“There’s never any kids like me in books,” my brother told me.
“What, outdoorsy kids in small towns? Whatever, there’s tons of those,” I replied.
“No, I mean kids with autism. And if there are, they’re like Rain Man or something. What about average autistic people like me?”
When I called my family this week and told them about this week (and last week’s) talk on diversity in books we’re having in this class, I wasn’t expecting the response my brother gave me. Henry was diagnosed with high-functioning autism when he was 4, but by many means he’s a normal kid. He’s super smart, sure, and he may have a few drawbacks socially, but he’s just like any other ordinary high school kid. Not every autistic person is a savant or intensely socially awkward, and I could understand why he was frustrated with a lack of literary characters like him.
Last week’s diversity exposé by yours truly focused mostly on skin color and the lack of reliable books for students of color. Students across so many mediums are being left out, be it race, sexuality, or even geographic origin. However, because I’m also a SPED major, I’ve seen a shocking lack of books featuring characters with disabilities that aren’t pitied or put into the background. Where are the books that feature students with disabilities as what they are?: normal people with exceptionalities.
Much of the problem, with any diverse books, lies in fear of not being accurate or true to whatever topic is being written about; writing a book about a diverse topic is hard to do, even if you come from the background/are a person similar to who you’re writing about. Authenticity is a necessity, and one misstep could mean doom for your book and your reputation as an author. Though there’s a good deal of work involved, let me say this:
It is worth it.
When I was reading Ellen Oh’s blog this week, I was overjoyed when she said that since she couldn’t find a character like herself, she wrote a book! Her lead character was someone she could relate to, and I’m sure many other girls could as well, all thanks to Ellen. She saw the gap, pondered over it, and took a step to fix it. If I could shower her with a thousand roses, I would.
It’s people like Ellen that bridge the gap, and I think she’s a great example to follow. Do we have to write a diverse novel ourselves? No, we don’t (unless we want to!). What we can do, however, is continue to stock our shelves with books like Ellen’s to boost up these authors who are trying to make a difference. Support, support, support! Not only will we be backing these authors in hopes they will continue to make more diverse books, but we will be providing our students with opportunities to find books they can find kinship with. And that, teachers and librarians, is a job well done.
I keep thinking about what my brother said. I’ve got another tab open right now and I’m sifting through books that he might relate to. Will I ever write a book with a character like him? At this point, I don’t know. I’d like to. But for now, I can recommend these books I’ve found to him and spread the word about these books to my colleagues.
I’ll do my part, and I’ll do it with gusto.