The best books to read to make you cherish and enjoy your neurodivergent child

Who am I?

I always intended to be a fiction writer (and have written ten novels, both YA and adult) but my oldest child is autistic, which led to my meeting and then collaborating on several non-fiction books with Dr. Lynn Kern Koegel, who’s an expert in the autism field, currently at Stanford University. Finding myself writing non-fiction wasn’t the only way having an autistic child changed my life. When my son was first diagnosed, I didn’t know what that meant for his future, and I desperately wanted information—and even entertainmentthat made me feel inspired and hopeful. I needed to find my way toward feeling positive and not anxious, for both our sakes.

I wrote...

Hidden Brilliance: Unlocking the Intelligence of Autism

By Claire LaZebnik, Lynn Kern Koegel,

Book cover of Hidden Brilliance: Unlocking the Intelligence of Autism

What is my book about?

Our limited and often biased view of what’s considered “normal” often prevents us from recognizing the gifts and brilliance of those who don’t fit a specific mold. In Hidden Brilliance, Dr. Lynn Kern Koegel and writer Claire LaZebnik explore the ways in which the brilliance and talents of children and young adults diagnosed with ASD are commonly overlooked or misjudged, even by trained professionals. This book isn’t about changing people, but about bringing out their best, by focusing on and nurturing their strengths. The authors examine the forces at play—including outdated attitudes, a lack of sufficient training, and an overreliance on standardized testing—that complicate and confuse the effort to see the remarkable capabilities of these kids. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Shadow Syndromes: The Mild Forms of Major Mental Disorders That Sabotage Us

Why this book?

I’ve always been fascinated by the question, “What is personality?”

Is there someone we’re hardwired to be or do other factors so affect us that we’re who we are because of our experiences? What about extreme traits—are they an aspect of our personality or something more external? 

This book tackles these questions in such an interesting way, by focusing on mild forms of traits that might be diagnosable at higher levels. For example, if you’re quick to anger, is it possible you have a mild form of a rage disorder, or are you simply an angry person? 

One of the chapters is about adults with very mild traits of autism. It opens the door to our thinking more deeply about autism as an inherent part of someone’s personality, rather than something separate from them.

There’s something affirming and positive about that to me. I think any parent with a neurodivergent child finds themselves ruminating on what makes us who we are and the more we think about that, the less dismissive we are of people with differences.

(Interesting sidenote: the co-author of this book, Catherine Johnson, is also the co-author of several of Temple Grandin’s books.)

Shadow Syndromes: The Mild Forms of Major Mental Disorders That Sabotage Us

By John J. Ratey, Catherine Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shadow Syndromes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Are you living under a shadow?

Do you or someone you love suffer from:

Chronic sadness
Outbursts of anger
The inability to finish tasks
Acute anxiety
Disabling discomfort in social situations

These are the "shadow syndromes" of major mental disorders that limit the lives, productivity, and happiness of millions of people.

Drawing on cutting-edge research, Drs. Ratey and Johnson challenge the most basic beliefs of our mental health professionals by uncovering the biological factors that often determine our personalities.  They use real-life case studies to illustrate how shadow syndromes affect our everyday lives and how they can be treated--often…

Thinking in Pictures

By Temple Grandin,

Book cover of Thinking in Pictures

Why this book?

I still remember when my son’s speech therapist recommended this to me: she warned me that I would find it overwhelming because Temple had such huge challenges.

But I didn’t feel discouraged or overwhelmed at all. Grandin is so uniquely herself from beginning to end, so smart, so aware, so able to figure out both her own needs and those of the animals whose lives (and deaths) she improves, that I found the book totally uplifting, not to mention fascinating.

The fact that she singlehandedly made our slaughterhouses infinitely more humane proves the point my co-author and I are always trying to make: neurodivergent individuals will think of things no one else does and enrich any project or community they’re part of.

Thinking in Pictures

By Temple Grandin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Thinking in Pictures as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The idea that some people think differently, though no less humanly, is explored in this inspiring book. Temple Grandin is a gifted and successful animal scientist, and she is autistic. Here she tells us what it was like to grow up perceiving the world in an entirely concrete and visual way - somewhat akin to how animals think, she believes - and how it feels now. Through her finely observed understanding of the workings of her mind, she gives us an invaluable insight into autism and its challenges.

Book cover of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Why this book?

I know this probably feels like an obvious recommendation, since it’s on every list imaginable, but I love this novel.

The narrator is autistic and funny and brilliant and wonderful and heartbreaking, and you root for him from beginning to end. The ways in which he limits his life by having rules and then breaks them when he wants to solve his mystery show both how important routine can be for someone overwhelmed by life’s chaos, and also how much this character cares about the people in his life. 

I took all of our kids to see the play based on this, and they loved it, including my autistic son. It’s just feel-good without being at all sappy, condescending, or unrealistic.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

By Mark Haddon,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year

'Outstanding...a stunningly good read' Observer

'Mark Haddon's portrayal of an emotionally dissociated mind is a superb achievement... Wise and bleakly funny' Ian McEwan

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a murder mystery novel like no other. The detective, and narrator, is Christopher Boone. Christopher is fifteen and has Asperger's Syndrome. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the…

Book cover of Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism

Why this book?

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I haven’t read this entire book, but I did read the original article that the book came out of and other articles by and about the Suskinds. 

Ron Suskind did exactly what Lynn Koegel and I believe all parents should do: he observed his son’s interest and used it as a bridge for communication and connection.

Disney was a huge part of our family life when our kids were little (and still plays a role in our lives today since one of my sons is a children’s television writer and another one has his own theme park video channel), so I love that it was Disney movies that brought the Suskinds together.

Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism

By Ron Suskind,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Life, Animated as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind tells the story of how his autistic son was able to regain the ability to speak through the medium of Disney animated films.

"Ron Suskind's "Life, Animated" is an extraordinary saga of an exceptional boy from a remarkable family and their compelling journey through autism."-David Royko, Chicago Tribune

Imagine being trapped inside a Disney movie and having to learn about life mostly from animated characters dancing across a screen of color. A fantasy? A nightmare? This is the real-life story of Owen Suskind, the son of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind and his wife,…

The Rosie Project

By Graeme Simsion,

Book cover of The Rosie Project

Why this book?

I read this when it first came out, many years ago, and haven’t reread it recently, but I loved it enough at the time that it inspired a YA novel of my own.

In The Rosie Project, a smart man who appears to have some autistic characteristics sets out to find a life partner. He wants to do it with logic and rules but of course love defies these things. After reading it, I decided to write a book about a teenage girl wanting to find a partner for her autistic sister and, despite her good intentions, missing some clues about what her sister really wants and needs.

The Rosie Project is a romance with characters you care about, and who doesn’t want to read more well-done romances? Especially ones with characters who don’t fall into the same old depictions.

The Rosie Project

By Graeme Simsion,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Rosie Project as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The international bestselling romantic comedy “bursting with warmth, emotional depth, and…humor,” (Entertainment Weekly) featuring the oddly charming, socially challenged genetics professor, Don, as he seeks true love.

The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.

Rosie Jarman possesses all these qualities. Don easily disqualifies her…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in neurodiversity, autism, and perception?

8,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about neurodiversity, autism, and perception.

Neurodiversity Explore 40 books about neurodiversity
Autism Explore 53 books about autism
Perception Explore 21 books about perception

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Travels with My Aunt, A Clockwork Orange, and Night if you like this list.