Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Free to Be You and Me

Back in the 1970s Marlo Thomas and some of her friends addressed overcoming gender stereotypes in stories and song. 
Free to Be You and Me came out as a book and 
as an Emmy award winning television program in 1974.
A year or so ago I bought the book for my oldest boy and 
last week I brought home a cd of the television show. 
We put it on, and there, in slightly faded technicolor, was my early childhood, filled with hope, joy, and bell bottoms.
My older son happily quoted the book and settled in 
for a predictable show. He stayed with it all the way
through, which doesn't happen that much any more.
He likes to know something inside and out, that's part 
of the way he thinks, so this was perfect.

"Wow" said my younger son at the wide array of vibrant colors and patterns,
"they sure dressed fancy."
All of the discussion about being yourself no matter
what gender you are should seem naive and
irrelevant forty (!) years later. 
But a surprising (and somewhat saddening to me) 
amount of what Marlo and friends said back then 
still needs to be said in our fairly rigid gender 
stereotyped culture. Girls are still judged on
whether they're "pretty," boys on whether they're
"big and strong."
I think the straight forward discussion of the wide 
range of options for both genders can help kids with 
autism who are particularly susceptible to prescriptive
thinking. And the message "we don't have to change
at all" may reassure our kids who sometimes receive
the opposite message.
"William Wants a Doll" is a story song that says 
we don't play by gender. This may not be needed 
by many of our kids, who are often oblivious to 
indirect peer pressure,
but it has a nice message about nurturing and
how important dads are.
Other highlights include "It's All Right to Cry," 
(as sung by the world's cuddliest Football player, 
Rosie Grier), which gives permission for kids to be 
sad. The conversation about brothers and sisters shows 
real unscripted kids in a positive and honest
interaction. I can't remember the last time I saw that on 
tv or in a video.
Since the book is available, your kid with autism can
have the luxury mine did of knowing what the show
is all about from the beginning. Warning - if your
kid is prone to echolalia, you may be hearing 
some of these lines and songs for a long time.
The illustrations inside are better, I promise.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Touch and Feel Story Books

Here's a great idea for somebody to pick up and run with -
Touch and Feel Books for older kids.
I've written about the need for sturdy board books at
a higher reading level before, but I hadn't thought 
about this.
Lots of kids process information through 
texture, a teacher who works with kids with special needs
mentioned this texturephilia.
And we realized that touch and feel books
are only for little kids.
In a quick web search, I found some bible stories,
and that's it. And the bible stories book is
clearly for itty bitty kids too.
Think of reading The Pearl with a smooth rounded
texture in the appropriate place in the text, 
Old Yeller or Love that Dog with a furry patch
to pet. Kids who disengage from narrative
(like mine) might be pulled back in through
touch.
Touch and feel patches would also make 
great additions to braille books-an expert I
spoke with today mentioned the use of
a touch and feel Going on a Lion Hunt with 
a student with sight impairment.
But Boynton's wonderful Dinosaur's Binket
represents the most complex touch and feel
book I know.
I am happy to adapt a classic for this approach
(Treasure Island anyone?). 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Love That Cat - Cat Books, Part 1

Rainbocalico by holly lu conant rees
Actually, I have no idea if there will be a Cat Books Part 2.
I am hoping you will send an indignant comment/email, 
"How could you forget about ______!"
Then I can write Part 2.
Here, in roughly reading level order: 
The Shy Little Kitten (Golden Book)
The Golden Book series offers 
gentle, sweet tales for kids, often with a
very sympathetic animal protagonist.
The Shy Little Kitten is by Cathleen Schurr and illustrated by 
Gustaf Tenggren, illustrator of The Poky Little Puppy.
Henry and Mudge and the Happy Cat
by Cynthia Rylant.
The Henry and Mudge books are kid favorites.
with lots of illustrations and short, easy
chapters, these fun boy/dog tales are
great early readers. In this one Henry adopts
an ugly cat who becomes great friends with
his dog Mudge.
Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech
My boy loved this book because of its
poem format. He didn't engage with the
story of a boy struggling with his mother's
deafness. But he really enjoyed
the look of the words on the page and
all the other poems at the back of the 
book.
-Spectrum Mom


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Talent Tuesday - Spotlight on Gifts


Pretend today is Tuesday.
Talent Tuesday is when I feature books by people in
the autism community.
Two of my favorite people/authors in the community
are Leo and Leisa.
Leo is a young adult with autism. 
Leisa has a daughter with autism.
Leo’s book follows a ferret.
Leisa’s book follows families. 
I’m thinking about them because 
I’m thinking about the many talents
people with autism have.
Leo’s authorship is not just his gift of words.
His book demonstrates his gifts of focus and determination.
Leisa’s book features many talented people with
autism, especially her daughter Grace (Grace
creates amazing art).
We all have unique ways of engaging with the
world.
Sometimes these ways trip us up. 
Sometimes they let us soar.
The stereotyped picture of someone with autism 
too often misses their talents entirely or dismisses 
them as something freakish - “splinter skills” or
“savant ability” as if they are not connected to
the person and all that they are. 
These gifts offer others the wonderful 
chance to better understand how that person interacts 
with us and the world.
I want to share this perspective. I’m still working on how. 
Will you help me? Would you send me a note about your gifts
(if you have autism) or your kid's (any age with autism) gifts?
 autismreads@gmail.com


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

When Your Kid Rejects Your Favorite Kids' Books Part 2


Last week I asked for your suggestions on what to
do when your children reject your favorite books.
Many thanks to D. Marcotte who sent in a good one -
letting your children select and read the abridged
versions of classic stories.
Here a few of my thoughts:
1) Give them time. 
Every day brings a flood of posts
about other people's second graders reading Harry
Potter or Lord of the Rings. And some kids w autism
may do that. But most kids with or without autism
will not. That is OKAY. If you introduce a favorite
that is soundly rejected, wait a year or two and try again.
2) Be sneaky. 
My father had beloved books that he would offer with
a kind of righteous urgency usually reserved for green
vegetables at dinner (he hated vegetables so he had a
lot of urgency to spare). This meant I avoided Kim and
King of the Khyber Rifles for months - but when he stopped
talking about them and just left them in my way, I read and
loved them. Don't make a speech about the book, just 
hand it over when they're in the back seat of the car
or looking bored.
3) Be direct.
Get it out and start reading it at bedtime. Put the
audio version on at home or on the road. If they
hate it, go back to number one.
4) Watch the video.
If you want to share the story, but the book presents
a barrier, there's probably a movie or tv version 
somewhere. Find it and share that way.

Now I know there are more and better suggestions
out there. Make them! Make them here!
(please). 


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

When Your Kid Rejects Your Favorite Kids' Books Part 1

If you're like me, you couldn't wait to open up 
Alice in Wonderland,  Wind in the Willows
and the other books you adored as a kid and share them with your child.
If you did, and you and your child joyously bonded as
you read, mazel tov. You can stop reading now.
That did not happen for me. While we started
happily enough with Boynton, there quickly came
a day when he rejected But Not the Hippopotamus,
and soon wouldn't let me read to him at all. 
We worked through it.
He enjoyed almost all of Dr. Seuss and Madeline,
though he started to prefer to read to himself.
Next came The Nursery Alice which I doggedly
read aloud, despite the calm apathy he radiated.
And that was about it. Subsequent attempts
with The Jungle Book and Just So Stories 
were unwelcome and I cut them short.
I started looking somewhat desperately
for what he would like, while he contentedly
read and reread Dr. Seuss.
(digression Your Favorite Seuss is in his
high school library-do other kids his age
still read Seuss?).
What to do?
I don't have a solution, just some thoughts. 
But this post is long enough.
Why don't you comment, email me
- autismreads@gmail.com- or post
on the autismreads facebook page.
And I'll be back next week with what
wisdom I can muster.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dragons Part Two - Flying Higher



In some ways, I'm totally out of my depth
writing about chapter books for kids with
autism. My son reads them for school 
with great difficulty and does not read
them for pleasure. 
If you are or have a teenager with autism that
likes to read books for teenagers-send me
a review! 
(autismreads@gmail.com)
Fame, glory, (as much as I
get - in other words, close to nil) 
or
near complete anonymity can be yours!
(I have to know who you are)
I continue to read books about dragons myself.
Anne McCaffrey
explored the glory of raising a dragon
in The Dragonriders of Pern series.
One of her best is The White Dragon about a "misfit"
dragon and isolated boy which I discuss more here.
The Dragon Book features short stories
by contemporary fantasy writers 
(Tad Williams is the best, and your
teen may also love Tailchaser's Song).
For a reader mature enough to handle
a fair amount of sadness and death,
(not younger than 13, 15 would probably
be better) I recently discovered 
Patricia Briggs'
Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood,
extremely satisfying books, with a
fascinating view of dragons.
I don't remember the dragon (s?) in
Guards, Guards! but Terry Pratchett
is hilarious and older teens love him.