Finding books for autistic children or with neurodivergent characters is not always easy, especially when you are looking for stories that are engaging, meaningful, and not entirely didactic. I’ve compiled a list of stories new and old I think you and your kids will love!
Books for autistic children are vital stories for all
I understand the reality of parenting a child with unique needs. I have one myself. There are fears, challenges, miracles, and moments that make you cry from sheer joy— and exhaustion, too.
Each milestone your incredible child reaches is miraculous, but, as I know from experience: it can be a long, hard road to achieve these milestones, and a challenging one, too.
Stories have always been a prominent part of our world, but after my little one’s stroke, finding books about neurodivergent children became a priority for me to share with my sweet boy.
We need more authentic stories about autism and neurodivergence
It was frustrating to discover that the amazing parents and therapists I met on our journey simply didn’t have stories to read to their children or patients featuring autistic or neurodiverse children. 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 awareness and social skills, among other things. So where were the stories featuring these courageous kids?
They were — and still are — needed desperately.
There’s been a huge push in recent years to showcase our beautiful, diverse world in more prominent ways. And luckily, from a new addition to the Sesame Street team (who else loves Julia?!), to some fantastic new books featuring neurodiverse characters, this push has included a campaign to raise awareness about autism and neurodiversity, including efforts to foster empathy and understanding.
I’ve been so heartened by the recent stories that have come into our lives featuring neurodiverse children! We are incredibly passionate about this book list and the valuable stories you will find here, and we truly hope you find the following titles as beautiful and important as we do. Happy reading!
Frequently asked questions
According to Autism Speaks, autism, also referred to as autism spectrum disorder or “ASD,” “refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 36 children in the United States today.”
It is important for children to read stories about all kinds of people. Reading fosters empathy and gives kids a deeper understanding about our beautiful, diverse world. Even if your child is not neurodivergent, he will likely come across someone who is, whether in a classroom, on the playground, or at a friend’s home. Reading helps children learn about others and respond to differences with compassion.
I love A Friend for Henry, by Jenn Bailey and Mika Song. It is a beautiful book about a neurodivergent child who seeks nothing more than a good friend. It is tender, authentic and compassionate.
We love these books for autistic children
We fell in love with this book right from the start for the way it 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. This is also a wonderful story for children with anxiety about making friends.
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!
I can’t tell you how excited I am about this brand new “Little Senses” series that helps children explore the five senses and sensory disorders. 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 — especially one 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!
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 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. This is another fabulously sensitive portrayal of a child with autism or sensory processing disorder! For our full review of the Little Senses series, click here!
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!
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.
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!
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 is 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.
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 of those with neurological differences.
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.
Temple Grandin loved many 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.