Autism, Culture, and Representation

While children’s literature often seems simple and straight-forward, autism in/and children’s literature is not nearly as easy as the ABC’s. The complex and controversial nature of autism manifests itself even within the realm of children’s literature. Controversies arise in two distinct realms: how autism is integrated into children’s literature and how children’s literature is integrated with autistic children. There are many different perspectives concerning both of these controversies. This blog carnival explores these differences and controversies in an effort to make sense of it all…

A is for Autism AND Children’s Literature

One of the main things that I looked at was how autistic children are first introduced to literature and how literature can affect autistic children.

MOM-NOS describes just what a miraculous effect reading can have on a child with autism. She talks about how reading a picture book enabled her son to achieve the unacheivable: the ability to empathize.

The act of reading with autistic kids is also very different. Kiera Parrott limited the “multi-sensory activities” and outlined the program so that the children know what to expect. She was understanding about how autistic children may not always appear to be listening. Autistic children are introduced to literature in different ways.

Spectrum Mom explains how she tried to guide her son towards books with numbers, his passion, but he remained indifferent. She addresses how some try to guide them towards the norms of their age, and others have a hard time getting their autistic child to stop reading.

In a different post, Spectrum Mom compares autistic children to reluctant readers. She recommends using books with less words in bigger fonts and more pictures to make the book less overwhelming to both autistic and reluctant readers. Autistic children, however, need pictures to be exact representations of the text while reluctant readers tend to find their interest in whatever is popular.

As autism continues to grow, it is becoming more and more prevalent in children’s literature. With this increase, books about autism are becoming more kid-friendly. Pamela Paul discusses this change and the book “How to Talk to an Autistic Kid” by Daniel Stefanski, written by an autistic youth to an audience of non-autistic people.

There are a variety of approaches to integrate literature into the lives of autistic children. I think that the best way to do this is to experiment with the child and to understand that every child is different. It is important to balance the encouragement to read with a child’s autonomous decision. Children need their parents to be supportive so that they can take their time and discover what interests them in literature. Parents must be willing to accept that their child may have no interest in literature, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

I can understand why this would concern many parents. But at the same time, I think that guiding the child while giving them a little space is the best way to let them find their own interests. Too much encouragement towards literature just pushes a child away, and it discourages them from reading instead of intriguing them. Parents are responsible for exposing their children to literature and presenting it in a variety of different ways, but the only way that autistic children will develop a lasting relationship with literature is if they themselves find what interests them about it.

An important component of guiding autistic children through the reading process is to be aware of how they might feel in the situation. The books that parents choose can have a huge influence on a child’s interest, and the way parents read to the child can also be a factor. Parents should be very patient with their autistic child so that the child feels comfortable at all times.

There is no doubt that literature can have a variety of positive effects on an autistic child. Autistic children can learn a lot from books such as emotions like empathy. Books are also another way that autistic children can learn more about things that really interest them. There are a variety of ways to introduce autistic children to literature, and there are numerous things that they can learn from it.

I is for Autism IN Children’s Literature

Another important thing to consider when looking at autism and children’s literature is how autistic individuals are portrayed in literature. Many bloggers were troubled by the current representation of autistic people in literature.

Nicole Caldwell emphasized the importance of representing disability in classroom literature. Just as incorporating multicultural literature into the classroom is important, Caldwell justifies the need for representing special needs children. At the same time, Caldwell cautions about the representation of disabled children in literature; it is important to choose books that depict disabled people as empowered equals instead of as pitiful inferiors.

While Bard agrees about the often inaccurate depiction of autistic people, describing this literary representation as a ‘flustercluck’, he has a different perspective on why the representation is flawed. He criticizes how disabled people are portrayed by claiming that they are essentially too empowered; their disability is either paired with heroism as compensation, or it is an obstacle to overcome.

Estee proposes that books about autism tend to have rigid moral meaning. She accuses many of the books about autism for trying to raise money for the cure, which makes them much less appealing to read.

Another fundamental problem in children’s literature for autistic kids is mentioned by Marvie Ellis: the diversity of race is not portrayed. This absence can make situations seem different and more foreign to autistic children of different races.

While many have critiqued the literary representation of autistic people in literature, Lili Marlene takes a different approach by suggesting that people look to “fictional autistic characters” to learn more about autism. She seems to be relatively in concordance with representations of autism in different media forms like film and literature.

Depicting disability in children’s literature is tricky because there is no right or wrong way to do it. On one hand, it is important for autistic people to be included in children’s literature. But at the same time, their identity as a character should not be determined entirely by their disability. While they should be depicted as ordinary individuals as opposed to heroes, their disability should be included as a part of who they are.

There is a difference between using a disabled character because of their disability and having a character who happens to be disabled. There is a balance in this as well; disabilities should be incorporated into literature, but not so consciously as to make the disability entirely define a character. It’s interesting that while some people are not content with current representations of autistic individuals in literature, others believe that these representations are fairly accurate. I question how accurate these representations truly are because often, they are fictional.

Literature has the power to show how diverse the manifestations of autism can be in different individuals. It can not only educate autistic individuals about different representations of autism, but it can also educate others about what it means to be autistic. Especially with children, it is an extremely powerful tool for them to come to understand their autistic siblings or classmates.

I can’t spell out how parents should integrate children’s literature into the lives of their autistic children. I can’t spell out how writers should depict autistic individuals. But nevertheless, it is important to explore the variety of different perspectives that surround each of these matters. And that’s exactly what this blog carnival was for.


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