Greetings, NA Alley friends! I’m A.J. Matthews, and I’m a member of the non-speculative team here. I write contemporary New Adult romance—what’s now considered pretty “traditional” stuff in this young category. However, I begged the fearless leader of the Niche team to let me write a post on a topic near and dear to my heart: special needs romance.

And while all romance authors think our couples are special, one of mine really is, as in “special needs,” one of the terms we’ve come to use in the U.S. to describe people of different abilities, especially severe physical or developmental challenges, such as Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, and the like.  


Why write—and read—about special needs? So many reasons. A few months ago on Twitter, readers, bloggers, editors, teachers, and librarians contributed to #WeNeedDiverseBooks, a hashtag devoted to creating a more robust body of literature celebrating our differences. One of the themes I took away was the desire to see more people with disabilities represented positively—and in non-stereotypical ways—in literature. Another theme: those with special needs want to see people like them in books, and those who love them want to see that, too. That’s what I am trying to do.

My second book comes out in 2015, and the male lead was simultaneously easy for me to write, while being one of the most heart-wrenching to put on a page. Mac Kelly is a 20-year-old with high-functioning autism. And he is in love. My own son with autism, Big Bird as we like to call him, is nearly 18. He is not high-functioning, but in many other ways Big Bird is like my Mac—adorable, affectionate, troubled, prone to meltdowns, and most certainly never perfect. With Mac, I was able to write the love story I want my guy to someday have.

I also want my stories of Mac and the other exceptional people I write about who suffer from physical challenges, PTSD, eating disorders, abuse, and more, to help others see just how much people with special needs are like everyone else. They crave acceptance, strive to express their individuality, and desire love in their lives, whether platonic or romantic.

I’m full of ideas already, but really want to know: What types of special needs love stories would you love to see?

Until next time…




Post a Comment

  1. Great post! I agree that there should be more diverse situations explored in books today. I don't have much experience with special needs individuals in my personal life, but I did read Reclaiming the Sand by A. Meredith Walters (one of the main characters has Aspergers) and found it to be both fascinating and completely endearing. Would love to see more of this!

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    1. Thanks Brittany! Reclaiming the Sand came highly recommended to me, and it's on my TBR list. (I try to avoid reading books with similar characters while writing/revising!) I appreciate your support, and will keep writing my super-special characters. :)

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  2. I've always loved wounded hero romances. I enjoy books with disabled or special needs characters, too, as long as they're well done and not stereotypical or soap-box-ish.

    I'm currently writing about a heroin with what we now call PTSD (it's a historical, so I don't actually use the term). I'm working very hard to write her character authentically.

    Being that I have two kids with HF autism, I found this post very interesting. Thanks for taking the time to write about the issue.

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    1. Melissa-I'm trying my best to not make the characters soap-boxish or stereotypical. Mac does some things you might see in a person with autism. Stimming and meltdowns and OCD (all of which I have experience with, as my son does many of these things) are a part of his everyday life. But I give him hopes and dreams and (gasp) even a desire for a sexual relationship. I told one person there was a sex scene in this book and she stared at me, gaping in disbelief. As if people with special needs weren't allowed to have these human desires.

      And a woman with PTSD in a historical? I want that please!

      Thanks for taking the time to read and respond, and happy writing!

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  3. Love this. I think we've all seen the wounded warrior stories and I love those but I think we need to see more with mental challenges along with the physical ones that we already get. Medical issues are a big one too. And I mean, the things we don't see a lot of. Instead of Cancer, it's ALS or MS or something that isn't as mainstream.

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    1. Thanks Heather! A film that I loved that was a New Adult-style drama-thriller dealt with traumatic brain injury. It was called "The Lookout" and starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and was so well-done in how it portrayed the main character struggling with post-high-school-jock life after his accident. I think some talented authors could do some amazing work with topics like ALS, MS, and other medical issues. Bring it! :)

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  4. Oo, have you ever seen the TV show Alphas? One of the main characters, Gary, has high functioning autism, and he develops a romance. You should totally check it out on Netflix. :D

    Great post!

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    1. My husband watched it, and I caught an episode once. I was like "he has autism" and so I went back and watched the series. :) Think I am due for another binge-session soon!

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  5. Oh, I love this post! I'm working on a book where the hero has a traumatic brain injury right now... totally going to check out The Lookout!

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    1. Thanks Delancey! I'd love to read that book. I hope you enjoy The Lookout as much as I did!

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  6. Great post, AJ! I also like it when the diverse characters are just part of the story, not a soapbox. My current WIP is a historical set in the 1940s. The hero's sister has polio. It's not a huge plot point, just something that was common then.

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    1. I love 1940s historicals! I agree, if feels right for the story and time period that the sister has polio. I do try not to get on my soapbox, but my character does lament that people see him as unmotivated and lazy when in fact he is simply TERRIFIED of change. It's true to the disorder, and a very real thing for my son and some of his friends.

      P.S.--I'd love to read that WIP!

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  7. My nephew is autistic and beautiful and a joy. Great post. X

    shahwharton.com

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    1. Shah--thanks for stopping by! My son can be challenging, but he leaves me in awe of the amazing things he's accomplished in his life. And he has this joyous smile that just lights up the world when he shares it. I know your nephew is probably the same for you. :)

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    1. Thanks Catherine! It's a fascinating journey every day. :)

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  9. As a mother of two sons with AS, this is something I'm not looking forward to. I think one son will be okay (he's close to the dating age now), but it's going to be a struggle for my other son. I can't see them reading romances to learn what to expect.

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