I know a fourteen year old boy who is funny and lovable. He plays soccer and video games. He loves game shows, animated movies, bridges, nature and his family. He dislikes loud noises (especially fireworks), large crowds and changes to his schedule. He loves to explore new places (through the safety of the family mini van) and enjoys leisurely car rides with his mother. He is smart. He can name every exit between my house and my in-laws and knows the name of every bridge in the county! He has a smile that will light up the room and melt your heart. He is void of any sensors and simply says what is on his mind. And as you can imagine this often gets him into trouble. He has one speed which is best described as…supercharged. He has an incredible older brother who is both patient and kind and two loving parents who work hard to help him navigate the world. He is extraordinary! I love him. He is my nephew. His name is Derrick. He is on the autism spectrum.
Statistics show that at least someone you know has autism or is on the autistic spectrum. It might be a neighbor or a friend, a classmate or a family member or a little boy or girl you occasionally see at church. And chances are, at first glance, you don’t even know he or she has autism.
I want my daughter to grow up celebrating and accepting differences. So what’s the best way to help your preschooler understand family members and friends who are extra sensitive because their brains interpret things differently? In our house we use picture books to introduce our daughter to new topics. Picture books are a terrific way to initiate conversations and to build awareness and I am always on the lookout for new titles.
I was recently sent the most amazing picture book, “Stewie Boom! and Princess Penelope: Handprints, Snowflakes and Play-dates,” a new book by author Christine Bronstein with illustrations by Karen L. Young. In the book the teacher explains that like snowflakes and handprints, “No two minds are the same.” Our brains are one-of-a-kind and that is what makes us unique. After the teacher encourages the class to play with someone new, Penelope gets to know Eric who is “on the spectrum.” Eric doesn’t like loud noises so before he comes over for a play-date, Penelope and her brothers practice being quiet and flexible. They also learn how to read body language with their eyes as a way to understand how someone is feeling.
My daughter and I enjoyed reading the book together. The illustrations are colorful and inviting and the message of inclusion is an important lesson for all ages. The author reminds us, “It’s very important to play with people who may seem different at first because they can teach us new ways of looking at the world.” In the back of the book there are helpful tips for special need families as well as tips to welcome special needs families to a play-date. I really liked the friendship goal chart along with the friendship award as they are useful tools to educate children about inclusion.
People, like snowflakes and hand-prints, are individual and unique. And the way our brains interpret the world is just as distinctive. By embracing neuro-diversity and teaching our children techniques to help everyone feel comfortable and accepted; we can provide our children with a gift that will last a lifetime!