Award-winning author Lisette Auton is much-loved for her children’s adventure books featuring a whole host of disabled and neurodivergent characters … where “every child gets to be the hero,” as she says.

But Lisette herself initially felt fear and shame when she became disabled after a lengthy illness in her 20s. “The feeling I had first and foremost was ‘how can I hide this?’ Will I get work if I say this out loud?’” says the Darlington-born author.

It took her a long time to identify as disabled and neurodivergent, largely spurred on by her art. “In our society, we often say disability is a bad word and it’s not,” Lisette explains.

Disabled is powerful and political and part of my identity, and as soon as I said that in a bold way, I realised ‘oh, I’m up for this journey now!’

That’s why Lisette’s novels The Secret of Haven Point and The Stickleback Catchers feature a diverse cast of characters that disabled children and young people can identify with.

And it’s why the author is backing our Everyday Equality campaign for Autism Acceptance Week. “Access is something that I massively champion because it helps me and others … but it shouldn’t be about helping, should it? It should just be standard,” Lisette says.

"In my books, I say I just want acceptance, access, a little bit of magic and most of all love."

Lisette, 43, who still lives in Darlington, explains how she went from secret scribbler to Sunday Times children’s book of the week, and why being yourself is a political act.

What are you up to at the moment?

I’ve been promoting my new book, The Stickleback Catchers, zooming around book signings and school tours. Now I’m getting back to all the work that I haven’t been doing for the last month! My job is doing stuff with words, anything associated with that. I do mentoring, I do workshops, I also write plays and poetry.

How did you become a writer?

It’s what I always loved. When I was little you would always find me curled up in a sunbeam reading or making up books and stapling them together. I went to university and then I became very ill and went home to be looked after by my parents for a lot of years. And that’s when the writing began in earnest again because it was something I could do.

But I wasn’t sure anymore of who I was with my body and my brain, so writing was my secret scribbling, something I kept inside. Until I sent it out to Writer’s Block Northeast, an amazing mentoring course, and all of a sudden I was on the programme and having to share work whether I liked it or not. Then I went through the WriteNow programme with Penguin for underrepresented writers, and everything snowballed and here we are now!

Did you know from the outset you wanted to represent disabled people as part of your books?

I did but I kept it hidden because I hadn’t seen books with loads of disabled characters in them. I wrote a book and saw an agent and to paraphrase – though she was kind about it – she said “your writing’s brilliant, your book sucks!” And she was right because I was writing what I thought I should write so it was all non-disabled characters and set in London, and I live and am proudly from the North-east. That’s my words and my voice and my heart and my home and I hadn’t put any of it in.

So I went away and wrote the book that I wanted to write, which was a bunch of disabled and neurodivergent kids having an adventure in a lighthouse, because I love lighthouses, set in South Shields where I used to play with my cousins and my nana.

And it clicked and from then it was like “yes, this is my world, take it or leave it.”
What reaction have you had to your books?

Wonderful and quite overwhelming. Some children are really excited about the places and voices that they know, because the books have got words like “stottie” and “grandad’ll knack me” in. But the amazing bit has been the connection with disabled and neurodivergent children and their families and grown-ups, where they’re going “Oh my goodness, that’s me and my world and I can see myself in it.”

I was at a school event and one class came in late so I squatted down at the front because my brain needed a little moment to sort itself out. It turned out that the kids sat round my feet were all neurodivergent and having a little moment too. So we ended up having a little ND club with high fives, and that side of it’s been brilliant.

What does it do for a child, seeing themselves represented in a book?

It says you are allowed to be here and you are completely wonderful exactly the way you are. Hopefully that will convince them that their experiences, words, lives, everything, are valid and wonderful, and if they want to be a creative person they can get that out there.

It’s about being able to step into yourself wholeheartedly and not mask and not say “oh yes I can” when actually you can’t or it will make you feel ill.

But actually it’s not down to us, is it? It’s down to the world. The world needs to change because if the world says no or puts barriers up, then it’s just hard work and we go back to masking because that’s the only way to survive. So, what we need is access.

(Photo credit: Laura Tindall)

You’ve said that identifying as disabled is a political act ..

It is, it’s a massively political act and it’s one at the beginning that I was very scared about. There’s very much the idea in society that you must be productive and useful in a linear way. I find it very scary because we’re all brilliant, just in different ways.  I overcame it through meeting fellow disabled and neurodivergent people who were further along the journey than me, and didn’t tell me what to do but just had conversations. And finding a community of people who were making art as resistance, as protest, and that was really exciting.

But I still find it quite tiring now. I’ve made a choice that I don’t disclose particular impairments.

So I say I’m disabled and I say I’m neurodivergent because there are lots of people still who want to prod and poke you, so that feels to me like a safe way to say “here I am and I’m wonderful” and to be an ally to anybody else without creating more barriers.
Is art and creativity a powerful tool for being yourself?

I was in a session with a little boy where we created a map of the world. I asked if he wanted to write some sentences, and he said “no, I don’t do writing”. So I accepted that wasn’t his thing and give him other options. In a couple of minutes he came over and showed me his sentences because he had the choice to say “no”. I think art gives you choice and it gives you power to say yes or no, and quite often for disabled and neurodivergent people, choice is something that is missing from our lives be that around work or money or education or opportunity. That’s what I love about it.

Lisette’s books The Secret of Haven Point and The Stickleback Catchers are both published by Penguin. She’s currently writing a third book but is sworn to secrecy about the subject!

You can find her at

Autistic voices and experiences will be front and centre of our Autism Acceptance campaign this year as we push for Everyday Equality.

Find out more