11 Books and Shows That Authentically Represent Autistic People

The media regularly struggles to portray folks with autism — that is, if the outlets even attempt to include these individuals at all.

Oversimplified stories are far too common. For instance, many plot lines feature characters whose whole lives revolve around their place on the spectrum. And some shows seem to rely on those who struggle to recognize social cues for laughs. Equally problematic are the roles that stereotypically cast autistic people as superhuman savants.

Even on the news, we often hear from non-autistic parents who speak for their autistic children — even if they’re grown and able to talk for themselves.

Clearly, we need to see more diverse stories about autistic people. Stories that treat them as real humans, not just caricatures. As with people not on the autism spectrum, individuals with autism have no single story.

Here are a few books, films and shows that humanize folks with autism.

1. “All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism” — Autism Women’s Network

“For too long, we have whitewashed autism,” Emily Brooks tells Spectrum. ”This bad habit makes it all the more crucial to take in the artistic and written stories in “All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism.”

The anthology compiles the too often silenced voices of over 60 people of color living with autism around the world. As Brooks notes, their stories diversify mainstream narratives about what it means to be autistic. The accounts also highlight how ableism and racism collide to make these personal struggles even harder.

2. “Tremontaine” – Serial Box Publishing

Many have applauded this fictional fantasy series for not only centering a lesbian of color, but also for portraying an autistic character with respect and nuance.

As Heather Hogan writes on Autostraddle, “Tremontaine” follows a slew of characters with overlapping stories, including Micah Heslop, a former farmer who’s now a mathematician. Heslop opts to present as a boy, so she can go to college.

Though most folks on the spectrum are not savants like her, Heslop receives more care to her character’s story than we usually see.

3. “Off the Rails” 

This documentary follows New York resident Darius McCollum, who’s been in and out of prison since age 15 for impersonating transit employees. Whether he’s operating a train or a city bus, he always is careful to run through their ordinary routes and return the vehicle at the end of the day.

If you’re looking for a compassionate, clear-eyed look at how our legal systems fails neurodivergent people – particularly those of color — this is a worthy watch.

4. “Sesame Street”

The beloved children’s show recently announced that it’s introducing Julia, the first Muppet with autism.

Show creators say they wanted to portray a character with an autism spectrum disorder in a more positive way than is the norm.

5. “Asperger’s Are Us”

A group of longtime friends in their 20s band together to start a touring comedy troupe, and the results are delightful and irreverent.

The documentary ”Asperger’s Are Us” offers a fun look into their everyday lives.

6. “Anything But Typical” — Nora Raleigh Baskin

This young adult novel follows 12-year-old writer Jason Blake, who’s coming of age in a neurotypical world.

7. “Snow Cake”

Both a book and a movie, “Snow Cake’s” Linda lives “in her own house and on her own terms,” as Shannon Des Roches Rosa puts it on Spectrum.

While Sigourney Weaver is not autistic, critics have praised her for a compassionate portrayal of Linda, who’s developmentally disabled and autistic.

8. “Community”

As Ari Ne’eman notes to Spectrum, sometimes the best-rounded portrayals of autistic folks happen when their condition isn’t specifically mentioned. Shows can fixate on someone’s autism, and forget to show how it blends into the rest of their life.

Abed is a socially awkward movie buff who’s an essential part of “Community’s” featured friend group.

9. “Different Like Me” – Jennifer Elder

No matter how their brains work, kids need more diverse heroes to look up to. And “Different Like Me“ delivers.

This picture book features remarkable people suspected to have autism throughout history, such as Albert Einstein and Andy Warhol.

10. “Look Me In the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s” – John Robison

An Asperger’s diagnosis at age 40 transformed how John Robison saw his life.

His memoir is dark, funny and moving. Readers get to know one man, and his experience growing up labeled a “social deviant,” intimately.

11. “On the Edge of Gone” – Corinne Duyvis

A book covering a character with autism written by someone who’s actually autistic shouldn’t be hard to find. However, as Shannon Des Roches Rosa notes, it is. And that’s what makes “On the Edge of Gone” extraordinary.

As Des Roches Rosa explains, the 2016 book “explores what it would be like to cope with a post-apocalyptic society as an autistic person — and involves spaceships.”

Photo Credit: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

345 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y7 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y7 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J7 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J7 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Cat N
Cat N8 months ago

About bloody time! As someone with an autistic nephew, a list of this kind is long, long overdue.

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Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

Thanks for posting.

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Christine J
Christine Jabout a year ago

Another worthwhile read is "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time". While I'm informed and sensitive to those who are neurodivergent, as I have loved ones in that category, I draw the line at "Off The Rails". The gentleman clearly knew and understood that what he was doing was wrong. It was stealing and fraud. We can't just do something because we want to, or even because we feel compelled to, and have society look the other way. I'm unhappy that he ended up going to prison, but if you are arrested for doing something 22 times and you just ignore all warnings, fines, probation, etc, and just keep doing it, that is going to happen. When I get on a bus or train (a multi-ton hunk of metal travelling at high speed with other traffic) I want to know that the person is a trained, licensed, experienced and supervised employee and is actually employed by a company who will be responsible if anything goes wrong. God forbid there had been an incident or accident; you can bet everyone would be jumping up and down and suing the company. What if he "felt compelled" to act as a lawyer or a doctor? Pilot? Police officer? Fire-fighter? Sensitivity and understanding by all means, but tempered with common sense and respect for the law.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah H1 years ago

interesting

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Carl R
Carl R1 years ago

Thanks!!!

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FOTEINI H
foteini c1 years ago

don't forget to sign all petitions about autistic kids, autism, stamp of autism etc

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