The 11 Best Books on Autism, According to Experts and Parents of Kids with Autism
According to the CDC, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges…The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.” Because autism can look so different from person to person, it’s helpful to seek out guidance from books, like these 11 must-reads recommended by experts in the field and parents of children with autism.
1. The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
Naoki Higashida, a smart, self-aware and charming boy with autism, wrote this memoir, which demonstrates how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives and responds, when he was just 13 years old. “This is a book dictated by a nonverbal boy with severe autism to his mom using a technique for spelling to communicate,” says Shazi Visram, the founder of Healthynest whose son, Zane, has autism. She adds, “The book will change your life and give you a window into what it's like to live in the world with autism as a child.” The Reason I Jump is also a favorite of Whitney Ellenby, an author and former U.S. Department of Justice Disability Rights attorney who’s the proud parent of a son with autism. Ellenby adds, “The format is easily digestible as a series of questions asked and answered, and sheds light on confounding topics such as why an autistic child engages in self-stimulating behaviors, verbally perseverates, echoes speech or continues to behave in ways that his parents have repeatedly discouraged.” She does stress, however, that “although some have doubted the veracity of the author's existence, the insights remain intact as a very valuable perspective for why autistic children behave in certain ways.”
2. The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism by Temple Grandin
Dr. Temple Grandin just might be the most famous autism advocate in history, and author and autism mom Mary Lynch Barbera, Ph.D., RN, BCBA-D, is a fan of her bestselling book. The latest edition “gives practical strategies and tips for many autism topics including the importance of treating autism early, avoiding excessive screen time, and finding careers for older teens and adults.” Adds Shane Kulman, an author and educator with a Masters in Early Childhood Development and Special Education Therapy, “[Grandin] shows the genius behind autism in a way that brings in compassion and understanding.”
3. Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism by Ron Suskind
This true story written by Pulitzer-prize-winning Suskind (A Hope in the Unseen) is about his son Owen, who learned to speak, analyze and communicate with others via his fascination with Disney movies. Ellenby explains, “Like many parents, the Suskinds initially struggled to connect to Owen, but upon realizing his fixation on the characters and nurturing that passion, it proved a portal through which Owen could interpret the world and the world could understand Owen's thought processes.” She adds that Life, Animated serves as a “worthwhile departure from traditional behavioral interventions, because it demonstrates how following an autistic child's natural passions can reveal means to engage and connect with the outside world.”
4. In A Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donovan & Caren Zucker
Ellenby raves, “This book is one of my favorites, because the authors are writing from a journalistic perspective about the history of autism; the rise and controversy surrounding different topics such as vaccines, applied behavioral analysis; the creation of Autism Speaks and its impact.” Basically, it’s a really interesting encyclopedia about all subjects related to autism that parents can use as a reference to understand how autism originated and how people with autism were historically treated up to and including modern times. Ellenby adds, “This is a book parents can read with a more detached perspective, meaning they can learn an enormous amount without feeling emotionally drawn in or preached to, which can be very valuable as an antidote to the breadth of personal memoirs which provoke intense emotions.”
5. Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin
Barbera also recommends this other tome by Grandin, which was originally published in 1995, and covers what it’s like to live with autism. Calling it a seminal work, Barbera says the book “details the different way [Grandin] and many autistic individuals see the world visually..” Thinking in Pictures was also made into a movie called Temple Grandin, which won several Emmy awards.
6. We Walk: Life with Severe Autism by Amy S. F. Lutz
In this collection of raw essays, Lutz writes candidly about her experience as the mother of a now 21-year-old son with severe autism. “What's unique about this book,” Ellenby maintains, “is that rather than trying to advocate for a particular vision (i.e., neurodiversity means everyone resides on the spectrum), Lutz explores autism in the context of larger social issues such as: What is the place of intellectually and developmentally disabled people in society? Who should decide for those who cannot decide for themselves? What is the meaning of religion to someone with no abstract language?” She adds that Lutz’s insights, while seen through the lens of severe autism, also stand alone as fascinating observations on issues such as inclusion, religion, therapeutics and friendship.
7. All My Stripes by Shaina Rudolph
Visram also recommends this children’s book about a young zebra who feels different from the rest of his classmates because of his "autism stripe." She explains that she reads it to Asha, Zane's little sister, to help explain to her why her brother is different.
8. Positive Parenting for Autism by Victoria Boone
“Using the science of applied behavior analysis (ABA), Positive Parenting for Autism is a practical guide provides concrete tools for parents to make plans to increase ‘good’ behaviors like talking and self-care skills and also to decrease tantrums and other problem behaviors often associated with autism,” Barbera explains.
9. Flexible and Focused: Teaching Executive Function Skills to Individuals with Autism and Attention Disorders by Adel Najdowski
This practical manual is essential for individuals who work with learners ages five to adult who have autism or ADHD, Barbera notes. The book takes the perspective that executive function skills can be improved through effective intervention, just like any other skills. Barbera adds that it’s hugely helpful to people working with folks who struggle with executive function deficits like problem solving, attention and emotional self-regulation.
10. Turn Autism Around: An Action Guide for Parents of Young Children with Early Signs of Autism by Mary Lynch Barbera
Barbera’s own book is about empowering parents, caregivers and early intervention professionals to regain hope and take back control with simple strategies to dramatically improve outcomes for their children. Combining the science of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and a positive, child-friendly methodology, Barbera argues that parents can make a tremendous impact on their child's development through behavioral practices taught at home—even in as little as 15 minutes a day.
11. Let Me Hear Your Voice: A Family's Triumph over Autism by Catherine Maurice
The true story of a mother who discovered that two of her three children had autism, Let Me Hear Your Voices explores how she treated both with ABA (applied behavioral analysis), ultimately resulting in tremendous progress. Ellenby notes, “The book is beautifully written, very absorbing and honest about how this mother felt throughout the journeys with both children. Significantly, the author never craters into truly devastating feelings that might overwhelm the reader, rather the story is a granular description of how ABA, used diligently and early, can reach and draw out even the most impacted child.” She does warn, however, to take the story as one mother’s experience versus a universal truth, “as it can foster exaggerated hope in the virtues and efficacy of ABA.”