Douglas & McIntyre, 2020
Reviewed by Darian Wagner
Sarah Kurchak appeared normal to doctors and her parents when she was born on February 7, 1982 in North York, Ontario, but her experiences growing up—from birthday party embarrassments to banging her head against walls in a Las Vegas hotel room—told a different story.
As an undiagnosed autistic child, Kurchak always knew two things: she was different and none of the boys liked her, so she made herself function like everyone else in the 80s and 90s, when autism wasn’t as accepted or understood as it is today.
Kurchak wrote an essay in 2017 that eventually became this book after realizing her story might inspire others to resist slowing down after diagnosis. She grew up an only child to a father also diagnosed with autism. She became a personal trainer and spin and pilates instructor, eventually learning to read others’ emotional cues and navigate customer service.
Kurchak makes it clear that her experience is hers alone: “I do not speak for all autistic people. I will try not to. I do not want to. I wish to be a voice/face of autism in a much greater, much more nuanced and diverse conversation, not the voice or face of autism” (IX).
She sees autism as a gift even if others fail to accept her. She questions the whole concept of “normalness” and longs for a world where all are included.
I Overcame My Autism’s main message is that autism is not something to fix, a quirk, or a problem. Growing up she felt different, but that didn’t mean she had to be different. Change wasn’t an option for Kurchak; acceptance was.
Throughout this memoir, Kurchak addresses the stigma associated with autism and how that effects who she is and wants to be. Autism is a part of her, but it is just one of many qualities that make her unique. Autism plays a role in how she forms her relationships with other people, but it is not the last word.
She said working in customer service has given her confidence and practice navigating in the real world. She may be 39 years old now, but she hasn’t stopped growing and learning about who she is. She doesn’t let autism define her life nor allow the autism to be more than part of her personality.
Kurchak knows where her priorities lie and how to be her best self keen on having a good time. She concludes her memoir by highlighting that she can be herself and can’t be bothered to wait for others slowing her down; she has to roll the dice: “No matter how far in the hole you are, maybe the next hand will change your luck. Maybe that next roll can finally start to recoup everything you’ve lost” (225).