Written By: Olivia Nero, Neurodiversity Ally and Creative Spirit Intern 2023, and Menachem Rephun, Communications Manager, Creative Spirit
Neurodivergence is a topic that was once avoided by many, including writers. Some felt too uncomfortable to write about the subject, while others made neurodivergent characters borderline offensive. They feared that a neurodivergent character would not be something that people would relate to. Oftentimes, the neurodiverse characters were secondary as friends of the main character who tended to have something tragic happen to them that would be a turning point for the main character.
Now, neurodivergent characters are creating a new sector for many authors, who are becoming more open to featuring main characters with neurodivergence. Autistic adults are also frequently represented, in contrast to the fact that most autism representation focuses mainly on children. UC Santa Cruz recently conducted research into the publishing industry, finding that in 484 fiction books published from 2010-2017, 81% of the characters who had autism were children, compared to 91% in their study from 2011. Allison Arteaga Soergel, the author of an article published on the study, writes that according to the new paper “one factor that could be contributing to this improvement is that production teams are increasingly bringing in consultants to advise on proposed portrayals of autism—likely due to calls for more accurate representation from autistic self-advocates.” Many people are also realizing that they are less neurotypical than they thought. Around 15-20% of the global population is neurodiverse, and neurodiverse authors are interested in making their voices heard.
One of those authors is Daniella Blechner. After being diagnosed with autism as an adult, Blechner, a 43-year-old publisher who has mentored over 200 authors, is publishing a fantasy novel of her own, featuring an eleven-year-old girl with undiagnosed autism. The book, titled “Sadie the The Great Album Cover Heartist”, is 14 years in the making, and marks a major turning point for neurodiverse individuals being properly represented in literature. There are many people with some form of neurodivergence who would greatly benefit from having a character that they can relate to. Even neurotypical people would still enjoy a story where the main character is neurodivergent. Neurodivergent authors are feeling more freedom to express themselves in their writing and having more representation.
Children’s books that feature neurodivergence are on track to be the next trend in publishing, according to The Guardian. Neurodivergence is something that is often talked about in schools, so having books that relate to it will be extremely helpful for students, especially those who are neurodivergent, and will be able to see themselves in the characters. This is especially important as children who are neurodivergent often feel left out and have a difficult time relating to neurotypical characters. Publishers are looking to ensure that books have a realistic and positive representation of neurodivergent characters.
As an ally, I feel that it is important that the stories of people with disabilities are acknowledged and heard. For too long, people with disabilities have been misunderstood and underrepresented in employment, media, and other areas. Disability Pride Month is about celebrating people with disabilities and their many achievements throughout history, but there is still more room for growth and barriers to be broken. Creative Spirit is helping to break down the barriers that people with disabilities face when they enter the workforce and giving companies the skills they need to make workplaces a better environment for everyone.