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Book Review – Different, Not Less by Chloé Hayden



REVIEWED BY ANTHONY CASTLE

 

Different, Not Less is a lived-experience guide to celebrating and supporting neurodivergence from 24-year-old actor and disability advocate Chloé Hayden.

 

Growing up, Chloé Hayden felt like she'd crash-landed on an alien planet where nothing made sense. Eye contact? Small talk? And why are you people so touch-oriented? She moved between 10 schools in eight years, struggling to become a person she believed society would accept, and was eventually diagnosed with autism and ADHD. When a life-changing group of allies showed her that different did not mean less, she learned to celebrate her true voice and find her happily ever after ... 

 

A child takes a light in their hands, holding a candle that symbolises Christ. The child is a six-year-old Chloe Hayden, now an autistic actor and advocate, starting school at a Catholic primary school in the country. The candle is lit and passed from one student to the next, each one invited to spend the moment in prayer. As Chloe takes the candle in her hands, she sneezes, extinguishing the light, and is promptly kicked out of the classroom.  

 

Known for playing an autistic character in the 2022 Netflix reboot of Australian teen drama Heartbreak High, Chloe’s story is a moving memoir of an autistic person’s experiences growing up in a neurotypical world. Her misadventure with a candle becomes one small indication of how the world would often react to her. She was a ‘quirky’ child, reluctant to wear clothes with tags or eat a wide range of foods, finding it difficult to participate in the ways she was expected.  


Chloe’s experiences in school and in society at large are filled with heartbreaking stories of bullying and exclusion, even assault. After attending 10 different schools by the age of 13, Chloe is diagnosed as autistic and begins homeschooling. The book details the processes of diagnosis, and the journey of identifying supports and those who will affirm you. Chloe’s story becomes a parable for self-acceptance, for expressing your unique qualities, but it also functions as a guide for those who are autistic or supporting those on the spectrum.  

 

Different, Not Less takes the narrative of an autobiography and turns it into a self-help book with practical hints and tips grounded in lived experience. It’s a teen-friendly guide to living as an autistic person, written by an autistic person, with Disney films and imaginative storytelling as reference points. Chloe offers instructions for finding friends and ‘adulting’, with accessible explanations of autistic experiences like stimming, triggers, meltdowns, burnouts, and shutdowns. 


Author Chloé Hayden.

In Chapter 8, Chloe writes about the idea of ‘eye sparkles’, those interests and expressions through which autistic people can live and thrive. For Chloe, eye sparkles can be her passion for horses or creativity, but they also represent experiences where autistic people can shine and come alive. Those sparkle moments are when autistic people realise who they are and the power they hold within themselves. 

 

Like Chloe’s experience with the candle, autistic people often find themselves unable to participate in the same ways as others, excluded from schools, places of worship, workplaces, and the decision-making that affects their lives.


Six-year-old Chloe made her way over time, finding a more inclusive community and faith as an adult and a more empowered way of living. Different, Not Less teaches us not to place neurotypical expectations into the hands of autistic people but to look for those sparkle moments, the power they hold within.


Society doesn’t need to give autistic people a light. They can shine all on their own. 

 

 

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