WHEN I sat down with autistic Scots author Colin Burnett this week, in the 21st-century remote working version of “sitting down” anyway, it struck me just how similar we are.

We might have been born in different decades, be of different genders and come from different parts of the country, but there was an unmistakable likeness between us. A shared experience that transcended those differences.

Both autistic, albeit diagnosed at different points in life with Colin diagnosed in childhood and me in adulthood, both with a sprinkling of dyspraxia for good measure. Me with the addition of ADHD and Colin with the addition of dyslexia. Which is the reason we came together in the first place.

This week is the annual “Autism Awareness Week” – officially – though the autistic community has reclaimed it as Autism Acceptance Week, citing that the former had become commercialised, corporate and tokenistic. The consensus is that society needs to evolve past simply being aware of autism, and actually embrace and accept autistic people in all aspects of life.

Autism Acceptance Week was built on the back of world autism awareness day, as coined by the United Nations General Assembly, it is celebrated annually on April 2 with its inaugural year being back in 2008 – but it actually stretches as far back as the 1970s.

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The Autism Society first launched National Autistic Children’s Week in 1972. The founder of the group, autism researcher Bernard Rimland, chose April as it coincided with his autistic son’s birthday.

It has evolved since then and is often a difficult month for the community to stomach, but it is slowly being reclaimed by those it aimed to serve in the first place.

While I agree that it has by and large been co-opted by corporate giants looking to capitalise on minority struggle, for whatever reason – and even if fleeting – people are paying attention.

Arguably, there is no better time than the month of April to spotlight autistic people themselves, and the various contributions they are making to the world.

To say Colin’s debut novel A Working Class State Of Mind was a smash success would be quite the understatement. It has almost five-star reviews across every platform, sold out multiple print runs when it hit the shelves back in 2021 and bagged him two award nominations.

The National: Colin Burnett is the author of A Working Class State of MindColin Burnett is the author of A Working Class State of Mind

The now fiction classic, which is written entirely in East Coast Scots, follows the trials and tribulations of beloved main character Aldo Ali as he navigates, alongside best friends Dougie and Craig, the harsh class divides of modern Edinburgh.

Though a beloved fictional character to many, the inspiration behind Aldo and the story that brought him to life is one of deep personal experience. A particular point of inspiration stood out for Colin, the sudden loss of both of his parents in his early 20s.

“I resented the way the state treated me in the aftermath, I was put on trial for being autistic,” is how Burnett describes the months and years after the loss of his parents. A loss, he shares, he has never recovered from.

Forced through a tribunal process, where his specialist advocate was not even allowed to speak on his behalf, the experience inspired Colin to “put the state on trial instead” and expose the realities of our class-divided society.

He shared that the authenticity of his work was of specific importance to him. That he often comes under fire for using swear words, but that swearing culture is an accurate part of working-class society and he knew that his intended audience wouldn’t relate to the character of Aldo if he was not speaking their dialect and the point of the novel would fall flat.

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He wanted the character to represent, in the most authentic way possible, the working-class experience from the perspective of a Leither. Above everything else he does, his overarching intention is to “give a voice to the voiceless”, whether it be the working class whose stories he feels are “often unheard” or the autistic community that he has inspired with his work.

As autistic people tend to do, we then went down a five-minute rabbit hole about how language-policing is such a prominent class issue.

What I really wanted to know though, was how he navigates his career specifically as an autistic person – and when I pressed him on it, I got to the core of the grit and determination that brought him the success he enjoys today. Inspired by his older brother, himself a playwright and screenwriter, Colin’s love for writing was ignited back in high school.

Despite struggling with dyslexia and being discouraged by unsupportive teachers, he knew he had a passion and, encouraged by his supportive parents, he set on the path to university where he began writing and self-publishing short stories. When I asked him how he works around the executive functioning difficulties that come with being neurodivergent, his advice for aspiring autistic authors was to “begin with short stories” because they are less overwhelming and make for great practice and profile building.

The National: An aerial view looking towards Leith An aerial view looking towards Leith (Image: Iain Masterton/Getty)

Looking ahead, Colin wants to incorporate autistic characters into his future works, and believes that there is huge importance in incorporating the reality of being autistic through specifically fiction.

He spoke passionately about the lack of fictional representation for the autistic community, and with disdain for the examples that so often dominate the narrative and entrench stereotypes.

At multiple intervals throughout our conversation, he emphasised his belief that “life is not a dress rehearsal”, telling me “you just have to go for it”. When Colin expressed to his high school English teacher that he wanted to be a writer, she laughed at him and told him it would never be possible. He’s now a best-selling, award-nominated author of two novels, and he tells me work is underway on new projects.

I’d say he has, quite emphatically, embodied the very principle that he holds so dear.

Though autistic people are as varied as anyone else, the more I connect with our community, the more I recognise that our experience of navigating the world often draws many parallels.

There is an almost unspoken universal experience of being autistic, and it allows us to relate to each other from a unique perspective that is only available to those of us within the community. A shared haven of sameness, in a world where we are often othered and made to feel different.

This Autism Acceptance Month, while doing my utmost to avoid the inevitable onslaught of multi-coloured jigsaw pieces, I’ll be learning from, reading about and – where possible – platforming my fellow autistic people.

If you really want to raise awareness, look to the source, and avoid the corporate fanfare.

Colin Burnett’s new book Who’s Aldo?, published by Tippermuir Books, is out now and available from Waterstones and Amazon