Smart. Lively. Cheeky. A global conversation-starter with a doppleganger
Sesame Street muppet. That’s Jennifer Cook (formerly Cook O’Toole), author of seven bestselling, award-winning books, which have been translated into six languages (and counting) and include the winner of the Autism Society of America's Book of the Year Award. Her "Asperkids" series and “Sisterhood of the Spectrum,” comprise the best-selling autism-related book collection in the world, while her memoir, Autism in Heels: The Untold Story of a Female Life on the Spectrum is a Wall Street Journal Bestseller, chosen a "Best Book" title winner by Publishers Weekly, and named one of both the "Best Autism Books of AllTime" and "Best-Selling Autism Books of All Time" by BookAuthority. The audiobook version is the first ever recorded by someone on the autism spectrum.
Jennifer was born and raised in northern New Jersey, growing up an only child in what she describes as “Leave it to Beaver, USA.” She began dance at age two, which became a lifelong passion, was inducted into Mensa at age seven, was cast as the lead in high school musicals and was chosen as an “All State” tennis player twice. “I was that girl,” she recalls. “The one whose face you see everywhere and, while constantly looking around for what else I ought to be achieving, was probably making everyone else roll their eyes without my even knowing it.”
She attended Brown University, where she was an officer in Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, a football cheerleader, and a member of the university’s dance company. Following a traumatic junior year, Jennifer became the first undergraduate ever to be a member of a state coalition against domestic violence. She graduated in 1997, writing her honors thesis in American Civilization on “Barbie as a didactic tool of postmodern femininity.” Jennifer observes, “In hindsight, I basically turned my need to intellectualize what others intuit into academic fodder — I literally wrote a thesis on how to be a woman in late-twentieth century America — that is, on how I was supposed to be.”
Following two years as a domestic violence counselor for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in Charlotte, NC, Jennifer matriculated to the School of Social Work at Columbia University. She later returned to Charlotte, where she continued her academic work in the Graduate School of Education at Queens University while teaching, earning a nomination for “Disney’s American Teacher of the Year Award” in her first year.
Jennifer Cook (then O’Toole) stayed at home after the birth of her first child, a daughter, in 2003. She delivered sons in 2006 and 2009. And, in 2011, at the age of thirty-five, she was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (autism), just after her three children and their father had been similarly identified.
Her first book, Asperkids: An Insider’s Guide to Loving, Understanding, and Teaching Children with Asperger Syndrome, was released by Jessica Kingsley Publishers less than a year later, in May of 2012. It garnered the Temple Grandin Award for Outstanding Global Contribution on the day it hit shelves, inspiring Dr. Grandin, herself, to write an entire article about the book and Jennifer’s innovative thinking, calling it “simply the best way to teach.”
The whirlwind had only just begun.
Jennifer wrote prolifically, to public and critical acclaim. The Asperkids' (Secret) Book of Social Rules: A Handbook of Not-So- Obvious Guidelines for Teens and Tweens was published in late 2012, and has never left top ten lists since. It subsequently was named “Outstanding Literary Work of the Year” by the Autism Society of America, has been translated into four languages, and has earned the rank of best-selling book ever written by an author on the autism spectrum. Next came The Asperkid's Launch Pad: Home Design That Empowers Everyday Superheroes and The Asperkid's Not-Your-Average-Coloring Book in 2013, The Asperkid's Game Plan: Purposeful Play, Extraordinary Minds.... Ordinary Stuff in 2014, and Sisterhood of the Spectrum: An Asperger Chick's Guide to Life in 2015, (all Jessica Kingsley Publishers) every one topping charts and winning hearts.
(List of bookawards).
“I don’t, for one second, think that these books have found success because I’m so fabulous,” Jennifer insists. “I think that the things I notice and the messages I offer are universal truths for everyone on the human spectrum — so they resonate with us all. I take my work seriously, but I don’t take myself too seriously, which readers and audiences seem to appreciate. The fact that, in one moment, I’m willing to laugh at myself and in the next, I’m sharing something really vulnerable — that lets folks know they’re safe. That it’s ok to be real. It’s ok to be human — each of us different. Together.”
The creation of AK (Asperkids) -- a multimedia social re-education company took that message even bigger, sparking imaginations, changing minds, and rewriting the autism narrative.
Jennifer’s seventh book, Autism in Heels: The Untold Story of A Female Life on the Spectrum, smashes stereotypes of what it means to be autistic and female, named a “Top Feminist Books We Can’t Wait to Read” by BookRiot even before its release in December 2018 (Skyhorse Publishers). Only months later, Heels was honored at the National Institutes of Health and featured by NPR, hit The Wall Street Journal bestseller list, won a Booklist starred review, Publisher’s Weekly accolades, and, like Asperkids and The (Secret) Book of Social Rules, recognition by BookAuthority as one of the best and bestselling books on autism “of all time.”
The audiobook debut of Autism in Heels, April of 2020 (Dreamscape Media, LLC) a number one release for Audible and Amazon, marked an important milestone as the first narration of an autism memoir by an autistic person ever.
In addition to writing, Jennifer keynotes internationally in front of jumbotrons and in boardrooms, in schools and on stages, for kids and for Their Royal Highnesses the Princess Sophie of England and Princess Marie of Denmark. She is a beloved presenter, winning AuKids’ Magazine’s “Speaker of the Year” for very first talk (in Manchester, UK, 2012), appearing on magazine covers and on air, in corporate trainings for Cargill, on top of picnic tables for the National Eating Disorders Association and on fashion runways at Nordstrom and The Kinney Center.
Jennifer has keynoted at Society of America’s National Conference, the USAAA World Conference, North American Montessori Teachers’ Association, The National Inclusion Project, the UK’s National Autistic Society, Ireland’s SHINE, Denmark’s Sikon, and many others. She was selected to address the United States' National Institutes of Health Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee regarding the unique issues surrounding women, girls, and autism. Jennifer has advised the President's Council on Disabilities and President's Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition at the White House in 2015, and even had a voice in the creation of Julia, the first autistic character on Sesame Street (who just happens to also have red hair and green eyes).
Jennifer was named one of North Carolina’s “50 Most Influential Women” and Autism Newscast’s “25 Most Amazing Women with Autism,” the cover story of “hope, humor & positivity” for Zoom Autism Magazine, a mentor for Yale’s Child Study Center where her books serve as foundational texts, and a member of The Global Montessori Alliance. She is a recipient of GRASP’s Distinguished Spectrumite Parenting Medal and the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Women Inspiring Hope and Strength Award, Kappa Alpha Theta’s Leading Women, and has been celebrated by Disney’s Babble, A Mighty Girl, Women That Soar Awards, and The Mighty.
She sits on the Autism Society of America’s Panel of People on the Spectrum, is a columnist/expert panelist for Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party, and is a contributor to the online Spectrum Women Magazine. Her personal story has been featured in The New York Post, The Guardian, by BBC World Service, NPR, and Fox News, and by scores of press outlets around the world.
In 2019, Jennifer became the inaugural Senior Directorial Consultant to CNN Hero, Dr. Wendy Ross, at Jefferson University Hospitals Jefferson Health Center for Autism and Neurodiversity in Philadelphia.
From her own struggles and self-discovery, Jennifer’s celebrated insights have touched hearts, lightened spirits, and broadened minds around the world.
As one Irish reader shared, “There’s life before Jennifer’s work. And then there’s living.”