The best neurodiversity books

4 authors have picked their favorite books about neurodiversity and why they recommend each book.

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Normal Sucks

By Jonathan Mooney,

Book cover of Normal Sucks

This book is for every twentysomething out there with a learning difference. After years of struggling in school, maybe by now you’re feeling a bit beat up and worn down. This book will help you shake it off with a good laugh and a good cry and remind you that adult life and work don't have to be like the classroom. I laughed out loud with every page, except for the ones that broke my heart.

Who am I?

Meg Jay, PhD, is a Clinical Psychologist, and an Associate Professor of Human Development at the University of Virginia, who specializes in adult development and in twentysomethings in particular. She earned a doctorate in clinical psychology, and in gender studies, from the University of California, Berkeley. Her books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and her work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review and on NPR and BBC. Her TED talk “Why 30 Is Not the New 20” is among the most watched of all time.


I wrote...

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now

By Meg Jay,

Book cover of The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now

What is my book about?

The Defining Decade has changed the way millions of twentysomethings think about their twenties--and themselves. Revised and updated for a new generation, let it change how you think about you and yours. Drawing from more than two decades of work with thousands of clients and students, Dr. Jay weaves the latest science of the twentysomething years with behind-closed-doors stories from twentysomethings themselves. The result is a provocative read that provides the tools necessary to take the most of your twenties, and shows us how work, relationships, personality, identity, and even the brain can change more during this decade than at any other time in adulthood—if we use the time well.

A Boy Called Bat

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

Book cover of A Boy Called Bat

This tenderhearted book is narrated by Bixby Alexander Tam (Bat), a boy who falls in love with the orphaned baby skunk his mom brings home. I love that Bat’s autism has a role in the story—his challenges understanding other people cause friction and school and with his sister—but it isn’t the only focus of the book. Bat’s big problem is convincing his mom to let him keep the skunk kit. Readers are drawn into his unique worldview as he experiences friendship, family, and skunk-parenting.


Who am I?

I’ve been an elementary school classroom teacher and teacher-librarian for over 25 years and I’ve had the privilege of teaching many amazing students with neurodiversity. I was inspired to write the Slug Days book when I was teaching a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I wrote the book to imagine what life might be like for that student so I could be a better teacher. I believe a school library should represent all our students and I’m always on the lookout for excellent books that feature neurodiverse characters.


I wrote...

Slug Days

By Sara Leach, Rebecca Bender (illustrator),

Book cover of Slug Days

What is my book about?

A charismatic illustrated novel about the ups and downs of school and home life for one little girl with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

On slug days Lauren feels slow and slimy. She feels like everyone yells at her, and she has no friends. On butterfly days Lauren makes her classmates laugh, goes to get ice cream, or works on a special project with Mom. With support and stubbornness and a flair that’s all her own, Lauren masters tricks to stay calm, understand others’ feelings, and let her personality shine.

Other People's Houses

By Kelli Hawkins,

Book cover of Other People's Houses

The thing I love about this book is that the reader is hooked from the start by a thrilling mystery as Kate starts investigating the secrets hidden within a seemingly perfect family; but at the same time, you’re also drawn into Kate’s struggles with her past. As you discover the unspeakable tragedy that Kate is attempting to shut out through alcoholism and by spending her weekends taking voyeuristic visits through open homes for sale – which she has no intention of buying; you slowly realise that you’re experiencing an unreliable view of the world, which means you start to doubt everything you read, in the same way that Kate is doubting everything she sees.


Who am I?

Mental illness has been such a huge part of my life for so long now that it has become second nature for me to incorporate it into my work. After suffering postnatal depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, I’ve been on anti-depressants for 11 years and regularly see a wonderful psychologist. Recently, I added a psychiatrist into the mix who diagnosed me with ADHD, so now I’m learning to juggle ADHD meds alongside the antidepressants. I’ve always been passionate about talking and writing openly and honestly about my own personal experiences because if there is any chance that I can help someone else with my words, then I’m going to take it.


I wrote...

You Need To Know

By Nicola Moriarty,

Book cover of You Need To Know

What is my book about?

Jill's three grown-up sons mean everything to her.

She would do anything for her boys - protect them, lie for them, even die for them. Then one day she receives an email with the subject line: 'You Need To Know.' Jill doesn't want to know. She leaves the warning unread. But some truths you can't hide from. Soon Jill will start to wonder if she knows her sons at all...

Grace Under Pressure

By Tori Haschka,

Book cover of Grace Under Pressure

I absolutely love being a mother – but becoming a mum wasn’t the simple experience I thought it would be. I suffered from post-natal depression after the birth of both of my daughters and it was a shock for me to discover that motherhood wasn’t as easy and natural as I’d imagined. That’s why I loved reading Grace Under Pressure – it perfectly captures the ups and downs of motherhood and the terrifying loneliness, while simultaneously incorporating humour, heart, and comradery between women.


Who am I?

Mental illness has been such a huge part of my life for so long now that it has become second nature for me to incorporate it into my work. After suffering postnatal depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, I’ve been on anti-depressants for 11 years and regularly see a wonderful psychologist. Recently, I added a psychiatrist into the mix who diagnosed me with ADHD, so now I’m learning to juggle ADHD meds alongside the antidepressants. I’ve always been passionate about talking and writing openly and honestly about my own personal experiences because if there is any chance that I can help someone else with my words, then I’m going to take it.


I wrote...

You Need To Know

By Nicola Moriarty,

Book cover of You Need To Know

What is my book about?

Jill's three grown-up sons mean everything to her.

She would do anything for her boys - protect them, lie for them, even die for them. Then one day she receives an email with the subject line: 'You Need To Know.' Jill doesn't want to know. She leaves the warning unread. But some truths you can't hide from. Soon Jill will start to wonder if she knows her sons at all...

The Mystery of Mercy Close

By Marian Keyes,

Book cover of The Mystery of Mercy Close

I adore every single word written by Marian Keyes, but the reason I’m including this book in this particular list is because the story centers around Helen Walsh, a private investigator who is severely depressed – and yet the book is not at all depressing to read. It’s clever, funny, and warm. So many of Helen’s thoughts and experiences rang true for me, which made it such a satisfying and validating read.


Who am I?

Mental illness has been such a huge part of my life for so long now that it has become second nature for me to incorporate it into my work. After suffering postnatal depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, I’ve been on anti-depressants for 11 years and regularly see a wonderful psychologist. Recently, I added a psychiatrist into the mix who diagnosed me with ADHD, so now I’m learning to juggle ADHD meds alongside the antidepressants. I’ve always been passionate about talking and writing openly and honestly about my own personal experiences because if there is any chance that I can help someone else with my words, then I’m going to take it.


I wrote...

You Need To Know

By Nicola Moriarty,

Book cover of You Need To Know

What is my book about?

Jill's three grown-up sons mean everything to her.

She would do anything for her boys - protect them, lie for them, even die for them. Then one day she receives an email with the subject line: 'You Need To Know.' Jill doesn't want to know. She leaves the warning unread. But some truths you can't hide from. Soon Jill will start to wonder if she knows her sons at all...

Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Rogers

By Caela Carter,

Book cover of Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Rogers

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.


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.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

By Dusti Bowling,

Book cover of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

This fun, heartfelt story is about a middle school girl, Aven, that was born without arms. When her family moves to Arizona, she has to start over and make new friends. Moving is challenging for any kid, but especially difficult if you are in middle school and look very different from your peers.

Aven is funny, authentic, and self-aware. Watching her navigate the challenges in her life is inspiring and encourages readers to question their assumptions and judgments about themselves and others. This story includes a mystery, some adventure, as well as a beautiful reflection on acceptance and friendship.


Who am I?

In my work and my writing, I love to explore what helps friendships thrive and what trips us up. My book BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships grew out of a friendship program I ran for preteens. My second book, Middle School - Safety Goggles Advised grew out of the stories I heard after spending time in 7th-grade classrooms. As a child, I loved interactive books so I include activities like quizzes, choose-your-own-ending stories, and other ways to engage readers in my books. I have a master’s degree in social sciences and my latest books explore social-emotional topics in ways that connect with kids.


I wrote...

BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends): A Girl's Guide to Happy Friendships

By Jessica Speer, Elowyn Dickerson (illustrator),

Book cover of BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends): A Girl's Guide to Happy Friendships

What is my book about?

Let’s face it, friendships can be challenging. BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends) tackles friendship struggles head-on, leaving readers informed and empowered as they navigate the tricky world of friendship.

Through fun activities, quizzes, and real stories, this book helps girls decipher healthy vs. unhealthy relationship skills and how to navigate struggles. But more importantly, this book gives girls a new perspective on friendship and the role they play in creating positive change.

Contacts

By Mark Watson,

Book cover of Contacts

The concept for this book had me intrigued from the moment I saw the front cover. James Chiltern sends a message to all 158 contacts on his phone, telling them he plans to end his life in the morning. Then he switches his phone to flight mode and sets off on an overnight train journey. While I have had dark times and moments where I was close to the edge throughout my life, I’ve never reached the point where I had actually made a plan to end things. So to read a story where the main character has made that heart-wrenching decision and to see the differing perspectives of all the people in his life waking up to that message was both heart-breaking and riveting.


Who am I?

Mental illness has been such a huge part of my life for so long now that it has become second nature for me to incorporate it into my work. After suffering postnatal depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, I’ve been on anti-depressants for 11 years and regularly see a wonderful psychologist. Recently, I added a psychiatrist into the mix who diagnosed me with ADHD, so now I’m learning to juggle ADHD meds alongside the antidepressants. I’ve always been passionate about talking and writing openly and honestly about my own personal experiences because if there is any chance that I can help someone else with my words, then I’m going to take it.


I wrote...

You Need To Know

By Nicola Moriarty,

Book cover of You Need To Know

What is my book about?

Jill's three grown-up sons mean everything to her.

She would do anything for her boys - protect them, lie for them, even die for them. Then one day she receives an email with the subject line: 'You Need To Know.' Jill doesn't want to know. She leaves the warning unread. But some truths you can't hide from. Soon Jill will start to wonder if she knows her sons at all...

Focused

By Alyson Gerber,

Book cover of Focused

Focused is a beautiful exploration of one girl’s experience coming to terms with an ADHD diagnosis. The writing is rich and filled with emotion, and I very much felt like I was living inside Clea’s head, which gave me incredible insights into her strengths and struggles. That she’s a gifted chess player perfectly illustrates for young readers that neurodiversity isn’t about being broken in any way, it’s not a reflection of intelligence or ability, but simply it’s another way of being in the world, one that requires finding the right tools. 


Who am I?

I love games; board games, card games, head games*; any kind of situation in which employing strategy is the only way forward. And yet, I’m not a big game player—aside from word games. I’m also endlessly fascinated by the mechanisms of power and how societies arrange themselves. The marriage between writing and understanding politics (in the traditional, not the partisan sense) is my true north. Writing a book in which a chess-like game provides the foundation felt inevitable for me, for what game better explores the dynamics of power and strategy? *I don’t play head games, but I do find manipulation fascinating fodder for writing.


I wrote...

The Verdigris Pawn

By Alysa Wishingrad,

Book cover of The Verdigris Pawn

What is my book about?

The heir to the Land should be strong. Fierce. Ruthless. Yet Beau is the exact opposite. With little control over his future, Beau is kept locked away, spending his days studying his family’s glorious history, and learning to master an outlawed chess-like game. Until the day he meets a girl who shows him the secrets his father has kept hidden. 

For the first time, Beau questions everything he’s been told. After teaming up with a fiery runaway boy, they set off in search of a rebel who might hold the key to setting things right. But it just might be Beau who wields the power he seeks... if he can go from pawn to player before the Land tears itself apart.

Rules

By Cynthia Lord,

Book cover of Rules

12-year-old Catherine’s feelings toward her younger, autistic brother are complicated. She’s protective of him and also appears to be embarrassed by his behaviour. All she wants is a “normal” life. When she becomes friends with a paraplegic boy she’s forced to think about what “normal” really means. This book is hopeful, humourous, thoughtful, and explores what it means to interact with someone who is neurodivergent. The author is the mother of a child with autism and the complex relationships and friendships in the book felt real and captured the mixed-up emotions of middle-graders. 


Who am I?

I’ve been an elementary school classroom teacher and teacher-librarian for over 25 years and I’ve had the privilege of teaching many amazing students with neurodiversity. I was inspired to write the Slug Days book when I was teaching a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I wrote the book to imagine what life might be like for that student so I could be a better teacher. I believe a school library should represent all our students and I’m always on the lookout for excellent books that feature neurodiverse characters.


I wrote...

Slug Days

By Sara Leach, Rebecca Bender (illustrator),

Book cover of Slug Days

What is my book about?

A charismatic illustrated novel about the ups and downs of school and home life for one little girl with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

On slug days Lauren feels slow and slimy. She feels like everyone yells at her, and she has no friends. On butterfly days Lauren makes her classmates laugh, goes to get ice cream, or works on a special project with Mom. With support and stubbornness and a flair that’s all her own, Lauren masters tricks to stay calm, understand others’ feelings, and let her personality shine.

Or, view all 17 books about neurodiversity

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