Fiction is the best window I know into the experiences of others. I can read research, ask questions in conversation with another, observe someone’s life from a distance–all of which are helpful and appropriate to the pursuit of empathy. But through a novel, I can participate in the experiences of the other.
A few years ago, I found myself reaching for books with autistic characters. Each of them helped to expand my neurotypical world a bit, and together they provided a collection of experiences on autism and family life. Here are three novels of autism from the perspectives of parent, sibling, and self.
1. Daniel Isn’t Talking by Marti Leimbach
The diagnosis of their young son drives Melanie and Stephen apart. Devastated and alone, Melanie makes it her sole mission to understand and connect with her child, and discovers a store of strength and dignity she didn’t know she had. The novel is dark and difficult at the start but builds to a hopeful ending.
2. Rules by Cynthia Lord
Being a big sister is hard enough. Being a big sister to a brother who is prone to disrobing in public is yet another challenge. So twelve-year-old Catherine devises rules that help her brother David accommodate cultural expectations that escape his understanding. And though rules are useful in many situations, Catherine’s friendship with a boy she meets at David’s occupational therapy reveals that some rules are made to be broken. Lord received a (well-deserved) Newbery Honor for this debut YA novel.
3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Probably the most well-known of the three, Haddon’s novel is a first-person account of Asperger syndrome. Christopher, 15, puts himself on the case when the neighbor’s dog is found dead and he is fingered as the most likely culprit. Startling and endearing, Christopher’s voice has the ring of authenticity—plus British charm. The Curious Incident was named Whitbread Book of the Year.