I was protected from the constant external and eventually internal accusations that because I was different, I was bad and wrong and defective.

A few years ago, my mother informed me that my middle school librarian had retired. She thought I would want to know, since I spent so much time at the library. I remarked that I didn’t really remember the librarian there, which prompted my mom to wonder how that could be, since I had read every book in the library (except a few things in the reference section that were off limits to students), and I had even written a poem about it (see above).

My response was that I titled the poem “I Was Raised by My Middle School Library,” not “I Was Raised by My Middle School Librarian” for a reason. And that my only interactions with the librarian were incredibly brief (e.g., when checking out a book).

People who have heard this story frequently find it equally amusing and odd that I decided to earn a Masters in Library & Information Science, when I have very few memories of my middle school librarian, despite the extensive time I spent in her library. In some ways, I suppose I was drawn to librarianship, especially initially, more because of what’s being checked out than who is checking out, but it would be both inaccurate and unfair to suggest I only care about books and not the book borrowers.

In graduate school, I refined my hard and soft skills, and was able to distill that my greatest passion is ensuring equitable access. As a voracious reader, a librarian, and as an autistic adult with other marginalized identities who frequently struggled to access the information and representation I craved when I was younger, I am driven to be the librarian I needed back then.

Having found my voice, both literally (Acapela Group’s English [United Kingdom] Peter Male Adult Premium & the Proloquo4Text app on my AAC device) and figuratively, I am grateful to be able to articulate the not only enriching, but life saving, significance of reading. And to help advocate for increased access and accurate representation.


Alvar Roy is an autistic adult AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) user who graduated with a Masters in Library and Information Science in May 2020 and currently works as a Research & Data Analyst for a social service nonprofit. Reading anything & everything and writing poetry (& sometimes prose) helps Alvar to advocate, connect, self-regulate, and understand amidst the intense, neurotypical-dominated world we all share. As an author, Alvar’s motto is “Subsist in Shadow. Write Light.” and he hopes you found this post enlightening.


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