Alumnus shares autistic experience in new book, Untypical

A black and white image of Pete Wharmby. He is seated in a room with model buildings and a ship around him.

Pete Wharmby has released his new book, Untypical: How the world isn’t built for autistic people and what we should all do about it.

Alumnus Pete has brought his autistic experience to the forefront in this book, following his late diagnosis in his mid-thirties. It covers everything he has learned about autism since then.

The book seeks to explain what it is like to navigate society from the perspective of an autistic person, and is a call to arms to create a more inclusive society for neurodivergent people.

Resourceful and educational, the book is written with wit and warmth.

A former teacher, Pete has shared his very personal experiences in this book, sharing what it means to be “different” and how exhausting is it to fit into a world not designed for someone who is neurodivergent. Not diagnosed until he was 34, Pete has experienced a lifetime of “masking” – a tool used by many autistic people. Adapted from Untypical, Pete explains “masking”:

“It often begins in childhood, when it becomes apparent that their social skills are different to that of their peers and they’re frequently at a loss to understand what’s going on. Frequently, autistic people are mistreated and bullied because of all or some of these things. This leads a lot of the autistic community to learn how to adopt a kind of persona – based on all the things they have noticed in other people – to fit more easily into society. Considering it’s usually self-taught, it’s often extraordinarily successful and is one of the main reasons why so many autistic people slip through the diagnostic net and only realise they’re neurodivergent much later in life.”

The front cover of Pete’s book, Untypical is pictured on a rainbow coloured background with text: Out on 16 March 2023. The book has a white front cover and the title of the book “How the world isn’t built for autistic people and what we should all do about it” is in rainbow font, with the word “Untypical” in black with a back to front letter P.In the book, he also discusses the informal term, “stimming”. Pete explains:

“It describes the physical, sometimes verbal actions that many, if not most, autistic people will utilise to help regulate their mood, rather like a safety valve that allows a release of pressure. These actions are usually repetitive in nature and very tactile, involving repetitive movements, sounds or the continued ‘fiddling’ with a small object – anything from a pen to a padlock.”

In seeking to encourage a change in the world, the book also looks at how people can be allies. Tips include being aware of masking, reserving judgement, and understanding that “communication differences can have drastic outcomes”.

Pete wants to bust a range of myths and stereotypes, particularly in schools. As an example, he says:

“Teachers need to know exactly how autistic people tend to experience the world, in order to make the best decisions regarding how they should be taught. After all, once you know that a student is doodling because it genuinely helps them to concentrate, why would you have a problem with their page of little drawings?”

Pete is passionate about dedicating effort to improving public understanding of autism. As well as publishing his new book, he is the author of “What I Want to Talk About: How Autistic Special Interests Shape a Life”. He has also been a keynote speaker at NAS conference, as well as going into schools and businesses to champion change. He has a large following across YouTube and Twitter.

Pete graduated with a BA in English in 2004 and an MA in Modern and Contemporary Writing from Loughborough in 2005.

Find out more about Pete and Untypical.