Talking to kids in the classroom about Autism

I had an awesome day today. My son Damian has been very anxious attending school recently for a number of reasons, which we are seeking appropriate help for. It occurred to me that it might help him to feel more understood by his classmates if I had a chat to them during class about Autism, diversity, difference and disability.

Initially, Damian was concerned that I would be telling the class all about him. He is very conscious (and rightly so) about people talking about his vulnerabilities. So I asked Damian if I could talk about my Autism (I am Autistic) and Autism generally and then mention him briefly at the end. He was much more keen on that idea. I let Damian read what I was going to talk about and he was very happy for the talk to go ahead. I will paste the talk below (and the kids’ answers and questions in brackets – at least the ones I can remember).

When the day of the talk finally came, Damian was as excited as I was to be talking about my favourite topic, only his reason for being excited was because I was his mum (he is only 7 years old; his classmates are 8 years old) and I was going to be talking about how being different was cool.

After the talk finished, Damian told me he loved it. He had sat wide-eyed at my feet and completely focused for the entire talk and this is a boy who was also recently diagnosed with ADHD. When I asked if he thought the other kids had liked the talk too he said that they might have been more interested in the toys and books* that I shared around.

I think the talk was well-received by both the teacher and the kids in the classroom. There was lots of interest in what I had to say and I was very interested in what they had to say too. There were some great discussions. The kids of tomorrow are going to rock this world!

Good morning everyone,

Some of you may already know me but for those of you who don’t, I am Damian’s mum. I have come to visit you today to talk to you about being different especially one type of difference called Autism. Can you say the word ‘Autism’ with me? Saying it out loud will help you remember it. Try it now. 1, 2, 3, “Autism”.

Before I start talking to you about difference, I am going to hand around some books about being different and you can flip through the pages quietly while I am talking and look at the pictures. I will leave the books in the classroom for the week, if you want to read the books but for now I just want you to look at the pictures and share the books around to others in your class.

A word some people use to mean difference is ‘diversity’. Can you say it with me? 1, 2, 3, “Diversity”. What does that word mean again? Can anyone tell me? (No-one could guess except Damian who said “Black people who aren’t treated well by white people!” I said that skin colour was one example of diversity and gave a few more examples. Some of the books I had shared around had themes of racism in them.)

Diversity, which means being different, makes the world a better place. Imagine if everyone was exactly like you, looked like you, liked the same things as you, wanted to borrow the same library books as you and brought the same things to ‘show and tell’ every week. Imagine how boring and even frustrating it would be.

In this world, there are lots of different people working and playing in different ways to make things more interesting, fun and better for all of us. We are pretty lucky that there are so many different, interesting and exciting people and things for us to do in the world.

You will notice in some of those books that some differences are differences that we can see. Some of the people in those books wear glasses like me, some have guide dogs, some use wheelchairs to get around, some people have brown skin and some people have white skin, some people are young and some people are old, some people live in different houses and some people wear different clothes.

But some differences cannot be seen. Can anyone guess what difference I might have that you cannot see? (One child guessed different blood-type, which I told him was a great guess because you can’t see blood- type. Another few children guessed other things that could be seen. Finally, I let my son answer because he already knew the answer.) That’s right, I am Autistic.

Even though I am different because I am Autistic, I am also a lot like you and I was even more like you when I was younger. I used to like playing with friends, swimming in our own swimming pool, climbing trees, riding bikes and reading books. Sometimes I was happy like on my birthday and when I played with my younger cousins and sometimes I was sad like when other kids teased me or I fell over.

In fact, everyone in this room has some things the same as each one of us and other things that are different.

But because I am Autistic, I am even more different to you in some ways. Kids and adults who are Autistic may sometimes do or say things that are a lot different to most other people their age because our brains work differently sometimes. Soon I am going to read you a book that will explain how our brains work and think differently.

Some things about Autism are really great and those things are different for each Autistic person. I like that Autism helps me to say and spell lots of really big words like ‘Autism’ and ‘Diversity’. Autism also helped me to be great at maths at school, whereas other Autistic kids found maths hard but found that Autism helped them with art or music or writing or certain sports.

People with Autism can sometimes be just as different to each other as you are from each other but there are some things we have in common and this is explained in this book ‘Inside Asperger’s Looking Out’.

‘Asperger’s’ is just another word people used to mean Autism. People don’t use the word ‘Asperger’s’ much anymore so I am just going to use the word ‘Autism’ instead of ‘Asperger’s’, wherever it is written in the book.

While I read the book to you, I’d like you to put your books upside down on your lap or on the floor and pass around these squishy toys to squeeze and stretch gently while I read. Kids and adults who are Autistic often use toys like these to help keep them calm when things are getting difficult for them because sometimes it can be hard being different. Many other people find the squishy toys relaxing too.

(I read the book but skipped a few pages because it’s very long. I asked the kids about what the ‘senses’ were before reading the pages about how our senses can be different and one very smart girl answered the question better than I could. I also paused on other pages to clarify.)

Does anyone have any questions about the book? (A couple of great questions were asked like “How do you know if you have Autism?” and “Where does Autism come from?” Of course, I answered relating it to my own experience.)

You know, I am not the only one in this room that is Autistic. Autism is something that you are born with that is passed down from your parents or grandparents or other relatives. So Damian, who is my son, is also Autistic. You might notice that sometimes he finds things easy that you don’t and sometimes he finds things harder than you. It is important for anyone who is different to be understood and treated well especially when they are finding things hard.

Our school classrooms and playgrounds can sometimes be difficult for kids who are different because they are not made in ways that suit them best. They often have too much noise for us, too many bright lights or too much movement and this can stress us out. It is called ‘disability’ when our classrooms, where we work and live and the rest of the world is not built to support our different abilities.

Can you say the word ‘disability’ with me? 1, 2, 3 “Disability”. Our buildings and the way we do things is built for most people but not all of us and we need people to make our schools and lives easier by changing things to make it easier for all of us. It’s only fair.

Can you think of ways we could change the classroom or the playground to make things better for kids with disabilities like Autism or any other disabilities that you can think of, so that it is better for all of us? (There were some great answers to this question. Some about not teasing or bullying kids who are different and some about having quiet areas that kids can go to.)

Now you can understand why some people and kids look or act differently and you can just be cool about it. It’s cool, it’s Ok to be different and we need different people in our lives and in the world and we need to remember that even though Autistic kids can be different they are also kids just like you who want to play, learn and be treated well.

(Then the classroom teacher asked the class if they found squeezing the squishy toys helpful for listening. Many of the kids did. The teacher said that he finds that if he draws patterns while listening he finds it helpful to listen and learn and he asked the children if anything helped them to learn better. A couple of kids answered.)

*These were books that I bought for my boys to read at home to increase the diversity of their bookshelves. I have reviewed many of them in previous blog posts here and here.

More diverse books for kids

If you are passionate about diversity and you have children, you might be interested in these children’s books. I have written about other diverse books that I bought for my children here.

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A photo of the front cover of the book ‘Ugly’ by Robert Hoge. Background is light-greenish yellow. A rough sketch (as if done in black texta on white background) of a young man’s face. He has thick ears, short straight black scruffy-looking hair, big bushy eyebrows and small black eyes set wide apart. There is an uneven line drawn down the middle of his face (suggesting an uneven bone structure) passing through a wide asymmetrical-shaped nose. The word ‘Ugly’ is at the bottom of the page, slightly to the left, obscuring the chin of the sketched face. The word appears written with crooked block letters and looks as if it is coloured-in poorly with red pen.

It is a true story written for children probably from around ages 8 and up, although I found this book captivating to read myself. The blurb at the accurately refers to the book as “engaging” for readers but it was a bit disappointing to see it also refer to it as inspiring given that ‘inspiration porn’ is considered problematic by many people with disabilities. Regardless, this book gives some great general and specific life lessons about the stigma of disability, the unnecessary and cruel nature of teasing, about how dedication and practise can lead to success and about believing in the competence of people with disabilities. A must read!

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Photo of the front cover of the book ‘I Love Being My Own Autistic Self!’ by London Bryce. Background  colours are bold yellow, black and red. A blue cartoon character is situated near the centre of the red part of the background, from the chest up. The character has no hair, thin long dark blue eyebrows, thin closed dark blue eyes, small almost egg-shaped dark blue nose and an open wide mouth in the shape of a smile with two white bottom front teeth slightly visible. There is a speech bubble leading to the characters mouth (which is white fading to grey at the edges with black print) with the words ‘I Love Being My Own Autistic Self!’ in black. Across the bottom of the front page on a light grey background are the words ‘A thAutoons Book by Landon Bryce’.

This book is written for autistic children to help them make sense of their own identity and the contradictory messages they receive about autism from others. It is unique from other children’s books about autism in that it uses identity-first language, the preferred language of many autistic people.

This book is written from the perspective of a fictional autistic boy called Vector who introduces us to other characters in the story such as his autistic friends, neurotypical friends and family. All the characters appear as simple cartoon characters.

Vector explains the differing thoughts and feelings about autism of himself and each of the characters, including what Vector considers to be the “good” and “bad” parts of his own autism.

I actually scribbled out the words “good” and “bad” because it didn’t sit well with me and instead I wrote ‘strengths’ and ‘vulnerabilities’ above where those words are. Everybody has there own preferred language and I’ve never been a big fan of ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

What is best about this book is that it puts Vector’s thoughts and feelings about others’ perspectives at the forefront of the story and would probably help neurotypical readers to be less ableist and more supportive (if they were open-minded, which if they purchased the book, they probably are).

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Photo of the front cover of ‘If the World Were a Village’ Third Edition. By David J. Smith. The front cover has a mottled dark blue background. A fuzzy circle approximately 15cm in diameter representing the world is in the centre of the page. Dark green colour represents the land mass and dark blue the sea. On the upper right hand side of the largest section of land mass there is a forest of lush green trees interspersed with groups of buildings of differing sizes with red roofs, white walls and blue windows. Outside the circle in the upper right-hand side and lower left-hand side is a large (2cm) yellow star with 5 points. The star on the bottom of the page has a triangular strip of yellow leading to it from the right- hand corner of the page. The title of the book ‘If the World Were a Village’ is at the top of the page in large yellow print. At the bottom of the page in slightly smaller yellow print is the text ‘A Book about the World’s People’.

Quoting directly from the book:

“This book is about “world-mindedness,” which is an attitude, an approach to life. It is the sense that our planet is actually a village, and we share this small, precious village with our neighbours. Knowing who our neighbours are, where they live and how they live, will help us live in peace.”

It condenses the world into a small village of 100 people in order to make comparisons between people in the world easier for children to comprehend. Each person in the village represents 71 million people from the world. The comparisons range from nationality and language to money and food security. For instance, only 9 out of the 100 villagers speak English; 21 speak a Chinese dialect.

The illustrations are quite stunning with bold colours and show a diversity of able-bodied adults and children throughout the book (although I might have seen a couple of walking canes- the pictures do not focus heavily on detail) as indicated by skin colour and clothing.

I found the facts very interesting myself and think this book would have to be one of the best ways to help children to understand that their experiences are just one of many ways that people are living in the world. There is not one way to be.

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Photo of the front cover of ‘Sex is a Funny Word. A book about bodies, feelings and you’ by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth.The background is purple with a brick pattern representing the wall of a house. In the top half is the title of the book ‘Sex is a Funny Word’ in yellow block print, outlined in black, on a rounded square-shaped sign with red background. The sign is flush with the wall and directly above a rectangular window (with green background and pink curtains drawn to the sides). Four children are reaching up out of the window smiling. On the left-hand side, in the open window, is a child with an orange shirt, blue hair and light purple coloured skin (Omar). Omar’s right arm is raised in the air, his crutch is leaning against him and his left hand is resting on the window sill. To Omar’s left is a child with blue skin and shoulder-length straight black hair (Mimi). Mimi is wearing a red shirt and her left arm is raised in the air. To Mimi’s left is Zai, Zai has dark purple skin and hair. Zai is wearing a striped red and orange shirt with a green cardigan. Zai is resting both hands on the window sill. To Zai’s left is Cooper, Cooper is wearing a yellow shirt with a cat print. Cooper is wearing glasses and has red curly hair and freckles. Both Cooper’s arms are raised in the air. Omar, Mimi, Zai and Cooper are all smiling. In the bottom right-hand corner of the page are the words ‘A BOOK ABOUT BODIES, FEELINGS, AND YOU’ in white print on a red background. In the top right-hand corner of the page are the right side of two windows, one on top of the other with green backgrounds. On the window sill of the lower window is a pot plant containing two pink flowers and the upper window has green curtains.

This book takes four main characters (Omar, Mimi, Zai and Cooper) on a journey of discovery about their bodies, their rights, their preferred gender expression and their gender identity. The characters are diverse in appearance, gender and opinions. The only sexual activity covered in this book is masturbation, mostly referred to as “Touching Yourself.”

‘Sex is a Funny Word’ is LGBTIQ inclusive.

“Most boys are born with a penis and scrotum, and most girls are born with a vulva, vagina, and clitoris. But having a penis isn’t what makes you a boy. Having a vulva isn’t what makes you a girl. The truth is much more interesting than that!”

This book is also inclusive of people with disabilities. One of the four main characters has a visible disability and other characters pictured in the book also have visible disabilities.

What is also good about this book is that it also shows a variety of pictures of different looking “middle parts”. We don’t all look the same and the appearance of our “middle parts” changes with age. This is likely to be reassuring to some children or at least prepares them for change.

This is an excellent book to help children be accepting of differences in bodies, gender expression and gender identity. It also encourages further discussion by posing age -appropriate questions to the reader.

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Photo of the front cover of ‘Our World Bardi Jaawi, Life at Ardiyooloon’. One Arm Point Remote Community School. The background colour is bright yellow, on which are painted simple dark yellow flowers.Taking up most of the centre of the front cover is a rough- edged circle of dark blue with a continuation of the painted flowers but in a lighter blue colour. In the centre of the circle, in large capital letters of yellow are the words ‘OUR WORLD’. On a line underneath in smaller more creative print (black print with thick yellow line containing black dots down the straight length of each letter) is the text ‘BARDI JAAWI’. Underneath this in smaller print again but the same style as the line above are the words ‘LIFE AT ARDIYOOLOON’. Finally, underneath this line in plain black capital letters of much smaller print is ‘ONE ARM POINT REMOTE COMMUNITY SCHOOL’. Various sea creatures inclusive of crabs, fish and turtles are simply sketched in a child-like way, in black, at the bottom of the circle under the text. At the top of the circle, above the text, partly extending into the yellow background, is a simply sketched boat with a motor. In the boat are three characters, in black and grey, fishing with fishing rods. Fish are attached to oversized hooks on two of the lines at least. A bird perches on the edge of the boat. In the top right hand corner of the page is a brown circular sticker with the words ‘THE CHILDREN’S BOOK COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA, SHORT-LISTED BOOK’

This book documents activities undertaken by the children of One Arm Point Remote Community School (Western Australia) as part of the One Arm Point Culture Program. The program was initiated in 2008 to “find ways to pass on their knowledge and ensure that Bardi Jaawi traditional culture and language was kept alive for future generations”.

This book is beautifully designed by Tracey Gibbs. It includes photographs, drawings and recounts by the children of their experiences participating in various cultural activities from fishing and crabbing to looking for bush onions.

Clear, step-by-step directions with accompanying photos are provided throughout the book for some of the activities such as ‘Cooking Pandanus’ and ‘How to make a bough shelter’ in a recipe-like format. However, it is recommended that the reader does not repeat these activities without adult supervision and checking that they do not contravene local law (the Bardi Jaawi have Native Title over their land, sea, reef and islands).

Traditional stories and words (along with guidelines for pronunciation) are also shared in this very thorough book for children on the Bardi Jaawi culture.

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Photo of the front page of the book ‘How Many Days to America? A Thanksgiving Story’ by Eve Bunting. The front cover has a pale yellow border about 1cm thick. At the top of the page are the words ‘How Many Days to America?’ in large black print. Underneath are the words ‘A Thanksgiving Story’ in smaller black print. The text is justified to the right. To the left of the text are several pale yellow ropes extending up next to a light brown mast of a small wooden boat. Part of one end of the boat is seen below the text, containing people all standing closely together. They look as if they could topple over the side of the boat easily in poor weather. There are two children nearest the edge of the boat, central to the front page. The girl in a pale pink dress, with a white shirt underneath, looks up at the boy in the collared white shirt. Behind the children stands a man and a woman both with serious expressions. The woman is wearing a bright pink long-sleeve top, blue shall and green skirt. The man is holding onto one of the ropes and is carrying a small sack on his left shoulder with the other arm. He is wearing a white-collared shirt, brown trousers and brown wide-brimmed hat. The sky is pale blue and the water appears choppy in shades of blue, purple and white.

Although it was published in 1988, this book is very relevant today. The story is narrated by a child, who’s family, after being visited by soldiers, needs to flee their home country so quickly that they take no possessions besides the clothes on their backs and jewellery to be traded for safety.

Their journey on a small, dilapidated boat, with other people seeking asylum, is harrowing. As each obstacle confronts them, the child’s parents reassure their children that they will soon reach freedom. Eventually, they reach the shores of America and are warmly welcomed with a feast to celebrate Thanksgiving.

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Photo of the front cover of the book ‘My Brother Martin: A sister remembers. Growing up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King JR.’ By Christine King Farris. The background of the book is pale grey. The words ‘My Brother’ are in the top right corner, in lower case, in such a way that each letter appears as a product of rough colouring-in (in black) of a small uneven square and the uncoloured part forms each letter. Underneath ‘My Brother’ is the name ‘Martin’ in red block capital letters outlined in black. To the left of the page is a large head portrait of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King JR. The head portrait is a side profile and it is a slightly darker grey colour than the background and appears almost as a shadow. He is looking slightly upwards with his hand in a fist against his chin, which he holds between his thumb and forefinger. He has a neat moustache and the top of his white collar can be seen at the bottom of the page. To the left of the head portrait is a small blue square with rough edges, inside of which can be seen a young girl with her hair in a plait, tied up with a long, thick bright pink bow. The girl is wearing a bright yellow top. She is smiling and looking up into the eyes of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King JR. side profile. Below the girl are the words ‘A sister remembers’ in blue and below that in smaller print is ‘Growing up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King JR.’ At the very bottom of the front cover, justified to the right, in red print, is the text ‘NAACP IMAGE AWARD WINNER. A CHILD MAGAZINE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR’

This book is beautiful. It is beautiful for it’s illustrations, it’s message and it’s celebration of family.

It is narrated by Christine, Dr Martin Luther King JR.’s (M.L.) older sister. Christine recounts innocent childhood pranks, which are beautifully illustrated including the priceless expressions on the faces of their adult targets. However, their innocence is tainted when neighbourhood friends tell them they are not allowed to play with them because they are “negroes”.

The realities of racism to which they had been mostly shielded from were described and explained that day by their mother (Mother Dear). Christine and their siblings were given an excellent education on how to speak up for themselves, with the examples that their father gave when regaling them of tales of his day over the evening meal. On the day of rejection by the neighbourhood children, M.L. was heard by Christine to say to his mother “Mother Dear, one day I’m going to turn this world upside down.”

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Photo of the front cover of the book ‘Nelson Mandela’ by Kadir Nelson. A head portrait of Nelson Mandela covers the entire front page, which has a reddish black background. He has short thick white hair perhaps an inch long all over and cleanly shaven face. His brown skin has warm orange red undertones. His face is illuminated by bright light, which reflects mostly down the centre line of his face. Several deep, long wrinkles line his forehead. Fine and feathery wrinkles are under his eyes. His thick red lips as neither turned up nor down. However, deep crevices either side of his mouth and nose may indicate an expression that relies on slightly raised cheeks. His shirt collar is bright white with straight edges with the top of his black jacket difficult to see against the dark background.

I find it hard to appreciate this book with a fresh perspective because I have read ‘Nelson Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom’. This children’s book manages to simplify his very eventful life into a story suitable for children. However, you don’t really get to know the man like you do in ‘The Long Walk to Freedom’. His character has to be imagined from his deeds, which were exceptional.

Mandela’s childhood and his experiences with the chief and elders are a wonderful introduction to the book. This book briefly covers his studies and work as a lawyer defending people who had been unjustly treated, his life as an organised activist, in subterfuge, during imprisonment and finally when he was released from prison a free man and true leader. It’s a fair introduction to apartheid and one of the key figures in it’s dismantling.

 

 

 

 

Autistic voices

Our state autism organisation is called AMAZE. According to their website “Amaze is a member-based not-for-profit organisation and is the peak organisation for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the state of Victoria. Amaze represents around 55,000 Victorians who have ASD and work for the benefit of all individuals and their families and to promote better understanding of ASD in the general community.”

To promote a better understanding of autism in the general community is a massive task when there is so much misinformation about it. The AMAZE Facebook Page posts are often followed with passionate comments about the sorts of ‘awareness’ articles they should and shouldn’t post from neurotypical parents of autistic children versus autistic people. A lot of the comments reflect ignorance and fear. The debates are predictable and painful.

Some neurotypical people, such as parents of autistic children, believe that autism is the worst thing that has ever happened to them or that it creates undue stress on their children so they wish their child didn’t have it and they would embrace a cure. Meanwhile, autistic people who embrace their autistic identity, both their strengths and vulnerabilities, feel that their disability arises from a lack of acceptance and inclusion. Not only do autistic people feel that they are undervalued and therefore discriminated against but that they are a likely target for eugenics through the search for a “cure”.

AMAZE will never please everyone but it should be clear which path favours social justice. Unfortunately, social justice has never been an easy path to take. If AMAZE chose to please the majority (a numbers game) they will be catering to neurotypical narratives of autism, which can often be ableist and unintentionally harmful to autistic people through stigma. If they chose to please the minority they are doing right by disability advocacy guidelines “Nothing about us without us” but they will lose popularity and likely donations to further “promote a better understanding of autism” (ironic).

We can support autistic people AND their families while being respectful to autistic people but the task of helping the neurotypical majority to see that seems enormous. It’s almost as though you need to give people a degree in autistic experiences to understand why this is necessary.

Perhaps AMAZE has decided to tackle the difficult path with their recent attempt at doing something different for the World Autism Awareness Day (autistic advocates would prefer the day to be called ‘Autism Acceptance Day’). Instead of the usual march, sporting blue shirts with the latest prevalence numbers printed on them (we are not a number), AMAZE chose to call for autistic people to video record their stories and send them in. The stories were edited and condensed into a 17 minute movie shown at cinemas in Victoria, on the 2nd of April and available to be watched online or by purchased CD.

The initial call was for autistic people to contribute but a few family members chose to speak on behalf of their child/children from their neurotypical perspective and how it affected them as carers, which was particularly unfortunate in the cases where the children were portrayed as a burden. However, the broader message of acceptance was clear enough for those willing to listen.

I chose to watch the movie online, in the comfort of home, with my autistic sons so that I could expand on different concepts that were raised. Much to my surprise and my boys delight, part of my video recording featured in it (at 14:03 min)*. You can view the edited movie and the individual videos at www.spectrospective.com.au. I’m curious to know if you found that it helped you to understand autism from the lived experience and made you question the common narratives of burden, numbers and cure.

*Although my boys were keen to contribute a video recording of their own, my husband was concerned about their privacy, which I respected, so they did not contribute.

Diverse books for kids

I am passionate about diversity and I want others to be as passionate. Every now and again, I am inspired to embark on a small project in trying to ‘make a difference’. Yes, I am privileged.

It occurred to me that in raising my sons to embrace diversity, be aware of their/our privilege and encourage taking action to effect social change that I could have a greater impact on the world than just through me. So instead of getting out the text books (I’m no teacher or expert on those topics), I decided I would search the internet for entertaining books for my boys to read to promote awareness of diversity and social justice.

Everyday the mail carrier delivered a new book, I jumped up with glee and devoured them instantly and I was not disappointed. Some of the books were perfection in my eyes. I’m hoping that by sharing some of these books with you, through this blog post, that perhaps you might be inspired to make my project yours and recommend some books to me too. I sure that I haven’t even scratched the surface.

Desmond and the Very Mean Word

Photo of the front cover of the book ‘Desmond and the Very Mean Word’ by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams. The light blue sky with sparse white clouds takes up most of the background of the front cover. The ground between a few dull buildings is flat with light brown to orange dirt. A young black South African boy is riding a bike away from three young white South African boys who are holding up their arms in threatening gestures (fists and pointing). The white boys have aggressive expressions, with their mouths wide open indicating that they are yelling at the black boy.

Photo of the front cover of the book ‘Desmond and the Very Mean Word’ by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams.
The light blue sky with sparse white clouds takes up most of the background of the front cover. The ground between a few dull buildings is flat with light brown to orange dirt. A young black South African boy is riding a bike away from three young white South African boys who are holding up their arms in threatening gestures (fists and pointing). The white boys have aggressive expressions, with their mouths wide open indicating that they are yelling at the black boy.

A photo of the book ‘Desmond and the Very Mean Word’ in open position, showing two pages.  The left page is full of text on a white background. The right page contains an image of a white priest in a black robe crouching down between two young black South African boys who are seated on the floor of a room. Part of a circle drawn in chalk can be seen on the floor with marbles lying inside and outside the circle. The priest is leaning toward the circle with a marble in his hand presumably about to toss it into the circle.

A photo of the book ‘Desmond and the Very Mean Word’ in open position, showing two pages.
The left page is full of text on a white background. The right page contains an image of a white priest in a black robe crouching down between two young black South African boys who are seated on the floor of a room. Part of a circle drawn in chalk can be seen on the floor with marbles lying inside and outside the circle. The priest is leaning toward the circle with a marble in his hand presumably about to toss it into the circle as part of the game.

Of course, the first question my boys asked me was “What is the mean word?” but that is not the point of the book so it isn’t mentioned.

Written by none-other-than Archbishop Desmond Tutu himself along with Douglas Carlton Abrams, this book is based on a true story of how Desmond (the child) learned to forgive and the sense of freedom that forgiveness can provide. Not only does it convey a great message for children, it also introduces the concept of apartheid and the anti-apartheid movement, in South Africa.

My Two Blankets

Photo of the front cover of the book ‘My Two Blankets’ by Irena Kobald. On the front cover, on a background of light grey colour, is an illustration of a young white girl with pale yellow hair, blue striped leggings, white shirt and long sleeve light aqua cardigan. The girl is holding the handle of a light blue umbrella with white spots so that the umbrella is covering herself and another young girl with dark brown skin, earthy bright orange skirt, sleeveless shirt and fitted head cover. The young girl in orange holds an object that looks like an umbrella shaped paper cut-out.

Photo of the front cover of the book ‘My Two Blankets’ by Irena Kobald.
On the front cover, on a background of light grey colour, is an illustration of a young white girl with pale yellow hair, blue striped leggings, white shirt and long sleeve light greenish blue cardigan. The girl is holding the handle of a light blue umbrella with white spots so that the umbrella is covering herself and another young girl with dark brown skin, earthy bright orange skirt, sleeveless shirt and fitted head cover. The young girl in orange holds an object that looks like an umbrella- shaped paper cut-out.

A photo of the book ‘My Two Blankets’, in open position, showing two pages. The left page contains an illustration in the background, of the two girls running together between a few trees. The illustration in the foreground is of the two girls next to a tree. The girl in orange is looking up at the top of the tree holding an object that looks like a tree-shaped paper cut-out. There are four lines of text also on this page. The right page contains an illustration of the two girls crouched beneath the umbrella, the girl in orange is holding an object that looks like an umbrella –shaped paper cut-out. There are also four lines of text on this page.

A photo of the book ‘My Two Blankets’, in open position, showing two pages.
The left page contains an illustration in the background, of the two girls running together between a few trees. The illustration in the foreground is of the two girls next to a tree. The girl in orange is looking up at the top of the tree holding an object that looks like a tree-shaped paper cut-out. The right page contains an illustration of the two girls crouched beneath the umbrella, the girl in orange is holding an object that looks like an umbrella –shaped paper cut-out. There are four lines of text on both pages.

My Two Blankets was one of the first books that I purchased for the sole purpose of teaching my boys about social justice, specifically refugees, following my disappointment in the recent attitudes of Australians towards and our country’s treatment of asylum seekers in Australia. The illustrations are lovely and the story is sensitive and age-appropriate.

Rosa’s Bus

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘Rosa’s Bus’ by Jo S. Kittinger. In the background of the front cover is a light blue sky with white light clouds and vague shapes in the far- off distance resembling buildings of the city. In the foreground, is an illustration of the lower right front part of a bus with it’s door open. The number 2857 is printed beside the door. The outside of bus is painted orange in colour in the lower half and light green in the upper half.

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘Rosa’s Bus’ by Jo S. Kittinger.
In the background of the front cover is a light blue sky with white light clouds and vague shapes in the far- off distance resembling buildings of the city. In the foreground, is an illustration of the lower right front part of a bus with it’s door open. The number 2857 is printed beside the door. The outside of bus is painted orange in colour in the lower half and light green in the upper half.

A photo of the book ‘Rosa’s Bus’, in open position, showing two pages. The left page contains five lines of text over the far left part of an illustration, of the inside of the empty bus, which is continuous across both pages. The inside of the bus contains long seats in rows of dark green. A metal handrail spans the length of each row along the top of the seat backing. Attached to the top of the handrail of a row towards the back is a rectangular sign (approximately 10 by 40cm) with the word ‘Colored’ in capital letters, printed on it.

A photo of the book ‘Rosa’s Bus’, in open position, showing two pages.
The left page contains five lines of text over the far left part of an illustration, of the inside of the empty bus, which is continuous across both pages. The inside of the bus contains long seats in rows of dark green. A metal handrail spans the length of each row along the top of the seat backing. Attached to the top of the handrail of a row towards the back is a rectangular sign with the word ‘Colored’ in capital letters, printed on it.

Rosa’s Bus is an uplifting and well-written introduction for children on issues of racism and civil rights in the United States of America. The story about the bus itself and it’s journey through the ages, added extra appeal to my sons.

Collecting Colour

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘Collecting Colour’ by Kylie Dunstan. The front cover has a bright earthy red colour background. Two young girls with wide smiles hold onto a handle each of a woven green and blue basket. The girl on the left is white with yellow hair, wearing a red dress with bright blue splotches and red sandals. The girl on the right is brown and has curly dark brown hair in short pigtails. The girl in pigtails wears a bright blue skirt and yellow shirt with thick orange stripes across it.

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘Collecting Colour’ by Kylie Dunstan.
The front cover has a bright earthy red colour background. Two young girls with wide smiles hold onto a handle each of a woven green and blue basket. The girl on the left is white with yellow hair, wearing a red dress with bright blue splotches and red sandals. The girl on the right is brown and has curly dark brown hair in short pigtails. The girl in pigtails wears a bright blue skirt and yellow shirt with thick orange stripes across it.

A photo of the book ‘Collecting Colour’, in open position, showing two pages. The left page consists of a pale yellow background with three lines of text. It also contains an illustration of the two girls swinging together standing on a plank of word hanging from a single rope. The right page consists of a dark greenish grey background with four lines of text. It also contains an illustration of a pandanus tree in view. The pandanus tree is drawn with long angular pale yellow, green and brown leaves and a dark brown trunk.

A photo of the book ‘Collecting Colour’, in open position, showing two pages.
The left page consists of a pale yellow background with three lines of text. It also contains an illustration of the two girls swinging together standing on a plank of word hanging from a single rope. The right page consists of a dark greenish grey background with four lines of text. It also contains an illustration of a pandanus tree in view. The pandanus tree is drawn with long angular pale yellow, green and brown leaves and a dark brown trunk.

A lovely colourful book about two friends, Rose and Olive. Rose goes on an everyday adventure into the bush with Olive and her family, learning about indigenous Australian culture along the way.

Same, but little bit diff’rent

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘Same but little bit diff’rent’ by Kylie Dunstan. The front cover shows two young children sitting on a pale grey wall, next to each other, with big wide smiles, looking up at the sky. To the left is the young boy with dark brown skin, wearing a yellow cap, bright red shirt and bright blue shorts with bare feet. On the right is the young girl with white skin and dark brown hair in short pigtails. She is wearing red glasses, a yellow dress with black flower patterns and red gumboots. Beside the girl is a closed bright yellow umbrella hanging over the wall by the hook of its blue handle. The sky is olive green with big rain drop shapes of pale yellow, light grey and dark grey.

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘Same but little bit diff’rent’ by Kylie Dunstan.
The front cover shows two young children sitting on a pale grey wall, next to each other, with big wide smiles, looking up at the sky. To the left is the young boy with dark brown skin, wearing a yellow cap, bright red shirt and bright blue shorts with bare feet. On the right is the young girl with white skin and dark brown hair in short pigtails. She is wearing red glasses, a yellow dress with black flower patterns and red gumboots. Beside the girl is a closed bright yellow umbrella hanging over the wall by the hook of its blue handle. The sky is olive green with big rain drop shapes of pale yellow, light grey and dark grey.

A photo of the book ‘Same but little bit diff’rent’, in open position, showing two pages. The left page consists of a pale pink background with six lines of text. In the top left corner of the left page is a partial view of a crouching woman with dark brown skin and bare feet, wearing a yellow dress. The woman is weaving the red coloured thick thread into a basket of green and red. The right page consists of a red background with two lines of text at the top. Below the text is an illustration of a woman (from the chest up) with white skin, wearing big floppy yellow pointed hat with green tassels at the pointed end and green diamond shapes in a line around the circumference of the bottom of the hat. The woman is also wearing red glasses and a thick woven blue baggy jumper.

A photo of the book ‘Same but little bit diff’rent’, in open position, showing two pages.
The left page consists of a pale pink background with six lines of text. In the top left corner of the left page is a partial view of a crouching woman with dark brown skin and bare feet, wearing a yellow dress. The woman is weaving the red coloured thick thread into a basket of green and red. The right page consists of a red background with two lines of text at the top. Below the text is an illustration of a woman (from the chest up) with white skin, wearing big floppy yellow pointed hat with green tassels at the pointed end and green diamond shapes in a line around the circumference of the bottom of the hat. The woman is also wearing red glasses and a thick woven blue baggy jumper.

Another colourful fun book written by the same author as Collecting Colour. This story involves two children discussing how their cultures are different but also similar, to demystify indigenous Australian culture.

Black Fella White Fella

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘Black Fella White Fella’ by Neil Murray. The front page consists of a black background with the title written in very large thick capital letters. Each letter contains white, yellow and black patterns of dashes, lines and rough small repetitive shapes. Three handprints are illustrated around the title. One handprint of white colour, one yellow and one light brown.

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘Black Fella White Fella’ by Neil Murray.
The front page consists of a black background with the title written in very large thick capital letters. Each letter contains white, yellow and black patterns of dashes, lines and rough small repetitive shapes. Three handprints are illustrated around the title. One handprint of white colour, one yellow and one light brown.

A photo of the book ‘Black Fella White Fella’, in open position, showing two pages. The left 3/4s of the left page has a white background with two lines of text on it. The right ¼ of the left page and the right page has a continuous black background with a blue circle representing the Earth, with different coloured shapes representing different countries roughly outlined on the globe. Colours of the countries include dark green, pink, purple, orange, red and yellow. Text across the globe is in white and reads ‘With different lives in different places’.

A photo of the book ‘Black Fella White Fella’, in open position, showing two pages.
The left 3/4s of the left page has a white background with two lines of text on it. The right ¼ of the left page and the right page has a continuous black background with a blue circle representing the Earth, with different coloured shapes representing different countries roughly outlined on the globe. Colours of the countries include dark green, pink, purple, orange, red and yellow. Text across the globe is in white and reads ‘With different lives in different places’.

I wanted plenty of books on indigenous Australian culture, given we are Australian. I read somewhere of the limitations of exposure to a ‘single story’ so the more stories, the better. Black Fella White Fella is a colourful book with an important but possibly ambiguous message for kids (read it with them initially to explain).

As I Grew Older

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘As I grew older’ by Ian Abdulla. The front cover has a thick white border. The title is written in black across the top of the border. Three lines of text are printed in white across a black night sky with yellow dots representing the stars. Below the sky the ground is covered in thick bushy dark green vegetation. Brown skinned people dressed in bright coloured trousers, shirts, skirts, red cowboy boots with grey spurs and cowboy hats of red, green, yellow and white, stand to the sides of a fenced-in area (simply illustrated as a high barbed wire fence with four wooden posts). Within the area is a person riding a horse under bright yellow lights.

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘As I grew older’ by Ian Abdulla.
The front cover has a thick white border. The title is written in black across the top of the border. Three lines of text are printed in white across a black night sky with yellow dots representing the stars. Below the sky the ground is covered in thick bushy dark green vegetation. Brown skinned people dressed in bright coloured trousers, shirts, skirts, red cowboy boots with grey spurs and cowboy hats of red, green, yellow and white, stand to the sides of a fenced-in area (simply illustrated as a high barbed wire fence with four wooden posts). Within the area is a person riding a horse under bright yellow lights.

A photo of the book ‘As I grew older’, in open position showing the right page. There is a clear light blue sky with small black birds in the distance among five well spaced trees around the far edge of a lake. The water in the lake is blue. Swans and a family of ducks float and swim across the top of the lake which contains a few clumps of white and green reeds containing clusters of white eggs. Several people all with black hair are dressed in shirts, shorts and trousers in white, black and red. They are situated at the edge of the lake and in the lake holding black bags.

A photo of the book ‘As I grew older’, in open position showing the right page.
There is a clear light blue sky with small black birds in the distance among five well spaced trees around the far edge of a lake. The water in the lake is a darker blue than the sky. Swans and a family of ducks float and swim across the top of the lake which contains a few clumps of white and green reeds containing clusters of white eggs. Several people all with black hair are dressed in shirts, shorts and trousers in white, black and red. They are situated at the edge of the lake and in the lake holding black sacks.

A more detailed account of indigenous Australian culture mashed with western culture through the eyes of an indigenous Australian boy. The story includes unique everyday adventures that my sons found very interesting.

A Girl Named Dan

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘A Girl Named Dan’ by Dandi Daley Mackall. In the foreground of the front cover is a young girl standing on a grassed area with trees in the background. She has long dark hair in two platted ponytails and is wearing a purple and white striped singlet top and rose coloured 3/4 pants, white socks and blue shoes. The girl is standing on a flat grassed area with a baseball bat in her right hand (which is leaning on the ground) and a baseball glove on her left hand (which leans on her hip). In the background, are a group of young boys standing apart, dressed in jeans and shirts, most wearing baseball gloves and one boy resting a bat over his shoulder. The boy closest to the girl has his arms folded and looks displeased. The girl has a slight smile on her face.

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘A Girl Named Dan’ by Dandi Daley Mackall.
In the foreground of the front cover is a young girl standing on a grassed area with trees in the background. She has long dark hair in two platted ponytails and is wearing a purple and white striped singlet top and rose coloured 3/4 pants, white socks and blue shoes. The girl is standing on a flat grassed area with a baseball bat in her right hand (which is leaning on the ground) and a baseball glove on her left hand (which leans on her hip). In the background, are a group of young boys standing apart, dressed in jeans and shirts, most wearing baseball gloves and one boy resting a bat over his shoulder. The boy closest to the girl has his arms folded and looks displeased. The girl has a slight smile on her face.

A photo of the book 'A Girl Named Dan', in open position, showing two pages. The left page consists of three paragraphs of text on a white background with a small illustration of a white and red baseball cap below it. The right page has an illustration of the girl holding firmly onto a baseball bat, with her elbows bent, which she has just unwrapped from a box. She is standing in the kitchen with cream cupboards. A bowl of cake mixture in a red bowl with a spoon in it sits in front of the box on the kitchen bench. The girl has an angry/ determined expression on her face.

A photo of the book ‘A Girl Named Dan’, in open position, showing two pages.
The left page consists of three paragraphs of text on a white background with a small illustration of a white and red baseball cap below it. The right page has an illustration of the girl holding firmly onto a baseball bat, with her elbows bent, which she has just unwrapped from a box. She is standing in the kitchen with cream cupboards. The girl has an angry/ determined expression on her face.

An introduction to feminism, this book introduces children to the frustrations faced by gender exclusion. Although it has an uplifting ending, my son Jeremy was upset that Dan was not allowed to be an official baseball ‘batboy’. It was no consolation to Jeremy that Dan showed the boys at school just how good she was at baseball and is now an accomplished writer inspired by the events in the book (true story).

Be Good to Eddie Lee

A photo of the front cover of the book 'Be Good to Eddie Lee' by Virginia Fleming. The background of the front cover is a mix of colours suggestive of the dark and light areas of forest such as greens and browns with a little yellow and red. A realistic detailed illustration of a young boy with Down Syndrome facial features from the chest up fills most of the front cover. The boy has light brown hair and is wearing a dark blue skivvy. He is holding out a lily flower as if offering it to someone, his fist gripping the stem.

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘Be Good to Eddie Lee’ by Virginia Fleming.
The background of the front cover is a mix of colours suggestive of the dark and light areas of forest such as greens and browns with a little yellow and red. A realistic detailed illustration of a young boy with Down Syndrome facial features, view from the chest up, fills most of the front cover. The boy has light brown hair and is wearing a dark blue skivvy. He is holding out a lily flower as if offering it to someone, his fist gripping the stem.

A photo of the book 'Be Good to Eddie Lee', in open position, showing two pages. The illustration is continuous across the two pages. The left page consists of three lines of text at the top and a pond below. The pond is covered in green lily-pads with a few white lillies. The right page shows a young girl crouched down beside the young boy on long green grass at the edge of the pond. Her hands are resting on his shoulders. Both of them are peering into the water with the boy pointing to a clump of small light bluish round frogs eggs. The girl has long reddish brown hair hanging down her shoulders and back. She is barefoot and wearing a white t-shirt under a sleeveless blue cardigan with light blue spots and reddish brown shorts. Their mouths are open in surprise and wonder.

A photo of the book ‘Be Good to Eddie Lee’, in open position, showing two pages.
The illustration is continuous across the two pages. The left page consists of three lines of text at the top and a pond below. The pond is covered in green lily-pads with a few white lillies. The right page shows a young girl crouched down beside the young boy on long green grass at the edge of the pond. Her hands are resting on his shoulders. Both of them are peering into the water with the boy pointing to a clump of small light bluish round frogs eggs. The girl has long reddish brown hair hanging down her shoulders and back. She is barefoot and wearing a white t-shirt under a sleeveless blue cardigan with light blue spots and reddish brown shorts. Their mouths are open in surprise and wonder.

I am feeling conflicted about this book. The dialogue at the start of the book is pretty brutal but probably reflects the language used by some kids towards others. Perhaps it could have been less stigmatizing if it was told through the eyes of Eddie Lee and not his ‘friend’/ neighbour. However, there is a good simple message to this book. Don’t be mean to kids who are different and don’t underestimate them.

I’d love it if someone could recommend more books featuring children with down syndrome.

Note: My son Jeremy refused to listen to this book after the first few pages because it of the cruel language used by the other characters towards Eddie.

Different Just Like Me

A photo of the front cover of 'Different Just Like Me' by Lori Mitchell. The border of the background is dark green. The illustration on the centre has a white background. A young white girl with brown straight bobbed hair lies resting on her elbows with her hands under her chin. Her lower legs are bent back, feet in the air. She is wearing red boots and a short sleeved red dress. The girl is surrounded by different varieties of flowers in different colours of yellow, red, white, purple, orange and pink.

A photo of the front cover of ‘Different Just Like Me’ by Lori Mitchell.
The border of the background is dark green. The illustration on the centre has a white background. A young white girl with brown straight bobbed hair lies resting on her elbows with her hands under her chin. Her lower legs are bent back, feet in the air. She is wearing red boots and a short sleeved red dress. The girl is surrounded by different varieties of flowers in different colours of yellow, red, white, purple, orange and pink.

A photo of the book 'Different Just Like Me', in open position, with two pages showing. The left page consists of text on a white background. Across the top of the page, in capital letters, is the first half of the alphabet with illustrations of the sign language for those letters underneath each letter. Across the bottom of the page, in capital letter, is the second half of the alphabet with illustrations of the sign language for those letters underneath each letter. On the right page is an illustration of the inside of a bus, sketched in black and white. The people seated on the bus are in colour. Among the people seated on the bus are a young girl and a young boy communicating with each other in sign language. The girl is leaning toward the boy with her left hand on his shoulder. She has light brown long hair and is wearing a light blue short sleeved dress. the boy has dark brown short hair and is wearing a dark blue t-shirt and blue striped shorts. The girl from the front cover is pictured in the lower right corner watching them interact.

A photo of the book ‘Different Just Like Me’, in open position, with two pages showing.
The left page consists of text on a white background. Across the top and bottom of the page, in capital letters, is the alphabet with illustrations of the sign language for those letters underneath each letter. On the right page is an illustration of the inside of a bus, sketched in black and white. The people seated on the bus are in colour. Among the people seated on the bus are a young girl and a young boy communicating with each other in sign language. The girl is leaning toward the boy with her left hand on his shoulder. She has light brown long hair and is wearing a light blue short sleeved dress. the boy has dark brown short hair and is wearing a dark blue t-shirt and blue striped shorts. The girl from the front cover is pictured in the lower right corner watching them interact.

April is acutely more aware of her week in the lead up to a visit to her Grandmother’s house. In particular, she pays great attention to the diverse people (race, disability, gender) passing her by in the street, in shops and on public transport. April notices how everyone one is different just like her.

Moses Goes to a Concert

A photo of the front cover of the book 'Moses Goes to a Concert' by Isaac Millman. A young boy with backwards-turned red cap and large round clear prescription glasses with a smile on his face, stands facing away from the entrance to a concert hall. He is wearing a white t-shirt  with a wide blue stripe across the middle, brown shorts and white shoes. He is holding a booklet close to his chest with his right hand. There are a large number of children entering the concert hall in the background.

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘Moses Goes to a Concert’ by Isaac Millman.
A young boy with backwards-turned red cap and large round clear prescription glasses with a smile on his face, stands facing away from the entrance to a concert hall. He is wearing a white t-shirt with a wide blue stripe across the middle, brown shorts and white shoes. He is holding a booklet close to his chest with his right hand. There are a large number of children entering the concert hall in the background.

A photo of the book 'Moses Goes to a Concert', in open position, with two pages showing. There are two paragraphs of text at the top of the left page. Three bordered squares containing illustrations of the Moses doing sign language are at the top of the right page. The illustration is continuous across both pages. Down the bottom of the pages are the back of two front rows of the audience. The chairs are red and the backs of the childrens' heads, including that of Moses can be seen just above the backs of the seats. Spread across the front of the stage, which is lower than the back of the stage, are a range of percussion instruments including drums, cymbals and chimes in red, yellow and white. At the back of the stage sits a large orchestra dressed in black and grey suits, each holding their musical instruments with black music stands in front of them. The conductor stands with his back to the audience ready to command the orchestra.

A photo of the book ‘Moses Goes to a Concert’, in open position, with two pages showing.
There are two paragraphs of text at the top of the left page. Three bordered squares containing illustrations of the Moses, doing sign language for key words, are at the top of the right page. The illustration is continuous across both pages. Down the bottom of the pages are the back of two front rows of the audience. The chairs are red and the backs of the childrens’ heads, including that of Moses can be seen just above the backs of the seats. Spread across the front of the stage, which is lower than the back of the stage, are a range of percussion instruments including drums, cymbals and chimes in red, yellow and white. At the back of the stage sits a large orchestra dressed in black and grey suits, each holding their musical instruments with black music stands in front of them. The conductor stands with his back to the audience ready to command the orchestra.

I’m not a huge fan of the front cover because it seems too plain to do justice to this brilliant book. Inside the book the illustrations are greatly improved.

Moses is deaf and him and his classmates attend an orchestral concert. This book explains how Moses interprets the world of sound quite beautifully and models ability for adults and children alike through an accomplished percussionist who is also deaf. My boys loved the illustrated sign language instruction and alphabet and found all the percussion instruments very interesting too.

Personally, I feel uneasy that the children go to a school for children who are deaf because I am a big fan of inclusion. I believe that mainstream schools should cater for all children to attend them regardless of disability, it’s a matter of rights as well as the need for diversity in schools to encourage acceptance of people with disabilities. Of course, I know next to nothing about the deaf community and their needs so it is likely that I could be ‘jumping the gun’, feel free to enlighten me if you are deaf or a disability advocate.

Looking Out for Sarah

A photo of the front cover of the book 'Looking Out for Sarah' by Glenda Lang. The front cover has a yellow background with a grey sidewalk in view. A large black dog wearing a harness stands next to his owner on the side walk.  Only the owners blue trousers and shoes are in view. The owner is holding the reigns of harness. The big black dog has his pink tongue handing out as if panting.

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘Looking Out for Sarah’ by Glenda Lang.
The front cover has a yellow background with a grey sidewalk in view. A large black dog wearing a harness stands next to his owner on the side walk. Only the owners blue trousers and shoes are in view. The owner is holding the reigns of harness. The big black dog has his pink tongue handing out as if panting.

A photo of the book 'Looking Out for Sarah', in open position, showing two pages. There are several lines of text at the bottom of each page. The left page contains an illustration of the dogs' owner seated on a wooden chair holding onto the dog's lead while it lies in front of her surrounded by a small group of children who are looking up at the owner. The children are wearing long sleeve shirts and trousers of different colours, blue, purple, pink and brown. The right page contains an illustration of the children patting the dog on the head and ears. One child is gently touching the dog's leg. The dog is lying down, resting his head on the ground and appears to be relaxed. One child is looking at a photo (details not discernible).

A photo of the book ‘Looking Out for Sarah’, in open position, showing two pages.
There are several lines of text at the bottom of each page. The left page contains an illustration of the dogs’ owner seated on a wooden chair holding onto the dog’s lead while it lies in front of her surrounded by a small group of children who are looking up at the owner. The children are wearing long sleeve shirts and trousers of different colours, blue, purple, pink and brown. The right page contains an illustration of the children patting the dog on the head and ears. One child is gently touching the dog’s leg. The dog is lying down, resting his head on the ground and appears to be relaxed. One child is looking at a photo (details not discernible).

This story has a unique appeal in that it is told from the perspective of a guide dog (through a narrator) and involves a visit to a school. It is based on a true story.

Helen’s Big World: The life of Helen Keller

A photo of the front cover of the book 'Helen's Big World: The Life of Helen Keller' by Doreen Rappaport. There is light blue sky in the background with white clouds. A side profile of the head and shoulders of a young white woman, with her eyes closed, fills the cover. She is holding a red rose up to smell. She has thick brown hair loosely rolled up from the sides to a low bun in the back. She is wearing a white blouse.

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller’ by Doreen Rappaport.
There is light blue sky in the background with white clouds. A side profile of the head and shoulders of a young white woman, with her eyes closed, fills the cover. She is holding a red rose up to smell. She has thick brown hair loosely rolled up from the sides to a low bun in the back. She is wearing a white blouse.

A photo of the book 'Helen's Big World: The Life of Helen Keller', in open position, showing two pages. The right page contains eight lines of text and one quotation in larger writing below it. The quotation reads "The chief handicap of the blind is not blindness, but the attitude of seeing people toward them". The illustration is continuous across the two pages. In the background is a pale blue sky and a slightly darker blue sea. The woman from the front cover looks older now. She is pictured from the waist up next to the white rails of a boat, the top of a life-saving flotation device can be seen attached to the rails. The woman is wearing a brown coat, reddish brown scarf and brown hat with raised reddish brown flower shapes around it.

A photo of the book ‘Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller’, in open position, showing two pages.
The right page contains eight lines of text and one quotation in larger writing below it. The quotation reads “The chief handicap of the blind is not blindness, but the attitude of seeing people toward them”. The illustration is continuous across the two pages. In the background is a pale blue sky and a slightly darker blue sea. The woman from the front cover looks older now. She is pictured from the waist up next to the white rails of a boat, the top of a life-saving floatation device can be seen attached to the rails. The woman is wearing a brown coat, reddish brown scarf and brown hat with raised reddish brown flower shapes around it.

This book had me in tears of joy. This is an excellent book for showing the importance of presuming competence. Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan are inspiring beyond words.

Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World

A photo of the front cover of the book 'Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World' by Laurie Lawlor. The front cover contains an illustration of a young woman is seated on her knees among the flowers, bushes and trees, with a couple of small animals scampering about on the ground around her including a bird and a couple of squirrels. The woman has long wavy brown hair hanging down her back. She is wearing a 3/4 sleeve blue dress with a long blue collar and a yellow neck tie. She is reading a book containing an illustration of a bird and text, while holding a bunch of red flowers in her left hand.

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World’ by Laurie Lawlor.
The front cover contains an illustration of a young woman is seated on her knees among the flowers, bushes and trees, with a couple of small animals scampering about on the ground around her including a bird and a couple of squirrels. The woman has long wavy brown hair hanging down her back. She is wearing a 3/4 sleeve blue dress with a long blue collar and a yellow neck tie. She is reading a book containing an illustration of a bird and text, while holding a bunch of red flowers in her left hand.

A photo of the book 'Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World', in open position, showing two pages. The left page contains ten lines of text. The illustration is continuous across both pages and is a scene from underwater along a seabed. A person is dressed in a white coloured deep sea suit with a brown helmet. Ropes and a breathing tube are attached. She is standing among plentiful and colourful corral, fish and sea plants of orange, purple, pink, green, blue, yellow and red.

A photo of the book ‘Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World’, in open position, showing two pages.
The left page contains ten lines of text. The illustration is continuous across both pages and is a scene from underwater along a seabed. A person is dressed in a white coloured deep sea suit with a brown helmet. Ropes and a breathing tube are attached. She is standing among plentiful and colourful corral, fish and sea plants of orange, purple, pink, green, blue, yellow and red.

A true story about a trail-blazing, dedicated and talented biologist/writer who brought the safety of the environment to the notice of the western world much to the chagrin of big business.

Inside Asperger’s Looking Out

A photo of the front cover of 'Inside Asperger's Looking Out' by Kathy Hoopmann The front cover contains a photo of a cute black and white striped raccoon peering from between narrow wooden posts in a fence.

A photo of the front cover of ‘Inside Asperger’s Looking Out’ by Kathy Hoopmann
The front cover contains a photo of a cute black and white striped raccoon peering from between narrow wooden posts in a fence.

A photo of the book 'Inside Asperger's Looking Out', in open position, showing two pages. On the left page is a photo of a brown and white guinea pig, standing on a red plate, with a small white bandage loosely tied around it's head. On the plate in front of it are an assortment of coloured pills and a thermometer. Four lines of text are underneath the illustration. On the right page is an illustration of an orderly school of gold fish on a white background with one lone goldfish swimming in the opposite direction to the school. The text on this page reads "Sure, we may think and act and learn differently from others, but different can be a good thing".

A photo of the book ‘Inside Asperger’s Looking Out’, in open position, showing two pages.
On the left page is a photo of a brown and white guinea pig, standing on a red plate, with a small white bandage loosely tied around it’s head. On the plate in front of it are an assortment of coloured pills and a thermometer. Four lines of text are underneath the illustration. On the right page is an illustration of an orderly school of gold fish on a white background with one lone goldfish swimming in the opposite direction to the school. The text on this page reads “Sure, we may think and act and learn differently from others, but different can be a good thing”.

I almost forgot to add this book in and it happens to be my favourite autism book of all time. I’ve written about autism in-depth in past blog posts and this book reflects my outlook perfectly. It embraces the ‘accepting difference’ aspect of autism.

The Panicosaurus

A photo of the front cover of the book 'The Panicosaurus' by K.I. Al-Ghani. The background colour of the front page is orange. The illustration beneath the title is of a comic looking green dinosaur with red spots, wearing a sleeveless white animal hide outfit. The dinosaur has a long thick tail with a point on the end and is standing on two legs in an aggressive squat position, arms raised, claws out, mouth open exposing rows of sharp pointy teeth and red tongue.

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘The Panicosaurus’ by K.I. Al-Ghani.
The background colour of the front page is orange. The illustration beneath the title is of a comic looking green dinosaur with red spots, wearing a sleeveless white animal hide outfit. The dinosaur has a long thick tail with a point on the end and is standing on two legs in an aggressive squat position, arms raised, claws out, mouth open exposing rows of sharp pointy teeth and red tongue.

A photo of the book 'The Panicosaurus', in open position, showing two pages. The left page is full of text on a white background. The right page has an illustration of a young girl clinging to her mother, tears streaming down her face, eyes and mouth open wide in fear. The girl is wearing a pink hooded jacket (hood on) and pink skirt with a pink backpack. She is looking at a nearby cream coloured dog with a blue lead. Two thought bubbles hang beside her head. The thought bubble to her right contains an image of the dinosaur from the front page. The thought bubble to her left contains an illustration of a smiling green dinosaur, dressed in a white suit, wearing glasses and holding a notepad and pen.

A photo of the book ‘The Panicosaurus’, in open position, showing two pages.
The left page is full of text on a white background. The right page has an illustration of a young girl clinging to her mother, tears streaming down her face, eyes and mouth open wide in fear. The girl is wearing a pink hooded jacket (hood on) and pink skirt with a pink backpack. She is looking at a nearby cream coloured dog with a blue lead. Two thought bubbles hang beside her head. The thought bubble to her right contains an image of the dinosaur from the front page. The thought bubble to her left contains an illustration of a smiling green dinosaur, dressed in a white suit, wearing glasses and holding a notepad and pen.

This book gives excellent advice on managing anxiety in children for both adults and their children alike. It explains what is going on in their body and minds using an illustrated analogy of a pesky dinosaur called the Panicosaurus. It’s an appealing and informative book for kids to read and even more importantly, it encourages children to be supportive to anxious children in the classroom.

The Disappointment Dragon

A photo of the front cover the the book 'The Disappointment Dragon' by K. I. Al-Ghani. The front cover is light blue in colour. Below the title is an illustration of a dark purple dragon in the foreground. The purple dragon has small pointed white horns atop his head, large purple wings and red spines along his long thick tail. In the background, is a winking orange dragon with a smile on his face. The orange dragon has large wings and multicoloured stripes across his belly.

A photo of the front cover the the book ‘The Disappointment Dragon’ by K. I. Al-Ghani.
The front cover is light blue in colour. Below the title is an illustration of a dark purple dragon in the foreground. The purple dragon has small pointed white horns atop his head, large purple wings and red spines along his long thick tail. In the background, is a winking orange dragon with a smile on his face. The orange dragon has large wings and multicoloured stripes across his belly.

A photo of the book 'The Disappointment Dragon', in open position, with two pages showing. The left page is full of text on a white background. The right page contains an illustration of a young girl with red spots on her face sitting up in bed smiling while holding a round box decorated with colourful flower shapes of pink, orange and yellow. The girl has long wavy brown hair hanging down her back and is wearing a yellow long sleeve top. Beside the bed are the two dragons from the front cover. The purple dragon looks worried and the orange dragon is looking at the box and smiling.

A photo of the book ‘The Disappointment Dragon’, in open position, with two pages showing.
The left page is full of text on a white background. The right page contains an illustration of a young girl with red spots on her face sitting up in bed smiling while holding a round box decorated with colourful flower shapes of pink, orange and yellow. The girl has long wavy brown hair hanging down her back and is wearing a yellow long sleeve top. Beside the bed are the two dragons from the front cover. The purple dragon looks worried and the orange dragon is looking at the box and smiling.

With the same author as ‘The Panicosaurus’ this wonderfully illustrated book explains how two children manage their disappointment.

I take issue with one exclamation, which was stated in the book, as being written on a notice on a classroom door: “The only disability in life is a bad attitude. Don’t bring one into this room. Thank you!” I don’t think it’s fair or helpful to deny someone’s disability. I may have taken it too literally but then so may others. However, the book was so good that I forgive it that one slight and have explained to my sons that I don’t agree with that particular bit.

The Black Book of Colours

A photo of the front cover of the book 'The Black Book of Colours' by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria. This book's including the front cover is entirely coloured in black except for the white text. Illustrations are raised, can be felt and appear darker in colour. The front cover contains an illustration of a butterfly above long grass. There is a bunch of flowers among the grass to the right of the front cover. The title is written in large white print with black Braille translation of the text underneath.

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘The Black Book of Colours’ by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria.
This book’s including the front cover is entirely coloured in black except for the white text. Illustrations are raised, can be felt and appear darker in colour. The front cover contains an illustration of a butterfly above long grass. There is a bunch of flowers among the grass to the right of the front cover. The title is written in large white print with black Braille translation of the text underneath.

A photo of the book 'The Black Book of Colours', in open position, with two pages showing. The left page contains several lines of Braille along the top and white printed text across the bottom. The right page contains raised illustrations of floating feathers.

A photo of the book ‘The Black Book of Colours’, in open position, with two pages showing.
The left page contains several lines of Braille along the top and white printed text across the bottom. The right page contains raised illustrations of soft floating feathers.

When I showed this book to a friend she suggested that it would make a great ‘coffee table’ book. Devoid of colour, it is a beautifully constructed and poetic book. The text describes a different colour on each page using the senses of taste, sound, touch and smell.

The book helps to create awareness of how people who are blind experience the world around them; differently but just as intricately.

The text is also written in Braille and the illustrations are also raised.

The Berenstain Bears: Learn About Strangers

A photo of the front cover of the book 'The Berenstain Bears: Learn About Strangers' by Stan and Jan Berenstain. The front cover of the book appears busy with brown bear characters, dressed as humans, are walking on two legs in different directions all appearing to be running errands. One bear carries a ladder, another a walking stick. 'Mama bear' is holding 'sister bear's' hand while walking among the crowd and sister bear is looking worriedly at all the other bears. Sister bear is wearing a pink long sleeve top and trousers (none of the bears are wearing shoes) and is clutching a brown teddy bear under her left arm. Mama bear is carrying a bag of groceries in her right hand. Mama bear is wearing a blue dress with white polka dots, a yellow hat and handbag and a pink scarf tied over her shoulders.

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘The Berenstain Bears: Learn About Strangers’ by Stan and Jan Berenstain.
The front cover of the book appears busy with brown bear characters. They are dressed as humans and walking on two legs, in different directions, all appearing to be running errands. One bear carries a ladder, another a walking stick. ‘Mama bear’ is holding ‘sister bear’s’ hand while walking among the crowd and sister bear is looking worriedly at all the other bears while clutching a brown teddy bear under her left arm.

I love the Berenstain Bears and so do my sons. They are a family of bears that encounter common family problems and develop nifty solutions. They do seem to represent a privileged family though.

In this story, they explore the topic of stranger danger but without pathologizing strangers. I particularly love mama bears’ ‘bad apple’ analogy (although this may require some explaining to your child).

Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley

A photo of the front cover for the book 'Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley' by Aaron Blabey. This cover has a light brown background. The illustration is of a young girl and boy with arms around each others shoulders, heads leaning against each other with rosy cheeks and big smiles. They are shown from their waist up. The girl has red hair in pigtails that stick out to the sides. She is wearing a long sleeve dark green top. The boy has spiky black hair and is wearing a blue striped pyjama top with a collar and small white buttons down the front.

A photo of the front cover for the book ‘Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley’ by Aaron Blabey.
This cover has a light brown background. The illustration is of a young girl and boy with arms around each others shoulders, heads leaning against each other with rosy cheeks and big smiles. They are shown from their waist up. The girl has red hair in pigtails that stick out to the sides. She is wearing a long sleeve dark green top. The boy has spiky black hair and is wearing a blue striped pyjama top with a collar and small white buttons down the front.

A photo of the book 'Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley', in open position, with two pages showing. The left page has a dark brown background. The illustration is of the girl from the front cover, shining a torch at footprints and using a magnifying glass to look at them. The right page has an illustration of two worried eyes peering out from a pile of pillows. Both pages contain several lines of text.

A photo of the book ‘Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley’, in open position, with two pages showing.
The left page has a dark brown background. The illustration is of the girl from the front cover, shining a torch at footprints and using a magnifying glass to look at them. The right page has an illustration of two worried eyes peering out from a pile of pillows. Both pages contain several lines of text.

This is a beautiful book with lovely illustrations and cute story line about two friends who are different but complement each other. An extraverted, adventurous girl and a shy, sensible boy (I like that it challenges typical gender stereotypes).

It’s NOT the Stork!

A photo of the front cover of the book 'It's NOT the Stork! A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends' by Robie H. Harris. For ages 4 and up. In the centre of the front cover is a pregnant woman. She is smiling and has long black hair hanging out over her shoulders. She is wearing a long sleeve orange maternity shirt over her protruding belly, light blue trousers and pink shoes. A pink baby is illustrated inside her womb, almost fully developed and appearing to smile and wave. The baby is attached to her mother's placenta by a purple cord. Beside the woman are two children. To the right is a young black girl with long hair tied back into a pony tail in lots of little plats, she is smiling and pointing at the baby. To the left is a young white boy  with short blonde hair, he is holding a book and looking away from them looking a little perplexed or surprised. Behind the woman is a man with short dark hair and darker skin than the woman. He is peering over her right shoulder at the young girl and smiling. A large white stork is pictured standing between the man and the woman peering over the woman's left shoulder at the baby. In the air, to the left of this family is a cartoon- like green bird wearing a purple shirt and blue shoes saying (text in a speech bubble) "So-ooo a baby comes from a STORK???" In the air, to the right of the family, a cartoon-like bee wearing glasses, a yellow and brown striped shirt and red shoes says (text in a speech bubble) "I don't THINK so!!!"

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘It’s NOT the Stork! A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends’ by Robie H. Harris. For ages 4 and up.
In the centre of the front cover is a pregnant woman. She is smiling and has long black hair hanging out over her shoulders. She is wearing a long sleeve orange maternity shirt over her protruding belly, light blue trousers and pink shoes. A pink baby is illustrated inside her womb, almost fully developed and appearing to smile and wave. Beside the woman are two children. To the right is a young black girl with long hair tied back into a pony tail in lots of little plats, she is smiling and pointing at the baby. To the left is a young white boy with short blonde hair, he is holding a book and looking away from them looking a little perplexed or surprised. Behind the woman is a man with short dark hair and darker skin than the woman. He is peering over her right shoulder at the young girl and smiling. A large white stork is pictured standing between the man and the woman peering over the woman’s left shoulder at the baby. In the air, to the left of this family is a cartoon- like green bird wearing a purple shirt and blue shoes saying (text in a speech bubble) “So-ooo a baby comes from a STORK???” In the air, to the right of the family, a cartoon-like bee wearing glasses, a yellow and brown striped shirt and red shoes says (text in a speech bubble) “I don’t THINK so!!!”

This book covers a range of areas on the topic of sex education in a diverse and engaging way for young children. It discourages gender stereotypes and promotes diverse families.

I am more open with my children about most areas of knowledge than most parents, however, even I waited until my boys were a bit older than the recommended age range before I was ready to read them this book.

My sons regularly read this book to themselves because they love the funny things that the comic characters (the bird and the bee) say on each page.

It’s So Amazing!

A photo of the front cover of the book 'It's So Amazing: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families' by Robie H. Harris. A pregnant woman smiles while touching her pregnant belly with her hands. She has short dark wavy hair and is wearing a purple long sleeve shirt under a sleeveless blue dress, pink leggings and yellow shoes. Many young children, all of a similar age, wearing colourful shirts and trousers are standing around her. Some of the children are touching her belly, most are looking excited except for one girl who looks a bit concerned while a mischievous looking boy appears to be whispering something she does not want to hear in her ear. The bird from the front cover is flying above the children to the left and saying (text in speech bubble) "Every single thing about where babies come from is SO-OOO A-MAZING to me!" The bee from the front cover is flying above the children to the right and says (text in speech bubble) "Can we talk about something else? ANYTHING else?"

A photo of the front cover of the book ‘It’s So Amazing: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families’ by Robie H. Harris.
A pregnant woman smiles while touching her pregnant belly with her hands. She has short dark wavy hair and is wearing a purple long sleeve shirt under a sleeveless blue dress, pink leggings and yellow shoes. Many young children, all of a similar age, wearing colourful shirts and trousers are standing around her. Some of the children are touching her belly, most are looking excited except for one girl who looks a bit concerned while a mischievous looking boy appears to be whispering something she does not want to hear in her ear. The bird from the front cover is flying above the children to the left and saying (text in speech bubble) “Every single thing about where babies come from is SO-OOO A-MAZING to me!” The bee from the front cover is flying above the children to the right and says (text in speech bubble) “Can we talk about something else? ANYTHING else?”

A photo of the book 'It's So Amazing: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families', in open position, with two pages showing. The left page has three paragraphs of text on a white background. Beside and between lines of text are illustrations of many adults and children representing different family members of many different ages, races and different abilities. They are participating in different activities such as reading, running together, drawing and playing with blocks. The bird and the bee are pictured up top commenting as usual. The right page has a couple of paragraphs of text on a white background. Again there are many people of different ages, races and religions all participating in different activities as families. Again the bird and the bee are at the top of the page commenting to each other.

A photo of the book ‘It’s So Amazing: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families’, in open position, with two pages showing.
The left page has three paragraphs of text on a white background. Beside and between lines of text are illustrations of many adults and children representing different family members of many different ages, races and different abilities. They are participating in different activities such as reading, running together, drawing and playing with blocks. The bird and the bee are pictured up top commenting as usual. The right page has a couple of paragraphs of text on a white background. Again there are many people of different ages, races and religions all participating in different activities as families. Again the bird and the bee are at the top of the page commenting to each other.

The second of three books in the series, it expands on topics of sex education for those age seven and up. Under the “What’s Love?” chapter it talks about homosexuality but doesn’t cover any other LGBTIQ categories.

After reading the first book in the series (It’s NOT the stork!), I actually felt comfortable reading this to my six-year-old after reading it to my seven-year old. Siblings are often exposed to concepts a little earlier in lieu of their older siblings and I’d prefer they hear it from me first.

You can find more diverse books that I have purchased for my children here.

 

My last blog post (at least for a long while)

This is my last blog post. Today, I did not wake up knowing that. I just decided in a moment that I had written enough. That is how I make most of my decisions. I think it and I do it, there is no research or rhyme to it, I don’t fluff about. Of course, people who care about me can find this frustrating as they don’t get any warning (and I haven’t asked for anyone’s opinion).

I knew the blog would end sometime soon because I don’t want to write about what we do every day. ‘I got in the car and I drove to the supermarket’ is just no fun at all. I just wanted to spew all the accumulated stories, knowledge and concepts on autism out of my head so that it was free to think of other things. I’ve also been thinking of all the other things that I could be doing instead of blogging for a while now. For example, it’s about time I started doing more exercise, it’s good for my mental health (especially during winter when gray skies impact upon my mood). Like I said, this is my last blog post.

I was going to write about abdominal migraines and the world’s most enormous and poorly timed vomit but will the world benefit from that. I doubt it. Click here for some valuable information that I found on migraines, especially if you get headaches, stomach pains or vomiting (maybe it’s not ‘irritable bowel syndrome’ after all).

There have been ‘ups and downs’ but you don’t know about any of them. Oh, how I have judged myself harshly with this blog, trying to guess how people have perceived what I was writing. Ah social anxiety, you are so much fun. In my mind I was too honest, too weird, too boring, not anonymous enough for my family’s sake, not enough of an autistic advocate, too much of an autistic advocate.

Oh, how I love to quit things. I can blame the ‘ups and downs’ on something else now.

So to end my blogging adventure, I will list what I consider my most informative* posts here:

Autistic Traits and Ability

I Like People

The Stigma of Parenting

Autism and Sensitivity

Diagnosis and labels

Functioning labels

Shame and the Unwanted Identity

Strategies: Communication and Behaviour

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Anxiety: Avoid or Enable?

Why I am so Socially Awkward

Advocating for Your Child

Acceptance

Sleep

The Myth of Mental Illness and Violence

Bullying

A Popular Organisation to Avoid

In addition, the blog site below has a superb list of other blogs and organisations that are autism friendly:

http://emmashopebook.com/resources/

*I hope you have also enjoyed some of my lighter, more entertaining posts. They were fun to write 🙂

A fitting end to a philosophical discussion

It was a public holiday and even though it was winter the weather was fine, so my husband and I decided to take the boys to the park. On the way there, Jeremy said “I know lot of things but there are 3 things I don’t know”. My reply was “Only three things? Did you know that the more that you know, the more you realise you don’t know? Hopefully, in a year there will be 30 things you don’t know and in 3 years there will be 300 things you don’t know and so on.” My husband pointed out that the problem with that, was that you don’t know what you don’t know.

Jeremy asked again “Do you want to know the three things that I’m not sure about?” and then, just so we wouldn’t change the topic again, he quickly added “Space, death and life!” I nodded my head slowly as if to say ‘Great call’.

Jeremy asked me “What do you think happens after you die?” and I said “Well, different people think different things happen after you die.” Jeremy and Damian started talking about what understood death to mean. They talked about not knowing things when you are dead and not being able to do things. They talked about not even  knowing that they are not knowing stuff and not even knowing that they are dead. I rather lamely slip in the word ‘broken’, “The body is broken and can’t work anymore” but judging by their non-plussed reaction it was already obvious to them.

Jeremy and Damian used to get upset with the idea of death. A couple of years ago, Jeremy told me that he was going to ask my husband to build a machine that could bring people back to life  (he must have got the idea from ‘time machines’ on kids television programs). Jeremy was devastated* when my husband confirmed that it was not possible. However, today they were not upset, just curious.

We move on to the topic of life. I say “hmm… well, life is pretty easy. We are alive right now”. Jeremy replied “Yes but where did we come from?”

Jeremy has known about ‘the birds and the bees’ ever since several months ago when I overheard him whispering to Damian that we came from ‘white blood cells’. I was impressed that he had figured out there were cells involved. Years ago, I had purchased the following books (here and here) in anticipation of the discussion about where babies come from. So now Damian and Jeremy have been ‘age- appropriately’ educated about it and have easy access to the books whenever they want to read them.

Given that Jeremy knew where we each individually came from and that we have also discussed Evolution before too, I decided to explain where I thought all things came from. I said to Jeremy “Well, this is where I think everything came from and it’s just what I think, not what everyone else thinks. I believe that everywhere there is at first nothing and when I mean nothing, I mean no air, no particles, no light; just nothing. I also believe that something comes from nothing. From the nothingness a negative particle and a positive particle can occur**. These particles appear often enough in space to sometimes interact with each other in ways that create new particles, which sometimes create larger particles and so on and so on and that’s ultimately where everything in space comes from. That’s what I believe.”

Jeremy asks “What about the Big Bang Theory?” I say that I don’t know much about that. I now suspect it’s just one small (compared to the greater nothingness) occurrence among many other occurrences in space. I don’t know much about space so don’t take my word for it. In fact, I know that I know ‘next to nothing’ about space.

I was baptised and raised as a Catholic. However, as a teenager, I stopped believing in God because it did not seem plausible to me nor did not seem the most fair way to live. I didn’t believe that Eve was created for Adam, I did not think it was fair that men had the greater roles within the church and I did not believe that people were to rule over all animals either. I did not believe in spirits, I did not believe in heaven or hell and I did not think I had committed a sin for not believing in something without having seen it for myself. You can call me a ‘doubting Thomas’ if you like. You get the idea.

The one thing I do believe in is treating people as you would like to be treated. Although, I would even modify that to ‘treating people as they would like to be treated.’ Not everyone wants to be treated like I do and vice versa.

Of course, in the end it is all a matter of interpretation but no religious interpretation of life ever made sense to me. The more objective answers from science seemed to hold the most truth for me; Evolution and the idea that ‘something’ can come from ‘nothing’.

Most of my family remain believers in the Catholic faith and so my boys have had exposure to the concept of God. I take pains not to impose my beliefs on them so that they can make up their own minds about what they believe in, although when Damian asked for statues of God for Christmas (of which there are none, I was to find out, only statues of Jesus) I was sure to include statues of other religious figures so that he was aware of the existence of other belief systems too.

Recently, my boys even read the following prayers (which they were very excited about and read them very well) at my mother’s wedding, at mum’s request:

(Jeremy) For Granny and Adrian who being married life today, for peace in times of chaos and confusion, for generosity, for faith in each other and love beyond reason. May their lives be a sacrament of Christ’s irrational, irresistible, and invincible love for us all.

(Damian) For all those who have died, especially the relatives and friends of Granny and Adrian and of all present today. May they enjoy perfect happiness and total fulfillment in eternal life.

Although, I believe in the scientific explanations of life, I know that I can never be 100% sure of what I believe because every now and then, it occurs to me how fascinating it is that I am alive now with such consciousness, which is not even a fraction of infinite time and space (that I believe in) and that makes it highly improbable that such a thing could happen. The odds of me being alive now are so extraordinary slim that I have to wonder if there is another explanation but it’s just a fleeting thought because I don’t know what a more plausible explanation could be. I know that I don’t know for sure, how things began.

However, returning to topic…Damian, being familiar with God, says “Well I think that God claps and that is where the particles come from” and I said “Then where does God come from? Is God a person?” Jeremy replies “God and all the spirits, came from the particles”.

Jeremy and Damian start getting enthusiastic about mentioning all the ways that God could create particles until Damian took it too far and said “God farted” and my husband added “and that is where all the particles came from” and that is pretty much where the conversation ended. A fitting end to a philosophical discussion.

Notes:

* I found these books (here, here and here) helpful for helping my boys come to terms with death.

** I remember in high-school reading about an experiment conducted in a vacuum where an anti-neutrino and a neutrino appeared from that vacuum spontaneously (I think?), the process of which, was captured on an electron microscope. I never bothered to research it further, it was an idea that worked for me. For the purposes of this blog, I decided to do a quick Google search on the concept of ‘something from nothing’ to see if I didn’t imagine it and I chose one article that was easy enough to read to give you some idea of it, click here.

 

Extraordinary

I remember being surprised one day when reading that some people may have regrets about their life being too ordinary. It hadn’t occurred to me that ordinary could be a drawback. I always thought that having an average job, an average house and average children with an average amount of friends (and an average amount of problems because it’s not all roses) would be an ideal thing*. I didn’t ever aspire to be ordinary but I guess I assumed that my life would be.

My family is certainly ordinary in some ways. We have an average house, in an average suburb with an average car. We have a trampoline, a couple of bikes and a basketball ring in our backyard. My children go to a public school and are enrolled in extracurricular activities like football, swimming and they have play dates. I am an average stay-at-home primary caregiver who cleans the house, cooks average meals of an evening and helps out at school. We play, work and laugh together but we also argue and make mistakes like families do.

But in other ways we are less ordinary or more extraordinary. My sons and I experience more sensory processing challenges and social-communication challenges, which lead to us being confused, overwhelmed and underwhelmed more easily than others. We experience greater than average amounts of anxiety and sometimes behave more intensely when under pressure by either crying, yelling or becoming withdrawn. It’s actually pretty typical to react like that when under pressure but often we are under pressure in circumstances that other people are not, so those reactions may (falsely) seem misplaced. We fiddle, wriggle and become distracted more regularly than others and we are very concerned about the well-being of other people when we see them upset because we know how it feels.

My sons and I are academic high achievers. My children need to be extended in class, they want to answer all the questions and help all the other kids in the class to understand. They are never short of receiving praise from people and I haven’t wanted to teach them too much about boasting yet because I’d like them to bask in the glory of success for a few years yet. At their age, they can get away with it. We are prone to perfectionism and love routine. School works for us; it is the ideal environment when our peers treat us well (and my boys have been treated well). My sons and I are quirky and make quirky observations, we say and do things that others wouldn’t normally say and do and most of the time it’s meaningful, interesting and/or amusing.

I love my extraordinary life including the ordinary bits and I wouldn’t change it for the world. We all have a bit of extraordinary in our lives, you’ve just got to know where to look for it.

I thought I’d leave you with a few gems, straight from the mouths of my boys, when they were younger:

Jeremy

On occupations:

Jeremy told me one day that when he grows up he is going to be a Doctor on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. On Fridays he will be a Fireman, on Saturdays an Astronaut and Sundays a Policeman. I asked “Aren’t you going to have any days off work?” and he said “Of course mum, I’ll have holidays!” “What about weekends?” I added. He said thoughtfully “No I won’t have weekends off because I really want to be an Astronaut and a Policeman as well”.

One day Jeremy asked his dad how balloons were made and his dad attempted an explanation but Jeremy wanted more detail, so he asked: “What kind of shape? (is the rubber moulded into)”. His dad replied “A round shape”. Jeremy asked “What about a square shape?” His dad stated “No, you can’t get square shaped balloons!” Jeremy asked “Why not?” and his dad (momentarily stumped) said “You just can’t!” Jeremy was very unimpressed with his dad’s answer and stated emphatically “Well, when I grow up I want to be a balloon maker and make square balloons!”

On the topic of balloons:

Andrew came home from a university open day with two identical blue balloons, one for Jeremy and one for Damian so there would be no arguments. They were filled with helium and the boys were fascinated that they were floating on the end of strings. First thing Jeremy says is “Can I have the highest one?”

On the topic of behaviour:

One day, when I was feeling a little frustrated, I said to Jeremy “If you grizzle and groan when I take you places I won’t want to take you anywhere again”. Jeremy responded with “OK I won’t. I will grizzle but I won’t groan.”

On the topic of anxiety:

One night Jeremy asked me “Can you come in with me because I am afraid of the dark?” I said “I thought you weren’t afraid of the dark”. Jeremy explained further “But I keep thinking there are ‘baddies’ (there)”. I said the first thing that came into my mind “Well, think of ‘goodies’”. Jeremy said “But that makes me think of goodies fighting baddies”. I said “Well think of rainbows then” and Jeremy replied “But that makes me think of baddies sliding down rainbows.”

Damian

On mathematics:

Jeremy commented on how dark it was one morning and I explained that it was because the daylight hours are getting shorter the further we get from summer. Jeremy said “The longest day is December the 21oneth and the shortest day is June the 21oneth” I was impressed (and expressed that) but I also corrected him to say 21st instead of 21oneth and Damian adds “it’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th. They are called ‘ordinal’ numbers!” Turns out they taught that earlier in the week, in Prep school.

On humour:

As I was getting out of the car one day (managing several bags) I said to myself out loud “Oh no, where is my handbag?” I quickly remembered that I shouldn’t alarm my children and added “Don’t worry, it will be here somewhere.” Jeremy said unimpressed “It’s on your shoulder.” I laughed out loud and Damian then asked (with a grin on his face): “Where is my hair?” I laughed and said “On your head”. Then Damian said “Where are my glasses?” I replied “On your face!” Then Jeremy joined in and they continued making similar jokes for a few minutes until we had to go.

On anxiety**:

The bedtime conversation with Damian went like this: Me: “I love you just the way you are!” Damian: “No you don’t” (probably feeling a bit uncomfortable with my declaration) Me: “Yes I do, I love you just the way you are!” Damian: “I don’t” Me: “What do you want to be?” Damian: “A grownup!” Me: “Why do you want to be a grown up?” Damian: “So I don’t have to go to Kinder” Me: “Well then you will have a job when you are grownup. What job will you have?” Damian: “I can’t remember.” Me (not wanting to make him more anxious): “Don’t worry you will learn about what job you want to do at school” Damian: “What I grow up I won’t be able to be scared of the dark anymore!” Me: “Grownups can still be scared of things. I am scared of spiders.” Damian: “What is Daddy scared of?” I couldn’t think of anything straight away so I said jokingly: “Daddy is scared of mummy.” Damian laughed (he understood the joke).

On identity:

Damian loves the ‘Going on a bear hunt’ song, so I looked up versions of that song on YouTube for him to listen to. I saw the image for one and said “You’ll like this one!” Damian said indignantly “Don’t tell me what I like, I know what I like!”

*Average in Australia or other Westernized country.

**We have done a lot of work to demystify the dark and help manage Damian’s anxiety about night times (involving Social StoriesTM with matching props to keep under the bed, story books and even a board game). When Damian and Jeremy are particularly vulnerable I will lie next to them for a few minutes. Most of the establishment of routines for bedtimes was done along time ago (refer here and here).