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Adriana White: Writing Autistic Characters

As an undiagnosed autistic kid, I found solace in stories. Like other autistic readers, I found myself drawn to spies like Harriet and outcasts like Meg Murry. Something about them - the way they thought, the way they spoke and interacted with others, the way their characters were written - resonated with me on a level that I wouldn't fully understand until decades later.

Now, as a school librarian, I know why the Harriets and Megs of the world are so important. They offered a glimpse into a shared experience that autistic kids in the 1980s and 90s just couldn't find anywhere else. Today's kids, thankfully, have it so much better.

CharlieVivyJesseKiaraStanleyAddieMaddy -- there are so many wonderful autistic characters being written today by so many amazing ownvoices writers. Autistic author Corinne Duyvis coined the term #OwnVoices in 2015 to describe books with “diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group.” The concept is still incredibly important and necessary in kidlit today, as the publishing industry continues to grapple with decades of racism, sexism, and ableism.

As teachers and librarians, we have the great responsibility of guiding the next generation of leaders, dreamers, and writers. With an estimated occurrence rate of somewhere between 1 in 40 and 1 in 20, every teacher and librarian will encounter an autistic student at almost every grade level. Neurotypical students will live and work alongside neurodivergent peers (some diagnosed, some undiagnosed). So it is incredibly important that we tell stories with autistic characters that are both positive and true. Stories that reflect the real, complex lives of autistic children and adults. Stories, especially, that are written by autistic authors.

However, it is also important that neurotypical writers also learn how to appropriately and respectfully write about autistic characters. If a writer chooses to include an autistic character in their writing, then they must take care not to misrepresent autism and other forms of neurodiversity (including ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette’s, and other similar conditions).

This summer, I designed and presented a video lesson for the Middle Ground Book Fest on the topic of writing neurodivergent and autistic characters. In creating my lesson, I drew on the wisdom of several autistic writers, including Elizabeth Bartmess and Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Autistic authors like Bartmess, Miller-Lachmann, Duyvis, Ada Hoffman, Sally J. Pla, Marieke Nijkamp, and so many others have written extensively on the topic of autistic representation. They analyzed books from the 2000s and early 2010s - books mainly written by neurotypical writers. They clarified the flaws and celebrated the successes of these books, and pushed for publishers to support more autistic authors. Their work has led to an increase in ownvoices titles, but there is still so much more work to be done.


While I am heartened by the growing number of autistic book lists, I wanted to create my own educational resource that middle school students could use to learn more about neurodiversity and writing autistic characters. This site is Autism in MG Books. It includes a link to my lesson video, Neurodiversity in MG Books.


The site currently focuses primarily on autism, but I plan to include resources about other forms of neurodiversity in the near future! It is my hope that teachers and librarians will find my lesson and accompanying website useful, and use it to inspire their young writers - both neurodivergent and neurotypical. The authors of the future are in our classrooms today, and the stories they tell about the diverse world around them will have an impact on how people see one another. There are millions of autistic and neurodivergent kids and adults in the world, and they deserve to read, and write, powerful and authentic stories about themselves. I hope my work as an autistic librarian can help guide more readers to the growing number of amazing books about autism.

Adriana White is an autistic school librarian and former special education teacher. Since being diagnosed with autism in her 30s, she has set out to create more autism-friendly schools and libraries. She is also passionate about supporting #OwnVoices books by autistic authors, and thinks that every library collection should include them! Links to her work, including her Geek Club Books column on autistic books, can be found on Linktree. She can also be found on Twitter at @Adriana_Edu, where she tweets about autism, libraries, and diverse books.

Adriana has earned Master’s degrees in Education and Information Science, with specializations in Special Education and Storytelling, respectively. Adriana currently lives in Texas with her husband Kyle and their 2 dogs. She spends her free time reading, writing, and playing video games. You can connect with her through Linktree or @Adriana_Edu on Twitter. For more of Adriana's writing on autism, neurodiversity, and education, click here.