Why Does Autistic Representation Matter in Books and on Our Screens? This is Why.

A lot of people (Autistic, mainly) have messaged me to say that The Wonderful Thing About Phoenix Rose made them cry. Sobbed, even. This surprised me, honestly, because that’s not the vision of the book I hold in my head. Overall, I consider it an uplifting book (as do the reviewers). There are some painful moments in the book (it wouldn’t be a story if there weren’t) and many of them were painful for me to write. But as is my style as an author, I surround the pain with life affirming goodness so as to stay on the side of ‘complex’ rather than ‘distressing’. But I get it now, the pull towards tears, because this happened.

Yesterday, neurodivergent social worker, Joanne Hatchard, of Better Being Me – Neurodivergent Family Therapist posted this reel to Instagram and Facebook and it made me cry. Why? Because she was able to articulate so clearly why I wanted to write this story and why Autistic representation matters and our community is so hungry for it.

You see, we (the Autistic community) know there are many books out there with neurodivergent main characters. We know it because we can see it and we can see the signposting that the author has built into it, whether they are aware of it or not (I have definitely written Autistic characters into my past novels without realising it), and sometimes these books are massive bestsellers. Global bestsellers. Oh, the irony of readers loving these “quirky”, “socially awkward”, “different” characters on the page… but not so much in real life, a point mega children’s author, Sally Rippin, also makes in her non-fiction book, Wild Things: How We Learn to Read and What Can Happen if We Don’t. Some examples that come to mind include Anne Shirley (overwhelmingly cited by the Autistic community as a classic Autistic/ADHD character) and Pippi Longstocking.

But my Autistic community is not benefiting from this because we have not been identified. It bites, frankly.

In a perfect world, we would never have to identify or explain anything to anyone. We would all simply be accepted exactly as we are and when we ask for help we get it, without having to justify why. Sadly, the world is not there yet.

We need to start identifying Autistic and ADHD characters on the page. We need to explicitly connect their wonderful qualities, curiosity, bravery, compassion and empathy with the word Autistic because if we are deliberating cloaking Autistic characters under euphemisms (of usually narrow, stereotypical traits) of “walking to the beat of their own drum” and “fixated on routine” and such we are shaming Autistic people.

If we don’t name it, we shame it.

Joanne’s amazing words capture it in 90 seconds. Please, click the image to hear her say the words so many of us are craving.