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Intellectual Disabilities: Books For Kids

Looking for a list of the best children's books about intellectual disabilities?

Children’s literature has many notable options when it comes to intellectual disabilities. To help you find the right books for you and your young reader, we’ve compiled a list of the best kids books about intellectual disabilities.

Our list includes board books, picture books, and chapter books. Board books are best for babies and toddlers from ages newborn to 2 or 3. Picture books are generally great options for toddlers and for preschool and kindergarten age children. Picture books are especially enjoyable for adults to read aloud with young kids. The chapter books on our list are generally best for elementary through early middle school age tween kids. You can filter to sort by the best book type for your kid.

When it comes to children’s stories about intellectual disabilities, there are a variety of titles. This list covers everything, from classics like We’ll Paint the Octopus Red to popular sellers like Rules.

We hope this list of kids books about intellectual disabilities can be a helpful resource for parents, teachers, and others searching for a new book! As you explore the list, please comment below to let us know what books you would add.

We'll Paint the Octopus Red
Written by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen & illustrated by Pam DeVito
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Emma and her father discuss what they will do when the new baby arrives, but they adjust their expectations when he is born with Down syndrome.

The Boy with Big, Big Feelings
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Meet a boy with feelings so big that they glow from his cheeks, spill out of his eyes, and jump up and down on his chest. When a loud truck drives by, he cries. When he hears a joke, he bursts with joy. When his loved ones are having a hard day, he feels their emotions as if they were his own. The boy tries to cope by stuffing down his feelings, but with a little help and artistic inspiration, the boy realizes his feelings are something to be celebrated. Written by debut picture book author Britney Winn Lee and boldly illustrated by Jacob Souva, The Boy with Big, Big Feelings is relatable for any child, but especially for children experiencing anxiety and extreme emotions, or who have been diagnosed with autism or as a Highly Sensitive Person.

My Friend Isabelle
Written by Eliza Woloson & illustrated by Bryan Gough
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

A young boy named Charlie describes the activities he shares with his friend Isabelle, a girl with Down Syndrome.

Caterpillar Summer
Written by Gillian McDunn
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Cat and her brother Chicken have always had a very special bond. When Chicken has a “meltdown”, Cat’s the one who scratches his back and reads his favorite story. She’s always knows what he needs. Since their mom has had to work double-hard to keep their family afloat after their father passed away, Cat is the glue holding her family together. When a summer trip doesn’t go as planned, Cat and Chicken end up spending three weeks with grandparents they’ve never met. With their help, Cat can be a kid again for the first time in years, and the journey she takes shows that even the most broken relationships can be healed if people take the time to walk in one another’s shoes. Perfect for fans of Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Ali Benjamin, this special novel features an unforgettable voice and is brimming with heart.

Al Capone Does My Shirts
Written & illustrated by Gennifer Choldenko
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 10-14

A twelve-year-old boy named Moose moves to Alcatraz Island in 1935 when guards’ families were housed there, and has to contend with his extraordinary new environment in addition to life with his autistic sister Natalie. A Newbery Honor Book & ALA Notable Book. Reprint. Jr Lib Guild & Children’s BOMC.

  • Bat and the End of Everything - The third book in the funny and joyful series Katherine Applegate has called “tender and important,” by National Book Award finalist Elana K. Arnold. Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat) has been the caretaker for Thor, the best skunk kit in the world…but the last day of third grade is quickly approaching, and Thor is almost ready to be released into the wild. The end of school also means that Bat has to say good-bye to his favorite teacher, and he worries about the summer care of Babycakes, their adorable class pet. Not only that, but his best friend is leaving for a long vacation in Canada. Summer promises good things, too, like working with his mom at the vet clinic and hanging out with his sister, Janie. But Bat can’t help but feel that everything is coming to an end. National Book Award finalist Elana K. Arnold returns with the third story starring an unforgettable boy on the autism spectrum.

  • My Brother Otto - This engaging picture book shows everyday life with little crow siblings when one of them is on the autism spectrum. My Brother Otto is a child-friendly, endearing, and fun picture book for children about the love, acceptance, and understanding a sister, Piper, has for her little brother Otto, who is on the autism spectrum. The book provides explanations for Otto’s differences and quirkiness in an easy-to-understand language, and highlights Otto’s desires for adventure and love—just like his peers. To be more specific, My Brother Otto is a sweet story about a sister and a brother who engage in common, everyday experiences in their own unique way with the idea that kindness and understanding always win! Meg Raby holds a Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology with a certification in Autism Spectrum Disorders from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and has several years of experience working with children ages 2-17 on the autism spectrum. Meg recently started a booming handle on Instagram, called @bedtime.stories.forevermore, promoting literacy and highlighting only the best in children’s books. This is her first book. Elisa Pallmer studied design at Escuela de Diseño del INBA and English Literature at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Her focus is on illustrations for children, and she lives in Mexico City.

  • The Space We're in - Ten-year-old Frank has trouble navigating his relationship with his younger brother Max who is autistic. Frank loves soccer, codes, riding his bike, and playing with his friends. His brother Max is five. Max only eats foods that are beige or white, hates baths, and if he has to wear a t-shirt that isn’t gray with yellow stripes he melts down down down. Frank longs for the brother he was promised by his parents before Max was born—someone who was supposed to be his biggest fan, so he could be the best brother in the world. Instead, Frank has trouble navigating Max’s behavior and their relationship. But when tragedy strikes, Frank finds a way to try and repair their fractured family and in doing so learns to love Max for who he is. In her debut novel, Katya Balen uses her knowledge of autism and experience working with autistic people to create an intriguing and intense yet always respectful family story. For readers of Counting by 7s and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

  • Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus - Aven Green was born without arms—so when her dad takes a job running a dying western theme park in Arizona, she knows she’ll become the center of unwanted attention at her new school. But she bonds with Connor, a classmate with his own disability to conquer. Then they discover a room at the park that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. Can Aven face her fears, solve a mystery, and help her friend, too?

Special People, Special Ways
Written by Arlene Maguire & illustrated by Sheila Bailey
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-10

Rhyming text drescribes the different ways in which people may vary in physical or mental abilities, and the things they have in common.

Ian's Walk
Written by Laurie Lears & illustrated by Karen Ritz
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-8

When her autistic little brother, Ian, wanders off while on a walk to the park, Julie must try to see the world through his eyes in order to find him. Full color.

I Can, Can You?
Written & illustrated by Marjorie W. Pitzer
picture book
Recommend Ages: 2-4

Toddlers with Down syndrome show all the things they can do, including swim, share, and play ball. On board pages.

How to Build a Hug
Written by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville & illustrated by Giselle Potter
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Amy Guglielmo, Jacqueline Tourville, and Giselle Potter come together to tell the inspiring story of autism advocate Dr. Temple Grandin and her brilliant invention: the hug machine. As a young girl, Temple Grandin loved folding paper kites, making obstacle courses, and building lean-tos. But she really didn’t like hugs. Temple wanted to be held—but to her, hugs felt like being stuffed inside the scratchiest sock in the world; like a tidal wave of dentist drills, sandpaper, and awful cologne, coming at her all at once. Would she ever get to enjoy the comfort of a hug? Then one day, Temple had an idea. If she couldn’t receive a hug, she would make one…she would build a hug machine!

Everybody is Different
Written by Fiona Bleach
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

A book specifically designed to answer various questions that brothers and sisters of young people with autism may have, including “What is autism?”, “Is there a cure?,” and “Why does my brother or sister not look at me?”

  • Team Players - Cassie must learn that you can’t “fix” someone else after a girl with Aspergers joins her softball team in the fourth and final book of the Home Team series from New York Times bestselling author and sports-writing legend Mike Lupica. Cassie Bennett is great at being in charge. She always knows what to do to lead her teams to victory, keep her many groups of friends together, or fix any problem that comes her way. So when Sarah Milligan, an autistic girl with unreal softball skills, joins Cassie’s team, Cassie’s sure she can help her fit in with the team. But before long it’s obvious that being around so many people is really hard for Sarah, and the more Cassie tries to reach out and involve her, the more Sarah pushes her away, sometimes literally. It doesn’t help that Cassie’s teammates aren’t as interested in helping Sarah as they are in making sure they make it to the new softball All-Star Tournament that’ll be televised just like the Little League World Series. Soon no one besides Cassie seems to even want Sarah on the team anymore, and the harder Cassie tries to bring everyone together, the worse things seem to get. Cassie Bennett never backs down from a challenge, but can she realize that maybe the challenge isn’t fixing a problem in someone else, but in herself? Or will her stubbornness lead her to lose more than just softball games?

  • Scarlet Ibis - Twelve-year-old Scarlet doesn’t have an easy life. She’s never known her dad, her mom suffers from depression, and her younger brother Red has Asperger’s and relies heavily on her to make the world a safe place for him. Scarlet does this by indulging Red’s passion for birds, telling him stories about the day they’ll go to Trinidad and see all the wonderful birds there (especially his beloved Scarlet Ibis), saving her money to take him to the zoo, helping him collect bird feathers, and even caring for a baby pigeon who is nesting outside his window.But things with her mom are getting harder, and after a dangerous accident, Scarlet and Red are taken into foster care and separated. As Scarlet struggles to cope with the sudden changes in her life and her complex feelings towards her mom, the one thing she won’t give up on is finding Red. Nothing is going to get in her way—even if it might destroy the new possibilities offered to her by her foster family.

  • The Prince Who Was Just Himself - Lacking the athletic and reading skills of his older brothers, Prince Noah uses love and compassion to save the kingdom from the Black Knight.

  • Rules - Frustrated at life with an autistic brother, twelve-year-old Catherine longs for a normal existence but her world is further complicated by a friendship with a young paraplegic.

The Chalk Rainbow
Written by Deborah Kelly & illustrated by Gwynneth Jones
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-8

The Chalk Rainbow explores difference and diversity through a family living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It’s also a story of unconditional love, of trust and of learning to look at the world through the eyes of others.

The story is told by Zane’s older sister in a way that young children can easily relate to. The ending is uplifting as all members of the family learn to look at things differently and find a way to move forward together.

The Vicar of Nibbleswicke
Written by Roald Dahl & illustrated by Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

The Reverend Lee is suffering from a rare and acutely embarrassing condition: Back-to-Front Dyslexia. It affects only his speech, and he doesn’t realize he’s doing it, but the parishioners of Nibbleswicke are shocked and confused by his seemingly outrageous comments. At last a cure is found and the mild-mannered vicar can resume normal service. Or at least as normal as is possible for a man who must walk backwards to be sure of talking forwards!

The Summer of the Swans
Written by Betsy Byars
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

A Newbery Medal Winner

All summer Sara Godfrey has fretted over herself, her impossible body, her terrible new haircut. One moment she’s elated, the next, she’s in tears. And she can’t figure out why. Maybe her wildly changing moods are tied to the sudden and unaccountable appearance of the swans, which hold the rapt attention of Charlie, Sara’s mentally handicapped brother, who she loves far more than herself these days. In fact, it will be the sudden disappearance of Charlie that will compel Sara to abandon her own small, annoying miseries, and lose herself in searching for him. In her anguish, Sara turns to Joe Melby, whom she has long despised, and together they search through the dense woods and rough fields to find him. Sara knows that she will never be the same again.

“A compelling story.”—Publishers Weekly

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