Books About Autism for Neurotypical Kids
The #1 question I get asked in my blog’s email or social media DMs is, what books do I recommend? I often get asked by parents with a newly-diagnosed child for book suggestions on where to begin.
It’s a good question. There are more and more books on the topic coming out every day, which is fantastic, but perhaps a little overwhelming too. So I have made it my mission this year to read and review several Autism books to give you all a place to start.
Today’s books are Children’s Books, written for Neurotypical Kids (a.k.a. Kids who do not have Autism, and are developmentally typical or “normal.”). These are the kinds of books you would purchase or check out of the library if you are wanting to help your children understand an Autistic sibling, classmate, or friend.
I checked out six different titles. Here’s what I found:
A Kids Book About Autism
by Justin P. Flood & David Flood
A Kids Book About Autism is part of the A Kids Book About… series. I picked this one up to try because I have heard good things about this series. All of the titles in this series are non-fiction, dealing mostly with social topics to help parents start important conversations with their children. Each is written by a different author who has education and/or experience in the subject matter. This one is written by Father-Son duo: Justin, who is Autistic; and his father David, who is an Autism advocate and speaker.
This book is a brief introduction to Autism that focuses on the emotional/relational side of the Autistic experience. David & Justin provide a small glimpse into what it is like to be Autistic, and ask children to imagine how they would feel if they were experiencing the same things that Justin does. It encourages them to look for similarities between themselves and their Autistic friends, and to enjoy all the benefits and “awesomeness” that they have to offer. It is a brief, upbeat read that isn’t technical… which is actually a little disappointing. I feel this book waters down the technical stuff far too much. A truly curious child who wants to learn a lot about Autism, will likely leave disappointed. There are not a lot of facts, or even a good description of what Autism looks like. It focuses solely on “People with Autism are Awesome.” Don’t get me wrong, that is a good message, I just wish there was more to it. The book is very underwhelming, in my opinion.
A concern I have about this book, is a part where they mention that Justin has “outgrown” some of his Autistic behaviors. Medically speaking, this is inaccurate. People with neurodivergence (a brain/nervous system difference such as Autism, ADHD, or a SPD) are neurodivergent for life. It is how their brains and nervous systems are wired. If a person appears to “outgrow” certain behaviors or struggles, it is not because these things have become less of a challenge for them. It is because they have either,
a. Learned healthy ways of adapting and coping, or
b. They have learned unhealthy ways of masking or hiding their struggles so they can look “normal,” which is exhausting, stressful, and often leads to burnout and depression in adulthood.
The myth than you can “outgrow” Autism causes many Autistic adults to hide, or put on an act. It’s a shame that this book perpetuates that myth.
This book does not have pictures, and is suitable for mid-elementary age and up.
My Friend With Autism (Enhanced Edition)
by Beverly Bishop, Illustrated by Craig Bishop
For a more thorough explanation of Autism that is still kid-friendly My Friend with Autism by Beverly Bishop does a better job. This book was designed to be read to school children, and the illustrations reflect a school environment, so this is a good one for helping a child understand their classmate.
This book focuses more on the characteristics of Autism, helping children understand why their friend may behave the way they do. It also gives many tips on how to help their friend feel better when they are struggling with something in a classroom or recess setting.
The enhanced version of this book is wonderful! After the short story, it includes a page-by-page breakdown of the information for the teacher/parent, explaining the information more fully/scientifically. In this way, it teaches the adult as well as the child, and equips the adult to answer questions. Another perk of this edition is a CD of coloring pages based on the illustrations of the book, which is a nice resource if you are having a story hour.
One concern with this book is that it does portray a broad, and somewhat stereotypical version of Autism. This may be upsetting to someone on the Spectrum who won’t see themselves in this book. It is, however, a very difficult concern to avoid when one writes a book like this. This is because the Autistic experience varies so much from person to person.
Autism, or “Autism Spectrum Disorder” in it’s long form, is referred to as “the Spectrum” because each person experiences a mix or blend of Autistic traits. If Autism were a large rainbow–a spectrum of light–each person diagnosed with it would identify with a slightly different color or shade of the rainbow, while still medically belonging on the rainbow as a whole.
And so, by including a more thorough description of Autism than A Kids Book About Autism above, this book names many specific traits of Autism which may or may not describe every Autistic person you meet. For example, this book says that Autistic people struggle with eye contact. This is true of many people on the Spectrum, but not all. My son has always done well with eye contact. That doesn’t mean he is not Autistic; it means he just does not have this specific trait.
This concern is just something to be aware of. This book is a very helpful tool; it is just important to keep in mind that it is not a cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all description of Autism (because one simply does not exist). If you read it as intended: a children’s book to help understand your friend, and not as a medical textbook, you’ll be just fine.
This book has full-color illustrations, and can be read aloud to children as young as Kindergarten age, while still being relevant to early and mid elementary grades.
Morty the Meerkat Has Autism
by J.I. Avis, Illustrated by Joshua Nash
Morty the Meerkat Has Autism is a short fictional story about a Meerkat who is different from his siblings and friends. Mom & Dad notice it too and take him to the doctor. The Doctor tells them that Morty has Autism. He also tells them that it is not something that is “broken” and can be “fixed.” It’s up to Morty’s family, school teachers, and friends to learn more about Autism, so they can help him, and appreciate him the way he is.
This book is for young children, so it isn’t terribly technical. Still, it shares enough Autistic traits that a child may be able to recognize them in a friend.
The one concern I have with this book, is that it talks about Morty having “tantrums.” It’s true that many children on the Spectrum appear to have tantrums, so I suspect they just used a common word that everybody could understand. However, what the book was describing at that point was not actually a tantrum, it was an Autistic meltdown. They do look similar, but the reason behind them, and how you respond to them, is different.
Any child (even an Autistic child) may have a tantrum because they are overtired, hungry, or in a bad mood. The point of a tantrum is usually to get something that they want (either something tangible, like candy or a toy, or something less tangible, like “getting their own way”). The tantrum will end when the child either gets what they want, or their parent stays firm and makes it clear that a tantrum will not get them what they want, in which case they stop crying, hitting, etc… and look for other ways to get what they are after.
An Autistic meltdown has a different cause entirely. Meltdowns are caused by pain, or being overwhelmed to the point of frustration and tears. People on the Autism Spectrum are typically much more sensitive to their surroundings than others. An Autistic child or a non-verbal Autistic adult (who cannot speak to tell you what’s wrong) may walk into a grocery store with their caregiver and suddenly start crying, hitting, covering their ears, trying to run away, or otherwise “freak out” for no apparent reason at all. They are not trying to manipulate you into giving them candy or buying them a toy. They are actually overwhelmed and scared by their environment. Things that can cause meltdowns are: flickering fluorescent lights, loud noises, bad smells, too may strangers in their personal bubble, etc… The correct response to a meltdown is not to be firm or “lay down the law,” but to help reduce the person’s stress. The behavior will die down on its own once the individual feels safe again.
The tricky part for the parents/caregivers of an Autistic child is discerning in the moment which is which. For some years, trying to figure out if my son was having a meltdown and needed help and compassion, or if he was having a tantrum because he was still, after all, a toddler, and needed me to stay firm, was a full-time job! (Thankfully, he is now an 8-year-old and it’s no problem at all now to tell them apart. A meltdown still looks like fear or sensory overload, while a tantrum looks like him telling me I’m “a mean mommy” or a “poopy head.” Ahh… the joys of Motherhood.)
So there’s my little educational moment based on a children’s book. Overall, despite my pickiness about word choice, I still think that Morty the Meerkat is a nice book to have in your classroom library to start conversations early with young children.
This book is short and sweet with full-color illustrations. I would say it is suitable to be read aloud from Preschool to Grade 2.
by Jay Miletsky, Illustrated by Luis Peres
A group of paintbrushes decide to create a beautiful work of art, but one paintbrush is off to the side all alone. They invite her to join in. Later, while everyone else is working on a landscape, another paintbrush just focuses on making circles. Instead of telling him to stop, they all decide to join him and make circles too. The end result is a beautiful masterpiece, that incorporates everyone’s work.
While this book is written and published by an Autistic Foundation, it has the least information about Autism of all the ones I review today. It is less about Autism, and more about inclusion in general. So, while not being very educational, it is very accessible. It could be read to kids to encourage them to include everyone who is different, be it because of Autism, another disability, or a cultural or language difference.
This book has beautiful full-color illustrations and the story is written in rhyme. It is a quick read that you could enjoy at home on the couch or read aloud to a younger elementary class.
by Jessica Rusick
I was very impressed by this book.
Understanding Autism gives the most straightforward and comprehensive description of Autism of all the titles I review today. It describes several Autistic traits, while being careful to point out that each individual is unique. It talks about the different ways Autism appears in boys vs. girls. It discusses person-first language vs. identity-first language, explaining what each is, and encouraging kids to ask their friends which they prefer. It encourages ways to make friendships and be kind with children on the Spectrum, while still giving them permission to set personal boundaries and kindly let their Autistic friend know when they have hurt someone’s feelings.
This book contains full color photographs and illustrations, as well as charts. It’s visually appealing, succinct, and appropriate for approx. Grade 2 and up.
How to Talk to an Autistic Kid
by Daniel Stefanski
How to Talk to an Autistic Kid is written by Daniel Stefanski, a 14-year-old Autistic kid, and is by far the most personal/relatable book of the bunch. While still giving a fair amount of information about Autism, Daniel stays true to his title by focusing on how kids (and adults!) can speak to someone on the spectrum to get their attention, build friendship, and help redirect them, when necessary.
I love how this book provides actual phrases that are helpful to use. While many books will simply say, “be kind,” Daniel gives examples, and lays out a script of what he himself would understand. For example, he explains that when he gets excited (hyperfixated) on a topic, he can talk about it endlessly, and loudly. He lets his readers know that it’s ok to interrupt him, and change the subject by trying one of the following:
- I’m interested in what you’re saying, but could you keep your voice down?
- That sounds pretty cool, Daniel, but would you mind if we change the subject?
This book is definitely the most helpful one if you are looking for a book that helps build friendships, while the one just above, Understanding Autism, is the most helpful for understanding what Autism is. Together, they are a fantastic combination that would really equip children with the information, empathy, and tools to be an amazing friend to the Autistic kids they meet.
This book has monocolor cartoony illustrations. It is appropriate for approx. Grade 3+ and is still very relevant into middle school, since Daniel himself is a middleschooler.
Here is how I would rank the books I reviewed today. I hope this helps you find the right book for your classroom, or to share with your family.
For Preschool – Grade 2:
1. My Friend With Autism
2. Morty the Meerkat Has Autism
3. The Masterpiece
For Grades 3-6:
1. Understanding Autism + How to Talk to an Autistic Kid
3. A Kids Book About Autism
For Middle School (Grades 7 & 8):
1. How to Talk to an Autistic Kid
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5 thoughts on “Books About Autism: For Kids”
This is a great list of books for children and parents to read.
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Thank you. Enjoy!
“All Cats Have Asperger’s Syndrome”, now republished as “All Cats Have Autism Spectrum Disorder” by Kathy Hoopman (along with other ones she’s written about other disabilities) are quite popular, and quite good, for children. Also, there’s an older book called “Little Rainman” by Karen L. Simmons, that is quite good. (Despite the Rain Man reference). Also, I see I have one called ‘I See Things Differently” by Pat Thomas, that I liked enough to add to my library a while ago. I may have others that I like, and find useful, but I can’t see them at the moment. They’re buried in the back of that particular shelf. However, I’ve taken to keeping a running list of my favourite (and a few less favourite but still useful) resources on my webpage (for autism, other disabilities, trauma, mental health in general, and diversity in general) that might interest your readers. Here’s the link, to make it easiest for those who want it: https://howautismselfadvocacyrevolutionalizedmylife.wordpress.com/favourite-resources/
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