February 18 is International Aspergers Day, and while there’s a whole month dedicated to Autism Awareness, there are some aspects of the spectrum that deserve special attention, mostly because it keeps changing as we learn more.
Another things that keeps changing is representation in fiction (thanks in part to non-fiction). I asked Carrie Dalby, author of Corroded and Fortitude, to share some of her favorite books that touch on autism. You’ll see why at the bottom.
While no longer a diagnosed label, Asperger’s Syndrome is still set apart from the umbrella that encompasses all Autism Spectrum Disorders by those diagnosed or identifying with common “Aspie” marks (higher functioning, better speech skills, etc.) Just like any other topic, personality, hobby, career, and so on an author is going to write about, an understanding of autism—and that no one person living with an autism spectrum disorder is exactly alike—is essential for creating an authentic book. (Yes, that means watching Rainman isn’t all the research you need because the real-life person portrayed in the movie doesn’t even have autism.)
With the diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorders on the rise, chances are you know someone on the spectrum. The best way to gain empathy for anyone different than you is education and knowledge. Here are five choices for reading to discover real insight—whether fictional or non-fiction—about life with autism for teen and adult readers.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. This is a modern classic that gets you inside the rigid thinking patterns of someone with autism while unraveling a mystery. While more of a YA novel, it is most often shelved with adult books.
Thinking in Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin. Again, another modern classic, but this one is an autobiography. When reading this I discovered that the way my mind functions by mentally flipping through photos to process things isn’t the norm.
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork is a lesser-known YA novel that showcases the struggles of being left behind while your peers continue on into the adulthood with (seemingly) no issues. A gut-wrenching coming-of-age story.
Rules of Rain by Leah Scheier is a new YA novel (December 2017) with “all the feels” like the previously mentioned novel. Ethan is the character with autism and his twin sister, Rain, is the POV character, but the reader gets tidbits into Ethan’s thinking with journal entries he writes that precede many of the chapters.
And finally, anything by John Elder Robison. His breakthrough autobiography is Look Me in the Eye, but he’s written numerous in-depth books on life on the spectrum—both as being diagnosed and not. He’s my favorite voice on the spectrum. When I attended an autism conference a few years back I went to his lecture rather than Temple Grandin’s—that’s how much respect I have for him.
As for my own novel, Corroded, one of the main characters is on the spectrum. Ben began life on the page as a secondary character but early readers and critique group members fell in love with him. The scenes with Ben and Mary were their favorites and somewhere around draft forty, Ben got his own POV chapters. What is published is a shared story of friendship and coming-of-age, with a little romance.
If you have any other favorite books featuring people on the autism spectrum, I’d love to hear about them. There’s always room on my TBR shelf for book recommendations. Thanks for hosting me, Stephanie.