As some of you may know, April is Autism Awareness Month. I don’t have autism, and I don’t have anyone in my immediate family with autism, so I can’t claim to know what it’s like to be on the spectrum or to love someone who is.
I think, though, that it’s our duty as people to acquaint ourselves with the struggles of others, to educate ourselves on things unfamiliar to us, and to see differences in a positive light. Books play a significant role in introducing us to the lives of others because reading connects us to what we don’t understand, and offers us a path to learning more about what we don’t know. When it comes to autism, I believe that it’s highly important to read books about the condition – they provide an inside look at the thoughts, actions, and feelings of people on the spectrum.
Some of the books below are fiction, some are not. Some are written by authors with autism or authors who love someone with autism, some are not. But all of these books are informative, enlightening, and compelling, making them essential reads for everyone this April.
The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism
This absolutely remarkable memoir is not like anything you’ve read before. The Reason I Jump is written by Naoki Higashida, an extremely intelligent and self-aware thirteen-year-old boy with severe autism. Naoki uses an alphabet grid to construct words, sentences, and thoughts that he is unable to speak out loud and in the book, he demonstrates how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives, and responds in ways few of us can imagine. He answers every question about autism, even the most difficult ones, in an attempt to help others understand what it’s like to live in a different world. It’s honest and powerful, and a must-read for everyone this month.
Rebecca L. Brown
This emotional debut novel centers on the relationship between a determined mother named Piper, her autistic son, and her distant father, who recently suffered a detrimental heart-attack. The book documents the transformation of Piper’s relationship with her father over time, from abuse to detachment, and then dependency later in life. It also chronicles how her autistic son, Fred, tries to find his place in all of the craziness. Flying at Night gives a voice to Fred, shows just how strong a mother of an autistic child has to be, and demonstrates that love can develop in even the most unexpected places, between the most unexpected people.
My Life with Autism
Temple Grandin is an icon in the world of autism because she broke through boundaries to make herself, and others like her, visible for the first time. Temple was a child with autism in a world that didn’t quite know what that meant, which made her early life very difficult, to say the least. But she went on to become a prominent author and speaker on both autism and animal behavior – she is a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, and HBO made an Emmy Award-winning movie about her life. She was even inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016. Although all of her books are essential reads for this month, I decided to feature Thinking in Pictures, which chronicles her experiences as both a scientist and an autistic person.
Arthur Fleischmann and Carly Fleischmann
In this international bestseller, advocate for Autism awareness Arthur Fleischmann intertwines his daughter Carly’s own words with his experiences as the father of a severely autistic child. At the age of two, Carly Fleischmann was diagnosed with severe autism and an oral motor condition that prevented her from speaking. As a result, she had trouble establishing relationships with others, including her own father. At the age of ten, however, Carly had a breakthrough – she was able to type and communicate through the computer. Since then, Carly has found her voice, and herself, in the process. Carly’s Voice was one of the first books to showcase life with autism, and Carly’s story is a vital one for Autism Awareness Month.
This heart-warming debut novel is written by Helen Hoang, a romance fan, and now author, who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2016. The Kiss Quotient is a hilarious, charming, and evocative novel about Stella Lane, a thirty-year-old woman who has Asperger’s, is obsessed with math, and struggles to understand intimacy in relationships. Stella makes the decision to get professional help in the romance department, so she hires an escort to show her the ropes. What follows is something that surpasses all of Stella’s expectations – this story serves as a reminder that love can grow and flourish in everyone, even those who don’t quite understand it.
My Life with Asperger's
John Elder Robison
John Elder Robison is a world-recognized authority on life with autism and the New York Times bestselling author of this book, which tells the moving story of his life with autism. From the time that he was a young child, John struggled to connect with people – he had a hard time making eye contact and holding a conversation with others. No one understood what was causing this at the time, and no one cared to know any better. It wasn’t until John was forty that he was diagnosed with a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome. This diagnosis transformed the way he saw himself and the world around him, and in Look Me in the Eye, he writes about deeply personal experiences that are invaluable to those struggling with autism today.
Sarah Hendrickx was diagnosed autistic with Asperger syndrome at the age of 43, after she had written several books on the subject. She wondered how she didn’t see it in herself for so long, and that’s when it clicked: Autism in women is so invisible that Sarah did not even recognize it in herself. Sarah wrote this book to analyze the difference that being female makes to the diagnosis, life, and experiences of a person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. She presents both research and personal stories about girls and women on the autism spectrum to paint an accurate portrait of what it means to be a woman with autism. Written for professionals, women on the spectrum, and their families, this book is essential for understanding the lives of autistic women in the world today.
As a child, Donna Williams was an outcast due to her differences, labelled as “disturbed,” “stupid,” and “insane.” She was isolated from the outside world and from herself – she was, in her words, a Nobody Nowhere. After twenty-five long years of being misunderstood, Donna finally came across the term autism, and for the first time in her life, she was able to label herself in a positive manner with a word that defined her life and struggles. This book is about Donna’s life with autism, how she managed to overcome both inner and outer chaos and become her own woman, and how she achieved great success despite the world working against her.
Bestselling author of Thinking in Numbers Daniel Tammet returns with this fascinating read that documents his journey with severe autism. Unlike many others with his degree of autism, Daniel is able to clearly communicate his thoughts and feelings and live a completely independent life. He explains in detail how he can see numbers as shapes, colors, and textures, and perform extraordinary calculations in his head. Daniel has savant syndrome, an extremely rare condition that gives him the most unimaginable mental powers. He can learn to speak new languages fluently, from scratch, in a week, and he has memorized and recited more than 22,000 digits of pi. This book reminds us that differences aren’t necessarily a bad thing – sometimes, they bring with them extraordinary gifts.
The Story of Autism
John Donvan and Caren Zucker
This extraordinary narrative history of autism was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction for good reason. John Donvan and Caren Zucker join forces to explore autism, from the very beginning to today. They travel back in time, nearly seventy-five years ago, to when Donald Triplett of Forest, Mississippi became the first child diagnosed with autism. From there, they document the history of autism through the stories of mothers and fathers of children with autism, doctors and scientists who pioneered our understanding of autism, lawyers who took the families’ battle for education to the courtroom, and those with autism, like Temple Grandin, Alex Plank, and Ari Ne’eman, who explained their inner worlds and championed the philosophy of neurodiversity. In a Different Key doesn’t shy away from controversial topics, and takes us on a journey from ignorance to understanding autism.
My Journey Through Autism
Dawn Prince-Hughes, Ph.D.
In this compelling memoir, Dr. Dawn Prince-Hughes traces her personal growth from undiagnosed autism to the moment when, as a young woman, she entered the Seattle Zoo and immediately became fascinated with the gorillas. Having suffered from a lifelong inability to relate to people in a meaningful way, Dawn was surprised to find herself irresistibly drawn to these great primates. By observing them and, later, working with them, she was finally able to emerge from her solitude and connect to living beings in a way she had never previously experienced.