Reading books with autistic characters, individuals on the autism spectrum, like these picture and chapter books validates, educates, and develops empathy in our kids. I love using books to inform and spark conversation. I hope these books help you have rich conversations and a new understanding of autism.
There’s a saying that when you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism meaning that autism looks differently for each person. Which is why I think we still have a ways to go in showing characters on the full autism spectrum. (We don’t see many lower functioning characters.) Please consider this when you read these books. They’re helpful but they’re fiction and they don’t represent everyone.
Since I believe it’s life-changing to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I would encourage you to ask a mom or dad friend to share their story of parenting a child on the spectrum –and then really listen as they share. Reading memoirs also is very helpful; memoirs like these:
The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robinson
Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin.
Autism in Beginning Chapter Books
I really like it when children read books with diversity. Often we think of cultural diversity first but it’s so important to consider neurodiversity as well.
You’ll find memorable characters in these three choices. (A Boy Called Bat is the hardest reading level of the three.)
West Meadow Detectives: The Case of the Snack Snatcher by Liam O’Donnell engages readers right away in a fast-paced mystery. Myron’s new school isn’t too bad because he wants to know who is stealing the snacks every morning. He and his new friend, Hajrah, both in a special class for half the day, decide to get to the bottom of this mystery.
Slug Days by Sara Leach is a first-person slice-of-life story about a girl named Lauren who has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She’s a big fan of insects so she describes how her days feel by insects — slugs or butterflies. We see her struggle to manage her behavior at school where she has a plan to help her stay calm and learn in her own way.
A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold tells the story of a boy with divorced parents. His mom is a vet who brings home a baby skunk who lost his mother. Bat wants his mom to let him keep the skunk as a pet. The author skillfully shows Bat’s unique perspective on the skunk situation, his sister, and his weekend visits to his dad.
Autism in Middle-Grade Chapter Books
I LOVE this list of chapter books because they really give readers such insight into the worlds of the neurodiverse characters. These all are great choices for a book study, a book club, or a read-aloud. My favorites are Planet Earth is Blue, Rules, Mockingbird, The Someday Birds, and Counting by 7s but they all are incredible choices.
The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan
A heartwarming story of family separation, animal rescue, and friendship! Sila and her dad miss Sila’s mom who has been stuck in Turkey for a year trying to fix her immigration problems. When her dad brings her to a mechanic job, Sila meets Gio, a lonely older man named Gio who had won the lottery. Gio spontaneously uses the money to buy an old circus elephant named Veda. He hires Sila and a boy on the spectrum named Mateo for the summer to help with the elephant, building a close friendship with each other and the animals. When Gio’s mom, a lawyer, learns about Sila’s mom, she gets involved. The story’s beautiful ending made me cry!
Chester and Gus by Cammie McGovern
Chester is a service dog struggling to help his 10-year old companion, Gus. Gus has autism which is impacting how he acts around Chester — he doesn’t pet Chester or feel comfortable around him. But Chester won’t give up on his person. Slowly, the two develop a way to communicate and a special bond.
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Moose’s family has moved to Alcatraz when it was still a prison for his dad’s prison guard job in this coming-of-age story filled with heart and humor.
Rules by Cynthia Lord
A meaningful, coming-of-age story about 12-year old Catherine. She’s worked hard to help her autistic brother, David, learn the rules about life. Now, with new friends, she’s feeling more embarrassed than compassionate towards David. What she does, surprises even her.
Can You See Me by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott
A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll
A heart-wrenching, powerful story about autism, intolerance, kindness, and righting wrongs. An autistic girl in Scottland named Addie is treated cruelly by people in her town and especially by her mean teacher at school. That’s why it resonates with Addie when learns the history of how the witches were treated (killed) in the Scottish witch trials. Life is complicated and as Addie experiences all of this, she feels determined to show people that intolerance is wrong and needs to be both acknowledged and apologized for.
Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos
Nova is autistic and nonverbal. In this story, she imagines writing letters to her runaway big sister, Bridget. Nova holds fast to Bridget’s promise that she will come back to Nova for the Challenger launch. But the launch comes and goes. And Nova will have to face the truth about her older sister… And it will make you cry. Beautiful, gifted storytelling.
Mockingbird by Katheryn Erskine
Caitlin’s brother Devon is killed in a school shooting. Caitlin, who has Asperger’s, is trying to make sense of the world without her brother’s compassionate and understanding guidance. Her father isn’t helpful because he’s lost in his own grief. So when Caitlin reads about grief and closure, she decides to go after closure in a literal, hands-on way. And it will help both she and her father build their relationship and let go of Devon. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read — so powerful and honest.
Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Jason, an autistic 12-year old who feels like he doesn’t fit, finds an online friend through a form called Storyboard. When his parents take him to a Storyboard conference, he worries his online friend won’t accept him in real life since she doesn’t know about his autism.
Get a Grip Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit
What a page-turner! Vivy is a girl on the autism spectrum who loves baseball, particularly pitching knuckleballs. The book is written as letters and emails between Vivy and her favorite baseball player, VJ Capello. Vivy writes to VJ all about getting to play on a team as well as making her first friend, pitching, and getting bullied by the coach’s son. When she gets hit in the head with a ball and her mom won’t let her play anymore. How can she convince her mom to change her mind when her mom won’t listen and Vivy gets overwhelmed with communication easily? It’s no surprise that this is an #OwnVoices book because the story feels so real. It’s not just for readers who enjoy sports but for anyone who understands dedication to a passion.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
This middle-grade novel is a puzzling mystery that only the boy named Ted, who seems to be on the spectrum (his brain is different but not explained), can solve. How did his cousin disappear from a closed pod on the London Eye? The enjoyable action and intrigue will keep your attention throughout — and you’ll wonder why you didn’t guess the ending before Ted.
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Rose, a girl with Asperger’s syndrome, loves homonyms like her dog’s name — rain and reign. She lives with her single father, a father who spends most time drinking at a bar. When Rose’s dog goes missing during a storm and Rose sets off to find her, by herself, despite her anxiety and the dangers.
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
This book is beautiful, moving, and life-changing! 12-year old Willow is a genius with limited social skills (it’s never stated but we might guess she has Asperger’s) whose adopted parents are killed in a car crash leaving her both confused and without her parent’s support. But Willow pushes on and finds an unexpected new family in the back of a nail salon.
The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla
The Someday Birds is a magnificent story of emotional growth and healing. Charlie’s dad has brain damage from the war. When he’s moved across the country to a different hospital, Charlie and his siblings follow on an adventure that Charlie doesn’t want to go on. Charlie searches for the birds he and his father always wanted to see . . . someday… with the hope that if he can see all of the Someday Birds, his dad will get better. The journey brings Charlie, who has autism, way out of his comfort zone, growing him in ways he never imagined.
How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby
Instead of hanging out with friends in her own life, Lily’s life is about being her autistic brother’s caretaker. Her stepfather, still in denial about her brother, Adam’s, needs, thinks a dolphin friend will fix everything. Adam loves the dolphin but Lily knows that it’s not enough, not to mention she worries that captivity isn’t the best place for a dolphin.
Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Kiara uses Mr. Internet to help her navigate the world only the internet isn’t helpful with making friends. And it’s hard to make friends when you have Asperger’s syndrome and have been kicked out of school. Maybe her new neighbor, Chad, will be her friend?
The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan
A heartwarming story of family separation, animal rescue, and friendship! Sila and her dad miss Sila’s mom who has been stuck in Turkey for a year trying to fix her immigration problems. When her dad brings her to a mechanic job, Sila meets Gio, a lonely older man named Gio who had won the lottery. Gio spontaneously uses the money to buy an old circus elephant named Veda. He hires Sila and a boy on the spectrum named Mateo for the summer to help with the elephant, building a close friendship with each other and the animals. The story’s beautiful ending made me cry!
Books for Kids with Characters on the Autism Spectrum
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