Aliens, Autism, and Napping on the Floor

Katie Walters’ Nest Residency reflections:

For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with space! Although not so much in the way that you might expect from an autistic person; I have very little interest in the science of it all. I don’t know much about nebulae (I had to google for the plural), or space travel, or the names of any stars beyond our own. But my artist’s brain has always loved the *idea* of space. I like how big it is. The incredible potential of infinite planets! The possibility of aliens! And how very small and insignificant that makes our Earth.

When I was 15, my interest in space was thrown into starker clarity when I received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The diagnosis itself was unsurprising. I’d always moved through the world in my own strange way, and by the time I was referred for diagnostic assessment, I was thoroughly alienated from my peer group. I already knew that I was different, and, more problematically, all the other kids knew too. But what did surprise me was how my diagnosis made me feel. Suddenly I was able to understand myself. It was like someone had turned on the lights. When I looked back over my life, for the first time, everything made sense. One of the many things I came to learn about myself was why I was so obsessed with the idea of other worlds. I wanted to believe in a world where I could make myself understood.

This is where Planet Alex came from. Planet Alex is a terrible novel that I wrote as a teenager in the aftermath of my diagnosis. And, thanks to my Nest Residency, it’s now a (hopefully less terrible) play!

Mainstream stories about autistic people usually have a few things in common: they’re about boys or men, they’re written by people who are not autistic themselves, and they address autism as a problem to be overcome. That’s a problem, because autism is not a monolith – the autistic community is vibrant, diverse, and thriving. I wanted to tell a story that was true to my experience of autism, which is strange and difficult, but ultimately very positive. As I grew older and moved on to other projects, I never stopped believing in the idea at the core of my terrible novel. I kept trying to find the right way to tell Alex’s story. My Nest Residency was the perfect opportunity to bring her to life.

I found out about Nest Residencies through a digital flyer on twitter, and knew right away that I wanted to apply. There was no pressure to produce anything, and the time was intended for experimentation. I didn’t need to worry about getting things wrong, so I was free to write something strange and new, and the opportunity was intended for disabled artists, so I knew that my access needs would be met.

As well as autism, I have a chronic illness called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). It’s a complicated condition, and how it impacts me can vary day to day. Because it’s so variable, it’s very important for me to be able to work flexibly, take regular breaks, and take time off if I need to. Talking Birds provided me with a private space to work in, where I was able to set up a makeshift bed so I could work lying down if I needed to, or even take a nap! They were also very understanding of my strange work hours, which I keep because my ME seriously disrupts my sleep and makes it very difficult for me to maintain a regular sleep pattern.

Because of the support that my Nest Residency offered, I was able to make a really solid start to Planet Alex as a play, and I have a great foundation to build on moving forward with the project. I’m really excited to find out what’s next for Alex and her alien friend, and I hope that I’m able to bring her story to as many people as possible.

If you are interested in applying for a Nest Residency, you can find more details here.

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