Seattle Attorney Releases Memoir on Late-in-life Autism Diagnosis During National Autism Acceptance Month

May 01, 2023

After a 40-year legal career litigating major product liability cases in the automotive industry, and a lifetime spent raising a family and pursuing unique interests, Seattle attorney Peter O’Neil learned he was on the autism spectrum. The revelation is the basis of his recently published memoir My So-Called Disorder: Autism, Exploding Trucks, and the Big Daddy of Rock and Roll. Releasing just days before National Autism Acceptance Month, O’Neil explores how autistic and neurodivergent individuals bring nuanced perspectives to the workplace and any human endeavor because of their identification, not despite.

According to a 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 54 children are identified as being on the autism spectrum by 8 years old. Most people with autism are diagnosed young, but O’Neil received his identification at 65.

"Being identified as autistic at an advanced age is a revelation--an ‘aha!’ moment of the first order,” O’Neil writes in his memoir. “It's like being told, at sixty-five, ‘But mon ami, you are French! You did not know?’ Suddenly, and for the very first time, the accent, the beret, the funny car, and your weirdly intense interest in Jerry Lewis all make sense."

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), encompasses a broad category of conditions characterized by repetitive behaviors, challenges with social skills, and/or speech and nonverbal communication, according to non-profit Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN). These characteristics and others are what O’Neil hopes to destigmatize by considering his own life and habits. My So-Called Disorder reframes these traits and others such as persistence, an eye for detail, and the autistic ability to form intense special interests as invaluable and unique skills that expand any workplace or community, including his own at the Seattle plaintiff attorney firm, Schroeter Goldmark & Bender.

“Differences bring us diversity, and diversity makes us stronger, wiser, more beautiful, and more interesting as people,” O’Neil writes. “In my work as a lawyer, my ‘disorder’ has found and organized thousands of important documents, connected a small galaxy of important dots, and got my clients millions of dollars.”

O’Neil has successfully litigated dozens of automotive crashworthiness and product liability claims, with decades of experience going up against giants in the automotive industry. According to O’Neil, he became an attorney the old-fashioned way, without attending law school, opting instead to enroll in the Washington State Bar Association's Rule 6 Law Clerk Program. He studied law nights and weekends under the guidance of a mentor while working full time as a legal assistant spearheading discovery in cases against General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and others.

More recently, his successful career led O’Neil to become of counsel at Schroeter Goldmark & Bender, where he continues to advocate for those harmed by defective products.

Praise for My So-Called Disorder: Autism, Exploding Trucks, and the Big Daddy of Rock and Roll:

"A valuable and charismatic first-hand contribution to understanding the autistic experience. Peter O'Neil's witty storytelling provides an easy-to-read call to action that bravely advocates for autistic and neurodivergent professionals. O'Neil's exploration of identity emphasizes how autistic individuals can truly thrive when their unique gifts (or quirks) are met with creativity and trust."

-Laura Sheridan, M.A.Ed. Psychotherapist

Find My So-Called Disorder: Autism, Exploding Trucks, and the Big Daddy of Rock and Roll at Barnes & Noble and other booksellers.