April is Autism Awareness Month, and despite gaining much more recognition in recent years, autism is still misunderstood by most people – even by some people who are autistic themselves. With an increasing number of adults and children being diagnosed with autism, it’s important for all of us to have a better understanding of neurodivergence and how we can make the world a more understanding a supportive place for autistic people.
Here are five book recommendations for those who are looking to learn more about autism and what it’s like for those who are autistic. There is a saying in the autistic community: Nothing for us without us. Keeping with that spirit, most of these books are by autistic authors.
NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman
As a writer for Wired, it wasn’t uncommon for Silberman to conduct interviews with Silicon Valley geniuses. Before long, though, he started noticing a pattern: Many of the people he interviewed seemed to have children that were autistic. Had he discovered a new Silicon Valley Syndrome? Or was autism on the rise? Silberman’s book takes an in-depth look at the history of autism – from Hans Asperger’s and Leo Kanner’s first revelations to current-day research – and explores how the rise of technology may have created the perfect space for neurodivergent people to thrive. This book gives a great overview of autism for those just delving into the topic who want to learn more about the history of the diagnosis and some of the treatments and political movements surrounding it.
Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin
It would be hard to have a list of books about autism without including Grandin. As one of the first adults to speak openly about her experiences with being autistic, she is one of the most well-known autistic people in the nation. In Thinking in Pictures, Grandin takes us through her childhood up to adulthood and what it’s like to live inside the autistic mind. She explains how she experiences interacting with other people, how she envisions her work projects, and why it’s so important to have autistic thinkers as part of our society.
Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison
Although Robison wasn’t diagnosed with autism until late adulthood, he does an incredible job in this memoir relating how autism impacted him throughout his life. Another common saying among the autistic community is: If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person. Reading memoirs from multiple autistic people shows how true this is. Autism showed up in different ways for Robison than for other authors on this list, and his life story is fascinating – at one point, he designed guitars that lit up and smoked for the rock band Kiss, among other things. His audiobook has become one that many people who work with autistic children and adults use as an example of the type of speech patterns some autistic people have.
Uncomfortable Labels by Laura Kate Dale
According to some studies, there is a significant correlation between autism and identifying as LGBTQ+. This led me to explore books on being transgender and autistic, and I found Uncomfortable Labels by Dale. This book helps to consider how we gender children’s behavior and how that impacts what we view as “normal” behavior. For example, historically, it was not believed that girls could be autistic because autism presented as quiet, antisocial behavior. Most young girls were expected to be quiet already, so it could be hard to identify when their quiet behavior crossed over into antisocial behavior, according to the autistic diagnosis. Thinking about all of this through the lens of a transgender girl flips a lot of these gendered norms and makes you think about how harmful that can be for all children.
The Secret Life of a Black Aspie by Anand Prahlad
Unfortunately, there are far too few books by autistic authors of color available currently – a trend that hopefully changes in the future. This book is a little different in some ways from the others on this list. Written by a poet and professor, it is more lyrical in tone than the others, but it is also a vibrant look at what it means to be a Black man who is autistic. Prahlad writes about tasting people, the colors of cities, and seeing spirits while also explaining sensitive days and the masks he's had to wear to survive.
These are just a few of the many books and other resources available to help you learn more about autism. I hope you’ll consider taking some time this April to explore neurodivergence and how you can support the autistic people in your life.
Kristen Abell (she/her) is the webmaster at Mental Health America and a writer.