In direct contrast to my last post, I’m here to discuss two more books that address Autism and Autistic people in much more relatable & respectful terms, and that can definitely go on my resource guide, even though neither of them is brand spanking new, either.
First up, the pretty factual The Children’s Guide to Autism, which was published in 2015. It uses very clear language to discuss some of the strengths and weaknesses of Autistic people, and only ventures in to stereotypical portrayals once or twice. This book also includes a good introduction to the concept of the Autistic Spectrum, which is something that comes up a lot in discussions of Autism now. Like the previous review, this book was also written by the mother of a child on the Autistic Spectrum, and so the few places were I’m unsure about if the narrative was drifting into a stereotype, in the end, it felt more like she was discussing the issues and achievements of her child, as opposed to all Autistic children. I particularly felt things like “If someone with Autism is struggling with a noisy and busy place, then try to get them to somewhere quieter. You could ask an adult to help.” were well-explained and good tips for people with neurodivergent friends to know.
“But NTE, you say, this book suffers from the same ‘person first’ language barrier you were complaining about in your other review,” you might say, and you would be correct. In fact both of the books I’m recommending are filled with “Person with Autism” landmines. And yeah, that language is out of date, but in a book that isn’t advocating for abusive therapies, and isn’t filled with stereotypes, it’s a lot easier to address that kind of thing with a simple “Now we would say an Autistic person, but when this book was written, people used this way to say that” as you’re reading. It’s not that I’m expecting perfection from books that were written when the preferred language was different than it is now, it’s that when it’s only a matter of giving a quick “hey this language is a little outdated” warning, that’s a different problem than a book also filled with inaccuracies or outdated ideas too. One of those things is acceptable and manageable, even easily corrected, in a resource. The other is inexcusable. (IMO)
Which leads us directly into my favorite book of the bunch the outdatedly named My Friend Has Autism. (Which seems to be a part of a series that also includes My Friend has ADHD, My Friend Has Down Syndrome, & My Friend Has Dyslexia, which are all in my TBR mountain.) Published in 2010, available on Kindle Unlimited, this book has so many highlights: It just dives right in with two kids, Nick & his friend Zack. Zack is Autistic, and Nick talks about how he sees Zack & the impact his Autism has on their friendship. The thing is, is that Nick nearly always is focused on the positive ways Zack’s Autism shows up in their friendship. Zack has a special interest – model airplanes- that Nick shares, and his ability to focus on that, for a really long time, and become basically an expert in them, is pretty cool, Nick thinks. Even some of the accessibility accommodations that Zack has for his Autism – “Zack hears things most people don’t notice. Loud noises can hurt his ears. On our field trip to the airport, he wore the coolest earmuffs ever. He looked like he worked there.” – are spoken about in positive ways. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, Nick knows that there are things Zack does or doesn’t do that can be irritating, but he just sees them as another part of his friend Zack, and that’s … literally all we’re asking for.
Sure, the title of the book, and the language around people/identity
first usage is a battle worth fighting in the real world and in our literature, but when a book is able to see that an Autistic kid is still just a kid, and he has friends, and things he does that are awesome and ways that he is annoying and ways they get along and ways they don’t, that’s the goal. Books that show Autistic kids as kids.
Did the author then lose a LOT of the goodwill I had for this book by ending with a little paragraph about “What is Autism” and write the sentence “Doctors don’t know what causes autism, and there is no cure.”? Yes: That was definitely unnecessary ableist nonsense, and I wish it wasn’t in there, because Autistic people don’t want or need to be cured, but before she blew it all up (and since it’s really on a page that includes the glossary, it’s text that isn’t required to be read, and would definitely be ignored if I were using this with students) the friendship between Zack and Nick has everything a book about two friends needed to have. So I’m still putting it on as a resource, but it’s going to have that *, so people know to avoid that last back page.