[image: Cover of the book Do You Want to Play: Making Friends With
an Autistic Kid. The background is purple on the top and white on the bottom.
On the left is a large illustration of white kid with short curly red hair bedecked
with a  blue bow, holding a yellow toy dump truck, and looking at the viewer.]

Jess L. Cowing

“Sometimes it’s nice
just being beside you…”

As publishers continue to release and market books
that pathologize autistic kids
such as Finding
S.A.M. by Mary Bleckwehl, it is refreshing when a children’s book about
autism includes an autistic character who is just an ordinary kid playing in
the sandbox after school. So often depictions of autistic children for
non-autistic people portray autistic kids as oddities and problems who must
conform to neurotypical social norms in order to make friends and build

Written by Daniel Share-Strom with a foreword by Maxine Share, and with illustrations from Naghmeh
Afshinjah, Do You Want to Play? offers readers ways to reimagine shared experiences that do not pathologize autistic
kids as problems, but instead encourage creative play between autistic and
non-autistic kids as just another aspect of social negotiations on the


Do You Want to Play?
flips the script for how autistics are always expected to adapt to neurotypical
social norms and expectations. Main character Jamie is playing after school,
and when she sees a boy that she does not know, she attempts to play cars with
him. Jamie learns from her friend Caroline that this boy named Dylan is
autistic, and her friend suggests that that might be the reason he “doesn’t
play with anyone.” 

For most of the book, Jamie is confused because Dylan does
not play with her in the way she expects. But autism is not the barrier to playing;
rather, as the author suggests, Jamie’s confusion prompts a quest where she tries
out different kinds of play that might initiate a friendship. As Jamie posits
early on, if “but.. he liked cars…/and I liked
cars…/…so we could be friends, right?!”


Do You Want to Play?
is not about an autistic kid conforming to his peers’ expectations, but rather,
follows Jamie, the narrator and non-autistic kid, as she takes the initiative
to meet Dylan where he is, lining up cars in the sandbox beside him. Dylan
remains in the sandbox most of the story and Jamie is the one who approaches him, attempts to play, leaves, and then
comes back when she thinks of a compatible way to share the sandbox. 

introduction even occurs upside down—that is, the unique format of the book
requires the reader at two different points to physically turn the book upside
down to read Dylan’s narrative as if to emphasize the moves people are required
to make to shift their focus to a different perspective. And while Dylan speaks
only at the end of the story to consent to Jamie’s request to play, he
communicates throughout the story via actions beyond conversation. For example, at one point, he returns
Jamie’s favorite yellow truck to her after she thinks it is lost.


As Jamie swings next to her friend Caroline, she realizes
that there are different ways to play and share time with someone, or as Caroline
states, “I like when you push me, but swinging beside you is nice, too.” Jamie latches
on to the idea of being “beside someone” as a way of engaging and interacting, and
decides to try that approach with Dylan. Eventually, Jamie plays next to Dylan and
they share the sandbox together, Jamie playing with trucks next to Dylan who
lines up cars.


Ultimately, Do You Want to Play? models how to build
friendships through shared interests and negotiated interaction. Dylan is not singled
out for being weird, he just happens to be different in an interesting way that
Jamie is invested in accommodating and adapting for. Eventually Jamie
recognizes how playing beside Dylan is also an equally valid way to play with
cars that she just had not considered before. 

Even so, Jamie is still the
narrator, and I wonder what Dylan’s narration of this experience would be. As
refreshing as this book is, it would be great to see more children’s books
also written by autistic people and that include multiple autistic and
neurodivergent characters including autistic girls of color and autistic adults,
not as metaphors or points of inspiration for neurotypical people, but as
regular humans just living their lives, and sometimes playing with cars in a