Books by autistic authors & illustrators
Quick Things You Need To Know:
- Thanks to the obstacles of entering mainstream publishing, most books by autistic authors are self-published, and therefore impossible to find in libraries or even Amazon.
- Common misconceptions: Autistic people all thing the same! NOPE. While we have a lot of behavior and thinking patterns in common. We are very, very, very different. Lots of autistic folks are complete assholes! Human diversity is lovely.
- Corinne Duyvis, the author who coined the term #OwnVoices, is autistic. Is it just me or can almost all the awesome stuff in the world be traced back to autistic folks?
- While searching for these unicorn authors, I came across a list of autistic authors by Geek Club Books, which is run by allistic parents and autistic folks. Since almost all of these books are self-published and impossible to find, I can’t vouch for any of them unless they appear below. Many of them, I have to admit, look awful and skew heavily toward whiteness. Acknowledging that we all have different perspectives, I’m uncomfortable with the supremacist language (functioning labels, etc.) on the site, and the fact that this website is funded by the Temple Grandin Award (Grandin is a wealthy white supremacist & aspie supremacist, who suggests all the non-speaking autistics, poor autistics, and autistics of color are worthless) and The Mighty, which is a website that exploits and profits off autistic authors without compensating them, and in turn, is funded heavily but the anti-autism hate group Autism Speaks. But hey, maybe the post is fine.
- While the publisher Jessica Kingsley Publishers, and their star author Kathy Hoopman, supposedly publish oodles of books ‘representing autism,’ the authors appear to be exclusively allistic parents with autistic children. I haven’t been able to stand a single book they’ve published. Every single book is created for the allistic gaze. They look tempting! But they are all pretty shitty.
Quick & Messy Book List:
Autistic authors I recommend
- Lei Wiley-Mydske – Lei is a multiracial autistic woman and parent to an autistic son. She. IS. AWESOME. She runs the Ed Wiley Neurodiversity Library, which is one of the foundation libraries that many autistics across the globe base their organizations on. She’s a contributor for the parenting book What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew (this book is for parents of sons as well, btw) and the upcoming book full of her Neurodivergent Narwhals – which is taking a long time to (crowd-funding, self-publishing, and completing stuff when we have executive functioning disabilities is obviously a challenge.)
- So also I should add all the contributors in What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew are insightful. Some of the chapters are clumsily written and a chore to read (we do tend to infodump), but it’s totally worth it.
- Lyn Miller-Lachmann – Lyn’s work is for older kids so I haven’t screened most of it yet. She was a translator for Three Balls of Wool, which is FANTASTIC, and she’s been a proponent of #OwnVoices for neurodiversity for a long time, and is a contributor for De Colores, (like BFL, but for the Raza/Latinx lens), which is ALSO awesome.
- Mike Jung – Mike’s books are just beyond our age range, so I’m planning to screen his books starting next year. Since we’re both Asian, autistic, and love kidlit, we run in many of the same circles and have friends in common. He seems like a decent human being. I don’t always agree with him, as he’s prone to wealthy dude bias, but he at least seems aware of it and is working to dismantle that.
- While the authors of ‘Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap‘ don’t specify whether they are autistic or allistic, I don’t think they would have been able to write this book from an allistic perspective or at least without consulting autistic adults.
Autistic Authors I disagree with
- Armond Isaak – Armond is probably a decent kid, but as a young boy, he can’t be expected to understand how abusive his parents are, or self-advocate for equal rights. Armond Goes To A Party is a toxic example of internalized ableism. I strongly suspect that Nancy Carlson, and likely Armond’s abusive parents, used him as a token to validate this book and their behavior toward him. Click here for my rant against this book.
- Haitham Al-Ghani (Illustrator) I checked out The Red Beast and hated it. The makers appear to believe that only autistic kids lose their tempers and have tantrums. Also this is oddly metaphorical give the audience and this story line has been done before, but better. Seems to take power and responsibility away from kids, assuming autistic kids are incompetent rather than empowering them. There is a whole series, but I’m not going to waste my time with the rest. It’s a garbage filler book. Given the fact that the author shares a last name with Haitham and the illustrations look like they were drawn by a middle-schooler, I smell Autism Warrior Parent project. Also don’t even get me started with this supremacist “children with Asperger’s” language in the title.
Autistic Authors That Are Fine, Probably
- how to be human: Diary of an autistic girl – This is what it says it is: a teen girl’s diary. While it’s probably great for teen readers (too old for BFL readers), I would rather do almost anything with my short time on earth than read the diary of a teenager. It was a painfully boring read as an adult, so I put it down after just a couple chapters.
- The ABC of Stimming (Par La Fenêtre) – I want to boost this as a book created by trans autistic makers, but honestly I would never read this to my kids. ABC books are SO BORING and there is no story. It looks like what it is – a self-published book of illustrations, with no narrative to carry or assist the reader. We need books that celebrate stimming, by my kids would roll their eyes at me if I tried to read this with them.
Compilations Exploiting Autistic Makers
Drawing Autism (Mullin) – The curator of this book is not autistic, they are a behavior analyst (BCBA) with clinical experience as an abuser (ABA) and uses person-first language. While the book is full of artwork by autistic makers (but amateur and staggeringly beautiful experts), the list of resources at the end does not say whether artists were paid for publication or reimbursed for using their work. Which – come on, probably means they weren’t, because in general artists are offered payment in ‘exposure,’ and when you’re disabled, it’s a charity to even recognize that we’re human. While it doesn’t point toward Autism Speaks, it does include autism acceptance project (taaproject.com) and a ton of other organizations I don’t have the time to reseach – but notably does NOT include self advocacy networks such as ASAN or AWN. The foreword is by Temple Grandin (see above) which feeds further into the supremacist autism-savant narrative, as she is wont to do. Mullin’s foreword uses pathologizing language for autistic traints such as “symptoms” and “fostering and nurturing abilities despite a diagnosis can help individuals with ASD discover their talents.” In the intro, she tells of repeatedly asking an ABA victim to take their work for free until he finally relinquished one to her. The tone of the book doesn’t feel like a curation of artists – it feels like a collection of zoo exhibits. The author admits she didn’t make the book with a specific audience in mind (which explains why it wasn’t written for us), and while artists are briefly interviewed on inspiration, there’s no wider discussion on the context of each piece and the background of each artist, which is typical in a curation of artwork (for example, knowing the country of origin and cultural influences is important). If, as a young artist, I had been approached to contribute to a project like this, I’d feel obligated to let them use my work for free in hopes of signal boosting broken stereotypes ad dbecause I know my work has so little value in the world. Additional keywords: disabled art history
Disabled Fables – (LA Goal) This one is less exploity. It’s a compilation of traditional Aesop fables, retold by artists with developmental disabilities, many of whom are autistic. Each fable is short and easy to read, followed by an explanation from the maker on why they chose to tell this particular story. Only some makers disclose their disabilities but many of them are vague or unclear. Since they are boosted in this book, I suspect it’s not because of disability stigma, they probably just forgot to include it in their write-ups, not realizing that the book curator wouldn’t be adding a section about each maker. Or maybe they don’t want to be labeled – who knows! BUT it’s a missed opportunity either way – it would be wonderful to point to direct representation of say, a maker with Down syndrome, etc. since these fables are usually chosen by the makers because they have something to do with their specific disability. I DO love that most of these people point out the degrees and careers they go into, which helps readers understand that not every developmentally person lives in an institution, but can go on to pursue interests and regular lives. There was one fable that our family disagreed with – the jay and the peacock sides with bullies who bully and abuse a jay for wearing peacock feathers, citing the moral “Be yourself. You don’t have to pretend to be something you’re not.” and it feels a little transphobic and not well thought out, but when we read the maker’s explanation and life experience, I agree with her lesson (just not the way she executed it in the story.) Really, the notes written by makers at the end on how this fable speaks about their life experience is awesome. Q is loving fables of all kinds at 5.5. The makers live on their own or live in an interdependent living situation. Makers included disabilities with: autistic, Down syndrome, Blindness, learning disabilities, intellectual developmental disabilities (which they refer to as ‘mental retardation’ in 1995). While the profits from the book go toward the LA Goal organization, it doesn’t say that the makers are compensated (which probably means they are not.)
Autistic authors for adult books
I don’t have a TON of time to catch up on books written by autistic authors, but here are a few:
- Helen Hoang – I turned down a request from The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism to review The Kiss Quotient. Partially because TPGA values allistic parents more than autistic people (google: #IStandWithKassianne) and they partner with some problematic folks, like Silberman and JER (see below). Also because I know Helen – we’ve connected in groups for autistic people of color (she’s Filipina) and kind of like her, so that would skew my review. That said – it was a validating read as an autistic woman, albeit a very basic 101 intro to autism in women. Also not my personal preference. I found myself cringing at the sex scenes. So vanilla…yet so much…fluid. Ew. I was also not wild that she coded the protagonist as white. Autistic AAPIs have SO FEW CHANCES TO HAVE A VOICE so whitewashing our stories to sell more books is such a huge bummer. But also, please buy her book, particularly if you’re into romcoms and…bodily fluids. She’s lovely and I want her to succeed.
- John Elder Robinson – Whatever the Uncle Chan of autism is, it’s JER. He’s taking over for Temple in propogating the erasure of nonspeaking autistics, autistics of color, women and nonbinary, and poor autistics. It’d be fine if he spoke to his own experience – his book was actually pretty validating when I first found out I was autistic. But lately he’s been taking a wider stage and just plowing over the rest of us with his wealthy white-dudeness. JER loves himself that savant trope.
- Temple Grandin – I’ve read her books. You can skip them. Everything you can get out of them has already been turned into a meme or been carried into more intersectional spaces with more nuance. While she made advances back in the day, it’s time for girlfriend TO RETIRE. Her work is peak white feminism. She’s wealthy and completely oblivious to her privilege, believes only autistics who can produce things and services that are useful for allistics are valuable, and she’s raaaacist AF. I do boost this picture book about her because the overall message is lovely and we are sorely lacking for disabled women’s history books, but like all of history’s icons, they have a time and place and hers ended back in like, 1994. Also her mom is no peach, either.