Whether you are looking for insight into someone else’s life or seeking a reflection of your own, this growing list of children’s books with neurodiverse characters might be what you are looking for.
The following selection includes characters who are non-specifically neurodiverse, but also characters who have diagnoses of what the DSM-V calls Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD or Autism), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Specific Learning Disorder Reading (Dyslexia), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Synaesthesia, Tourette’s Syndrome, Childhood-Onset Fluency Disorder (Stuttering), Anxiety and Depression.
Accounts and perspectives of lived experience are important so where a book has been written or illustrated by neurodiverse people, we have indicated this with the acronym NC for neurodiverse creators. In some contexts you will find stories like this labelled ‘Own Voices’. For the same reason, we have primarily chosen books with neurodiverse main characters rather than books from the perspective of siblings, parents or friends.
Most of these stories contain positive depictions of neurodiversity, but there are also plenty of examples where the characters experience challenges in their lives. These books are great to read in your family but have also been chosen with the classroom or therapy in mind.
To read a note on our use of diagnoses and language in this article, please scroll past the books to the end.
The Colour of Music by Lisa Tiffin & Matt Ottley (Synaesthesia, NC)
I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott & Sydney Smith (Stuttering)
The Curiosities by Zana Fraillon & Phil Lesnie (Tourettes Syndrome and General, Australian) (Due out in October 2021)
The Underwater Fancy Dress Parade by Davina Bell & Allison Colpoys (Anxiety, Australian)
Prudence and her Amazing Adventure by Charlotte Gastaut (Not Specified)
Polly and Buster by Sally Rippin (Dyslexia and Anxiety, Australian)
Stardust School of Dance: Priya the Swan Queen by Zanni Louise (Dyslexia, Australian)
A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold (Autism)
Duck Days by Sara Leach (Autism)
Paws by Kate Forster (Autism, NC, Australian)
Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt (Dyslexia)
Counting By 7s by Holly Sloane (Not Specified)
The Year We Fell From Space by Amy Sarig King (Anxiety, Depression)
Peta Lyres Rating Normal by Anna Whateley (Autism, ADHD, NC, LGBTQI+, Australian)
Please Don’t Hug Me by Kay Kerr (Autism, NC, Australian)
Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty (Autism, NC, Teenage Author, Autobiography)
Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (Anxiety, Depression, LGBTQI+)
Forget me Not by Ellie Terry (TS, NC)
A note on our use of diagnoses and language.
A diagnosis is a set of symptoms, characteristics and traits with a line drawn around it. It’s not arbitrary, but sometimes it can feel like it. Whilst it can be an incredibly useful thing to have a diagnosis, not everyone with the same diagnosis shares the same life experience. This is reflected in the stories listed. We have chosen to highlight the diagnoses identified by the authors and publishers for the characters in these books because they can be useful when seeking out particular stories for a particular purpose. Some authors and publishers don’t specify a diagnosis, and for these books we have chosen to label them ‘general’ or ‘not specified’, although upon reading them you will no doubt see symptoms, characteristics and traits that you recognise.
We have chosen to use ‘Identity First’ language, but we acknowledge that some people prefer ‘Person First’ language. We have also tried to make a list that is as diverse as possible, after all neurodiversity is a global experience.
Although technically classified as ‘mental illness’ rather than neurodiversity, we thought it was important to include stories that address anxiety and depression because they are a very common experience for children to have in addition to their other traits and symptoms.
If you couldn’t find what you were looking for in the list above, here are some more books to consider.
Lottie and Walter by Anna Walker (Anxiety, Australian)
Some Brains by Nelly Thomas & Cat MacInnes (General, Australian)
Luke’s way of Looking by Nadia Wheatley & Matt Ottley (General, Australian)
Oswald Messweather by Dimity Powel & Siobhan McVey (OCD, Australian)
Toffle Towers by Tim Harris & James Foley (General, Australian)
Percy Jackson by Rick Riorden (Dyslexia, ADHD)
Hank Zipzer by Henry Winkler (Dyslexia)
Can You See Me by Libby Scott (Autism)
Looking for Heroes by Aidan Colvin (Dyslexia, NC)
~ Gisela Ervin-Ward teaches children with learning difficulties how to read and provides literacy consulting to schools @podliteracy. She is obsessed with children’s books and writing and muses about them at @giselaervinward. www.giselaervinward.com