Let me start off by saying that this isn’t an attack on autism or those with it. I fully support autistic people, and other marginalized groups. This is only a discussion on something that came to mind while reading What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum. I’m all for chatting, but please keep it civil. I mean no harm, and if I word something incorrectly I will change it as soon as I’m able.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive in!
In my previous read, What to Say Next, one of the two protagonists, David, is on the autism spectrum. He’s always alone and unnoticed, and uses a notebook to keep track of people in his school and basic rules for socializing. He’s such a sweet character, but throughout the story things that have been done to him in the past are brought up, and something else happens that starts the bullying over again.
I believe that the autism representation in that book was accurate, although I can’t be sure as I don’t have experience with autism. My sister is on the spectrum and I know of a couple of autistic people at my school, but that’s it.
Moving on, there were two things that stayed in my head as I read.
1. Why aren’t there more autistic characters in YA?
I can only think of four, even after racking my brain for nearly twenty minutes.
- David, What to Say Next
- Kurt, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
- Ty, Lady Midnight
- Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde also has one, but I’m not sure who, as I haven’t gotten a chance to read the book yet.
I’m sure there are more in YA that I haven’t found yet, and beyond YA that I’ll get to farther down the road. But why is it so hard to think of stories that feature autism? As of 2014, 1 in 68 kids are on the spectrum, and only in the US. It’s not uncommon in real life, so why isn’t it common in fiction?
I get that books are an escape from the burdens of reality. I do. But over the past several months, people have been calling for inclusion of marginalized groups in books, and rightly so. While it is an escape, shouldn’t we all be able to see ourselves in the stories we read and characters we love?
2. Why are autistic characters written in a bad light? (E.g.: they’re disliked or unnoticed)
From what I’ve read, the intelligence of a character with autism isn’t the issue, beyond being called a freak or a nerd. But a common instance seems to be that the autistic character is disliked because of their differences, or unnoticed because no one wants to be associated with someone they believe is abnormal.
I can’t speak for Queens of Geek, because again, I haven’t read it. But think about it.
- David is ridiculed and threatened because of his notebook and his knowledge of various sciences. Kit is his first friend, aside from his older sister.
- Kurt has no friends other than Isla, who, if I remember correctly, leaves him in the dust for Josh.
- Ty is different from other Shadowhunters, so he isn’t approved of by officials. (That is, if I remember correctly. I read it over a year ago, but I think that’s the gist of it.)
In my eyes, this just isn’t right. So what if autistic people have trouble with social situations, among other things? They’re still people. Having autism doesn’t make them inhuman. Being autistic doesn’t define someone.
And to be quite honest, that can be said about every mental illness, along with ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and gender identity. This post might be centered around autism, but the message relates to more than that.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with me? Can you recommend me books with autistic characters, or characters that have any other mental illnesses? I’d love to know! Tell me in the comments! 🙂
I’m off to start reading Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy by Cassandra Clare. 🙂 I hope you all have a fabulous day/night! ❤
Until next time…