Emily Included – Cerebral Palsy

Emily Included9781926920337_p0_v1_s260x420Emily Included:  A True Story

Kathleen McDonnell, Author

Second Story Press, Biography, Mar. 1, 2012

Suitable for Ages:  8-12

Themes:  Cerebral Palsy, Disabilities, Special Needs, Inclusive Education, Supreme Court

Synopsis:  Emily Eaton was born with a severe form of cerebral palsy (CP) and had many physical challenges.   As a young child, her body was “floppy,” but she eventually defied doctors predictions and learned to sit, feed herself and walk with a special walker and leg braces.  She uses a wheel chair.  Verbal communication was difficult, although she learned to communicate with facial expressions and body language. Emily also had visual difficulties.  Because of her special need for therapy and teachers, Emily had attended a school for children with disabilities.  But at age five, her parents decided to enroll her in a public school so that she could interact with other children and become part of the community in which she lived.  Emily was nervous at first, but grew to love her school and new friends.  She attended school two years before the board of education intervened.

Little did Emily know she was about to face a great challenge in her life  — a school system that only saw her disabilities and not her abilities.  She was denied access to her second grade class.    This very strong girl only wanted the right to attend school like a regular kid.  With the support of her family, Emily  confronted the local board of education first.  This courageous girl ended up taking her case to the Canadian Supreme Court in the late 1990s.  Her fight became a battle for all children with physical and mental disabilities to have the right to be included in public schools.

What I like about this book:  Kathleen McDonnell has written an inspirational narrative about Emily’s remarkable journey to attend school with non-disabled children.  What I found fascinating was that Emily’s teachers and students found how much they benefited from her participation in school.  They all worked together as a team and enjoyed her presence in the classroom.  Teachers reported here were so many valuable lessons for everyone involved.  Her inclusion in school was groundbreaking for a child with severe CP in the nineties.   According to the author, there is still a lot of work to be done because “resources and funding remain major roadblocks to facilitating these rights in classrooms today.”   Emily however, graduated from high school.  You may visit Kathleen McDonnell at her website.

This book has been provided to me free of charge by the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the work.

The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders

The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents)

Elizabeth Verdick & Elizabeth Reeve, M.D.

Free Spirit Publishing, Nonfiction, Self-Help, Mar. 22, 2012

Suitable for: Ages 8 -13 and Parents

Theme:  Autism, coping strategies, making friends, identifying feelings,  dealing with change and information to help families

Opening:  This book begins with a beautiful introduction to kids from the authors. “We don’t believe in can’t or never.” “If you have ASD, there are differences between you and other people.  But your life can be about can.   You can make friends, succeed to the best of your ability in school, be an awesome son, daughter, sister, brother, or friend, and learn, grow and connect with others.  Never say never.”  And there is a special introduction for parents that focuses on the uniqueness of the disorder.  “Each child is an individual.  They can’t be lumped together because of the vast differences in how they think, learn, feel, behave and communicate.” 

This survival guide is meant for a parent and child to read together so the material can be discussed and questions answered.  It is an informative and upbeat book for children who have been diagnosed within the autism spectrum to learn about themselves and their disorder, and to find coping strategies to deal with daily challenges.  Beginning with a description of ASD and its many symptoms,  this guide includes information about relationships with family members, making friends at school, community involvement, changing schools, feelings, communications, body language,  bullying, playing, relaxation, sleep and personal hygiene.

What I like about this book:   Elizabeth Verdick and Elizabeth Reeve, M.D., are both parents of children with autism and offer a unique perspective.  The guide has a wonderful balance of text, examples, tips from famous people with autism, colorful and  lively illustrations, and stories from kids with ASD.  The book is a great resource packed with tools that kids can use to navigate new daily experiences, find a calm-down space,  talk about a new emotion (I am upset), organize schoolwork and schedules, and eat a balanced diet.  I don’t recommend parents read the book from beginning to end with a child.  It is a resource that can be used when they need help.   The chapters are well-marked and topics easily located.   You will find that this guide will be very handy as your child enters many new developmental stages.  

April is National Autism Awareness Month.   According to a report released March 29 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated number of U.S. autistic kids has 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.”   For more information, visit Autism Speaks.

How to Talk to an Autistic Kid

How to Talk to an Autistic Kid

Daniel Stefanski, Author

Hazel Mitchell, Illustrator

Free Spirit Publishing, Inc., 2011, Nonfiction, Self-help

Suitable for:  Grades 4 and up

Themes: Communication, interaction, inclusion, friendship

Opening/Synopsis“Say hi.  I want to be included just like anyone else.  I may be different, but I am a person, too.  People are different in many ways: Skin color, eye color, hairstyle, background, beliefs, you name it!  It feels good when people say hi to me, wave, and notice I’m here.  Please don’t ignore autistic kids just because they’re different.”  Daniel Stefanski is 14 years old, and has written a biographical, self-help book of his experience as a kid with autism.  He’s okay with his autism,  but also wants people to know that he is “artistic, handy, funny, helpful, generous, creative, curious,  a talented golfer and good at building and fixing things.”  He wrote this book to “help kids without autism to feel comfortable around kids with autism. ”  He hopes fewer kids with autism will feel lonely.

Bravo Daniel!  You have written a remarkable guide for kids.  Your book should be read and discussed in every school classroom.    How to Talk to an Autistic Kid is written for any child, teen or adult who comes into contact with a kid with autism.  Like Daniel, I don’t like using labels, but it is necessary in sharing his story.   The book is funny, poignant and true to Daniel.  Illustrator Hazel Mitchell  (click on link) has done a beautiful job of capturing Daniel’s personality and the complexities of autism in her artwork.  Her expressive illustrations fill each page and help readers understand what Daniel wants you to know as he navigates through life.

Why I like this book:   Daniel gives kids and teens the tools they need to develop friendships.  This is the first time I’ve read such practical advice from a teen with autism.  Daniel has done an outstanding job of explaining to kids why he doesn’t look at them; how his words get jumbled in his head; why noises, smells and lights bother him; why he struggles with understanding figures of speech like “go jump in a lake;” why he has difficulty understanding facial expressions of anger, surprise, frustration, and boredom; and why he becomes obsessed with certain subjects.   Daniel offers excellent tips to help kids interact and become friends with autistic kids.  He always urges kids to be respectful, kind, thoughtful, helpful and patient.

Like all kids, Daniel has big dreams and goals.  He wants to go to college and learn about computer animation, invent computer games for kids with disabilities and beat his step-dad at golf.   He wants to travel and write more books.  “I will always have autism, but that doesn’t mean my future won’t be great.”   I’m sure we’re going to be hearing a lot more from Daniel!

Free Spirit Publishing is a leading publisher of self-help books for kids and teens.  They address tough topics such as teen depression, ADD/ADHD, kids and anxiety, grief and loss, juvenile justice, bullying and conflict resolution.

Following Ezra – Austism Spectrum

Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism and Love from His Extraordinary Son

Tom Fields-Meyer, Author

New American Library, Nonfiction, September 2011

Suitable for:  Parents, Family Members, Teachers, Special Ed Teachers

Synopsis: “The walk was always the same.  Then one day it was different.”  During the summer of 1999, Tom and his wife Shawn spent two months at a retreat with their three sons.  Ezra was three years old when they began to notice subtle changes and unusual behavior.  On an early morning stroll with his dad, Ezra took off down an isolated road.  Tom followed him for nearly half a mile.  Tom kept backing off to see if Ezra would realize he was alone and get upset.  Not Ezra.  He was utterly alone and in his own world.   Tom felt bewilderment and fear.  “Ten years ago I watched  my solitary son venture down an isolated road, ” said Tom.  “Long ago, I made a choice to follow Ezra, and to watch in awe and mystery, as my son makes his own unique way in the world.”

Following Ezra is a must read book for parents with children diagnosed with autism!  This is the most powerful, compelling and inspiring book I’ve read to date about how one family chose to reach their autistic child.  Instead of listening to a therapist tell Tom and his wife, Shawn, that they needed to “grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be,” they refused.  “When Shawn and I dreamed of starting a family, I carried no particular notion of who our children would become,” said Tom.   I didn’t carry any conscious notion of what my children would be like — whether they would be girls or boys, tall or short, conventional or a little bit odd.  I planned only to love them.”

Autism effects  each child differently  In Ezra’s case, he showed signs of isolating himself, playing alone, and hiding in closets.  He showed no fear, or didn’t understand consequences.  He liked to be wrapped tightly in a blanket so he could feel his body, but he didn’t want to be touched.  He spent hours lining up his dinosaurs in a row.  Loud noises and crowds overwhelmed his senses.   If you asked Ezra a question, he would look off into space and just repeat the question.

Although Ezra participated in special education classes and therapy that was available, Tom chose an unconventional approach to working with Ezra at home.  Tom decided that he  wasn’t going to “fix” Ezra, but rather follow him into his world so he could understand and find a way to reach him.   There are many moments of humor.

Instead of discouraging Ezra’s obsessions with trains, Gumby figures, the color red, and zoo animals, Tom saw it as an opportunity to build a relationship with his son.  Tom spent many afternoons with Ezra at the zoo.  He watched in amazement as Ezra happily followed his traditional path around the zoo pointing to animals and reciting information.  Tom discovered that the zoo represented order for Ezra,  as every animal was in its place.  This order helped calm Ezra.  Over time, Tom realizes that Ezra understands that his father cares about what he cares about.   The connection between father and son continues to grow,  as does his potential to have relationships with family, friends, and other people.  It also helps that Ezra is the middle child, as he is forced to interact with his two brothers.

Ezra is smart and memorizes numbers and dates of favorite Disney movies.  He begins to connect with people by asking their birthdays and then telling them what movie was released on that day.  He develops a fascination with cartoons and animations, because the faces have fixed, predictable expressions.  Tom enrolls Ezra in an animation class, and Ezra begins making animated films. (Click on  “The Alphabet House”  to view Ezra’s animation that  became a book he co-authored with Tom Lichtenheld.   E-mergency was released in October 2011.)

Ezra is gaining a sense of self-awareness by age 12.  It helps him prepare for his bar mitzvah on his 13th birthday.  His bar mitzvah really culminates in a celebration of the past 10 years of his life.  Ezra greets 300 people, shakes their hands, thanks them for coming, and fulfills the required chanting, recitations and speech.  This is a remarkable achievement for a boy who couldn’t look at people, and a testimony for Tom and Shawn’s perseverance, belief and love for their son.

Tom Fields-Meyer, a former senior writer for People, has written for dozens of publications, includig The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.   A graduate of Harvarard, he lives in Los Angeles with his wife and their three sons.  Follow Tom on his website at http://followingezra.com.   He travels and speaks to parent groups all over the country.