In her presentation at the Children’s Author Breakfast at BookExpo America, Mitali Perkins talked about books as windows and mirrors. A way to introduce worlds and characters beyond ourselves, and yet reflections of our own experiences. As I mentioned in my first post about BookExpo America, Mitali added another dimension to the way I view stories and books. This is how her gift worked just last week. [image credit: Dawn of She is Too Fond of Books]
A colleague who works in a non-literacy business asked me to recommend some books that would be “good for moms to read with their kids who are autistic.” He was talking about books you’d read with very young children. At first I was stuck because I’ve yet to find a picture book with an autistic character of the “must read” or “quality read” caliber, or where the story elements and the target audience meshed well.
Autistic kids are incredibly discerning, and they know very early in their lives that they are “different” than their peers. Whether it is their ability to communicate, their sensitivity to noise or activity, or the ability to keep up physically, they know. Someone once told me that if you have met one child with autism, then you have met. one. child. with. autism. Autism Spectrum Disorders manifest themselves uniquely in each person, it isn’t like having a cold where everyone has varying degrees of the same symptoms. This is a spectrum of diagnoses. How do you write a children’s book for that?
Holding the mirror for my daughter, I could not think of any stories that would reflect her experiences or perceptions of herself. But when I took a step back, I saw the window. I have read lots of picture books that autistic children would love to hear; and I know there are hundreds more. [image credit OpenClipArt Library of Johnny Automatic]
I started thinking about toddler and preschool books about love. The most precious gift we can give our children is unconditional love … to help them understand/see/feel that they are loved for who they are. In the “real world,” these kids struggle to make friends, knowing that there are people who accept them is so important to their sense of self. There are lots of books with do-you-always-love-me themes for this audience.
Autistic kids see themselves as different … what we want them to celebrate is that they are unique. Books for this audience often embrace the themes of individuality and self esteem. They are perfect choices for sharing with your autistic child.
Last but not least, we can’t forget the universal ideas of love, acceptance, and having a positive sense of self. Books with these themes help us raise our children to be confident, successful people. Our kids see themselves in No, David! and Ladybug Girl alike. Reading stories that mirror universal experiences helps them see that other kids have the same experiences/think the same things/ have the same feelings … just like them.
Sharing a book with a child is an opportunity to share special time together, create great memories, and communicate in ways that ordinary conversation can’t match.
We don’t parse our love by the conditions our child does or doesn’t have … so do we need to parse their stories that way? Is there a place for books about kids with autism? Absolutely … when one in every 100 kids is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, we need those books. The question, though, is are these books a mirror for the autistic child or a window for those on the outside?
If you have some recommended reads where children of autism are featured in the storyline or as a main character, I sure would love to hear about them.