Books That Help Tweens Empathize With and Understand Autistic Individuals

by Keith Rice

More than perhaps any other medium, books have a unique ability to help us empathize with and understand others. Great stories invite us into the characters’ lives and give us the opportunity to live inside a different world and with a distinct perspective.

Roughly one in fifty-nine children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A good portion of these children are told of their diagnoses around middle school age, an already difficult and transitional time for children. Fortunately, there are several excellent books featuring autistic individuals, with many told from a first-person perspective. These are perfect to help your neurotypical tween better empathize with their siblings, friends, and classmates, or introduce your young reader with autism to characters they can identify with and who let them know they’re not alone.

  • Al Capone Does My Shirts

    by Gennifer Choldenko

    The first volume in the Tales from Alcatraz series centers around Moose, a young boy whose life is turned upside down when his father takes a job at the infamous Alcatraz prison. Moose’s relationship with his older sister Natalie is at the heart of the story and explores what it’s like for Moose as the neurotypical sibling to a sister with ASD.

  • Forever Neverland

    by Susan Adrian

    Building from J. M. Barrie’s beloved Peter Pan, Forever Neverland tells the story of Clover and Fergus, the great-great-grandchildren of Wendy Darling. When Peter Pan arrives to whisk away the children to Neverland, Clover struggles with Fergus’s desire for independence, while Fergus, who’s autistic, fears the judgment of his new friends.

  • Counting by 7s

    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The genuine, frank narration of young Willow Chance is where Counting by 7s really shines. Willow is precocious, to say the least. She’s obsessed with nature and medical conditions, and she deals with anxiety by counting by sevens. When tragedy strikes her adoptive family, Willow must find a new surrogate family — and a place for herself in the world — which she does with courage and grace.

  • Mockingbird

    by Kathryn Erskine

    This National Book Award winner became an instant classic. It features Caitlin, a young girl with Asperger’s syndrome whose older brother is killed in a school shooting. While the subject is clearly difficult, Caitlin’s narration — and the way she deals with her grief and the upheaval in her life — provides poignant insight into the way she sees the world.

  • Planet Earth Is Blue

    by Nicole Panteleakos

    Nicole Panteleakos’s moving debut tells the story of a twelve-year-old nonverbal girl named Nova. She and her big sister, Bridget, are utterly fascinated by space exploration and astronomy, and like many children their age, the girls are counting down the days until the launch of the Challenger Space Shuttle. But when Bridget disappears, Nova is left to navigate a new foster family and school on her own. The nuanced narration will immerse young readers in Nova’s point-of-view and the ways she processes her world.

  • The Reason I Jump

    by Naoki Higashida

    The Reason I Jump is a truly remarkable read for any age. Thirteen-year-old Naoki Higashida is nonverbal and wrote this memoir by spelling out words on an alphabet letter board. With extraordinary self-awareness and insight, Naoki invites readers into his life. Answering a series of straightforward questions, Naoki helps readers not only understand his feelings and perceptions, but also the challenges he faces and the ways repetition soothes him.

  • The London Eye Mystery

    by Siobhan Dowd

    This delightfully constructed puzzle box of a mystery is told from the point of view of Ted, a twelve-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome. When Ted’s cousin Salim goes missing while riding the iconic London Eye, it’s up to Ted and his sister Kat to figure out what happened and bring Salim home.