The 10 Must-Read Books On Asperger’s
Asperger’s Syndrome is a highly nuanced and complex developmental disorder, simultaneously a well-known part of popular understanding and culture, and a widely misunderstood diagnosis. In fact, even though more people know about Asperger’s Syndrome now than ever before, the newest DSM, the psychiatric diagnostic manual, has actually removed it as its own separate disorder, instead folding it back into the autism spectrum. Even so, Asperger’s is very much its own phenomenon.
Diagnosis of the syndrome has been on the rise since the 1990s, which means there’s a very large number of children and adults experiencing new understanding about how their minds and emotions work, and coping with just what that means for the rest of their lives. More and more of us are realizing that people in our lives, who we previously thought were perhaps just a “little off” actually are on the autism spectrum. Popular culture is reflecting this new awareness, as we can see in the rising number of books about Asperger’s for adults and teens.
There are now dozens of popular books, both non-fiction and fiction, that can help to shed light on Asperger’s Syndrome, either by representing a three-dimensional character with the syndrome, by directly explaining the ins and outs of the symptoms, or by telling the true story of someone living a life on the autism spectrum.
I’ve compiled a list below of the ten books that I and many others (based on critics’ reviews as well as hundreds of reader reviews on Amazon) consider essential reading for anyone living with or touched by Asperger’s. There’s a mix here of informational non-fiction, memoirs, and novels that together cover much of what we all need to know with the syndrome in ways that will make you think, laugh, and cry but most all will help you understand. So, without further ado, here are the 10, in no particular order:
1. The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband, by David FinchDavid Finch first found out he had Asperger’s when his wife of five years Kristen suggested he take an online Asperger’s quiz she heard about. After the quiz identified him as likely having the disorder, he was professionally diagnosed, suddenly understanding his many quirks and seeming aloofness. The couple was profiled on the popular radio show This American Life, describing David’s journey of discovery as he came to terms with not only why he behaves certain ways, but how he can cope with those behaviors, adapt them, and live a happy life in a successful marriage.
The title comes from David’s cataloguing of lessons and rules he intellectually has come to understand as he tries to be a good husband, such as “Don’t change the radio station when she’s singing along.” It’s a funny and emotional memoir that really nails the art of coming to terms with being on the autism spectrum, and then using that knowledge to navigate the rest of one’s life, especially when it comes to dealing with loved ones. This book’s bravely honest and realistic portrayal of what it’s like to live in a long-term relationship with someone who has Asperger’s will ring true for anybody who has been there. Here’s a link to the book.
2. The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, by Tony AttwoodThis is perhaps the essential guide to understanding Asperger’s. It’s the book many clinicians will send parents home with or recommend once they’ve made a diagnosis. It’s often called the Asperger’s Bible, or the one book you must read if you want to understand the syndrome. The Australian psychologist Tony Attwood first published the book in 2007, but he had long been considered an international expert on the subject since his first book back in 1998.
Attwood combines current research, interviews with people with Asperger’s, and case studies from his own practice to form a comprehensive, but simultaneously accessible read for the average person. Topics include childhood, college, relationships, friendships and careers. A must for anyone with a personal or casual interest in autism spectrum disorders. Here’s a link to the book.
3. Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, by John Elder RobisonThe most successful memoir about having Asperger’s to date, Look Me in the Eye is the story of John Robison, who grew up in the 1960s well before there was a diagnosis for Asperger’s in the United States. Robison was previously featured in the controversial memoir Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, in which the author tells the story of his strange childhood living with an eccentric psychiatrist and his family.
Though Robison wasn’t diagnosed until he was 40, Look Me in the Eye describes his childhood obsessions with sound, radios and digging huge holes, along with his many social struggles. It was New York Times bestseller and well received by readers and critics. Robison has since written two other memoirs. In Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian, he tells more stories from his life along with words of advice. And in Raising Cubby, he tells the story of raising his son, who also has Asperger’s. See how I cheated there and put three books one entry? Here’s a link to the book.
4. Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism, by Temple GrandinWhile Temple Grandin is diagnosed with autism, rather than Asperger’s, Thinking with Pictures is a must-read book for anyone interested in autism spectrum disorders. It also happens to be one of the best autobiographies in recent history. What sets the book and Grandin apart is that, aside from have the unique perspective of someone with autism, she is also a renowned and brilliant animal scientist, who is famous for revolutionizing livestock facilities for humane treatment.
She is a frequent lecturer on both animal rights and autism, defending the benefits of neurodiversity, the idea that those on the spectrum are simply differently wired, and explaining the unique way her brain works. Grandin describes her ability to think primarily in images, using words as a secondary form of communication. In Thinking in Pictures, she tells her fascinating story as nobody else could. Here’s a link to the book.
5. Freaks, Geeks & Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence, by Luke JacksonEver wonder what it’s like to be a 13-year-old with Asperger’s? Well, one such kid wrote a book about it in 2002.
Feeling as though there wasn’t enough information about the syndrome on the Internet, Luke Jackson decided to write a book himself about being different, his difficulty in social situations, and navigating adolescence alongside his three sisters and one brother, some of whom have their own developmental disorders to deal with.
In describing why he wrote the book, Jackson said, “so many books are written about us, but none are written directly to adolescents with Asperger Syndrome. I thought I would write one in the hope that we could all learn together.” It’s become a treasured addition to the bookshelves of parents, teens and clinicians. Here’s a link to the book.
6. Mozart and the Whale: An Asperger’s Love Story, by Jerry Newport, Mary Newport, Johnny DoddWhile you might know the title by the Josh Hartnett movie, there’s also a book written by the real-life couple Jerry and Mary Newport at the center of the story. Both are extremely intelligent, and both are diagnosed with Asperger’s. The two became something of a celebrity spokescouple for autism spectrum disorders at one point, drawing a front-page feature in the Los Angeles Times and an appearance on 60 Minutes.
The pressure of all the media attention was too difficult and eventually drove them to divorce. But they reconciled and remarried and remain together today. Mozart and the Whale tells their story from their point of view. While the movie has been criticized for making it seem like all people with Asperger’s have a savant-like talent, the book is nonetheless a touching story of romance on the autism spectrum. Here’s a link to the book.
7. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark HaddonOkay, all these memoirs, let’s get into some fiction. Where better to start than The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time? Haddon’s oddball detective novel stars Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old math whiz with an unstated autism spectrum disorder.
Haddon left his diagnosis vague, and points out that he’s not an expert on the matter nor is the book about any one disorder. He wrote on his blog: “Curious Incident is not a book about asperger’s….if anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way.” That said, readers generally identify Boon as having Asperger’s, with his quirks, talents, obsessions and difficulty reading emotions and humor. It’s been released as both a YA and an adult novel, and you can see why. It’s wildly enjoyable for just about any reader, a truly unique mystery story with an unforgettable hero. Here’s a link to the book.
8. Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco StorkAlong the same lines as Curious Incident, this novel tells the story of a 17-year-old with Asperger-like characteristics, part of what might be an emerging subgenre of YA books focused on teens with autism spectrum disorders. The hero Marcelo Sandoval hears music in his head as part of his mild autism, or as he describes it, “I view myself as different in the way I think, talk and act, but not as someone who is abnormal or ill.” The story follows Marcelo as he goes to work at his father’s law firm as a way to get “real world” experience, and the friendships he makes amid struggles with his differences.
The book was celebrated upon its release, earning five-star reviews and nods from literary awards, largely because of the highly endearing protagonist. As Robert Lipsyte wrote in his New York Times review of the book, “in the skillful hands of Francisco X. Stork, 17-year-old Marcelo Sandoval is the bravest, most original hero I’ve met in years.” Here’s a link to the book.
9. The Rosie Project, by Graeme SimsionSimsion’s first novel, a story about a man with undiagnosed Asperger’s caught on like wildfire. It hit the market amid a publishing frenzy, and has been optioned to become a film by Sony Pictures. It’s a book that really captures all of the themes associated with being an adult with an autism spectrum disorder in modern times, complete with the fact that he doesn’t know he has it, but people who surround him find it obvious.
The novel is about a genetics professor, Don Tillman, who dislikes physical contact, is ruled by rationality, and operates on strict schedules and methods. Tillman decides it’s time to look for a wife, and creates a meticulous scientific questionnaire to help him identify his perfect mate. The book then follows his courtship of the titular Rosie, and the unlikely and quirky romance that develops amid psychiatric disorder. Here’s a link to the book.
10. All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, by Kathy HoopmannThis one is kind of an odd entry in the list, but nonetheless incredibly useful and brilliant in its own way. It’s a playful take on Asperger’s, using photos of adorable cats to illustrate what it’s like to have an autism spectrum disorder and what it’s like to be a parent of someone who does. It’s geared toward kids, but really enjoyable for pretty much anyone, especially anyone with experience with the disorder or who just likes cats.
A fuzzy kitten peers at the reader with the caption “An Asperger child looks at the world in his own unique way.” Another reads, “He likes to be near those he loves, but doesn’t want them to hold him.” The book is a gentle, adorable and insightful introduction into the disorder, perfect for kids learning how they are different, or for siblings trying to better understand a brother or sister. Here’s a link to the book.
There you have it: the by-no-means exhaustive list of 10 books you simply must read if you’re touched by Asperger’s Syndrome. And how about you? Have you read any books on Asperger’s that you consider essential reading that I didn’t include on the list? Leave a comment below – I’d love to hear about them!