I recently finished reading The Rosie Result, which has been praised for helping break down misconceptions about autism. I found that reading Graeme Simsion’s books helped me not just understand autism and its challenges, but also appreciate the benefits of neurological differences. His books revealed that those on the spectrum were often far more astute and reasonable than those who were not, and highlighted the absurdity of some behaviours we consider to be ‘normal’. Author and parent, Monique Cain, has written about how personal experience inspired her to spread the word about autism through children’s books.
Before my first-born daughter Madi was diagnosed, we knew absolutely nothing about autism. I assume this is probably the case for a lot of other people. Unless you are directly affected by it, know someone on the spectrum or are associated somehow, it is not common knowledge. I think most people now have a general comprehension of Autism but probably not how much it can really affect someone or a whole families’ life. There are also varying degrees of how people can be affected. There are common factors but everyone is different, so it can be quite confusing…
From my personal experience, I found people reading about autism and in particular The Everyday Autism Series books I have written, had a profoundly positive impact. They helped everyone, both children and adults to understand what autism was and how people and families can be affected.
My daughter Madi was in her second year of 4-year-old kinder when a boy said to me one morning “Madi is dumb” and “Madi doesn’t know anything.” It was like a dagger through my heart and I honestly didn’t know what to say, especially to a five-year-old. I said “Madi is not dumb, she just doesn’t talk very much.”
Shortly after that I began writing. A poem turned into a story and I thought if I put photos of Madi at kinder together with this story, the kids and teachers might understand her better. So, I went online, put my first book together, ‘Madi at kinder’, took it into the classroom, showed the teacher. She loved it and read it out to the class. She said there was nothing like that out there for kids and it really helped them to understand Madi more. She kept the book in the classroom for the kids to look at it any time they had questions.
Madi went off to main stream school the following year and straight away I thought to show her teachers the book. With the same desired reaction, her teacher showed the principal and she had every teacher in the school read the book to their class.
The whole school then knew about Madi but also, they would be more educated about autism and would hopefully be more kind, understanding and friendly to all kids that may act a bit different.
After such a positive response from the initial book, I continued writing about more of the situations that we had found difficult because of how Autism affected Madi and our whole family life. Madi Starts School, Madi Goes Shopping and Madi are written about how people may need extra help and time to feel more comfortable, how noise and crowds may affect them but also to encourage kindness, inclusion and acceptance.
I had the books illustrated and published to help other children and families too, after seeing the positive affect they had for Madi and our family!
The books are simply written, in rhyme to be entertaining yet informative for children to understand but adults also gain valuable knowledge. I definitely think that having Autism broken down basically, in a book to read and explained in a way to be easily understood, was vital to how all the kids and people that knew Madi treated her in a kind and understanding way.
After the Madi books were released, there were some questions as to why Madi, the Autism character in the book, was a girl? My son Thomas had also just been diagnosed on the spectrum, so I then created a ‘boy version’ of the Madi books to help the literal thinking boys and families diagnosed.
I have received great feedback from parents that have also used my books to explain a diagnosis to their own children.
If we had books like them in the beginning, to simply spell out Autism and to give to family, friends and teachers, it would have saved us all a lot of uncertainty and heartache.
The 12th annual World Autism Day is on 2nd April in recognition of people living with autism and those who support their journey.
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