South Charlotte Weekly
Jennifer O’Toole, who lives south of Blakeney, leads by example.
O’Toole, her husband John and their three kids – Maura, Sean and Gavin – were each diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome four years ago. O’Toole, who prefers to call Asperger’s syndrome “identified” versus diagnosed, decided to use her first-hand knowledge to help people with Asperger’s and their families better understand how to navigate through life by writing a series of books called “Asperkids.”
O’Toole recently published her sixth book in three years. Her latest book, “Sisterhood of the Spectrum: An Asperger Chick’s Guide to Life” is written for girls and women 12 years old and older. The book is a gender-specific follow-up to her second book, “The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules,” which sold more than 20,000 copies worldwide.
O’Toole said the reason behind her books is simple; she wants to give the next generation knowledge she had to work hard to undercover.
“I’m a huge believer in mentoring and one generation holding the hand of the next, saying, ‘This is what I have to offer you, now go do your amazing thing,’” she said.
O’Toole explained, for someone with Asperger’s, it’s challenging to understand or pick up on social cues and unspoken norms, which leads to learning through imitation.
“I used to watch Hollywood to learn social skills – mimicking how to be a woman,” she said.
She also said this leaves children and adults with Asperger’s vulnerable to many abuses, including emotional manipulation, relationship abuse and social rejection. O’Toole hopes to use her life lessons as a way to prevent harm and provide tools for others with Asperger’s.
“I will point out my flaws … I don’t mind being in the spotlight, as long as it’s OK to fall flat on my face.”
“Sisterhood of the Spectrum” not only divulges social rules for friendships, dating, menstruation, affection and sex, it also works to build the reader’s self-confidence. The book starts with a series of inspirational quotes by O’Toole.
“You are your own wonderful occasion. More than a one in a million kind of girl. You’re a once in a lifetime kind of person,” one quote reads.
O’Toole said having Asperger’s categorizes a difference, but she works to change the stigma associated with that difference. Her book and message is to celebrate the uniqueness in each individual, build the reader’s confidence to make their own choices and give them the right tools needed to get there.
“Sisterhood of the Spectrum” is not only a tangible guide but also a serendipitous vessel for “walking the talk.” Through a series of events, O’Toole befriended Ann-Louise Richards, a 19-year-old from England. O’Toole helped Richards understand her idiosyncrasies and become diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. O’Toole also was inspired by Richard’s artwork and asked her to illustrate the book.
“This book is an ‘and’ … I want to bring self awareness to girls and women through mentorship, to let them know they are not alone and give them a different perspective – What if your most shameful flaw is your greatest gift?” she said.
Moving beyond “Sisterhood of the Spectrum,” O’Toole hopes to encourage all women to build confidence and remain playful in life’s endeavors. She is currently writing a memoir called “Backwards in Heels” for nationally-known literary agency, Sterline Lord Literistic, which is already under contract to be produced as an independent film.
All of O’Toole’s books appeared on Amazon’s bestseller list. She was named one of North Carolina’s 50 most influential women last May and has also been recognized as one of the “World’s Top Aspie Mentors.” After the designation, O’Toole met with dignitaries from all over the world to talk about Asperger’s, such as the President’s Council at the White House and Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex in England.
O’Toole’s climb to fame came quickly and it reaffirms her global quest to lead by example, remain vulnerable as a teacher and provide positive role models for adults and children with Asperger’s.
“I am completely ‘wowed’ in what has become a ‘normal’ in two years. It has reaffirmed my ‘Why not’,” she said.
O’Toole believes her work, her latest book and bringing awareness to the under diagnosis of women and girls with Asperger’s is “life-or-death” important. Through research and her personal experience, she knows the dangers associated with the unknown, such as anxiety, depression, self-harm, anorexia and bulimia.
“I am aware of the responsibility I am taking on,” she said, “I owe these kids and parents.
“And I am doing it for and with Asperger’s.”
“Sisterhood of the Spectrum” comes out this month. It is available in stores, such as Barnes & Noble and Park Road Books. The book is available online at http://www.amazon.com.
Jennifer O’Toole will have a book signing at Park Road Books on May 2, a Saturday, at 11 a.m.
Visit http://www.asperkids.com to find out more about Jennifer O’Toole and her work.