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!
My three year old daughter loves puppies and like many children her age she is obsessed with anything and everything Paw Patrol. If you have a preschooler in your life you probably know Ryder and his team of search and rescue pups that protect the residents of Adventure Bay. What started out as an animated series has grown into a franchise filled with a collection of toys and merchandise from books and games to plastic plates and underwear! And to bring the pups from Paw Patrol directly to boys and girls in cities across the world there are currently two touring live stage shows.
Now why did I cry at the show? Well, you might think I cried because spending two hours in a theater filled with preschoolers on a Saturday night isn’t exactly on my bucket list. Or that I cried because my family paid $376.50 for five center aisle seats to see Paw Patrol Live! (this included a discount my friend got us from Citi Bank) My husband felt like crying when he found out he was going to spend a Saturday night seeing Paw Patrol Live while the St. Louis Blues were playing in the arena right next to the theater! But the tickets were a Christmas gift from Nana and we all piled into the mini van and willingly went to the show because it was a dream come true for our sweet little Lillian.
I shed a few tears when the curtain opened and the music started playing and a huge smile appeared on my daughter’s face. Imagine her excitement seeing the beloved characters she reads about in books, sees animated on the screen and loves on toys and puzzles, magically come to life on the stage right in front of her! When Ryder introduced each of the pups on the Paw Patrol team she clapped her hands and sang along to the theme song. I enjoyed watching my daughter more than the show! I delighted in seeing my parents smile sweetly at their little granddaughter, knowing they had made a little girl’s dream come true! And the enthusiasm continued until the actors took their final curtain call and the lights came on.
Seeing the joy on my daughter’s face and experiencing this event with my husband and my parents certainly brought me joy. But what truly brought tears to my eyes is when I suddenly realized that my parents, my husband and I wouldn’t be sitting in this theater, at this particular moment, seeing this specific show, if there was no Lillian. My mind rushed through all of the wonderful things we have done together and all of the experiences we will enjoy in the future because of the little girl sitting next to me. I looked around the theater and every adult was accompanied by at least one little person between the ages of 2-6! I felt honored to be a member of this elite group. Membership I feel privileged to have received and that I will never take for granted.
For a brief moment I went to a dark place and I thought about a life without Lillian. It isn’t something I can ever imagine now but at one time prepared for. During our final IVF cycle (our fourth and final cycle) my husband and I had to accept the statistics and come to peace with the fact that we may never have a child of our own. I thought of the women who continue the fertility struggle and those who may be dreaming of sitting in my seat at the theater at this very moment. My husband and I would have had a blessed life no matter what the outcome but it wouldn’t have been this life. We may have adopted a child or fostered a child but we wouldn’t have this child. We wouldn’t have Lillian and we wouldn’t be sitting together as a family at the Peabody Opera House on this January evening enjoying a performance of Paw Patrol Live.