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Book prize winner tells how autism helped her succeed

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Dr Camilla Pang recent winner of the Royal Society's science book prize said her autism helped her succeed.: 'Autism has its advantages, link below:


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Camilla Pang is on Radio 3's Private Passions next month.


Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of eight, Camilla Pang struggled to understand the world around her; in fact, she asked her mother if there was an instruction manual for humans that could help. Twenty years on – after taking her PhD in biochemistry and embarking on a career as a scientist – Camilla has herself has written that manual. She’s called it “Explaining Humans” and it won the Royal Society Prize in 2020 for the best science book . A highly original blend of scientific theory and personal memoir, it gives a real insight into what it’s like to live with autism.

In a fascinating conversation with Michael Berkeley, Camilla Pang talks about how she’s learned to thrive in a world which can seem very overwhelming. One of the issues for her is the sensory overload that people with autism spectrum disorder can experience. She’s very sensitive to certain sounds, and the morning commute to work can jangle her senses to such an extent that it takes much of the morning to recover. Music, on the other hand, restores mental calm. Camilla sings and plays the piano; although she has never learned to read music, she can “catch” a tune after hearing it only once. She did this first as a very young child, hearing her mother’s favourite Michael Nyman track and reproducing it straight away on her toy xylophone.

Camilla shares the music that has sustained her over the years; we hear Hubert Parry’s great coronation anthem “I was glad”; Michael Nyman’s music for The Piano; William Byrd’s “Ave Verum Corpus”; Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”, and Teardrop by Massive Attack.


On BBC Radio 3 at 12:00 BST on Sunday 2 May, and thereafter available to listen again on BBC Sounds.

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