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Autism: Validating Stories for Autistic Kids
Stories with Characters Who Code As Autistic
Validating stories for autistic kids
Quick Things You Need To Know:
- I’m creating this list to add more dimension and show just how ‘normal’ it is to be autistic. We’ve been here the whole time.
- These stories are validating for autistic kids, and also (maybe) might help undiagnosed autistic folks see how the behavior folks call ‘quirky,’ ‘eccentric,’ ‘weird,’ ‘over-sensitive,’ ‘demanding,’ and ‘inflexible’ are just normal parts of having an autistic brain.
- We call it the ‘autism spectrum,’ so most folks think of autism as a scale from 0 > 100 of ‘not autistic’ to a little autistic, and beyond. This is a misconception.
- The autism spectrum is more like the color spectrum – it’s multidimensional, with five main attributes. Each attribute can present as either creating significant challenges, or a person might find it significantly helpful – but it’s not either/or. For example – have increased perception might make it easier for an autistic artist to notice fine details that improve their craft, while also making it difficult to drive because they get hooked on small details in the road and miss highway exits. This comic explains it well.
- When we are able to (or I should say – are forced to) use the traits that give us more strengths to mask our disabilities and difficulties, this usually results in being misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. Many autistics aren’t diagnosed until well past retirement age.
- Autistic folks have around, and traits of autism was present in humanity – way before we had a label.
- A disproportionate amount of marginalized people – particularly girls, people of color, immigrants, and people without the financial resources to seek help, are simply not diagnosed at all. Which means no accommodations > co-morbid anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions > institutionalizing, imprisonment, surviving abuse, filicide and murder, and suicide.
- I’ve read in several places that the average life expectancy for a (diagnosed) autistic person is about 35, but haven’t been able to validate that or find a primary source. This leaves out people who are able to mask it their entire lives (who might live much longer) or people who can’t keep up with the mask (and die young.)
- This is one reason many autistics HATE functioning language (profoundly/severely/a little autistic, high/low functioning, Aspie labels, helpful/helpless, etc.) This creates a supremacist dichotomy of good v. worthless autistics – feeding right into the hands of eugenicists.
- Functional theories erase the invisible challenges that exhaust (and even kill) those who ‘pass’ as allistic and justifies not providing accommodations for them. These theories also paint autistics who can’t (or refuse to) pass as less human, and is used as justification to speak over them, reject their right to say ‘no,’ and forcefully institutionalize them.
- Functioning theories are intertwined with capitalism and supremacy (the idea that some people contribute more, and are therefore more valuable humans while others are throwaways.) The dividing line is created by allistic supremacy – those who are speaking and/or helpful in a capitalist workplace are considered ‘high’ functioning. This is profoundly ironic, given that allistic people think we are the inflexible ones prone to black-and-white thinking.
- All of these books would be awesome in a neurodiversity library
- Reassuring Books For Kids Who Don’t Fit In – I originally designed this collection as a validating book for kids with social disabilities (with a bend toward non-verbal communication disorders & missing social cues), so all of these apply. There will be a significant overlap between these lists.
Characters with personalities with Autistic-coded personalities & experiences
General – Invisible Disability / Undiagnosed
- ‘Red: A Crayon’s Story‘ – allegory for invisible, undiagnosed disability and identity dissonance. It works for LGBQTI+ youth, but as a young autistic girl growing up undiagnosed and confused, this story hits me in the gut.
- Noah the Narwhal – Technically this one is about migranes, but it’s a perfect book for invisible disabilities – to validate meltdowns and what happens when we run out of spoons.
- Also see: Invisible Disabilities unpolished list
Masking for Social Acceptance
- A Bad Case Of Stripes – Autistic folks, particularly multiply-marginalized autistics (women, BIPOC, poor, etc.) who don’t have access to support and accommodations, are often forced to mask our pain and natural behavior to fit in and pass as allistic. This leads to all sorts of mental health conditions (see below regarding exposure anxiety) and chronic trauma. We get extremely sick, and instead of encouraging us to relax and drop the mask, often we’re pressured to hide the effects of this stress, too.
- Where Oliver Fits
- Sophie’s Squash – (Miller) In both of these books, Sophie demonstrates challenges interacting with her peers, so she prefers the comfort and safety of befriending Bernice the Squash, who doesn’t come with the baggage of confusing allistic expectations. In Sophie’s Squash Go To School, Q loved that bernice’s babies turned into 2, was preocuppied by the concept of exponential growth more than the story itself. went a little over hte head of R2 at 4. But it shows how Sophie misses a classmate’s social cues and misconstrues an attempt at friendship as aggression. Not really about back to school, but takes place on the first month or so of school. i didn’t get a lack of consent vibe from the boy’s attempts at friendship, but i can see how folks might see that as problematic. Additional keywords: Making friends, harassment
Parental Ableism & Abuse
- Alvie eats soup – collins – Parents try to hide his inability to eat anything but soup. shame and abuse him trying to get him to comply. (Never once do they ask him why or try to help him deal with sensory issues.) parents really make it all about them, esp because his grandmother is world-famous chef. “the shame.’ said Alvie’s mom.” “Alvie’s parents worried. They worried about growth. They fretted about nutrition. They despaired over what would be served at his wedding.” This is so perfect for showing how shallow and navel-gazing the ‘woe is me’ parent. “Alvie’s parents resolved to cure their boy forever. They tried depriving him.” – leaving him in a locked prison cell with only solid foods and juice, knowing he can’t eat it., subjected him to tests and a ton of doctor evals, , “they tried tricking him.” So coconcerned about what his grandmother would think of their parenting, what people will say at his wedding – all of this is about THEM. Twist ending: it turns out granny only eats peas. I’m particularly fond of this because SOUP is a flexible food – you can get ANY food into soup, and health nutrition is clearly not an issue with his diet. addit’l keywords: don’t yuck someone’s yum, picky eaters, food sensory disorders, Autism warrior parents, ableism, ABA, abuse
- Gerald McBoingboing – Gerald’s parents are AWFUL and abusive because he’s non-speaking. Eventually he goes on to become a famous radio vocal effects artist. This was REALLY helpful during that year when my son’s language was delayed behind everyone else’s, and we didn’t know if he’d ever be able to speak. While this is a cautionary tale on terrible parenting, we got to joke about the fact that while some folks think speaking is a the biggest deal, it’s really not.
- not your typical dragon – dan bar-el – very cute story about dragon who isn’t typical – tends to blow everything but fire – but it turns out he’s usually blowing exactly what people need. his father rejects him at first (similar to gerald Mcboingboing, but it’s clearer that this dragon’s dad is being a turd and I like the way it’s handled better in this one). in the end he saves the day and his family accepts him as he is – I wish he could be accepted even if he wasn’t helpful, but its nice to see a cute, funny story about a disabled dragon and how disability is defined by what you consider ‘normal’ (social model of disability)
- Plant Pet – Bertie finds a little plant in a cage, and as it grows he learns it’s fun to garden with, but then it starts digging holes in the garden so much the man walks it to a dark corner and forces it to stay. Neglecting it and forcing it to ‘act normal’ causes the plant to shrivel and grow ill. Only when the man accepts the plantpet’s natural behavior and nurtures it by surrounding it with the stuff it needs (soil on its toes and water), does the planetpet grow strong and magnificent. Bertie learns to accept and celebrate his pet’s uniqueness. R2 was nervous about the cover at 2.5 (I admit the illustrations are a little dark and scary). It was probably printed on non archival paper in 1994 and now it’s almost too dark to see.
- Amelia Bedelia (the early series is constantly picked on in the early books for misunderstanding figurative language.
- The first book in this series is decent – from an autistic child’s POV, I thought the joke was on her employers, who gave vague, confusing directions and clearly had communication problems. The original books by Peggy Parish foisted her as a burden on her employers and friends and she was treated with kindness only when earning her humanity via her autistic area of interest – baking. (Which is actually pretty realistic, re: the autistic savant trope.)
- Amelia Bedelia has always coded as autistic, but throughout the earlier series she’s shamed and insulted for it (which is so close to reality even the most vile books in the series have some merit as examples on normalizing ableism.) I grew up thinking she was the only reasonable character in a series of books about aggressively mean people who don’t know how to speak properly.
- The filler chapter ‘I can read’ series is garbage – although they serve as great examples for how ableist and abusive people are toward her. They were clumsily and terribly written. In books such as Amelia Bedelia, Rocket Scientist? her employers joke about her perceived low intelligence, her mistakes, and get sarcastic.
- More modern Amelia Bedelia picture books are refreshingly sweet. Her parents, particularly her grandparents – are patient, accepting, and even charmed by Amelia’s language disabilities. In many of the books, their miscommunication even turns out to save the day. ‘Amelia Bedelia’s First Apple Pie‘ is one of the few Amelia Bedelia books where she isn’t shamed and ridiculed for her literal understanding of idioms. Her grandparents just accept her as she is and they are awesome
- The newer versions by the original creator’s nephew are the bees knees, and the adults in her life are kind and inclusive. It means a lot to have someone like us so well-represented in kids books.
- In Katie Loves The Kittens, Katie is shamed and ostracized for the excited way she shows love. She eventually changes her behavior to conform (not ideal, but all of us have to comply when it comes to others’ safety).
- In One Word From Sophia, her family ignores her logical, eloquent reasoning to insist she simplify her speech to a simple ‘Please.’ We disagree with the premise of this book, and use it as an example of bad parenting. Sophia is hyperlexic, and this shows the challenges even those of us on the other end of the scale from non-speaking have our own (admittedly less challenging) obstacles.
- Elwood Bigfoot – Elwood wants to make birdy friends but he just sucks at understanding and communicating with birds. We see him try and fail, again and again. This works both as a validating book for autistics, and a book for allistic kids to see that when autistic kids are being annoying, we aren’t malicious, we’re just trying to connect and kind of sucking at it. It’s a nice reminder to be patient.
- Estie The Mensch (Kohuth) 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’).
- A Tiger Called Tomás / A Tiger Called Thomas – T has social anxiety meeting new people – a frequent consequence of being rebuffed and rejected after a few years of trying to make friends and failing miserably at it. After many attempts to make friends with people who exhibit puzzling behavior, confusing social expectations, and explosive reactions to well-intentioned (but okay sure, annoying) autistic attempts at making friends, we just learn to avoid new people. Also see our unpolished list on anxiety (the social anxiety section) for more books like this.
- Shawn Loves Sharks (manley) While I love this as a story to read with my spirited autistic kid to show how his attempts to make friends can come off as aggressive, I would avoid reading Shawn as autistic-coded to allistic kids, as it would reinforce the stereotype of autism as white boy asshattery. Extraordinarily helpful for autistic kids who are still coming to grips with the idea that other people have different feelings and perspectives than they do. Perfect for first grade and older. Shawn’s shark passion is all-consuming, and we see how his goals conflict with working and playing well with others. After a few reads, I started pointing out how the cat isn’t that delighted about being chased around like a fish about to be chomped, how he chases kids around the playground, “especially Stacy, who screamed the loudest.” (Images are ambiguous and suggest Stacey might be okay with it, I wish this was clearer). and I’d ask how – while it Shawn appears to enjoy it – how does Stacey feel about that? I ask -whether those kid want to be his friend when he’s being so aggressive. We see how he’s pushing and shoving and annoying people because he wants to get the shark as his predator project, and while he’s so focused on what he wants, the other kids are annoyed by him. Eventually he makes a flub and realizes his insult hurt Stacey’s feelings, then uses his love of sharks to connect with her. Additional keywords: selfishness, entitlement, oblivousness. AAPI illustrator
- We Don’t Eat Our Classmates – higgins – this is one of the top 10 funniest books I’ve found. There are surprising elements, it’s irreverent, but not mean or naughty, and even prfaces the book with assurance that a T. rex will never eat you in real life. perfect for showing kids how THEY can be the bullies and what it feels like, SO cute and hilarious. her (a girl dinosaur!!!) over the top reaction to getting nibbled by a fish is hilarious, given that she’s been chewing on kids all week. we’re able to talk about from her perspecive, how she doesn’t understad what she’s doing wrong, how to overcome our impulses and empathize with other kids. 4+. first day of school, bullies, silly
- Library Lion – Literal Thinking & Trouble with gray areas
- Phileas’s Fortune – good for spoon theory, validating for kids who can’t communicate in ways that are socially expected
Being Frank – Why autistic honesty needs to be filtered, problematic for fat-phobia. on finding gentle ways to stay honest without being rude. not quite white lies so much as evading the truth.
- How humans make friends – (leedy) -GOSH this would have been helpful to have in kindergarten. This is perfect to explain social norms to young kids. Methodically lays out unspoken social expectations (seriously, are allistics psychic or something? How do they just know this stuff?) While the cover is a little dark and unappealing, the interior illustrations are brighter and more interesting. Most of the jokes go over the heads of preschoolers, with text like “play with spheres” but would work for kindergarten through elementary aged kids. Silly and fun introduction to mind-numbing social rituals. Making friends
- The Conversation Train – This one isn’t a story, but a didactic text/workbook to help autistics understand expected patterns of conversation and how to keep from unintentionally boring/enraging someone in a casual conversation. As an adult, I FIND THIS VERY HELPFUL! I’m super excited to have it to read with my autistic kid. Ages 5.5+, making friends
- 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 handy’ type of diversity-positive story.
- Janine and the field day finish – Janine codes as autistic, but is based on the author’s daughter with non-verbal learning disorder and Cerebral Palsy. I actually liked this one more than the original, since it relies on Janine to make the hard (easy for her) decision to help her bully, rather than leave her on the track. Acknowledges that janine can’t jump as high or run as fast or go as far as other kids – but she celebrates what she CAN do and she’s got awesome self esteem. While this book is good, I’m not a giant fan of the author because she posts shit where she lists stuff about disabilities, racial diversity, etc, and then finishes it with relaying permission: “Being different is OK!” and like, lady, I don’t need you to think it’s OKAY that I exist. I really hate it when people with privilege say crap like “It’s OK to be Black!” The fuck is that supposed to mean? When I pointed out how problematic this is, she got in my DMs about being civil and policing my tone. UGH.
- stacey coolidge’s fancy shmancy handwriting
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
- This got too big, so now it has it’s own book collection over here
Voice Modulation & Control
- Quiet Please, Owen McPhee! – barton – great for my loud, noise-sensory-seeking kid, particularly because we have the same issues. He talks over other people, makes it seem like he doesn’t care what thy have to say, misses important things he should be listening to because he’s thinking about what he wants to say, or is talking over us, interrupts, which is rude, and talks literally until he falls asleep. we see how it alienates his friends and makes them not want to hang out with him. when he gets laryngitis – this is subtle – but he boosts the voice of an asian girl who hasn’t gotten a word in, and in doing so, telling the other boys to listen to her, we see visually how she’s full of fantasic ideas. 4+, but better for 6+ autistic infodumping, impulse control, respect, manners, accomplices, communication social disabilities, autism
Lacy Walker, nonstop talker – christianne jones – lacey won’t be quiet nd never lets anyone get a word in. when she loses her voice, she finds there are benefits (like realizing that her friend tells great jokes), she has more fun watching tv and does better in school and gets bonus stuff like extra bedime books. after she gets her voice back, she still likes to talk, but now she listens too. cute story that didn’t really sink into 5.5, but maybe when he’s a bit older and cares more about social pressure, illustrations are SUPER cute, good engagement, keywords: ,interruption, social skills, impulse control, loud talkers, volume control, listening, ages 4+
‘My Mouth Is A Volcano’ – We used to use this one because there were so few books on voice modulation, but the other ones are better so you can skip it.
Personal Space & Proprioception-Seekers
- Harrison P. Spader, Personal space invader – jones – PERFECT – had to really beat Q over the head with it at 6, wish we had read it earlier. would be perfet for a bin on manspreading. covers all the things that Q does, like standing too close and invacing personal space, high-fiving too hard, shaking hands too hard and too long, hugging too much, close talking, and not staying put, interrupting and crowding adults during storytime. dad teaches him about personal space, leaving an arm away from people, harrison takes it to school and uses it in the wrong situations (in tight crowds, in line, during school picture) and they address that. illustrations are adorable. personal space, social emotional, impulse control, volume control, spirited kids, sensory seekers, autism, social disability
- Personal Space Camp – Used to use this for getting proprioception-seeking kid to give us some space, but it was clumsy and poorly written. We’ve since replaced it with Harrison P. Spader, which is much more fun to read and gets the job done.
Passions & Compulsions
- Ada Twist, Scientist is about a science-minded, hyper-focused little girl whose parents reject her interest in science and worry about her lack of speech until age 3. Like Amelia Bedelia, she’s also a neurodivergent super-hero without explicitly stating the obvious. Eventually her parents come around and stop trying to force her into behaving neurotypical.
- ‘Natsumi‘ is chastised by her family for being too loud, too fast, too much. Only her grandfather is able to see the upsides, and help her channel her intensity into taiko drumming. both kids were fine reading it at 3.5 and 5.5, but weren’t wild about it. Also works with ADHD, & normalizing girls of color (Japanese) although both makers are white
- Sophie’s Squash
- Mary Had A Little Lamp
- Imogene’s Last Stand
- The Library
- Tough Chicks
- i’m taking a trip on my train – shirley neitzel
- A Boy called Bat – arnold – loved this. autism is never mentioned, but he’s clearly autistic. dad looks semi asian, has last name ‘tam’ and mom is clearly white (although his dad doesn’t code as anything but white) which leads me to believe he’s 1/4 asian, THIS IS RARE!!! story is about his affection for Thor the skunk, not ABOUT autism, but the point of the book is to normalize autism and show it from his perspective as what he knows to be normal. Chapter book is best for 1st or 2nd grade since some of the scenes move slowly with a lot of interior thought. the way it’s written is very validating, but NT kids can probably commiserate and feel similar to what he does after reading the story. Normalizing disability, veterinarians, skunks, normalizing multiracial asians
- The real hole – this was so perfect for 3yo. All of us loved how seriously everyone took his project
- The Word Collector – reynolds – boy collects words and cherishes them, realizes he can share them in poems and songs and spread the joy. Normalizes smart & gentle black boys (with purple hair), codes as hyperlexic. Fine for age 6, but boring for 4(pre-readers).
- The Boy Who Loved Math
- 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).
- Hurry Up, Henry – lanthier – kinda boring and not worth getting again, the story is too simple. but i like the premise. henry moves slow and wants to watch everything (similar to that cute panda story), but his family is always telling him to rush. his friend Simon (asian) is always moving too fast and people tell him to slow down. this doesn’t go anywhere, unfortunately, and simon becomes a background character and thiere relationship doesn’t result in anything. then suddenly is hs birthday, and as a present his grandmother gives th family an extra hour by setting the clock forward an hour so they don’t have to rush. could have been executed better. normalizing diversity, disability (ADHD, ADD executive functioning)
- Phoebe’s Revolt – Rigidity in black and white thinking, sticking to her guns. This was complicated but adorable, I’m going to try it when the kids are older, maybe 7+
- I haven’t get found any books that validate the frustration of being slow to reticulate our splines, but I’m still looking. Book or Bell (Spires) is as close as I can come, but it lacks clarity with a meh ending. The story is a bit clumsy so it’s too distractingly confusing to be helpful.
- So Few of Me
Need for Routines, Familiarity & Rigidity to Cope With Overwhelm & Transitions
- Prickly Jenny
- Red Is Best celebrates a child’s rigid fashion choices to stick with familiar ‘safe’ clothing
- Little Tree
- Thunder Cake
- Emily – bedard – About Emily Dickinson, who was not autistic (she might have been, but I just don’t know) but she did have a disability/condition (and the privilege to indulge) keeping to home. This isn’t a particularly interesting book, but it was an intro to her self-seclusion as a recluse, which MAKES ME FEEL SEEN. something about this is SUPER comforting, knowing that I can still create good things and do cool stuff even if it’s hard to leave the house and be a ‘real’ or ‘productive outside’ person. makes me feel normal and hopeful. this story is from the eyes of a little girl who lives across the street. addlt keywords: women’s history (american), disability history, introversion. For more on exposure anxiety & autism, click through for this video by Donna Williams.
- So few of me (see more in our anxiety list)
- Also see: Anxiety unpolished list: Validating & helping kids with anxiety
Perception & Hyperfocus
- Flo – maclear – flo does everything slower than the other productive pandas who do a billion things each day. as the littlest panda, she likes to spend her time exploring and playing. other pandas are always telling her to hurry up. VERY cute illustrations. feels kind of like ‘big snow’ in intent, but not as tight in execution. slowing down, mindfulness, the importance of being little, ADHD distractibility, animals, reticulating splines
Disabled People Have Unconditional Worth As Human Beings
- Extraordinary Jane – (harrison) Autistic folks are going to get a lot of ‘I don’t think autism is a disability at all (erasure)’ and ‘autism is a gift/superpower (dehumanizing)’ – both flatten us into stereotypes, as if being autistic makes us into cartoons instead of complex humans. Particularly for kids who can’t ‘earn’ their humanity by developing some savant skill, we need to counter the narrative that the only autistics worth celebrating, who deserve housing, healthcare, human rights, and respect, are the ones who can be helpful or super-human. For these kids – this is SUPER validating. Jane is ordinary in an extraordinary world. everyone around her is amazing at something but her. eventually we see she’s just her, and that’s enough. that we don’t have to earn our worth, we’re great the way we are, even if we don’t have a special talent. illustration are hilarious and Q loved them at 5. R2 was too little to understand the concept at 3. 4+ acceptance, self-worth. Ironically, another book by this maker is fat-phobic AF.
- I Am A cat – bernstein – not much story, but i liked the message about perception and belonging. the big cats don’t believe the housecat is a real cat since it doesn’t have the same things they have…which it turns out, it does. the illustrations are perfect and adorable. Works both as an antidote to functional discrimination (where supremacists say speaking autistics aren’t ‘autistic enough’ for accomodations and non-speaking autistics are ‘too’ autistic to be valuable humans) and it can be used in terms of disability, where we are still 100% still fully human (or cat) even if we don’t look or behave like a typical human