The Struggle is Real: Advocacy, Activism, and Agency in Young Adult Protagonists with Autism

Vail Matsumoto, Rhonda S. Black


While there is much research behind adolescent protagonists developing advocacy, activism, and agency in young adult literature in order to change the trajectory of their lives, fewer studies have examined adolescent protagonists with autism under similar circumstances. The image of the semi-comic, socially tragic autistic teenager is portrayed in the media more often than one who advocates for himself, takes action to be independent, and develops as an agent of change. This paper examines six award-winning young adult novels whose protagonists emerge as young people developing independence despite dealing with the challenges living with autism brings. How they exert this autonomy helps illustrate the multitude of ways in which teens handle frustration, challenges, and helplessness while managing a disability. Readers not only engage with teenagers facing obstacles, but also have the opportunity to develop a better understanding of their peers, a deeper sense of empathy, and empowerment to make changes in their own lives.

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