Saturday, April 21, 2012

Recommended books for readers on the autism spectrum

Cover image: All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome
Cover image: All Cats have Asperger Syndrome
Welcome to my curated list of books for people on the autism spectrum and their allies. While my primary intended audience is people who are on the spectrum, I believe that parents, caregivers, professionals and other advocates will find much of value here too. There are many books written about us, and I have found it much more difficult to find books that speak directly to the person who is on the spectrum. In compiling this list, I sought to fill that void.

Many of these books can be found in a local or regional library; lists multiple resources via member libraries’ online public access catalogs. Where available, I display the most frequent classifications under Dewey and Library of Congress systems as determined by OCLC Classify.


Juvenile fiction

Carlson, Nancy and Armond Isaak: Armond Goes to a Party
The title character prepares for and successfully navigates a birthday party for his friend Felicia. This picture book accurately captures the problematic aspects that a person on the autism spectrum regularly has to face when s/he navigates the social scene.

For neurotypicals, the book offers reasons why certain types of social settings might be painful for a person on the autism spectrum, but that there are ways to help mitigate the stress. At the same time, the book illustrates for autistic readers the necessity of sometimes socializing as a way of being a good friend. The character of Armond models successfully completing that social obligation.

Frankel, Erin: Weird! trilogy (Weird!, Dare! and Tough!)
A case of third-grade bullying is told from the perspectives of the target, a bystander, and the child who initiated the bullying in Weird!, Dare! and Tough!, written by Erin Frankel and illustrated by Paula Heaphy.

While none of the characters specifically occupy the autism continuum, bullying is a problem that people with ASD are especially at risk of suffering. Our difficulties understanding complex social settings are not always met with acceptance and we are frequently targets of bullying.

Each story in this set can be read by itself, but I believe that reading all three will supply a richer experience. These books have steadily been checked out and read since they were added to an Ashland school library.

Middle-grade fiction

Baskin, Nora Raleigh: Anything But Typical
In Anything But Typical, 12-year-old narrator Jason Blake confronts the contradictions of the neurotypical world. His creative-fiction writing is a valuable strength that he draws upon for insight.

Anything But Typical was a recipient in 2010 of the Schneider Family Book Award, ages 11 to 13 division, which honors “artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”

Dooley, Sarah: Livvie Owen Lived Here
Olivia “Livvie” Owen and her family are evicted from their home after Livvie responds with an outburst to an unexpected sound. Livvie is determined to return with her family to a house where they used to live, believing they were all happy there. This reader sympathized with Livvie and found it a joy to accompany her as she gained insight and maturity.

Dowd, Siobhan: The London Eye Mystery
Can the theories of weather phenomena apply to human behavior? The protagonist, Ted Spark, brings his unique perspective to a “sealed-room” mystery: his cousin Salim went up in a pod on the “London Eye” Ferris wheel, but didn’t emerge afterward.

Geus, Mireille: Piggy; translated by Nancy Forest-Flier
The protagonist in this book is a 12-year-old girl with autism who is ridiculed by her schoolmates. Her dilemma is compounded by someone purportedly her friend who tries to influence her to do destructive, harmful things.

Martin, Ann: Rain Reign
Rose’s dog Rain provides consolation and solace in her lonely life. Rain’s name is extra special because it’s a double homonym; the words “Rain,” “Reign” and “Rain” all sound alike, but have different meanings. When Rain goes missing, Rose executes a careful plan to find her. But to do the right thing, Rose must make a very difficult choice.

(Readers, be aware: promotional and review copy for this book rely on “functioning labels” in reference to the protagonist’s autism. Use of these labels is controversial among members of the autism community. I recommend reading Bec Oakley’s essay at, “The Problem With Functioning Labels,” to understand the issues for concern.)

Ursu, Anne: The Real Boy
In the cellar beneath a magician’s shop, a young boy named Oscar enjoys a life of quiet routine — of gathering herbs from his master’s garden and then grinding them for use while the household cats keep him company. When terrifying and unexplained events plague the community, Oscar must emerge from his cellar sanctuary. Fascinating portrayal of an autistic character in a realm of fantasy where the diagnosis does not exist.

Young Adult fiction

Duyvis, Corinne: On the Edge of Gone
Minutes before a meteor strikes the earth, Denise and her mother are granted temporary shelter aboard a “generation ship,” designed for a journey that will take several lifetimes to travel to distant planets.

During the few days that remain until the ship is ready to launch, Denise is desperate to find her sister Iris, to keep her mother clean from drugs and to win a place for her and for her family aboard the generation ship.

I related to Denise’s uncertainty for the future and grief at everything she had lost, the awkwardness she feels having to relate to the people around her and the comfort of having something familiar in the midst of so many changes.

Haddon, Mark: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The protagonist, a 15-year-old boy with autism, sets out to investigate the mysterious death of a neighborhood dog and it leads him to uncover unexpected revelations about his family. The novel’s title refers to an observation by Sherlock Holmes in one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. The protagonist of Haddon’s novel is fascinated by the prospect of solving a case just like Holmes.

Martin, Vicky and students of Limpsfield Grange: M in the Middle
Cataloging information unavailable
M, a teenager recently diagnosed with autism, navigates school and social expectations while plagued by near-constant anxiety. She tries to shape her life to follow the “normal” life-event trajectory as defined by the greeting cards at her local Card Emporium and the idyllic life depiction of her television-drama idol, but can’t sustain the social “masks” she adopts to navigate friendship and dating. Written by students of Limpsfield Grange School in England with creative-writing teacher Vicky Martin, in an effort to combat ignorance in society about how girls experience autism.

Miller, Ashley Edward and Zack Stentz: Colin Fischer
The school bully is accused of bringing a gun to school after it goes off in the school cafeteria. The title character, 14-year-old Colin Fischer, believes him to be innocent and decides to solve the mystery.

The skills of detection with which Fischer responds to life serve him well in approaching this mystery. Fischer’s observations in his notebook and authors’ footnotes to the text add an informative perspective on the traits of Asperger’s syndrome.

Roy, Jennifer: Mindblind
The 14-year-old protagonist, a boy with Asperger’s syndrome, tries to live up to the definition of a “genius” as someone who makes a contribution to the world. One of the notable aspects of this book is that he is not the only character with Asperger’s; one shares scenes with him and a third makes an off-scene contribution to the advancement of the story-line. It gives credence to the protagonist’s observation that no two people with Asperger’s syndrome are alike.

Russell, Alexei Maxin: Trueman Bradley: Aspie Detective
The protagonist, Trueman Bradley, has come to New York City in order to be a detective. He models himself after a detective he has read about in comic books.

This book combines detective fiction and fantasy to advocate for the abilities of people on the autism spectrum. It presents characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome as assets in a professional career and uses dramatization to illustrate prejudice and misconceptions about people who are on the spectrum

Stork, Francisco X: Marcelo in the Real World
Young adults’ novel about a 17-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome whose father challenges him to work in his law firm’s mail room for the summer. During his time at the legal firm, Marcelo becomes embroiled in a corporate malfeasance case for which the firm represents the defendant. He also has to navigate complex social and personal relationships with the people he meets at the firm.

Adult fiction

Moon, Elizabeth: The Speed of Dark
The Speed of Dark is the story of Lou, a man on the autism spectrum who works for a pharmaceutical company. The characteristics of autism enable him to identify patterns for his employer.

This book was brought to my attention through a comment by Julie Trebat.

Easily the most-controversial among fiction on this list, The Speed of Dark addresses many serious issues, including accommodation in the workplace and the ethics of promoting -- even coercing -- a medical treatment that will make a person “normal.”

Is a person obligated to accept a medical treatment that someone else views as necessary? Is what society considers “normal” always right and desirable? And does this attitude reflect a “medical” or a “social” model of disability?

Does Lou make the right choice for him? Would his choice be the right one for other people on the spectrum? This book is sure to raise thought-provoking dialogue among readers of medical and ethics science fiction.


First impressions

Attwood, Tony: The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome
If you’re new to the topic of Asperger’s syndrome, this is an excellent book to start with. Dr. Attwood has years of research, which he draws upon in writing this book. It takes an exhaustive look at the various issues/symptoms associated with AS.

Hoopmann, Kathy: All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome
Delightful first introduction to the subject of Asperger’s syndrome by pairing it with something as familiar and reassuring as cats. The pictures are accompanied by easy-to-read text that explains an aspect or trait associated with Asperger’s syndrome.

Rosa, Shannon Des Roches, et al.: Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism
Provides an informative overview addressing multiple facets of autism. The book also serves as a much-needed antidote to the politicization of autism — providers and “charities” that rely on desperation and fear to promote their agendas. The reader will be empowered to ask critical questions about information sources, including “Does this practitioner or vendor promise miracles that no one else seems to achieve?” “Do I find any scientific research supporting the claims, or are there only individual (often emotional) testimonials of effects?”


Jackson, Luke: Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence
A book for adolescents with Asperger syndrome, written by a 13-year-old who has an AS diagnosis. Luke offers a candid discussion of adolescence and the teenage years and offers guidance on bullying, friendship, when and how to tell other people about AS, problems at school, dating, relationships and morality.


Paradiž, Valerie: Elijah’s Cup : A Family’s Journey Into the Community and Culture of High-Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome
Insightful book that chronicles a mother’s growing ability to advocate for her son Elijah as well as her growing awareness of an autism community. As a side note, it offers a glimpse at the autistic/Aspergian tendencies of some of our society’s most brilliant minds including Albert Einstein and Andy Warhol.

(Be aware that while the label “high-functioning” appears in this book’s title, use of these labels is controversial among members of the autism community. I recommend reading Bec Oakley’s essay at, “The Problem With Functioning Labels,” to understand the issues for concern.)


Grandin, Temple: Thinking in Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with Autism
In-depth look at life with autism through Temple Grandin’s first-hand perspective.

Robison, John Elder: Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian with Practical Advice for Aspergians, Misfits, Families & Teachers

Robison, John Elder: Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s
I can totally relate with John Elder Robison. His first two books offer straightforward and matter-of-fact accounts of his experiences. I’ve had similar reactions and thoughts and I appreciate that he shares these experiences so honestly and candidly.

Robison, John Elder: Raising Cubby: A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives
Robison’s third book focuses upon his relationship with his son Jack (Cubby), presented as backdrop to Jack being tried for detonation of explosives. Like his earlier books, many sections are stand-alone vignettes. The book gives equal time to the gifts of autism (mental elasticity that confers an advantage during motivated, self-directed learning) as it does to challenges (Robison believes the lack of a theory of mind prevented Cubby imagining how others might perceive videos he posted of explosions). I enjoyed this book for its portrayal of generations on the autism spectrum

Willey, Liane Holliday: Pretending to be Normal: Living with Asperger’s Syndrome
Offers insight into some of the challenges and rewards of being a person with AS.


Grandin, Temple and Kate Duffy: Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism
Looks at both the challenges as well as the unique strengths that people with Asperger syndrome bring to the professional workplace and offers practical advice for achieving meaningful employment.

Winner, Michelle Garcia and Pamela Crooke: Social Thinking at Work: A Guidebook for Understanding and Navigating the Social Complexities of the Workplace
The book explains in detail the social expectations of the workplace that can be missed by people who were not born with the “social radar system” that many neurotypical people rely on.

Johnson, Malcolm: Managing with Asperger Syndrome
Johnson uses his personal experiences to offer advice on working as a manager.

SEE ALSO: Office Politics: A Survival Guide by Jane Clarke
In sharing his insights about managing staff, group dynamics and office politics, Malcolm Johnson frequently cites this book. I found it to be a valuable resource in its own right, worth reading alone or as a companion to Johnson’s book.


Bashe, Patricia Romanowski: The Oasis Guide to Asperger Syndrome
This book is geared especially for parents and caregivers and while it primarily concerns children with ASDs, it does offer an in-depth explanation of our condition. It offers a lot of practical explanations about different treatments, as well as strategies and advice for working with a child’s school district to create an individualized education plan.

Grandin, Temple: The Way I See It: a Personal Look at Autism & Asperger’s
Collection of short essays written by Temple Grandin on various subjects related to Asperger’s syndrome and ASDs.

Grinker, Roy Richard: Unstrange Minds, Remapping the World of Autism
Richard Grinker takes an anthropologist’s approach to why autism rates are greater now than they were 30 years ago. He argues that greater understanding and a broadening of diagnostic criteria leads to greater incidence of diagnosis (rather than higher rates of autism). Grinker also examines how autism is understood and diagnosed in other countries. A very fascinating book!

Kim, Cynthia: Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, A User Guide to an Asperger Life
Cynthia Kim writes with detail about the strengths and challenges that autism confers in the areas of social communication, relationships, parenting, body awareness, sensory impressions, emotional landscape, executive function. Her writing is a generous and enriching gift to people on the autism spectrum who were diagnosed in adulthood.

Life Skills

Dalgliesh, Carolyn: The Sensory Child Gets Organized, Proven Systems for Rigid, Anxious, or Distracted Kids
Dalgliesh teaches parents/caregivers to design organizational systems that tap into the “innate strengths and learning styles” of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, sensory processing disorder, bipolar disorder and autism. self-advocates may benefit from applying this same process toward examining their own learning style and strengths. This reviewer’s only exception when recommending this book is the author’s selection of websites for further information about autism. I advise readers to consider the degree to which people with autism have direct involvement with the organizations listed. “Nothing about us, without us.”

Gaus, Valerie L.: Living Well on the Spectrum
Helps identify thinking, social, emotional and sensory/movement differences and how they affect aspects of life for a person with Asperger syndrome. It offers step-by-step ways in which the person can analyze aspects in his or her life that he or she may wish to change and then leads the person to identify and then implement possible solutions. Because there are worksheets in the book with which to document this process, the reader may benefit from investing in his or her own copy of the book.

Jackson, Luke: Sex, Drugs and Asperger Syndrome
With forthright candor, Jackson offers guidance on various aspects of life — including work, education, bullying, friendship, intimate relationships and the use and abuse of drugs.

Karim, Joseph and Silvana: What Does Happy Look Like?
Picture book that pairs a color or image with an emotion that a child may find difficult to identify or articulate: happy, sad, angry, afraid and love. It encourages adults, when reading with a child, to ask what the child is feeling and encourage him or her to describe the picture with as much detail as possible.

Kirsch, Melissa: The Girl’s Guide to Absolutely Everything
While not written specifically for an autism-spectrum readership, Kirsch offers comprehensive advice about health and body image, careers and work, finances, etiquette, relationships, spirituality, family and more. It’s an excellence reference for navigating the complexities of life.

Saperstein, Jesse A: Getting a Life with Aspergers 616.85/RC553.A88
Buffet-banquet of insights into navigating adult challenges, including job interviews, romantic relationships, when and how to disclose Asperger’s syndrome. Saperstein places special emphasis on the importance of autistic role models for younger people on the spectrum.


Brown, Debi: The Aspie Girl’s Guide to Being Safe with Men
According to author Debi Brown, girls and women on the autism spectrum frequently are not part of close-knit social groups that teach each other essential “rules” about dating. Brown provides groundwork for being safe in relationships by explaining how people form networks of safe people whom they can turn to for help. Brown also provides detailed information about navigating intimate relationships, including situations of unwanted contact and abuse.

Finch, David: The Journal of Best Practices
Diagnosed in adulthood and with his marriage in crisis, David Finch sets out to manage his Aspergian tendencies and to overcome an upbringing that discouraged honest communication. Finch writes about his experiences and epiphanies with humor and candor.

Grandin, Temple and Sean Barron: The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships
Excellent and thorough explanation of the “rules” that frequently elude people who are on the autism spectrum. I’d recommend this book to people on both sides of the social equation.

Newport, Jerry and Mary: Mozart and the Whale: an Asperger’s Love Story
First-hand story told with alternating viewpoints by two people who have Asperger’s syndrome.

Simone, Rudy: 22 Things a Woman with Asperger’s Syndrome Wants Her Partner to Know
Simone’s own diagnosis gives her an insider’s perspective about being in a relationship with a woman on the autism spectrum. I would recommend this book to both partners in a relationship in which a woman has Asperger’s syndrome.

Sensory issues

Dalgliesh, Carolyn: The Sensory Child Gets Organized
See write-up under “Life Skills.”

Fraker, Cheri, et al.: Food Chaining, The Proven 6-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems, and Expand Your Child’s Diet
Provides detailed and comprehensive explanations of the sensory challenges, physical challenges, oral-motor or swallowing skills, that may affect an ability to eat. “Food chaining” involves starting with a food considered “safe” by the problem eater and then slowly introducing foods with a similar taste, temperature or texture. Through a gradual process, the problem eater becomes able to accept “target” foods and expand his or her palate. The greatest value of this book, for me, was personal validation after a childhood that included adults saying I was “spoiled” and “bad” when I couldn’t eat what was served to me.

Kranowitz, Carol Stock: The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Integration Dysfunction
Explains in-depth the sensory processing challenges that can be among the characteristics of a person who is on the spectrum: under- and over-sensitive to various types of stimuli. Even though it is primarily concerned about the manifestation in children, the information could readily be applied toward understanding these challenges in adults.

These are books that I’ve read and recommend.

Cynthia Parkhill
Ashland, Oregon
Last updated December 2016


  1. You might like The Speed of the Dark by Elizabeth Moon. It's one of my favorites. It is about a young man in a fictional future, where a cure for autism in adults is invented. He has to decide whether or not to have the surgery, which would change who he is, rather fundamentally. It tackles serious philosophic issues in a fictional format.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation! I've put a hold through my library. My husband and I read Moon’s “The Deed of Paksenarrion” omnibus (“Sheepfarmer’s Daughter,” “Divided Allegiance” and “Oath of Gold”) and “Legacy of Gird” (“Surrender None” and “Liar’s Oath”). Wonderful epic fantasies.

  3. The Speed of Dark came in at my library. I picked it up when I went in on Saturday to volunteer. You're right; this book does tackle serious philosophic issues, including accomodation in the workplace. It's chilling, the way that Lou's employer tries to cooerce its employees with autism to submit to being test subjects in an experimental procedure. Thanks for the recommendation; this is definitely going on the list.

  4. You might also want to add The Asperkid's (Secret) Book of Social Rules by Jennifer Cook O'Toole.

  5. This sounds like a great addition, Victoria! I've submitted a request that my local public library add this book to its collection.

  6. Have you read "The Rosie Project" and its sequel, "The Rosie Effect", by Graeme Simsion? Would they be good additions to your adult fiction list? Jill Patterson

    1. I haven't read it yet, but it's on my to-read list. Recently filed requests for several titles through my local library.

    2. My book group really liked "The Rosie Project". It was fascinating to view life through the lens of someone with a very different perspective.


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