Autism Awareness Month || Diversity in Books

Hi friends, happy April! (she said, already twelve days into the new month), and happy autism awareness month!

To celebrate, I really wanted to write a post that focused on books with a main character that is on the autism spectrum, whether they’re the narrator or close to the narrator. Because I had to take countless literature classes (perks of being an English major, I suppose??), I was able to take more unconventional classes like International Literature for Children & Young Adults and Language Disorders & English Literacy. It was through these classes that I was introduced to my very first narrator that had autism, which prompted me go on and write my 40-page senior thesis on accurate and valid ASD representation in children’s and YA books.

I like to think that I’m a big advocate of diverse books. Considering I fell in love with reading because I met characters that I related to, it just seems unfair that not every reader has that chance. No matter your sexuality, gender identity, ability, race, language, culture, religion, mental health, physical health, you should be able to see yourself in a book. No questions asked. (Note: Aline over at Fully Booked wrote an incredible post on how we sometimes talk about diversity in books and the minorities that we tend to focus on; do yourself a favor and check it out!)

Today, one in 68 children find themselves on the autism spectrum. Don’t you think they deserve to find themselves in books too?

Like I said, I managed to write 40 pages on this topic (so please feel free to reach out to me if you want to talk about this more!!), but I want to keep this short and sweet so we can get right to the books that you should add to your TBR ASAP. The first two books are middle-grade novels, and the following two are YA books. So, without further ado, here are some of my favorite books that have characters with ASD!

Disclaimer: As a person that does not have an autism spectrum disorder, my opinions on “good” or “accurate” representation cannot be all-encompassing, as I’m unaware of what it is like to be on the spectrum.

Middle-grade books:

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

Synopsis: Ten-year-old Caitlin’s world had always been black and white. Anything else was confusing; but her brother, Devon, helped her understand. Then tragedy struck, and now nothing makes sense. As a girl was Asperger’s syndrome, Caitlin turns to what she does know—textbooks and dictionaries. And after reading the definition of closure, she realizes that this is what everyone needs. In her search for closure, she discovers that black and white are surrounded by shades of gray, and that those are beautiful and necessary for healing.

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She’s spent years trying to teach David the rules from “a peach is not a funny-looking apple” to “keep your pants on in public”—in order to head off David’s embarrassing behaviors. But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a surprising, new sort-of friend, and Kristi, the potential next-door friend she’s always wish for; it’s her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?

YA books:

Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

Synopsis: It’s been more than a year since nineteen-year-old twins Justine and Perry watched their dad lose his battle with cancer, leaving Justine as the sole caregiver for her brother, who is prone to what Justine calls “inappropriate behaviors.” But now their reliance on each other is set to shift. Before they go their separate ways, the twins want to create the perfect memory. For Perry, the trip is a glorious celebration of his favorite things: mythical sea creatures, Jackie Chan movies and the study of earthquakes. For Justine, it’s a chance to “free” her twin, to see who she is without her boyfriend, and to offer their mother the chance to atone for past wrongs.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Synopsis: Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow. This improbably story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.

**I just want to make a note that, even though The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is likely the most well-known book with a narrator that has autism, it is by no means the best form of autistic representation out there. Christopher is painted as a “know-it-all” that seemingly has the answers for everything because of his disability, and he is often taken advantage of because of it; this is problematic as autism spectrum disorders are a spectrum, meaning they’re different for every individual diagnosed, and TCIOTDITN reinstates a very dangerous stereotype often associated with individuals with autism. However, it was the first book I read with narrator on the spectrum, hence why it made it on to this list.**

Ah! And there we have it! These books all have a special place in my heart, and that’s probably due to the fact that I spent four months with them, dissecting every word they offered me so I could write that 40-page paper.

I also want to point you to the incredible non-profit organization that advocates for books for all readers, We Need Diverse Books. You can also follow their conversation on twitter with the hashtag #weneeddiversebooks. I HIGHLY recommend checking out this awesome tool on their website that allows you to find books for specific diversities, if you want to broaden the stories you read!

Once again, happy autism awareness month! I hope this month, and every month of the year, you’re able to find a book that lets you live a life different from your own for a little while.

So, what do you think? Are you adding any of these titles to your ever-growing TBR? Have you already read any of these books? Do you know of any other books with characters with ASD? Let’s chat!

7 thoughts on “Autism Awareness Month || Diversity in Books

  1. This is such a fab post! I work with a LOT of children with autism and those with it make up a hugeee part of our population. They should definitely be represented more in books! Two I have read is Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simon. I’ve yet to read a book that has a female autistic protagonist though so I’m very excited to see some in your post! Definitely going to be looking into them. 🙂
    I’d also really like to see more books with ADHD protagonists – I don’t think I’ve read a single one – although I’ve heard the Percy Jackson series may have one?

    Oh, something else that might interest you, I recently read a YA book with a protagonist that had Downs Syndrome called Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for saying that and reading my post! It certainly means a lot to me, and you just made my day 💜

      I’ve actually heard of The Rosie Project, and I’ve been meaning to pick it up! I’m definitely adding Handle with Care to my TBR though – I do own House Rules by Jodi Picoult, I’m not sure if you’ve read that one as well, but I just haven’t been able to get to it yet!

      Yes! I was so excited when I first found Mockingbird because, like you said, it’s really hard to find female autistic representation! Understandably so because autism is more prevalent in boys, but we 100% should be representing anyone and everyone on the spectrum. And come to think of it, I’m not sure that I’ve found a book with an ADHD protagonist either? I haven’t read the Percy Jackson series, so I can’t speak to that, but I would love to find a character with ADHD as well!

      AH! Thank you for that rec! Adding it to my TBR right this second!! I always love reading about/from the perspective of a protagonist that is entirely different from myself, like a lot of other people I’m sure. But thank you so much for the recommendation! I’m SUPER excited to look into it!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No problem! I’m glad it made you happy. 😁

        Ah, sorry, I think I meant House Rules actually! Jodi has so many books I sometimes get them mixed up! Handle with Care I believe is about a young girl with very brittle bones, which was also a very good read I would recommend!

        Yes! Up until this point it’s been something like 1 girl to every 3 boys has autism, but research is indicating more and more that it’s actually more likely a 50/50 split, but that we’ve just not been recognising the way that it presents differently, and also because girls are often better at masking! I think that’s really interesting and I can’t wait to see how things develop when more research comes out. 🙂

        I completely agree! Books are so amazing at transporting you into other people’s shoes. I hope you enjoy! 💕

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Handle with Care definitely sounds interesting too, though! My TBR is getting too big for its own good..LOL.

        I’ve actually haven’t heard of the theory of girls masking their autism! That’s really so interesting. Imagine if we were able to see that represented as well? That would be an awesome perspective to read from!

        And thank you so much! I’m really excited to get into them 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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