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Author profile: Jennifer O'Toole opens window into Asperger Syndrome

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In 2011, Jennifer O’Toole, 42, was diagnosed with autism — Asperger Syndrome — shortly after her three kids received the same diagnosis. Since then, O’Toole has become well known across the globe for a series of books on Asperger Syndrome, “Asperkids,” filled with tips and tricks for succeeding in life for people who think differently as a result of their Asperger Syndrome.

She also has a YouTube series and podcast, “Speaking Geek” that talks about being on the spectrum, and she sits on the Autism Society of America’s Panel of People on the Spectrum.

In her new book, “Autism in Heels: The Untold Story of a Female Life on the Spectrum,” O’Toole focuses on women with autism. Most adults, particularly women, aren’t diagnosed with autism, she noted.

The book is a memoir, delving into O’Toole’s diagnosis and how it helped her make sense of her own life. It also seeks to illustrate the experiences of women with autism through a firsthand walk in the author’s shoes.

“My background is in teaching and in counseling. I use that to speak the same language with those with autism,” O’Toole said in a FaceTime interview. “I was able to do things differently based on my experience.”

It’s not that those with autism are stupid or less than, they just speak a different language than those who don’t have autism, she added.

Asperkids books, including “The Apsperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules,,” and “Asperkids: An Insider’s Guide to Love, Understanding and Teaching Children with Asperger Syndrome,” have been popular among parents and young adults, even among women college age and older, O’Toole said. Many readers have reached out to her to express their gratitude toward her work, she added.

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Conversations with readers sometimes go beyond Asperger Syndrome into other areas of people’s lives, like eating disorders, anxiety and relationships.

“A year ago (in April), I got an email from a mom who read an article in Scientific American that largely focused on me. She said she was very impressed with the work. She asked if I had any knowledge on anything about any association between autism and eating disorders,” O’Toole said. “She had a grandson who was diagnosed with autism. His mother had passed away from anorexia. There was a lot in the article that she could relate to her daughter ... I wrote back instantly. Yes, there is a correlation. (You should) think of eating disorders as a method of self-harm ... In my most recent book at the time, I had written about the correlation between eating disorders and autism.”

O’Toole has won numerous awards for her work and talked at the President’s Council on Fitness, Health, & Nutrition at the White House in Washington, D.C.

Book reading

l What: Jennifer O’Toole will talk about her new book “Austism in Heels,” and sign copies of her book series, AsperKids

l When: 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday

l Where: Barnes & Noble, 333 Collins Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids

l Cost: Free

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