Like Color to the Blind


290 pages
ISBN 0-385-25595-0
DDC 616.89'82'0092





Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is the trade, scholarly, and reference editor of the
Canadian Book Review Annual.


The first two volumes of Donna Williams’s autobiography, Nobody
Nowhere (1992) and Somebody Somewhere (1994), took readers on an
astonishing journey into the mind of an autistic person. Labeled
retarded or insane for most of her life, Williams was 25 when she
received the diagnosis that would enable her to begin the process of
building, in her own words, “a somewhere out of a nowhere and a
somebody out of a nobody.”

Like Color to the Blind chronicles Williams’s ongoing struggle with
autism. Now an acclaimed author, she finds herself overwhelmed by the
demands and pressures (which include pleas for assistance from desperate
readers, and the chaos of a North American book tour) imposed on her by
her unwelcome status as a “walking autie textbook.” At the heart of
this funny, poignant, and deeply perceptive memoir is her evolving
relationship with Ian, a kindred spirit who has Asperger syndrome, a
disorder related to autism.

Donna and Ian are high-functioning people who initially communicate
with the world, and with themselves, via their
“defenses”—“masks” or “characters” based on the
expectations of others—and adherence to ritual and compulsion.
Together they wage war on their false cartoon selves. Banishing all
stored behavior, thoughts, and voices is a slow and agonizing process.
Lacking real selves to fall back on, Donna and Ian find themselves
“physically disconnected” and without “body-memory.” It is a
crucial turning point. “Though we’d become virtual cripples,”
Williams observes, “we had achieved an ownership of our actions and
control of our intentions that had been missing all our lives.” Tinted
lenses later allow Donna and Ian to see the world as “an unfragmented

This rare and fascinating portrait of autism from the inside sheds
considerable light not only on a little-understood condition but also on
the universal quest for self-discovery. The extraordinary love story
that the author so engagingly chronicles is in no way diminished by the
unexpected turn of events revealed in her epilogue.


Williams, Donna., “Like Color to the Blind,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 17, 2024,