The best children’s books for neurodiversity/autism representation

Sally J. Pla Author Of The Someday Birds
By Sally J. Pla

Who am I?

I grew up undiagnosed autistic. I got excellent grades and never caused much trouble, so no one could tell what was going on inside. But sensory overload and confusion over social dynamics kept me in a bewildering muddle. Books and stories are what helped me through! But there were no stories featuring neurodivergent kids like me, so, as an adult, I resolved to write some. I want to bust stigmas and write honest, fun, heartfelt stories for kids who might be going through their own ‘bewildering muddles.’ Now, I'm an award-winning author of several children's novels and a picture book. I'm also co-founder/editor of A Novel Mind, a web resource on mental health and neurodiversity in children's literature.

I wrote...

The Someday Birds

By Sally J. Pla, Julie McLaughlin (illustrator),

Book cover of The Someday Birds

What is my book about?

Twelve-year-old Charlie is a bird-loving autistic boy on a cross-country trip with his siblings – and under the care of a strange young woman named Ludmila, who is taking them to reunite with Charlie’s war-injured dad. Charlie tries to spot the birds that he and his dad had once hoped to find together someday — their “Someday” birds list. He hopes it can be like a gift he can give his dad, to help him feel better. But in the amazing, unexpected adventures along the way, Charlie discovers that “sometimes the birds you look for… are not the birds you find.”

Hailed as “a triumphant debut with the resonance and depth of an instant classic” and translated into many languages, this award-winner is beloved by readers young and old.

The books I picked & why

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A Boy Called Bat

By Elana K. Arnold, Charles Santoso (illustrator),

Book cover of A Boy Called Bat

Why this book?

Bat is a sweet young autistic boy who lives with his big sister and veterinarian-mom (and weekends with his loving dad). He adopts and helps raise a baby skunk. The lovely, simple story – aimed at younger, chapter-book readers -- describes Bat’s autism so naturally. This is how I believe all stories of neurodivergent kids should be written: in a way that illuminates and humanizes and shows us what we share – not in a way that pathologizes, or others, or highlights a laundry list of symptoms. 

The Bat stories are charming and simple, and they get it right.

M Is for Autism

By The Student Of Limpsfield Grange School, Vicky Martin,

Book cover of M Is for Autism

Why this book?

M. is an autistic teen girl who desperately wants to be just like everyone else. Who longs to know the proper things to say and do.

And this was me. I was an undiagnosed autistic girl who longed to know the “right” ways to be/talk/act/feel, who never could quite de-code social situations or feel like I fit in.

Written collaboratively with the autistic girls who attend the Limpsfield-Grange School and their teacher, Vicky Martin, this book captured something special about the tricky social dilemmas of young teendom, something that resonated so deeply in me – I loved its truth-telling, and how funny and sad it was in turns – that’s how I write, too.

Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Rogers

By Caela Carter,

Book cover of Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Rogers

Why this book?

Young Gwendolyn Rogers struggles in middle school and with friends. She’s impulsive and makes poor decisions – and longs for a clear diagnosis of ADHD. Author Caela Carter, who has ADHD herself, lets us slip inside her character in such a fascinating way. We see how much Gwendolyn longs to get things right, how much she cares about her family and friends, even though she makes mistakes and does things to annoy them.

A Kind of Spark

By Elle McNicoll,

Book cover of A Kind of Spark

Why this book?

Addie is a young autistic girl who learns her small Scottish town used to burn witches – and her empathy for these misunderstood forebears spurs her to petition the town for a memorial for them. Addie has an autistic teenage sister, Keedie, who is so wise and strong and wonderful. This book made me wish so hard I could have had a sister like Keedie, myself, to help me navigate the world. 

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism

By Naoki Higashida, KA Yoshida (translator), David Mitchell (translator)

Book cover of The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism

Why this book?

Naoki was thirteen when he wrote this short, beautiful, poetic account of his life as a non-verbal autistic person. (He has since written another, equally brilliant volume about being a young man – Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight.) What stays with me, from his writing, are his incredible powers of observation, his exquisite descriptions. I have never been nonverbal, but I experienced my childhood as if I was peering at an inexplicable “people-show” from behind an impenetrable pane of glass. These books are close to my heart, and really grew my empathy.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in neurodiversity, autism, and witches?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about neurodiversity, autism, and witches.

Neurodiversity Explore 17 books about neurodiversity
Autism Explore 41 books about autism
Witches Explore 80 books about witches

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like We Walk: Life with Severe Autism, Rules, and Marcelo in the Real World if you like this list.