Picture books generally help kids give context and meaning to the world around them. For children with autism, this doesn’t change. Many children with autism tend to rely on visuals such as pictograms to help them understand and organize information.
According to the study, Children with autism and picture books: extending the reading experiences of autistic learners of primary age, which examines the effect that picture books have on autistic children,”picture books help children with autism develop social and communication skills as well as foster imagination. Their written outcomes clearly showed children’s need to tell stories”.
As autism becomes more common, or more widely diagnosed, more children are being exposed to kids that are different from themselves. Learning to understand these differences from a young age can go a long way in nurturing inclusivity in children.
Below, I highlight what I believe to be some of the best picture books for autistic children as well as some popular books to help non-autistic kids understand autism spectrum disorders.
Picture books for autistic children
Books with texture for sensory input
Books with texture or pop-up books are thought to be some of the best books for kids with autism as they require them to use a few of their senses at a time. Pop-up books allow for interaction and attention, keeping the child in the present and focused on the book.
Best-selling children’s author Fiona Watts writes a series of books that include different textures allowing your child to explore and want to touch the different pages. The That’s Not My… series based on animals and transport includes, That’s Not My Lion.., That’s Not My Car…, That’s Not My Bunny…, and many others.
The Never Touch picture book series by Greening Rosie includes books such as Never Touch A Shark and Never Touch A Monster. These children’s board books include fun textures that are hard, soft, or even bumpy, making them good entertainment for kids who crave tactile sensory input.
Little Hippo Books is a publishing house that specializes in kids’ books. Little Hippo has many book series such as a series of touch and feel books that include pop-its, as well as different textures. The Peekaboo series includes a selection of books about animals which include textures of what that animal would feel like. The Pop Tales book series include tales such as Whale’s Popin Carnival and the colorful Popasaurus which includes animals made out of pop-its.
Books with repetition
Books with repetitive text are great at teaching kids alliteration and phrases. These books allow parents to help their kids sound out words or practice taking turns.
American children’s author, Eric Carle authors a classic series of picture books popular among kids with autism. To name a few, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See, and The Grouchy Ladybug.
Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed by Eileen Christelow is a crowd favorite among parents. This children’s book contains many opportunities to instigate communication with your child through repetition. Once the repetition becomes predictable it provides an opportunity to stay silent whilst your child finishes the sentence or continues with the last phrase.
A novel popular among autistic kids, teachers, and parents, is the picture book by David Shannon called No, David! This humorous novel is about a young mischievous boy named David who goes about his life doing things he’s not supposed to, such as streaking down the street, or drawing on the walls while the narrator repeats the words “No David!”.
Reading books for social skills
The following books are good for young readers and parents who are wanting to help their autistic children understand social skills and develop their conversational skills using picture books.
Mo Willems is a seasoned children’s author with many popular published books under his belt. For social skills, Mo’s books, My New Friend Is So Fun, Should I Share My Ice Cream?, and Can I Play Too, show young kids how to interact with friends and how to show empathy in social situations.
A book that parents might also love to read to their kids is the fun and heartwarming story, Bronco, and Friends: A Party to Remember by Tim Tebow with A.J Gregory. This book celebrates children with special needs and encourages young children to embrace each other’s differences.
The Social Skills Picture Book: Teaching Play, Emotion, and Communication to Children with Autism by Jed Baker, PhD is a picture book and educational resource offering pictures of how to handle a social situation. The Social Skills Picture Book shows almost 30 pictures of real-life social situations allowing the child to interpret the most appropriate way of handling a social situation, with the book showing the consequence of choosing the “wrong way”.
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Picture books about autism spectrum disorders
The following are picture books for young readers about autism. Some are written by people on the spectrum with the intention to make neurodivergent children feel less alone and help them understand that what they are feeling or experiencing is ok. Many of these books children with autism will enjoy.
Wiggles, Stomps and Squeezes’ Calm My Jitters Down by Lindsey Rowe Parker and Rebecca Burgess is a novel that helps inform readers about the unique ways autistic kids process their sensory input. From the point of view of a mother and her son on the spectrum, this book expresses the jittery feelings the main character feels using visual cues.
Just Right For You: A Story About Autism. This board book was written by Melanie Hayworth and CEART (I am Cadence). This children’s book is a positive introduction to autism spectrum disorder and the writer and illustrator are both autistic, making the book a true account of autism.
A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey and Mika Song is a book based on the true experience of Bailey’s autistic son. Henry is a young boy who wants to make friends but has trouble understanding kids because he is so particular. Henry ends up making friends with a quiet girl named Katie, gaining the perfect friend that he was looking for.
Looking After Louis, written by Lesley Ely and illustrated by Polly Dunbar, is a book about a young boy named Louis. Louis has autism and through imagination and kindness, his classmates find a way to join him in his world. This powerful book celebrates the advantages of inclusivity among autistic kids and neurotypical children.
My Friend With Autism, written by Beverly Bishop is a picture book that follows the story of someone who has a friend with autism. The narrator explains to their classmates that his best friend is good at some things and struggles with others, thus even though his friend has autism he is also like everyone else. This book addresses issues such as sensory sensitivity, communication differences, and unique ways of playing, in an informative and positive tone.
The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin written by Julia Finley Mosca is a favorite among teachers and young readers as it follows the story of one of the most influential advocates for autism. The book follows the inspirational true tale of how a young Temple went from getting diagnosed with autism to being one of the most powerful voices in modern science. Dr. Grandin is also known for inventing groundbreaking improvements for farms around the world using her unique mind to do so.
What It Is To Be Me by Angela Wine is a children’s book based on her son Danny who has Asperger’s syndrome. Danny, who is also the main character in the book, describes the ups and downs and the pride of being someone who is on the spectrum.
Do You Want To Play? Making Friends With an Autistic Kid written by Daniel Share Strom and illustrated by Naghmeh Afshinjah is a book that explores learning about others and finding new ways to have fun. Making friends is one of the many social challenges autistic kids face. Many books illustrate different ways autistic kids can achieve this, but also tend to show the autistic child changing or hiding a part of themselves to fit in. Do You Want To Play? celebrates the differences between non-autistic and autistic kids, as it shows that bridging the gap doesn’t mean changing yourself but instead finding new ways to have fun.
My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Elizabeth Peete follows the heartwarming story of Holly’s son Charlie who was diagnosed with autism. This novel provides insights into life with autism and helps kids understand why those with autism might struggle to make friends.
Chapter books for autistic children
For young readers who are looking for a longer story to delve into, chapter books are written to make the reader want to read the next chapter; this is a great way to practice concentration and staying in the moment for long periods of time. Chapter books are a good way to strengthen the imagination as one can practice coming up with all the things that could happen in the next chapter.
West Meadow Detectives: The Case Of The Snack Snatcher by Liam O’Donnell is about a boy named Myron who moves to a new school. Myron makes a new friend Hajrah whom he shares special classes with. Together, Myron and Hajrah carry out an investigation of who is stealing the morning snacks at school.
A Boy Called Bat by Elana K Arnold follows the story of a boy whom everyone calls Bat whose mother, a vet, brings home a baby skunk that lost its mother. Bat convinces his mother to keep the cute skunk and even goes to disrupt his strict schedule to take care of it. This novel is popular for children on the spectrum who are able to relate to Bat and his ways.
Super Lexi by Emma Lesko and Adam Winsor is about a young girl named Lexi. Lexi has many phobias, such as getting songs stuck in her head and yogurt. Lexi’s biggest fear is being stared at by many people. When Lexi ends up with a solo in the Parents’ Day Performance, Lexi has to figure out a way to disappear offstage. This book clearly describes Lexi’s thinking and reasoning giving the reader insight into how Lexi thinks.
To end off
There are so many books for autistic kids, to both educate and entertain them. Picture books are some of the best ways to not only educate and entertain, but for parents and children to spend quality time with each other.
When doing research for this article, I came across numerous accounts of adults commenting on their favorite picture book, not because they have children themselves, but because they have retained the feeling of one of their parents reading to them, creating a fond memory resulting in an opinion about which picture book they loved as a child.
The best way to keep the attention of an autistic toddler is to find books that have exciting features to them, such as textures or buttons that make noise.
To practice taking turns and being verbal with your child, books with repetition and predictability tend to be best.
To practice social skills, using picture books with visuals of social situations or fun characters that your child will be interested in are a great way to start teaching your autistic child the most socially acceptable way to conduct themselves in a social situation.
In my opinion, the above-mentioned books about autism for neurotypical and autistic kids are great books to teach your children about inclusivity and to help kids on the spectrum feel a lot less isolated at mainstream schools.
Tabernero, R, Virginia, C.(2019, January 20) Children with autism and picture books: extending the reading experiences of autistic learners of primary age.