This post was first published in 2021, but has since been republished with some of the best new books for women with autism.
If you’ve read my writing for a while, I’ve hinted at my background with autism spectrum disorder (or Asperger’s) before. However, I’ve never gone into it in as much detail as my experiences with PTSD and anxiety.
I think that’s partly because autism is just who I am. It hasn’t been a barrier to living well as much as anxiety and PTSD. But really, my autism – even if it’s mostly invisible to others – has been at the centre of everything.
During my teen years I felt like I’d been diagnosed with (or at least tested for) everything…. anxiety, depression, OCD, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder.
Could I really have all of those things at once? Apparently, with autism, you really can – it makes you much more susceptible to other mental health issues. But I don’t think it’s a given, or permanent.
The worst years for my mental health coincided with when I had the least self-awareness and acceptance of who I really was. I didn’t think I was enough just as I was. I thought I was broken and needed to fix myself.
It was when I finally accepted that I was different and worthy, exactly as I was, that the clouds started to shift and I started to own the space I occupied.
I’ve always known I was different, but I’ve only embraced that in the last few years. This started with an uncharacteristic decision to live alone by the mountains in Switzerland for three years.
That’s the focus of my book, Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, which shares my story of how spending so much time alone and close to nature changed everything for me.
Along the way, here are some of the best books about autism – by women writers – that have helped me come to terms with my ASD and get myself in a position where I could thrive.
The best books by women with autism – about how women experience autism
Strong Female Character by Fern Brady
Strong Female Character is one of the best memoirs of 2023 for anyone to read – but especially those of us with autism. This story of womanhood and neurodiversity by the Scottish comedian Fern Brady is fiercely witty, heartbreaking, and oh-so-required.
This is Fern’s memoir of finally being diagnosed with autism, years after telling her doctor that she had it, ending up at a psychiatric facility when neither her parents nor school knew what to do with her, and never becoming the “right kind” of woman.
Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women by Dr. Sarah Bargiela
This lovely graphic novel by Dr. Sarah Bargiela is a fantastic resource for anyone who wishes to understand how gender affects autism. The name of the book summarises a message that really should be better known: that autistic women are so often camouflaged.
Camouflage is a visual journey of how women on the spectrum experience everyday life, from metaphors and masking in social situations, to friendships, relationships, and the role of special interests.
With charming illustrations and real case studies of autistic women, it also offers helpful pointers on creating safer, more supportive, and more accessible environments for autistic women.
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
At first glance, this romance novel is an unusual one, embracing themes of discovering both autism spectrum disorder and the joy of, um, passionate love. It’s the first in a trilogy, with each book focused on a protagonist needing to let go of their old way of doing things to step into a new way of living and embrace relationships that bring out their most joyful, authentic selves.
It was only when researching The Kiss Quotient that Helen Hoang was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder herself, and this adds so much authenticity to the series. If you like Helen Hoang’s writing, here are other books like The Kiss Quotient.
Aspergirls: Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome by Rudy Simone
Aspergirls by Rudy Simone was the first book I bought when I first started learning more about autism, and it’s a great starting point for women with autism and the people who love them.
It talks about the challenges of being a woman with autism, as well as the strengths and unique perspectives that are often overlooked. And that, especially when you’re a young woman, is so important to keep in mind.
22 Things a Woman with Asperger’s Syndrome Wants Her Partner to Know by Rudy Simone
If Iain could add any books about autism to this list, it would probably be this guide by Rudy Simone. During the eight years we’ve been together, he’s needed to learn a lot about my quirks, strengths, and weaknesses.
This book by Rudy Simone is a really handy way to explain ASD to partners and open up conversations about the support you need from them (and when to be left alone).
The Autistic Brain: Exploring the Strengths of a Different Kind of Mind by Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin’s writing deserves a place on every person’s bookshelf, not just those with autism. In The Autistic Brain, Temple shares her own experience with autism alongside remarkable discoveries about the autistic brain.
What I love most about Temple Grandin is her focus on the contributions, not struggles, of autistic people – and how we can best nurture these contributions by making changes in our societies.
The Electricity of Every Living Thing: A Woman’s Walk in the Wild to Find Her Way Home by Katherine May
Best known for her book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, Katherine May has also penned this wonderful book about her own journey with autism.
Like Raynor Winn, author of The Salt Path, Katherine May hiked the 630-mile South West Coast Path in the UK and wrote a life-affirming exploration of wild landscapes in response.
However, it’s not mortality and loss that Katherine comes to terms with in The Electricity of Every Living Thing, but what it means to be different. She also explores what it means to be at peace with an unquiet mind, whether autistic or neurotypical.
Surrounded by wild nature, Katherine notices how she fits in with the world around her just like any other living creature: with kindness and delicate uniqueness, not awkwardness.
Odd Girl Out: An Autistic Woman in a Neurotypical World by Laura James
Many autistic women don’t receive a diagnosis until later in life, including the author of Odd Girl Out, Laura James.
It’s only after she has forged a career for herself, married twice, and raised four children that she receives a clear explanation of why she’s always felt different.
This book is Laura’s account of negotiating the autistic spectrum and her place on it, as well as understanding that ‘different’ doesn’t have to mean ‘less’.
So there you go: my pick of the best books for women with autism. But there are also a few other types of books I’d recommend to people with autism…
For days when you’re feeling stressed, bookmark this post of the most calming books to help you take a deep breath and unwind. You might also enjoy my recommendations of books for burnout, as well as these relaxing bedtime audiobooks to help you drift off to sleep.