Waiting for Benjamin: A Story about Autism

Waiting for Benjamin9780807573648_p0_v1_s260x420Waiting for Benjamin: A Story about Autism

Alexandra Jessup Altman, Author

Susan Keeter, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Co., Fiction, 2008

Suitable for ages: 5-9

Themes: Living with a sibling with autism, Brothers, Emotional Challenges

Opening: “My name is Alexander and I was born first. Then came Benjamin. We live in a stone house with Mom and Dad. After Benjamin’s second birthday we all waited for him to talk, but he didn’t say any words. He just wiggled his fingers and rocked.”

Synopsis: Alexander’s younger brother has autism. He loves Benjamin, but finds it difficult to play with him when he stares blankly at the wall, rocks back and forth or wiggles his fingers. Even when Alexander builds a cool castle with blocks, Benjamin throws himself on the floor. Alexander is angry, frustrated and disappointed. After a visit to the doctor, Alexander’s  parents tell him that Benjamin’s brain works differently and that’s why he isn’t talking and playing. They explain that when Benjamin wiggles his fingers the doctor says it feels so good that he can’t hear anyone speaking. Alexander lays in the grass and wiggles his fingers, but it doesn’t feel good to him. He stares at the sky and wonders what Benjamin sees. Two teachers come to help Benjamin listen, talk and play. Alexander is a jealous that his brother gets special attention. He’s also embarrassed to invite friends to play at his house.

Why I like this book: This is a very helpful introduction book about autism. But, not all autistic children are the same and make the progress Benjamin does. I like how it focuses on the emotional challenges siblings face when they have an autistic brother or sister.  Many siblings experience anger, frustration, embarrassment, disappointment, worry, and jealousy.  There is a Note from the author  at the beginning of the book for parents about siblings. Since this book is written for an older age group, I think it would be helpful to include information and discussion questions for siblings to help them share their experiences and feelings. Susan Keeter’s illustrations are very colorful, expressive and match the mood of the story.

Resource: Parents Helping Parents has interesting information on Sibling of Autistic Children Get a Chance to Express Themselves.  Check out the Autism Support Network  for sibling support.

 

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly

Harmonic Feedback9780805090109_p0_v1_s260x420Harmonic Feedback

Tara Kelly, Author

Henry Holt and Company, YA Fiction, 2010

Suitable for ages: 14 – 18

Themes: Asperger’s Syndrome, Friendship, Music, Emotional Problems, Drug Abuse

Synopsis:  Sixteen-year-old Drea knows what it feels like to be an outsider.  Her mother is once again moving Drea to another town and school — this time to her grandmother’s  home in Bellingham, WA.  Drea also is diagnosed with ADHD and a mild form of Asperger’s syndrome. The last thing she wants is to be labeled.  Life isn’t easy and she finds the world confusing.  Her real desire is to just make sense to herself.  Drea is intelligent, musically gifted and passionate about sound design.  She meets two other outsiders, free-spirited Naomi, who flirts with drugs and danger, and Justin, who is persistent and may even like Drea. They share her love of music and form a rock band.  For the first time in her life Drea finds two true friends who accept and care about her.  But, as in many relationships there will be joy, pain, grief and hope.

Why I like this book:  A debut novel for Tara Kelly, Harmonic Feedback is a brilliant and complex book about finding your way in a world that doesn’t always make sense to you.  It is both uplifting and tragic as Drea makes her first-ever friends.  Tara delves deeply into the thoughts and feelings of Drea so that you really experience her world.  Naomi and Justin are stand-out characters, each struggling with their own challenges.  The plot is strong making this story a real page-turner. In writing Harmonic Feedback, Tara was clear that her novel “is not about defining Asperger’s syndrome or ADHD.”   It is a story about the turmoil of teenagers trying to figure out their lives.  It is a book that teens will relate to.  After all, who hasn’t felt like an outsider.  Make sure you read the author’s back pages. Visit Tara Kelly at her website and learn more about her recent novel Amplified.  Tara is a one-girl band, writer, filmmaker, video editor, and digital photographer.

World Autism Awareness Day, April 2

Light It Up Blue on April 2

April is National Autism Awareness Month, which will be kicked off today, Tuesday, April 2, with a World Autism Awareness Day.  Join  Autism Speaks in the fourth annual LIGHT IT UP BLUE campaign to  help shine a light on autism in commemoration of the United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day.   There is a wealth of information on what you can do in your home, school, and community during April.  The entire world is going blue to increase awareness about autism.  You can help by changing the light bulb in your front porch light to blue during April, turning your website blue, reviewing a children’s book on autism, or watching the award-winning HBO movie “Temple Grandin,” and learning more about the autism spectrum disorders.

According to a report the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated number of U.S. autistic kids have skyrocketed by 78 percent since 2000.  Now, one in 88 American kids has autism, according to the new figures.  Among boys, it’s one in 54.  The big question is “why?”   One expert said, “better diagnosis, broader diagnosis, better awareness, and roughly 50 percent of ‘We don’t know’.”   Another advocate said, “we have an epidemic of autism in the United States.” 

This is a unique global opportunity to help raise awareness about the growing public health concern that is autism.  Iconic landmarks around the world will Light It Up Blue to show their support today.   Among the 2,000 buildings going blue last year were the: NY Stock Exchange, Empire State Building, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, Niagara Falls, Al Anoud Tower in Saudi Arabia,  Cairo Tower in Egypt, Great Buddha at Hyogo in Japan, CN Tower in Canada and Sydney Opera House in Australia.

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The month will be filled with activities for families and friends, so make sure you check out Autsim Speaks.  Their website has a wealth of information, tool kits for newly diagnosed children, facts, treatment information, research and resources on the Autism Spectrum.  I will be reviewing some new books on autism in April and all year-long.  I hope you will join me!   Light it up Blue today! 

Since April 2011, I have reviewed 19 excellent books in the Autism Spectrum.  You can click on Autism Spectrum and Asperger’s Syndrome in  the “Topics” side bar to the right of my blog to find all the reviewed books.  The titles include Picture Books (PB), Middle Grade (MG), Young Adult (YA) and books for Parents.  Titles include:

I’m Here, Peter H. Reynolds (PB)

Wings of Epoh,  Gerda Weissmann Klein (PB)

Understanding Sam and Asperger’s Syndrome, Clarabelle van Niekerk & Liezl Venter, MA, CCC-SLP

My Brother Charlie, Holly and Ryan Elizabeth Peete, (PB)

In Jesse’s Shoes, Beverly Lewis (PB)

Ellie Bean: The Drama Queen, Jennie Harding (PB)

The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders, by Elizabeth Verdick and Elizabeth Reeve, M.D. (MG/YA)

How to Talk to an Autistic Kid, Daniel Stefanski (MG)

Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism and Love from His Extraordinary Son, Tom Fields-Meyer (Parent)

Mocking Bird, Katherine Erskine (MG)

Rules, Cynthia Lord (MG)

Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes, Jennifer Elder (MG)

Wild Orchid,  Waiting for No One , and White Bicycle, Beverley Brenna (YA) Trilogy

Temple Grandin:  How The Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World, Sy Montgomery, (MG/YA/Adult

I Am in Here: The Journey of a Child with Autism, Elizabeth M. Bonker and Virgina Breen (YA/Adult)

Marcelo in the Real World, Francisco X. Stork  (YA)

Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism, Arthur and Carly Fleischmann (YA/Adult)

Not My Boy, Rodney Peete (Parent)

A Friend Like Henry, Nuala Gardner (Parent)

 

The White Bicycle – Autism Spectrum

The White Bicycle

Beverley Brenna, Author

Red Deer Press, Fiction, Oct. 30, 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 14-17

Themes:  Autism Spectrum, Adolescence, Independence, Journey

Synopsis:  Taylor Jane Simon, a 19-year-old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, is back in the conclusion to Beverley Brenna’s Wild Orchid trilogy.   Although the books in the series are  stand-alone, each story features the spirited and strong-willed Taylor Jane.  In The White Bicycle,  Taylor travels to the South to the South of France with her mother, where she has a job as a “personal care assistant” for Martin Phoenix, a boy in a wheelchair  who is unable to speak without special equipment.  She has agreed to take the job because she wants to put in on her resume.   She cares for Martin, but her free time is spent traveling the French countryside on her white bicycle, trying to make sense of her past so that she can move forward in her life.  Along the way she meets an unlikely mentor who is somewhat of a mirror for Taylor.  Taylor  has one goal in mind — to become independent.

One of my favorite quotes in Taylor’s journal  is a conversation with her mother:  “There’s something I have been waiting for in order to be an adult.  It’s not having a boyfriend.  It’s not taking classes at the university.  It’s not getting a job.  I have done all of those things and I am going to keep doing them.  But they do not make me an adult.  I’m not waiting any longer Mom.  Because I know what I am waiting for.  I am waiting for you…to let me be free.” (p. 183)

Why I like this book/series:   First of all, the story is told in first person so that the reader has a front row seat into how Taylor thinks, feels and responds to the world.   The story is Taylor’s private daily journal.  Brenna has a gift of getting into the mind of her character so that the reader experiences Taylor.   Her characters are well-developed and you find yourself cheering for Taylor on her journey.  Secondly, this is the first series I have read where we actually follow a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome, graduating from high school, going to college, getting a job, leaving her comfort zone and traveling to a foreign country, transitioning from adolescence to adulthood before our eyes and struggling to gain independence from her mother.  This is a typical response, but even more powerful from a young woman with Asperger’s.  With so many children in the Autism Spectrum who will be making this transition in coming years, the Wild Orchid trilogy this is an important story for families, teenagers and teachers.  I enjoyed watching Taylor’s steady growth and strong spirit in the series.

Another point of interest point is the beautiful cover art for The White Bicycle.  It was done by artist Taylor Crowe, who was diagnosed at a young age with autism.  His artistic talent was nurtured by family and therapists.  Today he lectures about autism to educators, behavioral therapists, and families — a real success story.

I was first introduced to Wild Orchid and Waiting for No One, by my writing colleague  Beth Stilborn , a cousin of the Canadian author.  You can read her interview with Brenna by clicking on Beth’s name.   You may read my earlier reviews of the first two books,  Wild Orchid and Waiting for No One by clicking on the books.  There also is an interview with Brenna at the end of the The White Bicycle.

Update:  Beverley Brenna was awarded the Printz Award on July 15, 2013 by the American Library Association for her novel, The White Bicycle.  The Printz Award is given for the “best book written for teens.”  Click on the Printz Award to see the article.

For more information on helping your teenager make the transition to adulthood, contact Austism Speaks  for their helpful  “Transition Tool Kit.”  Over one-half million children will make this transition from adolescence to adulthood, and they will want to be independent, have homes,  jobs and friends.  

Temple Grandin – Autism Awareness Month

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World

Sy Montgomery, Author

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children,  Biography,  Apr. 3, 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 9 and up, Middle Grade

Themes: Austism Spectrum, Differences are gifts, Revolutionizing livestock industry

Sy Montgomery’s captivating children’s biography about Temple Grandin, speaks to children, especially to those who feel different.  It is beautifully crafted and has all the ingredients for a good book with simple chapters, a lot of photographs, informative inserts, and advice for kids with autism.  We meet her mother, her lifelong school friends, and teachers.  (Depending on the child’s age, parents may want to review the graphic details about the cruelty to animals.)   This book belongs in school libraries, as it helps all children understand that abilities may be the result of differences.

For years, Temple, couldn’t speak a word.   Loud noise hurt, ordinary sensations were torture, human voices made little sense and the certain odors prevented her from concentrating.   Sometimes the only way she could communicate was by crying or throwing a tantrum.   Her father wanted to institutionalize her, but her mother refused.   It would be years before she was diagnosed with autism, as she was born in 1947, and little was known.  But her mother found special schools for Temple with teachers and psychologists who knew how to bring her out.  This was surprising, knowing she attended school in the 1950s and 1960s.

Temple saw the world visually — in pictures –much like animals do.  And it was animals that eventually saved Temple and helped her learn to calm herself as a teenager.  While visiting her aunt’s cattle farm, she would go out into the middle of a spacious pasture, lie down and wait for the thousand-pound steers, to curiously circle around her motionless body.  They would walk up and lick Temples face — she was at peace.   She was introduced to a cattle chute where calves were vaccinated.  The calves heads stick out a hole in the gate head, the operator pulls a rope to press side panel against the animal’s side.  It horrified Temple at first, but she observed this squeeze chute calmed the animal.   She decided to try it on herself with her aunt helping, and she suddenly felt calm, secure and peaceful.   She built a squeeze machine for herself when she returned to school, so she could calm herself.   The school psychologist was not happy, but her favorite science teacher supported her.  He suggested they build a better squeeze machine and conduct scientific experiments on other students to see it if helped them relax.  Success!

These early discoveries and a love for animals were the beginning of a long career studying animal-behavior in college and graduate school, that would open the door to her life work of advocating for more the humane treatment of cattle in the livestock industry.  Her breakthrough designs for cruelty-free cattle-handling facilities are used worldwide.  These designs have benefited the cattle, ranchers and slaughterhouses.  And it was her autism that gave her the special insights and skills to make that difference.

I hope parents with children see possibility in Temple Grandin.  She is a strong advocate for autism and works with many young people.   Although she has learned coping skills, she has autism like many famous inventors and scientists who changed the world.  Temple doesn’t want a brain like most other people have.  “A lot of normal people are fuzzy in their thinking,” she says.  “I like the way I think.   Autism is part of who I am.”   Temple uses her experience as an example of the unique contributions that autistic people can make.  You see beauty in her autism.

Today, she is a scientist, professor, lecturer, and author of many books.  She now focuses on the humane treatment facilities for pigs, sheep, goats and chickens.  In 2010, HBO made a TV movie of her life, starring Claire Danes.  It won an Emmy.

Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism

Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism

Arthur Fleischmann with Carly Fleischmann, authors

A Touchtone Book, Published by Simon & Schuster, Biography, Mar. 27, 2012

Suitable for:  Parents of Autistic Children, Young Adults, Educators

Themes:  Parenting an Autistic Child, Nonverbal, Breakthroughs, Courage, Hope

Opening:  “A news reporter once asked me to describe our a-ha moment with Carly.  He wanted to understand that blinding flash of insight we had about our daughter.  I thought for a moment before replying.  There never has been a moment like that.  Carly has always just been Carly.”

Carly and her fraternal twin sister, Taryn, were born in 1995.  From the beginning they were very different babies.  As early as 10 months, Arthur and his wife, Tammy, noticed Carly was showing signs of delays in her gross motor skills, language, auditory attention and socialization.  By age two, she was diagnosed with severe autism and an oral motor condition called apraxia which prevented Carly from speaking.  Doctors predicted  minimal intellectual development.  Her parents refused to give up in their attempts to reach Carly.  Their lives were filled with therapists who worked with her at home and at school.  In fact their entire family life, which included Taryn and an older brother, Matthew, revolved around caring for Carly.

Arthur Fleischmann, bares his soul as he writes a very raw and honest book about life with Carly.  The sleepless nights, explosive outbursts, chaos, exhaustion, not to mention the huge financial debt they incurred paying for special ABA treatment with two therapists, a nanny, and special equipment.  They were constant advocates, fighting teachers, principals and school boards to make sure Carly received important ABA treatment and attended special schools.  Her ABA therapists saw Carly’s intelligence and worked diligently with Carly using many methods to draw her out.

Hope arrived at age 10, when Carly reached over to the computer and with her index finger typed three words “Help Teeth Hurt.”   Carly was very smart, and this was the beginning of unlocking the door so Carly could find her voice.  It didn’t happen over night.  In fact it took many turbulent years filled with meltdowns, tearing off clothing at night, head banging, and long periods of silence when she’d refuse to type her feeling or interact with her therapists and family.  A significant breakthrough occurred when Carly finally typed to her therapist “Tell Mom and Dad to stop yelling at me.”  “At night when I yell and jump around.  It’s not fun for me.  My legs and arms tingle and I can’t make them stop.  I have to move or it gets worse.  I am hitting myself to stop this feeling.”  She was finally communicating what was going on inside of her and doctors could treat her symptoms that were painful with medication and help reduce meltdowns.  Carly began to calm down and over time and she began to share more of her world in Carly’s voice.   Her therapists and family discovered a very intelligent, gifted, funny and witty young woman who wanted to do normal activities like her brother and sister.  She wanted to go shopping with her mom and to take long walks with her dad.

Epilogue:  There is a special 20-page Epilogue at the end of the book that is written by Carly, who is now 17 years old.   It is funny, insightful and inspiring.   You learn why she calls her voice, her “inner voice.”  You discover that she was talking all the time as a young child, but inside of her head.   One day, she realized that no one was hearing her.  She talks about information and sensory  overload.  She describes her moment of realization that she was different from Taryn and Matthew.  She began to realize on her own that “it wasn’t that I didn’t understand the words, it was that my brain couldn’t focus directly on the conversation.”  This happened when Carly was bombarded with too many noises, bright lights, and smells, which would distract her and put her on sensory overload.   Left to her own resources, Carly taught herself what she calls “audio filtering,” which helped her sort things out.  It is a very hard thing to learn, but Carly did it on her own.  This is just a peek at what this inspiring young woman has done for herself, autistic children, parents and the medical and educational communities. Carly has found her voice and has become advocate helping people understand autism!   You can follow Carly Fleischmann on Facebook (over 32,100 followers)  and Twitter.

Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome

Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome

Clarabelle van Niekerk & Liezl Venter, MA, CCC-SLP, Authors

Clarabelle van Niekerk, Illustrator

Skeezel Press, Fiction, 2006

Suitable for:  Preschool to Grade 2

Awards:  2010 Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award, and the 2009 Mom’ Choice Award.

Themes:  Understanding a child with Asperger Syndrome, Helping the child succeed at home and at school, Teamwork

Opening“Sam loved to giggle.  He would close his eyes, throw back his head, and just giggle.  This would make everyone else giggle.  Sam was a happy boy but he was a little different.  He did not like loud noises.  He did not like to rough and tumble with other boys.  Making friends was hard for Sam.”  This is an endearing story about Sam, who  acts differently.  He lives with his parents, his sister and his dog.  Sam doesn’t like his pancakes to touch each other on the plate.  He doesn’t like to wear new clothes because they feel funny.  He builds puzzles by himself at school and the kids tease him.   A fair comes to town and Sam’s father takes him to ride on the Ferris wheel.   Sam loves the feeling of going round and round so much that he slips out of the house later that night and returns to the Ferris wheel.  That’s when his parents realize it’s time to see a doctor.

Why I like this book:  The authors give a realistic portrayal of child with Asperger Syndrome in an upbeat and happy way.   The illustrations are colorful and beautifully support the positive mood of the story.  They show how important it is for the doctors, therapists,  family, teacher and students to work together as a team to understand and help Sam.  Over the months Sam learns to interact with the other students and they include him in their activities.  And, Sam is given his moment to shine at a school event where he shares a very special gift.

Activities:  At the end of the book, the authors have a special discussion guide for students, family and friends.  They offer 10 very helpful tips for kids who have friends who may seem a little different.   These tips will promote a thoughtful and lively classroom or family conversation.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.