Discussion: Autistic Characters

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…


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25 thoughts on “Discussion: Autistic Characters

  1. My youngest brother has autism. The only book I’ve read with an autistic character is Isla and the Happily Ever After. And I really didn’t love how it was done at all.
    Also. I’m noticing that a lot of the characters with Autism are usually side characters. That’s just my knowledge of what I’ve read so far.
    I really need to read Queen of Geeks and find more books with this sort of character.
    Because you make a good point. When readers say they want diversity with mental illnesses in a book, it usually results in topics of depression, anxiety, bipolar, PTSD, and the like. Which is Amazing.
    But what about a character with Down’s syndrome or autism. That may be too difficult of a theme to write in a YA book, I also may not be looking in the right places.
    But this is definitely a good discussion to be had.
    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, the autism rep in Isla isn’t the best, and there aren’t enough autistic or otherwise mentally ill protagonists.

      I’ve heard amazing things about QOG though, so I’m looking forward to reading that!! Hopefully you enjoy it as well, when you can get to it. 😊

      And yeah, there aren’t a ton of mental illness books yet, but I’ve heard of a lot that sound great coming out later this year and next!! One that I’m looking forward to is Eliza and Her Monsters, which if I remember correctly is about a girl with schizophrenia.

      And thank you!! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It really is hard to find books with autism rep! The only one I can think of is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I really liked that when I was in high school BUT I don’t know if the rep is done well. I read Lady Midnight and Isla and I don’t even remember a character with autism??? I feel like that shows how well that rep was done in those books…..or my memory is just terrible.

    There definitely needs to be more. I haven’t read any with the MC on the autism spectrum! Great discussion.

    Molly @ Molly’s Book Nook

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ASD in books is such a huge thing for me so I actively look out a lot of books that star a main character with Autism, some
    Of my faves are Are You seeing Me by Darren Groth, Things I shouldn’t done, anything but typical, Queens of Geek, and I have on the edge of Gone and navigating Early in my TBR I recommend checking of disability in kid lit’s site(it should come up with a google search) they have amazing lists and own voice reviews thats I’ve found to be fantastic in figuring good rep reads 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m autistic. I haven’t read any of the books you’ve mentioned (I’ll have to check them out), but one I’ve really enjoyed and recommend to everyone is “On the Edge of Gone” by Corrine Duyvis. The author is autistic herself, and her portrayal of the 16 year old, FEMALE protagonist (I’m such a stan for female autism representation in the media), is so accurate. She doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb or melt into the background like the author has brought them in for the diversity factor–she is there, and she is present, and she’s wonderful. This book deals with so many diverse themes I definitely recommend giving it a read if you can find it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’d like to recommend The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes which is a YA novel about an autistic teen who loves trees. He also loves to climb them. He gets into trouble because he wants to climb a very tall old growth tree.

    Liked by 1 person

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