5 good children's books to read on World Autism Awareness Day
This book is told from the perspective of an autistic kid's friend. He explains what he likes about his friends, and how he sometimes behaves differently than other children do. He also shows what he does to help his friend overcome some of his difficulties. The story is told in easy, child-friendly language, with cartoony, colorful illustrations. Overall it is a nice book to introduce children to what autism is, to how to be supportive of autistic people, with a positive message. I'd recommend it as a first book to read about the subject, or for children who have autistic schoolmates or friends and want to better understand them.
In this book, we follow Sarah, a new girl at school. She notices a boy who's acting weird: he never talks to anyone and spends all of his free time spinning a yellow frisbee around. She decides to try and make friends with him, by bringing her own frisbee to play with Andy. Andy doesn't want to play with her, and keeps on spinning his frisbee. But Sarah does make a new friend that day: Andy's sister Rosie, who is very protective of her little brother and explains to Sarah why he behaves strangely.
I really loved "Andy and His Yellow Frisbee". This is not a good book for a first introduction, since it doesn't really explain what autism is, but the story is great for several reasons. First of all the way Sarah acts towards Andy is very cool, she understands his interests and tries to interact with him in a way that is natural for him, which is a really good example of how to behave with autistic people. Another thing I liked is that, even though Sarah's attempt did not succeed, the book still has a positive message: Sarah says she will try again another day, and Andy's refusal to interact is not seen as a failure or as a proof he is somehow not worth being friends with. Overall this book has a very great, positive message with gentle illustrations. I would recommend it for a child who has already heard a bit about autism.
This book is focused on the sister of a non-verbal autistic kid, Ian. Julie, his sister, sometimes gets frustrated and angry when Ian gets more attention than she does, when he acts weird in public or when he gets treated differently because he's autistic. But she still loves her brother, and when he gets lost while they're on a walk, she tries to think like him in order to find him. And it works!
"Ian’s Walk" is great to help children – and even adults – understand what's going on in the head of someone who's autistic, and imagine what it feels like. It focuses on a different range of symptoms than the other books, sensory differences are more important in this book. It also is a very touching story with pretty illustrations. It is a good read for any child, and particularly for family members of an autistic child since it evokes the frustration one can feel in such a situation and treats it as a valid feeling.
Book’s Title and Author: Different Croaks for Different Folks: All About Children With Special Learning Needs by Midori Ochiai
Age Range: 4-10
Grade Level: Kindergarten - 4th grade
Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Pub
In this book, we learn the stories of different tadpoles who have something special about them: one has uneven development, one has hard to break habits, one has problems socializing, one is easily distracted, one gets obsessed with his hobbies, and one jumps to conclusions. Even though medical labels are never used, those are traits common in autism as well as other disorders. "Different Croaks for Different Folks: All About Children With Special Learning Needs" explains in a fun way – with frogs! - difficulties that can be encountered, and solutions that can be found to deal with them. It's a great book to read with an autistic kid to talk to him about his autism and to help him find solutions to his challenges. It also features an appendix with lots of useful information for parents or professionals. It also features nice, colorful illustrations.
This book is told in the perspective of an autistic kid who talks about his neurotypical friend. He explains all of the weird thing he does, such as not following a precise routine or loving social interaction. But in the end he concludes that it's ok and he loves his friend all the same. "Why Johnny Doesn't Flap: NT is OK!" is a fun reversal of points of view and can have several goals: read to an autistic kid, it is a good way to talk about her difference. Read to a neurotypical kid, it helps her put herself in the skin of an autistic child and realize that “normal” is really just a question of point of view, which can lead to more acceptance of different people!
I wanted to talk a bit about that disability, which is not as well-know as it should. Indeed, estimations vary widely, but most agree at least one person out of 100 is autistic. And this is a subject that is very close to my heart, because I am one of them.
First of all, when you think about autism, an image probably pops to mind: maybe a socially awkward math genius, or maybe a non-verbal boy rocking silently in a corner. While these classical depictions may sometimes be accurate, they're very, very far from encompassing very autistic person. So I'm going to try to tell you a bit about what exactly is autism, who can be autistic, and what it means for a person to be autistic. Then I'll present some books that are great if you want to talk to your children about that disability, to make them more tolerant of a classmate maybe, or just to open their eyes to the diversity and differences of human beings.
So, what is autism? It is important to remember that it isn't a disease, in the sense that it isn't something that hurts the person's brain or body. It is just a different way for the brain to be wired, not better or worse than that of a neurotypical person. It is a developmental disorder, which means it starts appearing in the very early stages of the child's development, maybe even before he or she is born. It affects every aspect of the child's life, which means there isn't a “real child” hidden behind the autism: there only is an autistic child, with a different way of experiencing the world. And that's okay.
Everyone can be autistic: the legend that says that most autistic persons are male comes from the fact that girls are generally poorly diagnosed. The causes of autism are not well-known, but there seems to be a heavy genetic component. And since autism is a developmental disorder, it lasts all life long: an autistic kid will become an autistic adult. There is no way to “cure” autism as such, though ways to manage some of the more negative traits exist.
Now that these few facts are out of the way, let's get to the heart of the matter: what does it mean to be autistic?
Well, first of all, every autistic person is different and we all have different traits, difficulties and particularities, even though some general tendencies can be defined. One main characteristic is difficulty with social skills. It might present itself in different ways: difficulty with understanding social rules and norms, inability to read and use body language and facial expressions, difficulty to understand sarcasm, or even complete inability to speak under some or all circumstances. Most non-verbal autistic adults have found a way of communicating that suits them: some do start to talk later on in life, but some are fine writing, typing, using sign language, selecting pictures on a communication board... or any combination of these. But anyway, even if someone doesn't speak, they do communicate, at least with their body language. A second main thing that is less talked about is differences in sensory processing. That means while our senses physically work like anyone else's (for example our eyes and our ears work just fine), our brains process the information they receive differently. They can be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to different senses. For example, that might mean being really sensitive to bright lights and loud sounds, which are really painful; refusing to eat certain food which has a wrong taste or texture; refusing to wear some pieces of clothing because the texture is unbearable... but also having trouble processing what people say, understanding your own feelings and bodily sensations (such as hunger or thirst), or having trouble with gross or fine motor skills because of lack of consciousness of where your body is in space and how to move it.
In a world that is full of stimuli to which you are supposed to react in a specific way, these sensory differences can make a lot of things difficult. While they remain a challenge for a lot of autistic people, luckily there are ways for us to regulate ourselves when we are overstimulated or understimulated, which might lead to confusion, agitation, anxiety, irritation, or even a violent, painful meltdown. One of these ways, which can be very visible, is self-regulating behaviors, also called stimming. Stimming can be anything from rocking to flapping your hands to making sounds to spinning around, and lots more. These movements allow us to calm and regulate ourselves, but also to express our emotions, and even just to have fun. They are healthy and normal! If you see an autistic person stimming, don't try to stop them.
Another trait that can be very important in the life of autistic persons is having special interests. Special interests are subjects that interest you so much that sometimes it's the only thing you can think about, and you can spend hours on end studying, researching and compiling information about that subject. They can be anything, from biology to make-up, from breeds of horses to trains. Autistic people often love to talk about their special interests at length and if you want to establish the contact, it's a great way to do it!
Finally, having a specific routine is very important for us and we can be very upset when it is disturbed, and in the same way change, new things, and uncertainty is very anxiety-inducing. There are a lot of autistic traits and I can't possibly list them all here, but please keep in mind that we are all different, there are a lot of different ways to be autistic and all of them are valid, whether or not we can live independently or appear neurotypical.
All of that is quite a complicated subject to talk about to a child, which you might want to do for a variety of reasons I stated already, such as an autistic classmate, friend, or member of the family, or just the desire to expand their mind and to celebrate autism day. Our short selection of children's books makes this hard task a little bit easier!
Also, please do ask if you have any question!
Moona Journal Author