Autism on the Page: An Introduction

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Today, we kick off our Autism on the Page event: throughout all of April, we’re hosting autistic contributors who will talk about tropes, misconceptions, representation, and their thoughts on middle grade and young adult books featuring autistic characters.

April is, of course, Autism Awareness Month. During a month like this, in a literary community like the kidlit world, it’s logical to discuss autistic representation in fiction. Autistic narrators have been dubbed a trend, and however cringe-worthy that designation may be–more on that later this month!–it’s true that there has been a minor explosion in “autism books” over the past decade. Autistic narrators. Autistic siblings. Autistic best friends. Sometimes those characters’ autism plays a central role, sometimes not.

In all cases, it’s worth discussing. Representation, as we all know, has a huge effect on readers. Good effects, bad effects. Mirrors and windows.

This month, we wanted to give our communities a central place to talk about these portrayals. A central place to discuss and learn about the good, the bad, and the actually-it’s-not-so-straightforward. Our contributors range from published and aspiring authors, to activists, to reviewers, to eager readers. They won’t always agree with each other. One person may hate a certain trope; another may not mind it. One person may adore a certain book; another may cringe and wonder, “But what about the part where …”

We’re not here to give you one final verdict. We’re here, simply, to give you another perspective–but that perspective is one that’s vitally important, and one that many people outside of the disability community are, sadly, not familiar with. The MG and YA communities have precious few openly autistic voices, and in the wider world, autistic voices are rarely given airtime, particularly when they criticize how people treat and depict us. Instead, people will only hear the inspiring, tragic, and–yes–heavily skewed stories.

This goes double for Autism Awareness Month.

For many autistic people, this month has become something to dread. Too often, it’s a time where non-autistic voices will speak for us and be applauded for doing so; a time where our conditions are centered, but our lives, identities, and own thoughts on that condition are discarded; a time where integral parts of ourselves are held up as tragedies, as something to pity, minimize, and cure.

This is always our reality, but in April, it’s everywhere.

However we may feel about our conditions–and, from loving to loathing, these opinions are equally valid–we need to be able to express that ourselves. We need nuance, understanding, and self-advocacy. This month, please center autistic voices, and think twice before supporting others who would deign to speak for us.

That’s what we want to accomplish here. Give autistic people a place to discuss our own representation. Let others hear directly from us instead of the narratives they’re bombarded with in both fiction and other media.

And, in doing so, we’re building an invaluable canon of autistic commentary on children’s fiction. What is the deal with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time? Why do so many protagonists display autistic traits, but the word is never used to describe them? What of modern classics like Rules and Mockingbird, or recent award winners like Rain Reign? How can autism affect autistic authors? And what is one common mistake that non-autistic authors make when depicting autistic characters?

We’ll discuss all that, and far more besides. We invite you to join us in the comments, on Twitter, and on Tumblr. We invite media to spread the word and come talk to us.

Welcome to Autism on the Page. Let’s talk books.



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11 Comments

  1. Thank you for beginning this conversation.

    While writing a middle grade novel I’ve been binge reading every book I can find which features characters on the spectrum. While I find many of them wonderful and insightful, my perspective is limited, and my experience is primarily with preschoolers. I’m looking forward to reading other perspectives – and especially those of insiders.

  2. Thank you for doing this! There’s definitely a tendency during this month to have others speak for us, as if we’re incapable of speaking for ourselves– to the point of actively shutting us out. I look forward to hearing the variety of insider perspectives and hope others will learn from our varied experiences.

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  4. Too true. There are a few good examples of people with autism on TV, but most of them are limited in scope. The really good characters with autism are never labelled as such. And books! Grrr, I’ve searched and searched for autistic characters with a big role and come up with a tinier population even compared to the few characters on TV.
    As an author with autism I try to add diverse characters in all of my stories. A novel with an autistic protagonist is on my list (once i finish my series with the guy with probable adhd and possible bipolar, and then write that other series that’s clawing at me with a gay, latino, paraplegic protagonist).
    I think the biggest mistake made in autism representation is that we’re all the same. We’re not.
    The second biggest is that the reason why some people with autism are verbal, while others aren’t is because they’re higher functioning. Not always true. You can have non verbal people who interact with the community fine and have little sensory issues, and you can have verbal people who never leave their bedrooms because they can’t handle the noise/smells/brightness of the outside world. Everyone is different, no matter their label.

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  7. I absolutely love that you are doing this for Autism Awareness month! Society has gotten so fixated on what the medical field has to say about those on the Autism spectrum and not enough attention has been given to speaking to them directly about their experiences. I recently started a blog about tips for parents of children with Autism and my own experiences in the field working with a ton of different kiddos. I would love for you to check out my page and leave a comment given your wealth of knowledge in this area! http://www.parentinginmotion.com
    Smiles,
    Shaina

  8. We’re proud to have published How to be Human: Diary of an Autistic Girl, where the author describes steps she took to figure out how not to feel so alien as an autistic kid in a non-autistic world. I love her quote in interviews where she says in reference to generalizations about autism, “If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.” Check out Georgia Lyon, who wrote under the pen name of Florida Frenz, if you want an inside view of one girl’s experience.

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