Reality Scoop: National Autism Awareness Month

April is National Autism Awareness Month. According to the National Autism Society one of the nations leading grassroots autism organization, as many as one in 500 teens are thought to have autism,  Statistics have also proven that the possibility of boys having autism is more typical than in girls. Teenagers that have autism have most likely been diagnosed when they were young during their toddler years.  It should also be noted that autism is a developmental disorder and should not be mistaken for a personality disorder.  Teens that are autistic can learn skills to help interact socially with others.  In addition, most autistic teens are able to engage in school classes and age appropriate activities. Many teens with autism have been found to have an above-average intelligence.

The National Autism Society found that autism can be hard to distinguish because it is what is called a spectrum disorder. When you hear someone talk about the spectrum, this means the different severity levels of autism that require support. Level 3, requiring very substantial support, Level 2, requiring substantial support, and Level 1, requiring support.  This also means that teens with autism are all different on the spectrum levels and will not have the same symptoms, this is why it is called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  Ultimately, autism affects all teens differently.

cc image via Flickr user Vladimir Pustovit
cc image via Flickr user Vladimir Pustovit

Autism Speaks is a foundation that is working hard to raise awareness of autism.  The Autism Speaks foundation has found that many educators are not prepared to adapt their teaching methods to meet the state standards and the increasingly diverse needs of teens with autism.  Veronica Fleury an author that writes for the University of North Carolina’s Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders has been advocating to help teachers focus more on students with autism and hopes that schools will realize that jobs in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) can be ideal careers for many teens with autism.  Fleury has proven with her research that many college students with autism are interested in concentrating on STEM courses.  According to Fleury, “High school students with ASD also need ample opportunities to practice skills across settings throughout the school day…  Teaching them to monitor their own behavior can help them to use their skills in a variety of settings.”

It should also be acknowledged that not every individual with autism supports the message and work of Autism Speaks.

There are a lot of books that feature teens with autism. These books show varying degrees or levels of compassion and understanding to teens with autism and relay the message that we should treat teens with autism with kindness and warmth.  Most importantly we need to remember just because a teen has autism, it should not define who they are, nor should we expect teens with autism to let it define what they can achieve in their lives.  We should remember that the possibilities of positivity, growth, and success for teens with autism are limitless.

YA Fiction about teens with autism

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

This science fiction novel set in the near future where a comet is on an imminent course to crash into Earth stars Denise, a biracial teen with autism who is desperately trying to secure her family passage in a spaceship that may be their only chance of survival. Complex, flawed characters and a plot as thought-provoking as it is suspenseful will satisfy fans of Salvage by Alexandra Duncan or Starglass by Phoebe North.

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork 2010 ALA Best Books for Young Adults Award; 2010 Teen Book Schneider Family Book Award Winner

Marcelo, a sheltered autistic teenager is asked by his father to spend the summer working at his law firm in the mailroom to help him experience life in the “real world.” While there Marcelo learns about a romantic relationship with the female coworker, rivalry, anger, and deception.

Rules by Cynthia Lord 2007 Newbery Award Honor Book; 2007 ALA Notable Children’s Book; 2007 Middle School Book Schneider Family Award Winner

Catherine, a middle school student, is concerned about appearing normal. Although she loves her autistic brother, David, she is embarrassed by his odd behavior. Catherine really wants to impress Kristi the new girl next door and doesn’t want her family to mess things up for her. In an attempt to cope, Catherine creates “rules” for David to help him understand how the world works. When she befriends Jason, a nonverbal paraplegic who uses a book of pictures to communicate, she begins to realize that being normal is not all there is to life. Catherine learns that it is more important to accept others than to follow normal rules of behavior.

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Bascom 2010 Middle School Book Schneider Family Award Winner

Jason is a 12-year-old autistic boy who wants to become a writer.  He loves to write online and through a writing forum community he has made a friend Rebecca who really likes his writing.  Jason relates what life is like being autistic as he tries to make a connection with his online writing friend and plans to meet up in person.  The only problem is that Rebecca doesn’t know that Jason is autistic.  The pain and fear that Jason feels when contemplating whether he should meet Rebecca or keep the relationship strictly online where everything is safe and sound is overwhelming.  If he doesn’t take a chance he may never have a chance at a real friendship.

Colin Fischer by Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz

14-year-old Colin Fischer is an autistic freshman. He is high-functioning and very smart but fails to fit in socially because he doesn’t know how to interact with other teens.  Colin loves to investigate things and he keeps a notebook filled with his research with his ideas and information that he has been keeping for many years.  Colin is not good at any sports.  In fact, he is possibly the most uncoordinated teen ever.  However, he does enjoy jumping on the trampoline, which has a strangely calming effect on him.  Colin’s first two days at high school are full of quirky events.  He gets sent to the principals office, becomes a witness in a shooting incident at school, partakes in a fight, decides to not tell his parents the truth, and best of all solves a crime and makes some new friends.

The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Kehoe

At seventeen, Daisy feels imprisoned by her brother Steven’s autism and the effect it has on her life.  Her only escape is playing her trumpet and submerging herself into the world of jazz, but when her parents decide to send Steven to an institution, Daisy is not ready to let him go.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon

Despite his overwhelming fear of interacting with people, Christopher an autistic teen boy decides to investigate the murder of a neighbor’s dog. Christopher is a super champ when it comes t math and science, although when it comes to emotions, he finds those to be particularly complex for him to compartmentalize and deal with. Christopher tells us “I know all of the countries of the world and their capital cities, and every prime number up to 7,057.”  When he finds a neighbor’s dog, named Wellington murdered he decides to write about it.  The chain of events that occur through Christopher’s investigation of Wellington’s murder unravel a bit more than he bargained for.  Christopher begins to see through his own understanding the impact of his being autistic has had on his family.  He won’t give up until he finds out the truth. Not knowing that in seeking the truth he will  have to endure the most painful experiences and all of the coping skills he has learned will be challenged.

Non-fiction titles that focus on teens with autism

Same but Different by Holly Robinson Peete

Peete is an Autism Speaks board member and her book Same but Different is written in diary form and is inspired by the experiences of Peete’s twins RJ and Ryan Elizabeth.  The wonderful thing about this book is that it expresses how important it is for teens with autism to connect with one another and shares many experiences that teens with autism can relate with.

Autism Playbook for Teens by Irene McHenry

This book is broken into three parts, section one teaches teens to calm their body and mind. Teens will learn practical strategies to manage anxiety and self-calm.  Section two will teach teens how to identify their thoughts and feelings to build independence. The  power of expressing feelings, basic meltdown prevention strategies, and steps to improving their self-esteem are covered. Section three offers practical strategies to help teens reach out and connect with others. Teens will learn how to be a social scientist, advocate for themselves, make friends, and more.

Growing up on the Spectrum by Lynn Koegel

This book offers reassurance, solace, and practical solutions that can help teens with autism. Following up on their work in Overcoming Autism, which offered advice for teaching young children on the spectrum, Lynn Koegel and Claire LaZebnik present strategies for teens and young adults living with autism. By addressing universal concerns, from first crushes and a changing body to how to succeed in college and beyond, Growing Up on the Spectrum is a beacon of hope and wisdom for teens with autism.

Living with Autism by Megan Atwood

Living with Autism features fictional narratives paired with firsthand advice from a medical expert to help preteens and teenagers feel prepared for dealing with autism during adolescence. Topics include causes and prevention, current treatments, alternative treatments, public understanding and support, survival tools, learning to cope, ways to help friends with autism, and living with autism.

Did you know that something that seems as simple as going to the movies is not an option for many families affected by autism?  The Autism Society is working AMC Theatres to bring specials-needs families Sensory Friendly Films every month.  This sounds like such an amazing partnership, they turn up the lights, turn down the sound so anyone can get up and dance or walk around, sign and even shout!

Editor’s Note: Please also explore the coverage of of books feature characters with autism at Disability in Kidlit. For more information on serving neurodiverse teens, YALSA offers an archived webinar free to members. Please also check out the resources on serving teens in the autism spectrum at YALSAblog.

— Kimberli Buckley, currently reading The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten, 2016 Schneider Family Teen Book Award Winner