On the Spectrum

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On the Spectrum

Teen Reads Featuring Protagonists with ASD

These five books feature protagonists on the autism spectrum.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder. Reading about autistic characters will foster acceptance and help teens understand and value the experience of their friends with autism. The stories demonstrate the similarities between people on the spectrum and typically developing teens, while portraying autistic characters in a positive light and remaining true to experience. The list includes both fiction and nonfiction, with the nonfiction titles being written by autistic teens themselves.

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork
Seventeen-year-old Marcelo has something similar to Asperger’s syndrome, and he can hear music no one else hears. He has been very comfortable attending his special needs school, where he can care for horses in his school’s stables and be around other kids who understand why he is different. The summer before his senior year, his dad challenges him to work at his law firm in “the real world.” He gives him a choice: he can work at the firm and be allowed to continue attending his special needs school, or he will be forced to attend a “regular” school in the fall. Marcelo begins his journey in the cut-throat atmosphere of a law firm, where he learns about friendship, betrayal, love, ethics, and the price of following your sense of morality.


Episodes: My Life as I See It by Blaze Ginsberg
Blaze Ginsberg, a high-functioning autistic young man, offers us his unique viewpoints and experiences from his freshman year in high school to his first two years of college in this memoir. Formatted like the Internet Movie Database, his life is divided into episodes, each with its own soundtrack. Some are on-going, some have stopped, and some, like Thanksgiving, happen once a year. Blaze is honest, describing the day-to-day challenges every teenager faces, like losing his temper and longing to have a girlfriend. He evaluates his behavior matter-of-factly and grants us uncommon insight into a teen’s developing mind.


Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine 
Ten-year-old Caitlin has Asperger’s syndrome, and her brother, Devon, has always helped her throughout life’s challenges, explaining to her what is cool or not, why kids don’t like it when she does certain things, and why. He is her rock, so when there is a tragic school shooting and Devon is one of the two students who are shot and killed, her world is completely shattered. As the community tries to cope with this traumatic experience, and Caitlin does not
display the emotions they expect from her, she finds a ray of hope in the dictionary when she looks up the definition of closure. She knows this is what she and her dad needs, but she does not know where to find it. In her world, everything has always been black and white, but now Caitlin must face the confusing in-between parts. Ultimately she discovers a world of color that is both beautiful and messy.

The Game of My Life: a True Story of Challenge, Triumph, and Growing Up Autistic by Jason McElwain
Jason McElwain tells the story of how he became known as J-Mac in this memoir. In 2006, his high school basketball team, the Greece Athena Trojans, were comfortably in the lead with a little over four minutes to go. As an autistic student and the team manager, he may have been used to sitting on the sidelines, but that day, his coach decided to send him in. He scored twenty points, including a school record six three-pointers. A videotape of the game, showing his teammates and classmates cheering wildly and then rushing onto the court to carry him away on their shoulders, found its way onto national television, and he became a national sensation. After becoming an inspiration to people everywhere, Jason explains how he was able to overcome adversity and achieve his success.


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
Christopher knows every prime number up to 7,057 and the capital of every country in the world. He has trouble interpreting human emotion, but he can understand animals. There are two things he absolutely cannot stand: being touched by other people, and the color yellow. He is gifted with an extremely logical mind, but everyday interactions mean little to him. He constructs his world around a series of patterns and rules, and keeps a diagram with him at all times. One day, a part of his carefully constructed world goes haywire when his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, is killed. In the style of his favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes, Christopher sets off to discover Wellington’s murderer. Captivating and unusual, this novel skillfully portrays a person whose curse and blessing is a brain capable of seeing the world through an exclusively literal lens.