Inside: Finding books for autistic children and neurodiverse kids is not always easy, especially when you are looking for stories that are engaging, meaningful, and not entirely didactic. I’ve recently discovered some new books, and I’ve compiled a list of stories new and old I think you and your kids will love!
Books for Autistic Children and Neurodiverse Kids
As the mom of a precious boy who had a stroke when he was just ten days old, I understand the reality of parenting a child with unique needs. There are fears, challenges, miracles, and moments that make you cry from sheer joy— and exhaustion, too.
The day my son smiled, right on time at six weeks old, was momentous. The day he sat up, the day he crawled, the day he walked- all were days that epitomized the phrase “anything is possible,” because there was a time we didn’t know if these milestones would be reached.
Each milestone is miraculous, but, let me tell you: it can be a hard, long road to achieve them, and a challenging one, too. We still battle motor deficits and sensory challenges among other things, but I’m so grateful for the help we now have… and for the terrific books that are finally being published for and about neurodiverse kids.
Books for Autistic & Neurodiverse Children Help Brain Development & Social Skills!
Stories have always been a prominent part of our world, but after Bo’s stroke, finding books featuring neurodiverse children became a priority for me.
It was frustrating to discover that the amazing parents and therapists I met on our journey simply didn’t have books to read to their children or patients featuring characters with similar challenges. There were so few books that weren’t didactic but nonetheless conveyed the hard days and small wins of a child with unique needs.
It is no surprise that reading with neurodiverse children is critically important as it helps develop language, enhance listening skills, and build emotional connections and social skills, among other things. So where were the stories featuring these courageous kids?
They were — and still are — needed desperately.
Whether it’s autism or ADHD, sensory processing disorder or dyslexia, books for autistic and neurodiverse children are critical for healthy emotional development, especially when it comes to self empowerment and confidence. Just like neurotypical children, neurodiverse children need books to reinforce the fact that they are valued in our homes, schools and communities.
Luckily, in recent years, from a new addition to the Sesame Street team (who else loves Julia?!), to some fantastic new children’s stories, there has been a push among many industries to create awareness about autism and neurodiversity, including efforts to foster empathy and and understanding, too.
Books About Neurodiverse Kids are Vital for Fostering Empathy and Understanding in Neurotypical Children
Books about autistic children and neurodiverse kids are critically important for neurotypical children to read. Reading about students they might find in their classrooms, kids they may see on the playground, or even siblings in their own homes is crucial for building an understanding of neurodiversity based on fact, not stigma. All children need to read these wonderful books to build compassion for kids on different developmental journeys, to understand that autism and neurodiversity manifest themselves differently in every child, and to do their part in combating misconceptions and promoting compassion.
We are so passionate about this book list, and the stories you will find here, and we truly hope you find the following titles as valuable and important as we do.
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Books for Autistic Children & Neurodiverse Kids:
Stories Featuring a Neurodiverse Protagonist
A Friend for Henry, by Jenn Bailey and illustrated by Mika Song: We fell in love with this book right from the start for the way it immediately helps kids build compassion for Henry as he searches for a friend in Classroom Six. But Henry is on the autism spectrum, and when his day becomes too close and too loud, Henry wonders if he will ever find a friend who will listen and share and like things to stay in just the right order like he does. Sensitive, authentic, and compassionate, we simply adore this story about a literal child who eventually finds what he desires most - a new friend.
Nope. Never. Not for Me!, by Samantha Cotterill: I can’t tell you how excited I am about this brand new “Little Senses” series. We love “own voices” books for the way they so authentically portray typically marginalized communities, and this series, written and illustrated by a fabulous woman with Asperger’s, just knocks them out of the park. This sweet book helps kids with autism or sensory disorders tackle that all too familiar challenge: trying a new food — or a food that looks weird or squishy or too green or too slimy or too prickly! In this story, it’s broccoli. But thanks to the way Mom helps her daughter carefully and thoughtfully explore the vegetable on the plate before her, the child sniffs it, touches it, and takes a bite. And what do you know? It’s not so bad after all. This one is SUCH a gem! For our full review of the Little Senses series, click here!
Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap, by Clay Morton & Gail Morton and illustrated by Alex Merry: This book is told from the perspective of a neurodiverse boy who can’t understand why his neurotypical friend Johnny is a bit, well, different! Johnny is never quite on time, he speaks in the strangest idioms, and he can’t possibly stick to a routine. I absolutely love the way this simple book flips everything we know about “normal” behavior on its head and conveys that even when we don’t quite understand why people act the way we do, we can still respect one another and form wonderful friendships!
This Beach is Loud!, by Samantha Cotterill: Another book in the Little Senses series, this is a fabulous story about what happens when a day at the beach turns too loud and too sandy for one sensitive boy. Preparing to see the ocean is so exciting, but when you get there, and things get overwhelming, what to do? One clever dad has some ideas and tricks to help his little one work through the sounds, sites and sensations that are a bit too much to handle. Another fabulously sensitive portrayal of a child with autism or sensory processing disorder! For our full review of the Little Senses series, click here!
Books for Autistic Children & Neurodiverse Kids:
Stories Featuring a Neurodiverse Sibling or Friend
My Brother Charlie, by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete and illustrated by Shane Evans: Charlie’s big sister knows there are things that are harder or more challenging for Charlie than other kids, but she also knows that there are a ton of things that Charlie does really well. This book beautifully showcases the compassion and acceptance one little girl develops for her younger brother, and most of all, it shows that there are no limitations on love, no matter what kind of differences we each face.
Benji, the Bad Day and Me, by Sally J. Pla and illustrated by Ken Min: Sammy is having a bad day, and when he gets home from school he is convinced that no one notices his challenges. His brother Benji is autistic, and he’s having a bad day, too. When Benji feels bad, he has a cozy play-box to lie in so he can feel safe again, but Sammy doesn’t have one. Just when Sammy thinks no one cares about his bad day, someone surprises him and helps Sammy feel safe, too, in the best way possible. Absolutely love this treasure!
Be a Friend, by Salina Yoon: This is one of my all time favorite stories! Here, we are introduced to a young mime, who never talks or uses words to convey his emotions. He goes through his days in solitude until he is befriended by a little girl who catches his make-believe ball. The beauty of this story lies in the fact that Dennis's new friend never attempts to make Dennis speak. Instead, the readers see that their newfound friendship transcends words, and we can easily find ways to accept one another -- both for our similarities and our differences. For our full review of Be a Friend, click here!
My Brother Otto, by Meg Raby and illustrated by Elisa Pallmer: Piper’s little brother Otto is on the autism spectrum, and he has a unique way of exploring the world. But Otto’s quirkiness doesn’t prevent Piper and Otto from having adventures together. As the two engage in everyday experiences, Piper’s keen understanding of her brother’s differences are showcased so beautifully in the way she helps him navigate their interactions. We love this terrific new book about siblings, kindness and the way one big sister has a special role in helping her brother learn about the world.
A Friend like Simon, by Kate Gaynor and illustrated by Caitriona Sweeny: This is a great story about an autistic boy named Simon who joins Matthew’s class at a mainstream school. Though Matthew initially tries to befriend Simon, he eventually tires of Simon’s differences. Yet, a trip to the fun fair changes everything, as Matthew realizes that patience and compassion are the keys to friendship. I love this exploration of the children’s differences and similarities, showcasing how kids can be accepting and understanding to those with neurological differences.
Books for Autistic Children & Neurodiverse Kids:
Stories About ADHD and Dyslexia
Thank You Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco: When Trisha started school, she was an excellent artist. Yet, when she looked at words on paper, all she saw was a huge jumble. One very special teacher helped Trisha discover that she was dyslexic. This teacher never gave up on her and encouraged her to overcome her reading challenges. Any child struggling with dyslexia will fall in love with this true story from Polacco’s childhood, find himself in these pages, and be heartened by Trisha’s eventual success. Brilliant!
Baby Dragon, Baby Dragon!, by Melissa Marr and illustrated by Lena Podesta: Even young dragons can exhibit hyperactive behavior, and in this boisterous story, one baby dragon can’t sit still. He always manages to create tons of commotion in the kingdom! One day, a little girl decides she is up for the challenge of spending the day with Baby Dragon, and the two adventure throughout the kingdom. They swoop and soar and fly — until the moment they realize they both need time to enjoy a quiet moment.
My Mouth is a Volcano, by Julia Cook and illustrated by Carrie Hartman: There’s no doubt that Louis is going to somehow interrupt whoever is around him at a given moment. Why? He just can’t help it — his thoughts are important, he always has something to say, and he just suddenly erupts. But erupting isn’t always polite, nor is it respectful. I love the way this book teaches social skills in a tangible, fun way, with great illustrations that help children visualize their eruptions — and interruptions — and wait patiently for their turn to speak.
Books for Autistic Children:
Empowering True Stories for Kids
The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin, by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley: When Temple Grandin wasn't talking at age 3, she was never expected to speak. Yet, this remarkable woman, currently a spokesperson for autism, eventually went on to become one of the most powerful and quirky voices in modern science. Due to her unique mind, Grandin was able to connect with animals in a unique manner, which allowed her to invent groundbreaking improvements for farms worldwide.
How to Build a Hug: Temple Grandin and Her Amazing Squeeze Machine, by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville and illustrated by Giselle Potter: Temple Grandin loved so many of the things as a child, like paper airplanes, making obstacle courses and building. But there were also things Temple didn’t love -- things like scratchy socks, bright lights, and most of all, hugs. Though she wanted a hug desperately, hugs felt like being stuck inside the scratchiest, most awful socks in the entire world. But one day, she came up with an idea— she would build a hug machine This incredible story showcases Grandin’s ingenuity and how she set out to fix one of the issues that most frustrated her in a unique and creative way. Though this book is an absolute winner for neurodiverse kids, it is a brilliant story for every child, proving that no dream is too big to conquer, and no challenge too hard to fix.