Emily grew up in Essex. She now lives in London. She studied creative writing at London Metropolitan University.
Notes on My Family is her first novel for young adults. She likes hats and mini trampolines.
Neurodiversity in YA fiction
by Emily Critchley
Diversity in both children’s and YA fiction is vitally important if it is to offer readers a true picture of society. Young adults should see the world they live in, and the experiences they undergo, reflected in the books they read.
Neurodiversity is a term used to describe the way in which some people’s brains function differently. Actually, everyone’s brain functions slightly differently (our brains are unique) but neurodiversity is frequently used to refer to a person on the autistic spectrum.
Journalist, Harvey Blume wrote in the late 1990s that ‘Neurodiveristy may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general.’
If one in sixty-eight people are now believed to be on the spectrum, it is more than likely that most of us will, sooner or later, meet someone with autism. Being able to experience what life is like for those on the autistic spectrum through reading a book about, or in the voice of, an autis-tic character can help neurotypical young adults (those not on the spectrum) form a greater under-standing of what life is like for those diagnosed with autism or aspergers (A-typical young adults). Narratives about characters on the spectrum are able to give the reader a educative insight into just how differently the autistic brain works.
There is a saying in the autism community ‘If you’ve met one person on the spectrum, you’ve met one person on the spectrum’, which highlights the fact that the ways in which the symptoms of autism present in a person can, and do, vary hugely in terms of the severity of the condition and the gender of the person with autism.
Aspergers in girls is particularly under-represented in fiction. This is possibly because girls are often misdiagnosed, or do not receive a diagnosis until they reach adulthood. Girls are often better at concealing their symptoms than boys.
Although Lou, the protagonist of my novel, Notes on My Family, is on the autistic spectrum, she is not aware that she has the condition. Autism is not the major theme of the book. Notes on My Family encompasses many subjects: family breakdown, bullying at school, friendship, and what it means to be an outsider.
I wasn’t diagnosed with Aspergers until I was an adult, and Lou’s experiences as a teenager, the way in which she struggles with life and is constantly misunderstood, reflect my own. I, too, had great difficulty trying to navigate my way through school and adolescence with no diagnosis and no rule book on how to fit seamlessly into a neurotypical world.
If, as it seems, neurodiversity is now regarded as part of the normal pattern of variation in human consciousness, then I believe we need to see more autistic characters in fiction in order to fully represent the population. It is also important that we see more books published by writers on the spectrum. It’s important that autistic voices are heard. Authors with autism are able to give us fresh, intriguing and humourous works of fiction that show us the world from a unique perspective.
Enter the world of Louise Coulson through her notes on her family, school and friends. Lou is thirteen years old, a perceptive and observant outsider, somewhere on the autism spectrum. She takes notes as if she were holding a film camera silently fixed on a world that tends to ignore her.
Meet her dad who is in a relationship with a sixth former, Sarah her moody sister, Mickey her gay brother, her mum who has a ‘brief psychotic episode’, her nan who goes to séances, her friend Faith who has six ‘parents’ (all gay) and Lou’s family (and dog) in her alternative universe. Told in the present tense so that you feel that you are right there and sprinkled with Lou’s inimitable asides.
You can also read my review of Emily’s book HERE