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The World Isn't Built For Autistic People

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

What does it mean to be autistic in today's world? How can the neurodivergent community be better supported? Is our society not geared to meet the needs of autistic people?

For actually autistic author, speaker and neurodiversity advocate Pete Wharmby, daily life is a constant struggle. Why? Because our world isn't built with autistic people in mind.

Pete Wharmby autism books

He joins Second Mountain Comms' founder Ben Veal for episode 13 of Good Journeys with Second Mountain, the podcast series that explores the lives of inspired people and their inspiring stories.

Episode 13 of the Good Journeys with Second Mountain podcast is out now.



"I'm far fairer with myself now"

Trained as an English teacher, Pete was diagnosed as autistic in 2017 at the age of 34. Up until receiving the diagnosis, he had always struggled with living as part of a world that is geared towards the needs and socially-accepted norms of a neurotypical-first society.

"I'm far fairer with myself now than I was [before the diagnosis]," Pete shares openly on the #GoodJourneysPod. "I know what I can do and I know my capabilities; I'm more inclined to forgive myself if I struggle ... before the diagnosis, I was just perpetually disappointed in myself: why am I so disorganised? Why can't I do this? Why can't I do what everyone else seems to find really easy? It becomes a source of shame, embarrassment, and all sorts of other negative emotions."

Over half a decade on from receiving his autism diagnosis in his mid-thirties - what Pete described in his first book, What I Want To Talk About, as being akin to "like undergoing a nuclear-powered version of a mid-life crisis" - Pete is now focused on increasing awareness of the condition via multiple public platforms.

He has spoken nationally about his experiences, including at the National Autistic Society's Professional and Mental Health Conferences - and is now also the author of two books - his latest being UNTYPICAL: How The World Isn’t Built For Autistic People And What We Should All Do About It.

Untypical Pete Wharmby autism book


"The world can be more welcoming"

It is clear - in both conversation with Pete and through his writing and public speaking - that his lived experience (both as an undiagnosed autistic person living and working in a neurotypical world and as an autistic individual who has been on a journey of rediscovering himself post-diagnosis) places him in quite a unique position to now educate and support others.

While Pete will be the first to point out that he is not the authority on this broad and far-reaching topic - as he notes in the foreword to UNTYPICAL, "I'm only one person so it is impossible for me to speak for a whole diverse demographic" - he has swiftly carved out a strong voice as a neurodiversity advocate, through expressing his views that the world can, and should, adapt to more suitably cater to the needs of all:

"I do feel like a lot of the stuff that we could put in place that would just make the world more and more welcoming to autistic people - like an acceptance of [the importance of] downtime, reducing the busyness of spaces for sensory sensitivity and being a bit more explicit in our conversations with less ambiguity - would probably help everybody! It's not limited to autistic people. That's going to benefit everybody."

autistic special interests

"My little LEGO-filled bubble”

For Pete, and many other autistic people worldwide, special interests place a vital role in his day-to-day experiences, his interactions with the world, and his personality - indeed, as he points out in the title of his first book, they actually help to shape a life.

LEGO, as one of Pete's core special interests, is much more than just a way to pass the time. A great source of comfort, joy and creativity, LEGO has played an important role in Pete’s autism journey; its order and structure provides a calming, reassuring presence in what can be an overwhelming world: “Order and clarity are vital for many autistic people, and I am no exception," Pete writes in his first book. "We live in a tumultuous world of constant stress … a whirlpool of chaos that I doubt many neurotypical people could imagine, much less withstand … order, routine, logic - these are safe harbours in the terrible storm.”

Reflecting further on the #GoodJourneysPod with fellow vintage toy fan and show host Ben Veal, Pete describes his working environment these days as a "happy little LEGO-filled bubble ... the little zone that I inhabit for my writing, my talks, my speeches, my podcast interviews; this is my happy place."

Episode 13 of the Good Journeys with Second Mountain podcast is out now.

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