Not alone: B.C. artist with Asperger's describes high school in graphic novel

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Not alone: B.C. artist with Asperger's describes high school in graphic novel

Not alone: B.C. artist with Asperger's describes high school in graphic novel

Matthew Senn was picked on at school for being different but it wasn't until the end of high school that he was diagnosed with Asperger's, a form of autism.

The diagnosis when he was 16 came as a relief, Senn says, and allowed him to start discovering more about himself.

"For me, it was . . . how to interact with others was the challenging part, and figuring out what other people think and how to act around them," Senn said. "Once I figured out what I was missing, I could learn that and be able to interact better."

The Salmon Arm, B.C.-based artist began writing soon after his diagnosis and has recently published a graphic novel called Quiet: A Graphic Novel of Introversion about his experience.

"Most of middle school and high school, I wasn't fitting in very well and the other kids knew that. They would pick on me and tease me," Senn said. "I did want friends, I just didn't know how to do it."

Not alone

Quiet tells the story of a shy girl named Claire who goes off to college, and follows her struggles making friends during her first semester. The book has been getting a lot of attention, particularly as April is Autism Awareness month.

"The points of this book is to hopefully connect with other people in a similar situation who think that it might be totally unique, totally alone," Senn said. "You'd be surprised how many people would look at this and say 'Hey, that was me in school.'"

Senn's friend and support worker Pearl Hiemstra met him in Grade 6, before anyone knew that he has Asperger's.

Hiemstra said it's common for people with high-functioning forms of autism to miss being diagnosed until late in high school or early college.

"They slip through the cracks because they've got just enough to get by," Hiemstra said.  "It is a whole spectrum."

The rate of diagnosis has increased dramatically over the past decade and a half.

A recent study shows one in every 66 Canadian children and youth aged five to 17 has autism spectrum disorder.

"We're getting better at recognizing it," she said. "Even though the awareness is coming, I think the understanding has a long way to go yet."

Senn said he hopes his book will help address the gap in understanding.

"There was a lot of frustration and tears and that is reflected in this book," he said "It's something that isn't a self-help book or an academic book, it's something [the audience] can read for fun and still get something out of it."

Quiet is available at bookstores in Salmon Arm, Kelowna and online at Friesen Press.

With files from Leah Shaw and Daybreak South.