Autism in Children’s Books
The National Autistic Society describe autism as a lifelong developmental condition which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. According to them, one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum. This means that even if you don’t have autism, it is likely you know or will come to know someone who does.
What is Autism?
There isn’t one way that autism presents itself. Some people with autism find it hard to communicate and interact with other people. Some autistic people are non-verbal or have limited speech whilst others can speak fluidly. Autistic people can struggle to interpret other people’s feelings. Additionally, autistic people can engage in repetitive behaviours and prefer to have a fixed routine. Autistic people can experience a sensory overload, such as finding music too loud or lights too bright.
For a more detailed run-down of the signs of autism, visit here.
And as always, we are here to help facilitate conversations and create understanding – we found this guide from the National Autistic Society really helpful.
But how does it feel to have an autism diagnosis
There is only so much facts, figures, and a list of symptoms can tell us. When it comes to understanding, fiction is such a powerful tool. It can communicate the human condition from one mind to another. Luckily, recently, there have been some brilliant releases by children’s authors who are on the autism spectrum.
We have interviewed the award-winning, Elle McNicoll, before. Her debut, A Kind of Spark, won the Blue Peter Nook Award and the Overall Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, and the Blackwell’s Book of 2020. It is an eloquently written, heartfelt insight into what it is like to live with autism. Elle’s books are so amazing that you might just want to nab them off your kids’ bookshelf for yourself.
Today, we’re going to share some other really fantastic examples of books featuring characters with an autism diagnosis.
‘Real stories draw us in and confirm the things we’ve been told, or challenge our views and make us think in a different way.’ – Abigail Balfe
Author, Rose Robbins, was diagnosed with autism in her late 20s. However, this picture-book is inspired by her brother’s diagnosis of autism. The story breaks down the characteristics of autism through a non-judgmental comparison between the siblings’ behaviours.
‘Here comes my sister…She doesn’t use words but she says a lot!’
‘My sister knows how to make me laugh…But strangers don’t always see her the way I do.’
‘My sister doesn’t always like hugs…so we high-five instead!’
If you have an autistic member of the family, then there is a lot to relate to. If you don’t, and you’re neurotypical, then this is a brilliant first read to introduce your kids to the idea that some kids’ minds work differently. Don’t wait to have conversations with your kids about neurodiversity. The sooner we normalise our children to difference, the more accepting people they will become.
‘This is for EVERYONE
Who’s been called “weirdo” at school.
Maybe we’re not really weird…
Just a different sort of normal.’
This book impressively covers a diverse range of topics: neurology, ableism, environmentalism, and cats. Many cats. If any of those words have you stumped, Abigail provides useful definitions for them whenever she mentions them. She has skillfully made potentially very intimidating topics easily digestible for children.
A Different Kind of Normal is an illustrated book that explores autism in a light-hearted manner. It is non-fiction and it is informative. However, the combination of the chatty, slightly rambling writing style and the illustrations gives it the feel of a fictional story.
‘I needed both my writing and my art to tell one story. Just as I do today.’
Abigail tells her own story. She explores how autism has affected her using her life experiences. Yet, Abigail was not diagnosed with autism until her thirties. Therefore, the book functions as her making sense of moments in her life when she was perceived as abnormal, with the realisation that she behaved in certain ways because she has an autism diagnosis. For example, she writes about sensory overload whilst sat on a train. She is being overwhelmed by the fluorescent lightning, the sound of a baby crying, and someone’s foul smell. This description, and others, really enables the neurotypical reader to empathise with how an autistic person experiences the world.
‘Because everybody should learn about everybody.’
While the overall tone of the book is positive, at times, Abigail’s experiences were far from easy. Often, her undiagnosed autistic behaviour was met with misunderstanding and even hostility. For example, her Dad became very angry when he found out that she was not using the toilets at school. Furthermore, Abigail dispels the myth that girls cannot be autistic; she looks at why girls are often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.
At the end of the book, Abigail gives tips for autistic children on how to navigate the neurotypical world. As well as tips for neurotypical people on how to be a good friend to those with autism.
The book is excellent at reassuring any child who is struggling to fit in, who doesn’t feel that school are the best years of their life, that it does get better. People become more understanding as you age. And, crucially, the world is much more open and varied than the confines of school would have you believe.
This graphic novel jumps straight into Frankie’s difficulties with school. She often feels that she says the wrong thing, at the wrong time. She is bullied on a daily basis for her differences. However, she has two best friends, Sam and Rebecca. Sam uses a wheelchair; Rebecca uses an inhaler. (Check out our blog, Disability in Children’s books, for more). Frankie, an expert artist, sees them all as superheroes, and draws them as such for the school art competition.
Frankie comes from a blended family. Her six-year-old sister is annoying for all the usual reasons little sisters are annoying for. Her stepdad might be a vampire but that’s because he does night shifts. When her mother needs to spend time in hospital because of a heart condition, Frankie’s loving grandparents step in. We celebrate seeing realistic representation of blended families that is incidental to the storyline.
However, Frankie wonders about her Dad. Sometimes, she feels so different that thinks she might be an alien. With her friends, she hatches out a plan to meet her Dad, to find out if he is an alien too. When she tracks him down, she discovers that no – her Dad is not an alien, but he is autistic. He relates to many of Frankie’s experiences. This causes her to get her own diagnosis.
Recently, there has been in an increase in just how diverse kids’ books are. We’re really happy about this. Often, autism is misunderstood as affecting males only; so we’re proud that the books in this blog bring attention to the fact females can have autism too.
Furthermore, all of the authors listed have a diagnosis of autism themselves. We feel that authentic representation is of the utmost importance. Since these books are written by neurodiverse people, they capture the experience of autism in a way that neurotypical authors simply could not rival. We are ecstatic to be championing the inclusion of such diverse books on kids’ bookshelves.
As ever, please subscribe for more diverse kids’ books.