It is a treat for me to launch my book reviews during Autism Awareness Month with not just one book, but a very special series of books entitled Off We Go! Written by Irish author and mother, Avril Webster, the books began as “hand books” she wrote at home to help her son Stephen navigate everyday life activities. Stephen has a developmental brain disorder, and new experiences that include loud noises, bright lights and new smells, were upsetting.
What I appreciate most about Webster’s books is the simplicity. Each book is the same size, limited to 12 pages, and is beautifully illustrated with bright photographs by David Ryley. Each page has a picture with one sentence. For instance, in Off We Go for a Haircut, the child says, “I’m going to get my hair cut.” The book prepares the child for what to expect and what comes next, thus reducing the anxiety and stress in a first time situation. And, Webster uses the same cast of multi-ethnic characters in each book so that the child is familiar with them.
Webster’s books are designed for children with special needs and disabilities that include Autism, Down Syndrome, intellectual disabilities, brain injuries, ADHD, and Sensory Processing Disorders. However, they have much a broader appeal, because they can be read to very young children, ages 2-5, to help them understand a visit to the dentist or getting a hair cut. Some children are more anxiety prone than others. I remember my first ride on a big bus with my mother at age three, and I sobbed because everything was so big and loud. They also can be used with children for whom English is a second language.
Some of the Off We Go! book titles include: Going to the Dentist, Going to the Restaurant, Going to the Grocery Store, Going Swimming, Going on a Plane, Going to Buy Clothes, Going to Buy Shoes, and Going to a Birthday Party. You can visit their website at: http://offwego.ie/.
Fortunately, Off We Go! was launched in the United States and Canada in March 2011 through Woodbine House Publishing. An interesting side bar is that Woodbine is a leading publisher of books for children with special needs. Many of their employees have a personal connection to someone with special needs — a winning combination for all involved. Books can be purchased at their website: www.woodbinehouse.com and at www.amazon.com.