As a high school librarian, I’m always trying to put books into the hands of students that reflect their lives and backgrounds. Tweens and teens will always seek out escapist books in my opinion, yet they will also consistently fall back on books where they can see themselves. It’s a very important part of growing up and one that has been sorely lacking in literature for a very long time. This can be a huge struggle sometimes, but the challenge can also be rewarding when you do find that perfect book.
Working in a school, you get to meet students from many different backgrounds and those who have many different experiences and challenges. Finding books for autistic tweens and teens that will reflect what they are feeling and experiencing is really, really tough because there is a wide spectrum of experiences and emotions when we are considering autism. Books that cover these types of topics are hugely important because it allows those who are neurotypical to attempt to step into the shoes of someone who is neurodiverse, at least for a little while. It’s never fully possible to live inside someone’s mind, but in my experience, reading books on the subject — especially through fiction — is one of the best ways to do this.
Because it’s so important for tweens to be able to see themselves in literature, it’s disappointing that I was unable to find many titles by authors of color published on this subject. I hope that publishing prioritizes putting out more of those soon.
From middle grade novels to guides for neurodiverse teens, these are some of the best middle grade books for autistic tweens and teens.
A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll
This is an #OwnVoices book about an autistic girl named Addie who discovers that her small Scottish village had a hand in executing witches hundreds of years ago. Determined to get the local government to build a memorial for these women, Addie discovers a lot about herself and the world around her. This is one of the best books featuring an autistic protagonist out there.
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erksine
A very touching book about loss and hope, Mockingbird is about a 5th grade autistic girl named Caitlin who loses her brother in a school shooting. He was her anchor, therefore she feels completely lost without her. Erksine wrote the novel to help see through the eyes of her autistic daughter.
Can You See Me? by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott
Another powerful #OwnVoices story, this about an 11-year-old girl named Tally who just wants to fit into a world that doesn’t seem to want her, at least from her perspective. Tally must navigate a new school, new bullies and the loss of old friends as she copes with sensory overload, new peer and schedule pressures and more.
Do You Know Me? by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott
This also stars Tally from Can You See Me? It’s an insightful and heartbreaking story about Tally’s school trip and her foray into the “popular group.” What she realises, though, is that although the girls might be popular, they actually aren’t very nice.
Rules by Cynthia Lord
Rules follows 12-year-old Catherine and her younger brother David (inspired by Lord’s own autistic son). David is autistic and Catherine tries to keep him from doing anything embarrassing in public — only to break her own rules and have to reassess what she’s been enforcing. This is an autism-friendly story about friendship and learning, well worth a read.
The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
Told through a series of questions posed to a 13-year-old autistic boy, this brilliant book can help neurotypical people better understand autism. For any autistic child, it is an amazing way to connect with someone who may feel the same way they are feeling — a truly powerful read.
The Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide by Siena Castellon
With a foreword by Temple Grandin, this is a guide for tweens to help them cope with sensory overload, anxiety, depression, and social interactions. Written by Siena Castellon, a teen neurodiversity advocate sensation, it’s a brilliant guide full of personal experiences and written for anyone to survive school and life in general.
What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew Edited by Paige Ballou
Written by multiple authors in short, sharp chunks, this is a hard hitting look at autistic artists and authors retelling things they wish they could have gotten through to their parents when they were young. Any young autistic girl could empathise with these often heartbreaking stories.
Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll
Another powerhouse novel by Elle McNicoll, this one is set in the near future and focuses on a tech company that uses holograms to bring people “back” from the dead. When the owner of the company asks Cora, an autistic girl and sister of one of his employees, to take part in the program, she is intrigued. As Cora unravels their plans she realises she must fight to have her voice heard loud and clear. Don’t miss this!
Me and Sam Sam Handle the Apocalypse by Susan Vaught
This is an #OwnVoices story about a girl named Jesse whose father is arrested for stealing money from a town fundraiser. As she makes the rounds and tries to make the police realise he’s innocent, a deadly tornado strikes the town and Jesse must use all of her skills to save her and those around her.
Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachman
Rogue is an #OwnVoices story about Kiara, a girl who can’t seem to make friends or stop people from making fun of her. Her only friend is the internet, but even the internet can’t answer the questions to her problems. When she gets kicked out of school, she feels like all is lost, and her only hope is to become more like Rogue, her favourite X-Men character.
Real by Carol Cujec
People assume that Charity can’t learn or isn’t smart because she can’t speak and jumps, howls and rocks in unpredictable ways. The opposite is true, but when Charity’s parents enrol her in a public school, she will face some major challenges in regards to acceptance, bullying and determination. A true winner, Real should not be missed.
The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family by Sarah Kapit
Twelve-year-old Lara starts her own detective agency and she doesn’t want her sister Caroline to join in — but she does, of course. Soon they have their first baking-related mystery, but then another mystery unfolds. Caroline normally uses a tablet to communicate, but now she’s texting a friend, and Lara feels like they are up to no good!
The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla
Charlie’s father, a war journalist, has been injured in Afghanistan, and he sees his own life unravel before his eyes. As he travels to see him, he decides that if he can spot all of the birds that he and his father were hoping to see one day, then everything will be alright. Full of laughter and tears, this is another autism-friendly story with a lot of heart.
Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos
A beautiful story about an autistic girl named Nova who sees the world different than anyone else, this novel will help readers see the world inside her mind in an intricate and empathetic way. Autistic audiences will find a new friend in Nova, without a doubt.
Find even more books about neurodiversity here!