Autism can make children feel different, misunderstood, and even ostracized. No parent wants their child to feel this way, and parents of the children around them probably hope their kids are being compassionate, too. Reading children’s books about autism together can allow children who live with it to see themselves represented in stories, and lets other children learn about their friends with autism and ask questions.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website states that 1 in 59 children have autism spectrum disorder, which “can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges.” That rate means even if your own son or daughter does not have autism, chances are they will encounter someone who does, either in a sibling, friend, or classmate. AutismSpeaks.org adds that autism education and sensitivity training can occur at home without having a specific person to talk about, so even children who have never encountered someone with autism can, and perhaps should, learn a little more.
Just like representation of all races and genders has become important in children’s books, sharing books with characters with autism spectrum disorder can teach your child about all the positive aspects of having a loved one on the spectrum. If you want your little one to learn about characters like them, their sibling, or their classmates, these books may come in handy.
1. 'Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome' by Clarabelle van Niekerk & Liezl Venter
Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome is best suited for children with siblings or friends on the spectrum who need some help understanding their loved one. Sam has his quirks — his coat hurts his skin, he sings all the time, and his pancakes absolutely shouldn’t touch each other — but all of that is OK. Sam’s story includes 10 tips to help children accept and interact respectfully with autism spectrum disorder. It's appropriate for ages 6 to 9.
2. ‘Rogue’ by Lyn Miller-Lachmann
For ages 9 to 12, Rogue's main character, Kiara, has Asperger’s syndrome, and has difficulty making friends. She idolizes her favorite X-Men character, Rogue, who couldn’t make friends either until she learned to control her powers. When Chad and his family move in across the street, Kiara befriends him and tries to keep it that way. She soon learns a secret of his, and how true of a friend she can be. Maybe that’s her special power.
3. ‘A Manual for Marco: Living, Learning, and Laughing with an Autistic Sibling' by Shaila Abdullah
Marco’s 8-year-old sister sits down to make a list of all the things she loves (and really doesn’t love) about Marco and his autism. At the end, she realizes she has written A Manual for Marco with instructions on loving him just the way he needs. It's perfect for ages 3 to 6.
4. ‘A Boy Called Bat' by Elana Arnold
Bat’s mom is a veterinarian, and one day she returns home from work with a baby skunk. The kit needs to be cared for until it’s old enough to be released. Bat names the baby Thor and sets about making it a perfect pet. A Boy Called Bat is a sweet, realistic glimpse into life with autism, and is perfect for ages 6 to 9.
5. ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time' by Mark Haddon
In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Christopher John Francis Boone is a 15-year-old boy on the spectrum, extremely gifted in mathematics, and is pretty hopeless about his social skills. As his parents try to work with their son’s quirks, Christopher busies himself trying to figure out what happened in the mysterious death of a dog in his neighborhood. For ages 13 and older.
6. ‘The Someday Birds’ by Sally J. Pla
Charlie’s life was totally normal until his father, a war journalist, is injured in Afghanistan while covering a story. His dad has to travel from their home in California all the way to Virginia for medical treatment, and Charlie finds himself on a road trip with his unruly siblings and a family friend he doesn’t know much about just yet. The Someday Birds wraps up the best aspects of a road trip comedy with themes of dealing with family crisis and growing up with autism. For ages 9 to 12.
7. ‘The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin’ by Julia Finley Mosca
Dr. Temple Grandin was young when she was diagnosed with autism and told she would never talk. But her unique way of visual thinking allowed her to deeply connect with animals, and ultimately reform farming conditions around the world. The Girl Who Thought in Pictures illustrates the positive contributions people with autism can make, and how those who are told they can’t talk can have big voices. For ages 6 to 9.
8. ‘Crow Boy' by Taro Yashima
Chibi is always excluded on the playground because his autism makes him different. But one day, a caring teacher shows the other students Chibi’s special talent of connecting with animals, earning him the nickname Crow Boy, and they all begin to see him with new admiration. For ages 3 to 6.
9. ‘Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am' by Harry Mazer & Peter Lerangis
In this Schneider Family Award-winning novel for ages 13 and older, Ben is ready to leave home, and when he does, he plans to join the military. His decision impacts every member of his family, but more than anyone, it affects his brother. Ben’s brother has autism and the two are extremely close. And now, he wants to enlist, too. Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am is sure to tug some heart strings once readers connect with these characters.
10. ‘A Friend For Henry' by Jenn Bailey
Henry longs for a friend who listens to him and likes things all in order, just like he does. One day, a day full of things that are claustrophobic and way too loud for his liking, a friend finds him. A Friend For Henry is all about the magic of friendship in everyday life. For ages 6 to 9.
11. ‘Remember Dippy' by Shirley Reva Vernick
During summer break, Johnny goes to stay with his aunt and his cousin, Remember, who has autism. Johnny learns about Remember’s quirks, like repeating what Johnny says and watching hours of The Weather Channel. Over the course of the summer, the two bond and share girl troubles, save someone from drowning, and have the best summer of their lives together. Remember Dippy has won numerous awards and is sure to be a hit with young readers from ages 9 to 12.
12. ‘The Real Boy' by Anne Ursu
Oscar knows every last detail about magical herbs and what to use them for, but interacting with other people seems impossible. In The Real Boy, he takes an apprenticeship with Caleb, the last magician in Barrow, and Oscar tries to just collect herbs, make tinctures, and clean up after himself. But when an evil force strikes Barrow, Oscar and his friends will have to step up to protect the land. For ages 9 to 12.