top of page

(UK) Publishers feature "neurodivergent characters"; "latest publishing trend"

June 14, 2023, Guardian: Books with neurodivergent characters mark new chapter for publishers

Children’s books featuring protagonists who are autistic or have ADHD are going to the highest bidder.

Children’s books that feature neurodiverse main characters are the latest publishing trend, experts have said.

Publishers, which were previously reluctant to approach the subject, are increasingly seeking out realistic and explicitly neurodiverse protagonists, often by authors who are themselves neurodivergent.

Elle McNicoll, who until now has been published only by the small independent Knights Of, was recently at the centre of a five-publisher bidding auction for the world rights to her next two Young Adult books, of which MacMillan Children’s Books was the eventual victor. The first book is due next autumn.

Largely credited with kickstarting the revolution, McNicoll, who won the 2020 Waterstones children’s book prize for her debut novel A Kind of Spark, said that in the past year she had seen a “huge shift” in publishers’ attitudes. “Until very recently, neurodiverse characters in books have been not flattering or aspirational,” she said. “They’ve been written by non-neurodiverse authors and are so two-dimensional that they border on the offensive.

“All too often, even where there is a neurodiverse character, they are secondary and they die during the book,” she added. “Their death is a rite of passage for the main character.”

She said her success had made publishers realise that “diversity is a commercial – and not just a moral – issue”.

“For a long time, publishers didn’t treat neurodivergent readers as customers,” she said. “But now they’re reassessing what they think neurodiversity is and realising that while it might not be talked about in the corporate world or their office spaces, it’s talked about a lot in schools, which is where they’re targeting their products.”…

“Publishers are starting to realise that cases of neurodiversity are massively underdiagnosed across society and that there are more experiences out in their target audiences than they might have thought,” added Huxley-Jones, whose pronouns are they/them.

“But there is still a long way to go,” they said. “Elle’s success has shown the hunger for authentic neurodiverse characters as opposed to the ones we’ve had in the past, who are written from the outside and, as a result, are stereotypes lacking interiority, emotionality and depth.”…

“A lot of people are realising that we are all more neurodiverse and less neurotypical than we previously realised,” she said. “Elle’s work is revolutionary and I think it has given other publishers an opportunity to see how they can follow suit and give more authors like Elle the opportunities that perhaps they wouldn’t have previously.”

Emily Beater, from Magdalena’s publisher, SPCK, said a big influence on publishers had been parents’ increased willingness to buy books with neurodivergent protagonists.

“In the past, publishers might have thought parents didn’t want their kids reading about children who struggle to regulate their emotions but it’s different nowadays,” she said.

“Today’s gentler parenting is about helping your children reach their full potential not by shaming them for not being able to do something but in an alternative way if necessary.”

Caroline Carpenter from the Bookseller, a trade magazine, agreed. “Historically there hasn’t been much neurodiversity in children’s publishing but things are changing and one of the really important steps forward has been people who are neurodivergent themselves writing neurodiverse characters….


bottom of page