Tuesday, April 09, 2019

The Not So Good Autism Book List

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A list of problematic autism books that you might want to avoid and what to look for when reading autism books to determine whether or not they are good texts to share with children.

I have been on a mission this year to compile a great list of books about autism, including autism picture books and fiction and chapter books that feature autistic characters. Books that help educate you and your children about what autism is and isn't. Books that help you better understand and appreciate what it's like to be autistic. Books that realistically portray autistic people of all ages.

Really just autism books that aren't garbage.

And trust me, there's a lot of duds out there.

There's an insane amount of awful books about autism out there and I know that I've barely scratched the surface here on this list. I haven't even touched the books that have already been actively boycotted by the autistic community (mostly because I don't even want to read some of those books to begin with!). But this list below is a list that I will continue to add to as I discover other pieces of not so good literature.

If you follow me on Instagram, then you already know that I have been sharing snippets of some of the not so good autism books as I come across them. But many people have begged and encouraged me to compile a proper list so that they can know what to look for when reading autism books and what to avoid including in their personal or classroom libraries.

So here you have it: the not so good list of autism books and the reasons why they are problematic.

Problematic autism books list: autism books to avoid and what to look for when reading autism books

But First...My Disclaimer for this List of Problematic Autism Books

I have personally read all of the books on this list (or as much as I could tolerate the grossness contained within its pages - some I simply couldn't finish) and all opinions are my own. You might not agree with my opinions and that's fine.

I just suggest that you to read all autism books yourself first before deciding whether or not to read or share them with your children. Obviously, the books I share below are ones that I would not share with my own children for a variety of reasons, as you will see.

Maybe you're wondering though...why share a list like this?

Well, I share this list of autism books for a couple of reasons. First, I want you to be aware of what books to avoid and why. Second, so that you don't have to waste your time reading them like I did.

What to Look for When Reading Autism Books

Surprisingly, some of the books on this list have really good reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads when they really shouldn't. I mean the books on the list below are here for a reason. Reasons that you should keep in mind when reading and evaluating autism texts or any disability book, really.

Am I perfect at spotting all of the subtleties of the problems I mention below? Nope, not by any means. I still miss things from time to time as I'm still learning to spot these kinds of issues myself. However, some issues are quite easy to spot as you will see.

Some things to watch out for include:

  • Harmful narratives about autism
  • Negative tones about autism
  • Focuses on deficits
  • Cure talk
  • Overuse of puzzle piece imagery and its implied narratives
  • Burden/tragedy narratives
  • Stereotypes (e.g., autism is only in boys or children)
  • Inaccurate and/or outdated definitions
  • Misinformation about autism
  • Ableism
  • Views autism as a growing epidemic
  • Views autism as something less than human
  • "Inspiration porn"
  • Disability masking being viewed as a good thing
  • ...and basically anything that would be offensive and hurtful if read by an autistic person
So consider this your content warning for the list below.

Problematic Autism Books (aka The Not So Good List of Books About Autism)

1. I am an Aspie Girl by Danuta Bulhak-Paterson & illustrated by Teresa Ferguson

  • Minimizes the effects of masking
  • Calls being able to blend in and appear normal a "special talent"
  • Example excerpt: "Aspie girls have a special talent at being able to blend in with others and look just like the other girls"

2. My Friend Has Autism by Amanda Doering Tourville & illustrated by Kristina Sorra

  • Blurbs about curing autism
  • Misinformation about what autism actually is
  • Ableism
  • Example excerpt: "Autism is a brain-based disorder. With autism, parts of the brain don't grow the way they should. No one knows why some kids have autism. There is no cure yet."

3. My Brother is Different by Barbara J. Morvay

  • Mentions autism as an epidemic
  • Cure talk
  • Burden/tragedy narrative
  • Extremely negative tone
  • Blaming autism for marital strain and strain between siblings
  • Paints autism as only something that happens in boys
  • Equates autism with being unhappy
  • Example excerpt: "There isn't much out there about the normal child in the household, the child witnessing the family in crisis."
  • Example excerpt: "The effect your autistic child is having on your other child, the normal one."
  • Example excerpt: "Your child is autistic, there is no cure. It is a lifelong challenge. There is no magical pill."
  • Example excerpt: "Your autistic child has placed a strain on you, your family, and your marriage."

4. Ian's Walk: A Story About Autism by Laurie Lears & illustrated by Karen Ritz

  • The introduction equates being neurotypical with healthy and being autistic with unhealthy
  • Example excerpt: "As in the case of Julie, the healthy sibling in this book..."

5. The ASD Feel Better Book by Joel Shaul

  • Heavy on the puzzle piece imagery (covers almost every page in the book)
  • A problematic/weird title worthy of its own discussion!

6. Anything, But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

  • A passage dedicated to the mother of the autistic narrator wanting to fix her autistic son and her focus on finding the root cause of his autism, which includes, yes, blaming vaccines
  • Example excerpt: "And I think my mother wants to fix me...And if she can't fix me, at least she wants to explain how I got like this. So she is looking for a reason. A reason to explain me. It could be: The mercury in the DPT vaccines A wayward chromosome A mutated gene Too much peanut butter eaten during the first trimester Not enough oxygen during delivery"

7. Rules by Cynthia Lord by Cynthia Lord

  • Burden narrative
  • Cure talk
  • Example excerpt: "Sometimes I wish someone would invent a pill so David'd wake up one morning without autism, like someone waking from a long coma...and he'd be a regular brother like Melissa has."

8. In My World by Jillian Ma & illustrated by Mimi Chao

  • Shocking and abrupt change in illustrations and text at mention of autism
  • Pushes the "autism steals your child" narrative
  • Example: The illustrations lose all their color on the page that mentions the word autism and shows the child standing all alone.
Now obviously this list isn't exhaustive by any means. And I'm sure that even more books will be added to this list as I come across them, but I hope it's a good starting point for you.

Want Good Autism Book Suggestions? Try These Instead!

Problematic autism books list: autism books to avoid and what to look for when reading autism books