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Allistic-centered stories on Autism
In private resource list for our Luminary Braintrust Community: Books for non-Autistic (allistic) kids on why their Autistic classmates behave the way they do, and why they may receive accommodations in the classroom that Allistic kids don’t get.
Autistic kids aren’t being naughty – they’re just overwhelmed.
Nat over at the radically fantabulous Rabble Books & Games (also a patreon supporter) reached out to ask for books to help another awesomely spectacular daycare provider. This list would be helpful for lots of folks, so I’m including it here!
I have a customer who runs a daycare and she would love to find a book that can help her explain to the kiddos that the autistic kids aren’t being naughty, they’re just overwhelmed (and help start conversations about what’s helpful for them as individuals).
She is really keen to counter this “naughty” narrative. I think this might not need to be autism-specific, but I was hoping you might have a relevant book filed away in that spectacular brain of yours. The kids are around 4-5yrs old.
Quick Things You Need To Know for this Draft-Version Unpolished Book List:
- Allistic = non-autistic. You can be neurodivergent (ADHD, dyslexic, etc.), but still allistic.
- I am autistic. I have run out of patience from readers who come at me insisting I am mistaken on the autistic experience. Assuming I’m not autistic because I’m an adult, AFAB, a person of color, and able to communicate effectively is ableist. So don’t.
- Always defer to the way an autistic person wants to be identified. However – the vast majority of autistic people prefer identity-first language (autistic) over person-first language, which comes with a cloud of shame that separates us from our neurology.
- If authors use dissociative language such as ‘has autism,’ ‘on the spectrum‘ ‘high/low functioning,’ ‘twice-exceptional/savant’ or ‘aspie/aspergers‘ it’s a red flag that they find being autistic something to be ashamed about, or that there is hierarchy of supremacy in disability. At the very least, they are brand-new to disability rights or are not listening to Neurodivergent folks on the ground doing the deeper legislative and policy work. Tread carefully with these folks, they are fragile and get angry if you suggest they are not ‘experts.’
- Patronizing language:
- Humorous counter-movements such as #ToneItDownTaupe, Allism-Awareness, and writers like The Neurodiversity Wife out an irreverent spin to the hate so we can make it through.
- When autistics use the phrase ‘has allism‘ or ‘has neurotypicality’ we’re making fun of the way abelist neurotypicals talk about us. This is satire, don’t take it personally unless you are an ableist neurotypical. Then take it super personally.
- I ABHOR autism books that center allistic characters…
- …which is why I’m making this list first. There are SOOOO DAMN MANY of these. I need to clear them out of my notes so we can focus on books that center autistic characters and perspectives.
- These are destigmatizing books, created by and for allistic people to learn about autism. As you’d expect, most of them are garbage.
- April is the month that has been commandeered as ‘Autism Be-wareness’ month. Hate groups like Autism Speaks tell folks to #LightItUpBlue and slap puzzle pieces everywhere. It’s a big fundraising push to profit allistic people while simultaneously stigmatizing autistic folks. It’s awful – for an entire month, we’re reminded of how much mis-education, bigotry, and systemic ableism is fueled by white supremacy, corruption, capitalism, patriarchy, and anti-science paranoia.
- To counter that, neurodiversity activists begrudgingly come out in force through the month of April to counter the ‘(be)awareness’ narrative to one of acceptance and empowerment.
- Self-Advocacy Representation
- Because white people and white dudes tend to have more free time and access to spoons, the vast majority of Autistic writers and activists are white. Despite that, autistic women & nonbinary people of color pull a disproportionate amount of weight, labor, and are the target of more trolls and hate.
- Destigmatizing campaigns such as #RedInstead and writers such as Radical Neurodivergent Speaking, The Articulate Autistic, Intersected, The Bullshit Fairy & Giraffe Party speak truth to bullshit and put good work into to shutting down allistic white nonsense.
- Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network (AWN), Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) are two groups who are working toward systemic action to improve the lives of autistic people and advocate for disability rights and inclusion.
- Attorneys Shain Neumeier & Lydia X. Z. Brown (whom BFL supports on Patreon) are working on grassroots justice reform & disability rights advocacy.
- Worth noting that I have been able to verify lots of makers are allistic in this list, but I could only verify that a small number of these authors are autistic (and we’re usually pretty up-front about it when talking about autism.) It’s really, really, really hard to be an autistic maker trying to get work published.
- You know that saying – “Once you’ve read one book about an allistic sibling complaining about their autistic brother, you can just throw the rest in a dumpster and light them on fire?” Wait, what’s that you say? That’s not a saying? WELL IT FUCKING SHOULD BE.
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Good books for fostering empathy in Allistic kids
Allistics live in a world that is designed for them, so they don’t have to think about neurodiversity. Because the word is designed for neurotypicality, neurodivergence is a disability – meaning, it’s difficult for us to function in this world. The same way being a lefty is more challenging when using a circular saw designed for right-handed people – it’s different, not less, but you’re way more likely to lose a finger if you’re a lefty in this world. Because allistics don’t see the challenges we have to navifate, many allistic folks think of neurodivergents as flawed and naturally inferior.
So the goal here is to teach your neurotypical kids to see neurodivergent kids as different, not less.
A Friend For HenryI think the top best book for this could be ‘A Friend for Henry’ by Jenn Bailey. In the story, Henry flips out a few times because his allistic classmates do innocent things that bug him (like mess up his meticulously arranged carpet squares) and he flips out a little. It’s a great book to show allistic and autistic kids how we need to communicate with each other and pause to think about how we might come across. I’ve found it helpful for the Earthquakes since they get into these tiny fights several times a day. It’s also a decent story to teach the kids about intent and impact, since many folks have trouble remembering that we’re not ticking each other off / being naughty on purpose. And of course, it will help kids see why an autistic meltdown appears to come from nowhere, but has triggers they just don’t see.
Melia And Jo
Melia and Jo think very differently and Jo’s ‘naughty’ behavior gets on Melia’s nerves. Eventually they realize that both types of thinking are valuable, and of course, Jo never has naughty intent even though she’s breaking stuff.
- Melia is methodical, Jo is a creative wildcard. Both types of thinkers are necessary to solve problems and innovate neat things. Q enjoyed this at 6.5, R2 at 4.5 found it a little bland.
Elwood wants to make friends but does it in really obnoxious ways that end up driving other people away. Q and I super identify with this character, and it could be helpful to show the kids how behavior that seems mean/naughty/aggressive is often just a social disability that needs tweaking.
- Estie The Mensch (Kohuth)
Estie’s people are always telling her to be good (or a good person) but the best way to have fun with her is to accept her as she is and run with it.Estie codes as autistic – she’s minimally/non-speaking and communicates by imitating animals (echolalia & scripts), particularly when she’s stressed and overwhelmed. The adults around her pressure her to be a person (a mensch) which is validating for kids who are under constant pressure to conform to allistic communication.
Estie’s social disabilities & sensory processing issues are transparent: “Estie did not always like people. People hogged the best toys at school. People pushed on the train. people wore smelly perfume and asked her questions she didn’t know the answers to.”
The adults are resigned and annoyed at her behavior. “Why don’t you swim a little?’ suggested her mother. Estie shook her tentacles to say no. ‘Use your words,’ said Estie’s mother.”
Her grandmother is the most accepting, and works within her abilities, even takes her to the zoo and introduces her to a friend who likes her the way she is. “Estie looked at the ground and stayed very close to Grandma. But Petie didn’t seem to notice.” … “Then Petie pulled a worm out of his pocket and handed it to Estie, who nodded and took it carefully, then gave it to Grandma to hold for her.”
Estie doesn’t talk, and Petie talks non-stop, which works well. He likes the way she mimics animals. “And when they stopped to admire the bears, Estie let out a huge roar. ‘You are so fun to talk to!’ said Petie.” Healthy friendships!
Later, Petie drops his ice cream, Estie makes a social flub (tries to cheer him up but it upsets him more). Once she understands what he needs, she shares her ice cream with him (is a mensch). I really adore this. Best for ages 3.5-7, and I verified, this is a Jewish author (not a gentile appropriating the word ‘mensch’).
- Ada Twist Scientist
Ada breaks stuff and does naughty things because she’s hyperfocused. Helpful for kids to see how a hyperfocus makes us forget niceties and how it can be hard to remember to follow the rules when we are driven to do something. Helpful since every kid will identify with this, but this way they can see that the challenge for autistic kids is amplified.
- Looking After Louis
Some caveats on this one (see Books about autism for allistic kids) but in it, Louis gets special treatment in class and his allistic classmate resents it. Eventually she sees that different kids have different needs so they can all get what they need out of the class.
- Autism Acceptance BookIhaven’t read this one in years, and I think it’s best suited for 6+, but the teacher might enjoy reading this and coming up with discussions or lessons tailored for younger kids based on the material.
- I’ll Tell You Why I Can’t Wear Those Clothes
This one is GREAT for helping kids see how they and others have to deal with nagging sensory issues that just wear us out over the course of a day.
- Noah The Narwhal
This might work – Noah has migraines and runs out of spoons, and then has meltdowns/gets ill and can’t function. But sometimes he can. This is a good story to show kids how spoons work, and why sometimes autistic kids can do something, but then other times they’re overwhelmed and just can’t deal (hence the naughty behavior).This story is designed to help kids understand folks with chronic intermittent pain ( #OwnVoices as this is the Author’s experience) but it works well for understanding how sensory overwhelm and meltdowns are variable and depend on the situation. Some days, and some situations, we’re fine, and other days, things just pile up and we can’t handle it. While it doesn’t mention spoon theory, it’s a good book to introduce the concept. Helps non-disabled family and friends understand why disabled people can sometimes look and act fine, but suddenly and somewhat inexplicably be incapacitated and not able to do something they were able to do yesterday. Validating for the rest of us – Noah feels ashamed and is made to feel worse by non-disabled boss, sister, and friend when he has to stay home and cancel plans, and how they evntually realize that if they are truly good bosses/friends, they should value his contribution and accept him even when he’s out of spoons. ages 3.5+ for topic, but goes on a bit long, so best for 4+.
- Calvin Can’t Fly(Berne)
Calvin is slow to learn typical bird stuff, but great at reading. He can’t fly, but his friends accommodate his disability – even when he has no way to ‘make up’ for it! Later, his reading skills come in handy since he saves the flock from a hurricane. So this is a ‘both abilities are handry’ type of diversity-positive story.
- Extraordinary Jane
This one isn’t about how great diverse types of thinking is, but I would love it if we read stories like this alongside books about the value of thinking differently. We can’t all be savants, we can’t all ‘make up for’ our disabilities or contribute equally. So we need to be careful when we start talking about how great neurodiversity is – and remind our kids that even if diverse thinkers aren’t contributing to capitalism or paying us back for the accommodations and support they need, they have equal value and worth as humans in our society. This is a nice counter story to parents who insist that their savant or twice-exceptional autistics are ‘better’ or more deserving of respect because they have some skill the rest of us lack.’
- Frog And Toad Together – (Lobel)
I think this is #2 in the series? Toad codes as autistic throughout most of the series, BTW.In Chapter 1 of this installment, Toad’s obsession with lists and routines are a little debilitating, and can be validating for kids with executive functioning disabilities. What I really like about this one is how accepting Frog is. It’s a perfect model for how to be a good accomplice for a friend with executive functioning disabilities. Toad also misunderstands Frog’s use of the word ‘soon’ (literal autistic vs. vague allistic language).
- Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap
This book flips the script and highlights some of the bizzare special needs allistic kids have, written with tropes inspired by allistic-centered picture books. Don’t read it to your allistic kids if they are insecure or whatever. I’m not reading this to my allistic son until he’s old enough to get the joke, I think it would hurt his feelings and kind of destroy him. Which underlines what I’m about to say in the rest of this post, and why I get so angry about the problematic books at the bottom of this post. Why the f– don’t authors think about what it would feel like to be autistic and find these kinds of books on a classroom shelf?
- Neurodivergent Narwhals: Lei makes some of the NN posters available for printing. They’re a little wordy, but might be helpful to post around the classroom for parents to read, so they understand a little more about why this particular student behaves differently, so they can be patient and continue the discussion of acceptance at home.
Misfits & kids who don’t fit in – all of these books are validating for kids with social/invisible disabilities and I originally started the collection as autism-specific.
Helping Allistic Kids Empathize With Autistics
The common stereotype about autistics is that we lack empathy, which is bullshit. It’s common knowledge in the autism community that allistics expect autistics to understand, communicate, and conform to allistic standards – while the same is not expected of allistics.
We often use ’empathy’ to mean the physical and emotional experience of feeling another person’s pain (rather than sympathy, which is feeling pity for another person’s plight.) Autistics run the same gamut from zero emotional mirroring to debilitating levels of mirroring, and all of this is variable depending on the situation.
For example: I can’t watch horror movies. It physically hurts. When I watch people suffering in movies or books, it feels like it’s happening to me and I panic. Learning about another person’s trauma can often be debilitating for me. Other times, I keep a level head while everyone around me panics. My reaction to things like this are very different from my allistic peers.
While this informs the choices I make and how I take action to help, I am not weak because of this, nor does this make me a ‘good’ person. This is just my neurology.
There is no ‘ideal’ level of empathy. Suggesting otherwise is ableist supremacy. Also let’s get this out of the way, it’s ableist to call yourself an ’empath,’ implying that there is some invisible border between people who feel compassion for others and ‘regular’ (re: lesser) people. Distancing yourself from folks who are supposedly less able/burdened with empathy superpowers is supremacy. Cut that shit out.
Validating Allistic Kids With Autistic Siblings
This is the ONLY TIME I will make this list. After this – I am DONE.
Every kid deserves to see their experience validated so they know they aren’t alone. Every sibling deserves stories that validate the complications that come with being the oldest, the youngest, the smallest, the one who has to do all the chores – etc. BUT – the goal of comforting allistic siblings is covered in roughly 40% of autism kidlit. The other 59% is teaching allistic kids about autism. With less than 1% of stories made for autistic kids themselves.
WE HAVE CENTERED ENOUGH ALLISTIC KIDS.
While no one is arguing that having an autistic sibling is easy, I can’t find a single book for autistic kids validating what a pain in the ass allistic siblings and parents can be.
My allistic son is still young, and he occasionally gets frustrated, feeling pushed aside when his autistic brother gets special attention. HOWEVER – we put a ton of effort into making sure he gets his own allistic ‘special needs’ accommodations, so it hasn’t been an issue for him yet.
If you find, as a parent, that your allistic child is expressing (or hiding) frustration, be honest with them – their autistic family members have to do a lot of emotional labor to comfort them, and are likely doing the bulk of the accommodating. The issue is that allistic people feel entitled to the world conforming to their expectations, so it’s not something allistics are taught to recognize.
That said, here are books to help when allistic siblings and friends are feeling jealous or resentful.
- Benji, The Bad Day, And Me (Pla) – The whole reason I’m willing to make this list without flying into a distracted rage, is that this book exists, and now we can throw most of the ones below in the garbage. You can read more about why I love it here.
- Ada Twist, Scientist (Beaty) Ada codes as autistic. While the story centers on Ada, her brother takes a conspicous background role. This book makes it helpful to open discussions with allistic siblings. Example: What do you think it feels like to be sidelined by all the attention Ada is getting? Do you ever feel this way?
Talking With Allistic Kids About Autistic Accommodations
- The Autism Acceptance Book – (Sabin) Note the use of ‘acceptance’ instead of awareness. I love this. The entire book focuses on how to be a better accomplice to autistic people. The author carefully uses conditionals – that some, not all, autistic people are as described in the book – which many allistic authors fail to do. Points out that autism isn’t bad, just different. It’s more of a workbook with empty fields than a story book. The autistic kid who co-authored this gets a co-author line right on the cover, rather than a tiny note about consulting in the copyright page, which is nice. It’s a little wordy (which makes sense, it is co-authored by an autistic) and there aren’t enough illustrations to hold the attention of young kids, so I’d stick with this for first graders and older. Why the hell don’t they make books like this for allistic parents? The downsides: the copy I got has spiral binding, which ironically I can’t use because of my auditory sensory disabilities. Because flipping through the book was excruciatingly painful, I wasn’t able to fully screen every single page.
- Benny Doesn’t Like To Be Hugged (Elliott) – The afterword to this made me cry. Like, seriously, just sitting there, leaking, for 20 minutes of so, in a crowded library. Couldn’t stop. Might have been a couple hiccup/sobs in there, too. I felt seen – there is this one background character, a little Asian girl wearing earmuffs. So this is what it feels like, to be included in popular media! To be validated as a ‘real’ person worth including in a story! Huh. Elliott’s goal was to de-whitewash autism, portraying a Black autistic boy. She made a misstep – narrating the book and centering it on an allistic girl. I do wish this wasn’t a boy (Black autistic boys come in second only to white autistic boys), and i could have done without the opening stereotypes (no hugs, trains). But the way it’s written feels more like a book about a specific boy, rather than a book about ALL autistic people as a monolith. However – she DID THE THING and actually talked to an autistic friend. Because it was too late to center the story from Benny’s POV, she took pains to admit that she flubbed that part. The rest of it is lovely, and a wonderful guide on how to be accepting and kind to autistic classmates. “Benny’s my best friend and I like him a lot. If he needs things don a certain way, I don’t give it a second thought. Because true friends accept each other just the way they are.” Okay, the rhyming is a little bad, but it’s worth it. Best for preschool and might be able to stretch it to age 6, but too simple for older kids.
- Tomas Loves… (Welton) Cute book, but designed for very young readers (under age 4). Seems to have a VERY narrow use for kids around age 3 learning about an autistic friend or validating autistic needs. I do love that the parents offer accommodations happily, and they are no big deal. But it gets a 1-star review from my nemesis, Lissa Parker. And I hate her so much I’ll recommend books she hates just to spite her. ::Raspberries::
- UGH WHY DOES LISSA PARKER EXIST. I know, let’s raise a lot of money to find a cure for Lissa Parker syndrome, symptoms include talking out of your ass about a one-dimensional view of an entire group of people, advocating for their erasure and removal from humanity, and giving 1-star rankings to any book featuring a disabled character who isn’t completely miserable about being disabled.
- Sometimes Noise Is Big – This isn’t a story, it’s just a bunch of pages featuring stuff like “Sometimes noise is too big for my ears.” Which is a very allistic way of phrasing things, but okay. The book is centered around aspects of what it’s like to be autistic, but most allistic kids can identify with many of these experiences as well. My allistic son appreciated reading it, but claimed “I don’t need to read this book, I’m not autistic.” My autistic son also claimed “I don’t need to read this book, I already know what it’s like to be autistic.” Neither one recognized that they need a frame of reference for how other people think, which is telling on the human condition. Nevertheless, we discussed the experiences in this book, and how we all experience the world differently. It was helpful, but a boring read.
Problematic Tropes To Watch Out For
I only started keeping track of problematic trash books after reading the first hundred of so. It’s remarkably stressful, so I’m including just a few of the trash books I’ve come across.
Problematic: Violating Autistic Agency & Ignoring Consent
- My Brother Charlie – This is the book I hate most in the world. Since I’ve already ranted about it, you can find that here.
- Ian’s Walk – The author calls the allistic sibling ‘the healthy sibling’ despite the fact that she’s an abusive, toxic garbage human. The allistic protagonist calls her brother weird, physically yanks him around for looking ‘silly,’ and violates his boundaries: “I hug him tightly even though he doesn’t care for hugs.” First half of the book is about what a huge burden autistic Ian is to his sister. And then she loses him and is so happy to have him back, she treats him like a human being for a second and lets him stand next to a wall he likes, which she previously abused him for doing. Fuuuuuck this book and fuck this author. keywords: violating consent, abuse.
Problematic: Autistic People Only Have Value When They Contort Themselves To Conform
- Armond Goes To A Party (Carlson) – I have yet to meet a single person, allistic or autistic, who doesn’t find this story toxic, abusive, and disgusting. Here is a rant on the many problems with this book.
Problematic: Autism & Autistic People Are a Disease
- My Friend Has Autism – (Doering Tourville) – Oh this asswipe. THIS. WIPE. FOR. ASSES. Her entire series is a tribute to eugenics, and this is but one single gem in her life work to eradicate people who shouldn’t exist from her ideal planet of disability-free humans. “Autism is a brain-based disorder. With autism, parts of the brain don’t grow the way they should. No one knows why some kid have autism. There is no cure yet.” Y’know what? Parts of Doering Tourville’s brain didn’t grow the way I’d like either, but that doesn’t mean we need a fucking medical treatment to euthanize, lobotomize, torture, and selectively abort supremacists. I know what you’re thinking – perhaps this was written in a less enlightened age…the 50’s, perhaps. NOPE. This was written in 2010. The stereotypes go on. Apparently none of us can speak, so she’s speaking for us. NO THANK YOU. I can’t even. Just…RAGE. …‘They way they should.‘ Fuck.
Problematic: Autistic People Are Burdens
- My Brother Is Autistic (Moore-Mallinos) – This author has a series of disgusting, abelist books, and this one is no exception. Not only is it centered on the allistic brother, it goes straight into how his autistic brother embarrasses him at school. a kid bullies his autistic brother and he’s so embarrassed he runs away and doesn’t help. What a shitty fucking brother. This is not a kid we need to exemplify, nor validate. He’s not even ashamed of being a coward. For some reason taping pictures to the wall of famous autistic savants inspires him to realize that his brother might become a famous drummer someday, and oh gosh – suddenly he has value as a human being (BARF BARF BARF) SERIOUSLY. BARF.
- What About Me? A Book by and for an Autism sibling (Farmer) – Awwww. Look at that sad little sack of white dude, whose world is designed around his comfort and safety. Poor lil’ guy. He has a sibling who sometimes absorbs some of his parents’ attention! Oh no! ::EYES ROLL SO HARD THEY FALL OUT OF MY SKULL:: We can validate sibling rivalry without turning into navel-gazing, entitled, toxic little shits, as Sally Pla demonstrates above. Note the identity first language is okay to use for this ‘Autism sibling’ (also see: Autism Warrior Parents) because there is no shame in being the sibling of an autistic kid. But the book goes on to use person-first ‘has autism’ and tap dances a bit in the description with ‘on the spectrum’ becuase they sure-as-fuck are ashamed on behalf us autistics. Jeebus L. Farts, this book was published in 2017. They just won’t stop.
Problematic: Autistic People Are Allistic Footstools
- Andy and his Yellow Frisbee – Standard puzzle piece metaphors because blah blah blah we are enigmas and can’t possibly advocate for ourselves. Person-first language, of course. Repeats multiple times ‘nothing simple about Randy.’ but not in a “Randy is a multidimensional human” kind of way – more of a ‘Randy is a fucking handful of nightmares.” kind of way. The story is about two allistic girls who become friends using Randy as a plot device, kind of like how a cute runaway dog inspires a meet-cute. Includes a few fun (/sarcasm) stereotypes in the end notes including how we seem more interested in toys than people. Which I guess is true. I’m more interested in toys than shitty people like this author.
- Looking After Louis – centered on non-autistic kid, not much of a story, the author was trying to advocate for inclusive NT/autistic classrooms but the story I got was kinda watered down and passive, not worth reading. Triggers for othering language. “I think we’re allowed to break the rules for special people.” but follows up that the non-disabled centered protagonist felt special too, which just goes to show how oblivious the author is to how harmful that kind of language is. Author’s preface: “Louis…has a developmental disorder known as Autism.” Uses identity first language but then goes on to promote segregation for all but ‘high-functioning’ kids in a ‘regular classroom.’ Yup. Actual calls for segregated classes! Supposed to encourage inclusion and shows how both allistic and autistic kids benefit from inclusive classrooms, but the message is that only certain types of autistics deserve to be integrated. The overall takeaway is that autistic classmates serve to make allistic children more compassionate. Because that’s what we are. Learning opportunities disguised as thinking and feeling humans. And of course – autistic people need looking after, because we’re all children in Neverland who never grow into adults, we are and always will be too incompetent for self-agency or existence outside being an accessory for allistics.
Problematic: White-, Young – Male-, Savant- & Single-Disability- washing Autism
I won’t even bother listing all the books that center young white autistic boys who are autistic and otherwise not disabled. You’d think that autism exists in a bubble and only affects this particular tiny group of humans, but nope – we’re just various-washing autism and boosting these voices over multiply-marginalized autistics.
Here’s why this is a problem – when the only way autism is presented is when it’s filtered through this singular gaze, the rest of us are erased, misdiagnosed, and it’s just assumed we can’t be autistic because we don’t present the same way people with these privileges present.
- The blue bottle mystery – hoopmann – Hoopman (allistic) is infamous for her singular-story autistic young white male autistic, even going so far as to stereotype autism with cat memes in All Cats Have Aspergers and feed into functional/supremacist tropes in Inside Aspergers Looking Out. This lady just LOVES to profit off stereotypes. Like all of her books, this one feeds into the singular white male savant narrative. It’s full of stereotypes, the writing is clumsy and jumpy, the characters are all flat and rather annoying. Both allistic and autistic characters (which speaks to her lack of self-awareness when appropriating the identity of an autistic character) use figurative language in ways that just feel forced for the sake of a teachable moment. The protagonist isn’t particularly likeable and my autistic kid didn’t identify with him. There is one the ‘ah-ha’ moment realizing he’s autistic, so I thought re-reading the story through that lens is a second time would be enlightening for my autistic kid. But it’s done so poorly it just felt like a chore and ugh, there are better books for this kind of reflection of our autistic behavior. Problematic for functional language (aspergers), endorsed by tony attwood (who is an ableist POS). The author, while she doesn’t identify as autistic, did research for this by watching videos by self-labeled aspies (ew) instead of consulting actually autistic humans who can give her feedback on all the crap she messed up. In her bio, she boasts about working with ‘fellow ASD writer’ Josie Santomauro who is ALSO a parent and educator but NOT AUTISTIC. At this point, it seems like every single book by jessica kingsley publishers is rampant with ableist language, reinforcing whiteness in particular. It’s a stretch to find an #OwnVoices book by them, given their niche in the autism lit market.
Problematic: Tokenizing Autism
As autism gets more prevalent in pop culture, we’re going to see more token autistic sidekicks and nods to neurodiversity without knowing what it actually is. It’s already popping up in TV (re: Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory) and it’s been slowly trickling into kidlit.
- Ara The Star Engineer (Singh) – Throughout the story, the protagonist wears a shirt featuring the neurodiversity infinity symbol. THE COVER MADE ME VERY EXCITED but was sadly disappointed when I read the story. Nothing about Ara codes as autistic. The whole book is a blatant marketing ad for Google (it reads like a Google recruiting pamphlet), I suspect the resemblance to the neurodiversity symbol was a coincidence. BUT – given that she works at Google, which is chock-full of neurodivergents, it’s kind of weird that she wouldn’t already be familiar with that logo. So on one hand – she might be tokenizing our symbol as a nod to the huge population of neurodivergent Google employees without bothering to incorporate us, or, she might just be oblivious. Both make me sad. Beyond that, there isn’t much story – Ara just walks around interviewing lady engineers (only women engineers can mentor aspiring girl engineers, I guess.) In the background, people lounge in plush offices while shouting stuff like “Innovate 10x!” whatever that means. I feel like I’m being fire-hosed with women in STEAM and it’s having the opposite effect I want it to. Software development has come a long way since my days as a computer engineer major, back when rooms for of comp sci folks smelled like Fritos and farts.
Problematic: Cash Grabs, Unbearable Mediocrity & Filler Books
I used to grade autism books on a scale – from open, violent bigotry and contempt for autistics to ‘Well this isn’t THAT bad, I guess.‘ Lacking any good books, I settled for mediocre books written by allistics who didn’t bother to consult autistic folks. They touch on autism without saying anything helpful.
Similar to the way I used to swap pronouns in books with zero female characters, I contorted stories and twisted language to erase ableism and make up for the maker’s failure to consult a single autistic person before publishing some garbage in an obvious attempt to cash in on the sudden demand for autism books.
But you know what? I am fucking tired of that. Authors like Zetta Elliott, Clay and Gail Morton, and Sally J. Pla have shown that it is possible to listen to autistic people before blundering forth and publishing mediocre and subtly supremacist garbage.
So I’m throwing these books here – books that, with a lot of work looking past ignorance and associations with anti-autism hate groups, I could manage to begrudge. But we don’t need to anymore. I suggest you remove these from your libraries – even though they’re not comparatively that bad next to say, eugenicists.
They’re like the Clintons of autism books. Full of subtle supremacy, functional language, person-first language, centering allistics, and so on. It’s time to move on, these have no home but in the archives of what we had to settle for when we had no other options.
- We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3 (Sesame Street) Illustrations are basic and look slapped together. centers on Elmo (who is presumably allistic).Even R2 wouldn’t sit though this at 3.75, it’s too simple. Julia’s behavior is typical until about 1/3rd the way into the book, when she won’t answer someone while she’s swinging. Elmo has to speak for her when Abby is insulted. I’m not thrilled about this example of allistic allyship – as we get a little touchy about people speaking about us, without us. This is fine, i guess. Shows kids how to play with minimally/non-speaking autistic kids. Kulia knows the words to songs that elmo can’t remember, finds the blender (sounds) painful. her friends are accepting and sweet, but this book is boring AF. Julia is a stereotype of autism, and that’s fine since these are traits that preschoolers will ask about, but I do wish they had made her more complex and/or admitted that folks like Fozzy the Bear have been coded as autistic for decades.
- I See Things Differently – Thomas – I have to admit I’m still sore from her super white colorblind BS book about racism. Anyway, this is wishy washy. I thought with the title it would center an autistic person, but it actually talks to allistic kids about ‘people you know how have autism.’ So…yeah the language is annoying and it’s clear she didn’t talk to any actually autistic people. It’s not TERRIBLE but we have better books now. skip this.
- Tacos, Anyone? (Ellis) – The author is a member of the Autism Society of America, whose website looks super problematic. The story focuses on how a brotehr can accomodate and include his autistic brother in play, rather than change him. (yay!) But it still centers on the allistic brother, and the illustrations look like a sophomore art class project. My kids refuse to read this. All of us find it boring. Bilingual (English/Spanish), and I think the author is a Black woman? Validating for siblings but meh, there are better books than this for that.
- Understanding Sam And Asperger Syndrome – Aspergers is just autism, but speaking autistics who can pass as allistic say they ‘have aspergers’ or ‘are aspies‘ because they want you to know they are the good kind of autistic. There are some puzzle pieces in there, which is triggering for many autistics – a reminder that allistics control the narrative and WILL. NOT. DROP. THE. FUCKING. PUZZLE. METAPHOR. It goes on to point out that the first person an autistic person should reach out to is a doctor which is HILARIOUS because oh friends – medical ‘experts’ know less than shit about autism, and everything they ‘know’ and study about autism was written by other allistic people. Doctors – particularly self-labeled ‘autism experts’ have a reputation for arrogance, ignorance, and outright bigotry against actually autistic people. The level of ignorance on what autism is is staggering. Most of what they’re running on are outdated stereotypes and the research of eugenicists. So no – don’t reach out to a fucking general practitioner or ER doctor – you face a very real risk of getting forcefully institutionalized, sterilized, having your kids taken away, etc. Jeez. Good parts: The story centers on Sam, rather than his allistic siblings or friends (rare!) and his family works as a team to advocate for him (writing letters to teachers, getting aides to translate instructions), and it puts the onus on accomplices to do some of the emotional labor to get accommodations. It does address how diagnosis makes things much easier, but fails to mention that multiply-marginalized autistics face overwhelming hurdles in getting diagnoses and accommodations, as our challenges are usually attributed to our race, poverty, etc. Also fails to recongize that it’s not the diagnosist hat helps, but the fact that having an ‘official label’ often forces those around you to recognize that you’re not just being difficult. it includes 10 tips at the end to be less ableist called “10 helpful tips, especially for you” (where ‘you’ i’m assuming, is an NT parent or friend). I like that this book focuses on changing the community, not sam. it’s not a book I’m excited about, but it’s 500% better than the ones it was shelved next to.
- Since we’re Friends (Shally) I was wary about this because it has a foreword by Alison Singer, VP of autism speaks. Luckily nothing Singer said in her foreword was plain evil, and the rest of the book (despite the ‘has autism’) phrasing, was actually decent for showing kids how to be a good friend and ally. But we have books like ‘Benny Doesn’t Like To Be Hugged,’ so while the overall message is fine, it’s stressful AF to read a book endorsed by someone who would love to see us wiped off the planet. Features scenarios on how to help an autistic friend during meltdowns, breaks in routine, and how to be an active translator during conflicts with other NT kids. Also…that title seems a little threatening. What would he do to this Black kid if they weren’t friends?
- Everybody is Different (Bleach) – I like that the author doesn’t overstep her bounds and takes into account the privileges allistics have. The person-first language is annoying though, the book is forgettable, and now we have better books that cover these topics, so it’s fine to toss it.
- How To Talk To An Autistic Kid – The only reason this mediocre book even makes it onto the list is that it’s written by an #OwnVoices autistic kid. Similar to ‘Armond Goes To A Party,’ it’s full of internalized ableism. It’s also boring, dry, and doesn’t say anything that isn’t basic common sense. I think this kid’s parents had him write it buff up his college applications. Heaven forbid white male teenagers sit down and shut up and stop dominating the narrative on what autism is. I mean, it’d be fine, if libraries didn’t buy THIS book and then consider the autism self-advocacy quota filled. Which they do.
Also this has nothing to do with anything, but after spending six hours compiling this list into a collection and reviewing years of notes, I’ve invented a drinking game.
Every time you come across a 1-star review of a children’s book where the reviewer marked a book down to 1 star because ‘this book is too simple and it’s like it’s written for children.’ take a drink. and also throw your computer out the window while screaming. Making this list makes me eager for the devastating climate change that wipes out humanity so life can start anew.
There are so many different types of infuriating ignorance. I can’t even.
- Anti-Ableist Autism Books
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