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Book explores teen novels’ portrayals of autism to help libraries choose wisely

September 21, 2015

A new book detailing teen novels that feature characters with autism will help libraries select books that help young readers understand the disorder and foster acceptance, says one of the three authors, an associate professor at IUPUI.

“Autism in Young Adult Novels: An Annotated Bibliography” identifies novels published between 1968 and 2013 that have autism content and evaluates how the lives of characters with autism are portrayed, said Rachel Applegate, chair of the Department of Library and Information Science in the School of Informatics and Computing.

“This is a book that focuses on the autism spectrum, and there hasn’t been anything like it before,” she said

Rachel ApplegateThe target audience for the book is librarians who will be able to use it to select high-quality, engaging novels that positively and accurately portray autism and use those works to educate young adults about the disorder, Applegate said.

Awareness of autism has grown significantly, but teens often don’t know much about it, the authors said. With greater awareness and understanding comes greater acceptance, they said.

A second author is Marilyn Irwin, a retired IUPUI library and information science associate professor who began work on the book in 2010. Her research interests focused on literature for youth and disabilities. The third author is Annette Y. Goldsmith, a lecturer in the University of Washington Information School.

In the first section of the book, the authors analyze how characters with autism spectrum disorder are presented. They ask questions such as:

  • Where do they live and go to school?
  • Do they have friends?
  • Were they bullied?
  • Do they have good relationships with their family?
  • How are they treated by others?
  • Were the experiences in the book true to life?

This discussion is followed by a comprehensive bibliography.

The three authors read nearly 400 novels to write the book. They found the books through keyword searches in publishers’ catalogs, including Amazon’s, and asked for suggestions through librarian listservs.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Applegate said. “As a whole, the novels contained a surprisingly small number of stereotypes, and the characters tend to have a better life than often occurs in real life.”

One novel was written by a young man with autism, Applegate said. “One thing I remember from that book is that every adult talking to the child character who had autism seemed to be shouting, screaming at the child. I wondered if that’s what people with autism perceive day to day, that people are shouting at them, because they are very sensitive to things like noise.”


Courtesy: Rich Schneider, IU Communications Specialist

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