Temple Grandin – Autism Awareness Month

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World

Sy Montgomery, Author

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children,  Biography,  Apr. 3, 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 9 and up, Middle Grade

Themes: Austism Spectrum, Differences are gifts, Revolutionizing livestock industry

Sy Montgomery’s captivating children’s biography about Temple Grandin, speaks to children, especially to those who feel different.  It is beautifully crafted and has all the ingredients for a good book with simple chapters, a lot of photographs, informative inserts, and advice for kids with autism.  We meet her mother, her lifelong school friends, and teachers.  (Depending on the child’s age, parents may want to review the graphic details about the cruelty to animals.)   This book belongs in school libraries, as it helps all children understand that abilities may be the result of differences.

For years, Temple, couldn’t speak a word.   Loud noise hurt, ordinary sensations were torture, human voices made little sense and the certain odors prevented her from concentrating.   Sometimes the only way she could communicate was by crying or throwing a tantrum.   Her father wanted to institutionalize her, but her mother refused.   It would be years before she was diagnosed with autism, as she was born in 1947, and little was known.  But her mother found special schools for Temple with teachers and psychologists who knew how to bring her out.  This was surprising, knowing she attended school in the 1950s and 1960s.

Temple saw the world visually — in pictures –much like animals do.  And it was animals that eventually saved Temple and helped her learn to calm herself as a teenager.  While visiting her aunt’s cattle farm, she would go out into the middle of a spacious pasture, lie down and wait for the thousand-pound steers, to curiously circle around her motionless body.  They would walk up and lick Temples face — she was at peace.   She was introduced to a cattle chute where calves were vaccinated.  The calves heads stick out a hole in the gate head, the operator pulls a rope to press side panel against the animal’s side.  It horrified Temple at first, but she observed this squeeze chute calmed the animal.   She decided to try it on herself with her aunt helping, and she suddenly felt calm, secure and peaceful.   She built a squeeze machine for herself when she returned to school, so she could calm herself.   The school psychologist was not happy, but her favorite science teacher supported her.  He suggested they build a better squeeze machine and conduct scientific experiments on other students to see it if helped them relax.  Success!

These early discoveries and a love for animals were the beginning of a long career studying animal-behavior in college and graduate school, that would open the door to her life work of advocating for more the humane treatment of cattle in the livestock industry.  Her breakthrough designs for cruelty-free cattle-handling facilities are used worldwide.  These designs have benefited the cattle, ranchers and slaughterhouses.  And it was her autism that gave her the special insights and skills to make that difference.

I hope parents with children see possibility in Temple Grandin.  She is a strong advocate for autism and works with many young people.   Although she has learned coping skills, she has autism like many famous inventors and scientists who changed the world.  Temple doesn’t want a brain like most other people have.  “A lot of normal people are fuzzy in their thinking,” she says.  “I like the way I think.   Autism is part of who I am.”   Temple uses her experience as an example of the unique contributions that autistic people can make.  You see beauty in her autism.

Today, she is a scientist, professor, lecturer, and author of many books.  She now focuses on the humane treatment facilities for pigs, sheep, goats and chickens.  In 2010, HBO made a TV movie of her life, starring Claire Danes.  It won an Emmy.

Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism

Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism

Arthur Fleischmann with Carly Fleischmann, authors

A Touchtone Book, Published by Simon & Schuster, Biography, Mar. 27, 2012

Suitable for:  Parents of Autistic Children, Young Adults, Educators

Themes:  Parenting an Autistic Child, Nonverbal, Breakthroughs, Courage, Hope

Opening:  “A news reporter once asked me to describe our a-ha moment with Carly.  He wanted to understand that blinding flash of insight we had about our daughter.  I thought for a moment before replying.  There never has been a moment like that.  Carly has always just been Carly.”

Carly and her fraternal twin sister, Taryn, were born in 1995.  From the beginning they were very different babies.  As early as 10 months, Arthur and his wife, Tammy, noticed Carly was showing signs of delays in her gross motor skills, language, auditory attention and socialization.  By age two, she was diagnosed with severe autism and an oral motor condition called apraxia which prevented Carly from speaking.  Doctors predicted  minimal intellectual development.  Her parents refused to give up in their attempts to reach Carly.  Their lives were filled with therapists who worked with her at home and at school.  In fact their entire family life, which included Taryn and an older brother, Matthew, revolved around caring for Carly.

Arthur Fleischmann, bares his soul as he writes a very raw and honest book about life with Carly.  The sleepless nights, explosive outbursts, chaos, exhaustion, not to mention the huge financial debt they incurred paying for special ABA treatment with two therapists, a nanny, and special equipment.  They were constant advocates, fighting teachers, principals and school boards to make sure Carly received important ABA treatment and attended special schools.  Her ABA therapists saw Carly’s intelligence and worked diligently with Carly using many methods to draw her out.

Hope arrived at age 10, when Carly reached over to the computer and with her index finger typed three words “Help Teeth Hurt.”   Carly was very smart, and this was the beginning of unlocking the door so Carly could find her voice.  It didn’t happen over night.  In fact it took many turbulent years filled with meltdowns, tearing off clothing at night, head banging, and long periods of silence when she’d refuse to type her feeling or interact with her therapists and family.  A significant breakthrough occurred when Carly finally typed to her therapist “Tell Mom and Dad to stop yelling at me.”  “At night when I yell and jump around.  It’s not fun for me.  My legs and arms tingle and I can’t make them stop.  I have to move or it gets worse.  I am hitting myself to stop this feeling.”  She was finally communicating what was going on inside of her and doctors could treat her symptoms that were painful with medication and help reduce meltdowns.  Carly began to calm down and over time and she began to share more of her world in Carly’s voice.   Her therapists and family discovered a very intelligent, gifted, funny and witty young woman who wanted to do normal activities like her brother and sister.  She wanted to go shopping with her mom and to take long walks with her dad.

Epilogue:  There is a special 20-page Epilogue at the end of the book that is written by Carly, who is now 17 years old.   It is funny, insightful and inspiring.   You learn why she calls her voice, her “inner voice.”  You discover that she was talking all the time as a young child, but inside of her head.   One day, she realized that no one was hearing her.  She talks about information and sensory  overload.  She describes her moment of realization that she was different from Taryn and Matthew.  She began to realize on her own that “it wasn’t that I didn’t understand the words, it was that my brain couldn’t focus directly on the conversation.”  This happened when Carly was bombarded with too many noises, bright lights, and smells, which would distract her and put her on sensory overload.   Left to her own resources, Carly taught herself what she calls “audio filtering,” which helped her sort things out.  It is a very hard thing to learn, but Carly did it on her own.  This is just a peek at what this inspiring young woman has done for herself, autistic children, parents and the medical and educational communities. Carly has found her voice and has become advocate helping people understand autism!   You can follow Carly Fleischmann on Facebook (over 32,100 followers)  and Twitter.

The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders

The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents)

Elizabeth Verdick & Elizabeth Reeve, M.D.

Free Spirit Publishing, Nonfiction, Self-Help, Mar. 22, 2012

Suitable for: Ages 8 -13 and Parents

Theme:  Autism, coping strategies, making friends, identifying feelings,  dealing with change and information to help families

Opening:  This book begins with a beautiful introduction to kids from the authors. “We don’t believe in can’t or never.” “If you have ASD, there are differences between you and other people.  But your life can be about can.   You can make friends, succeed to the best of your ability in school, be an awesome son, daughter, sister, brother, or friend, and learn, grow and connect with others.  Never say never.”  And there is a special introduction for parents that focuses on the uniqueness of the disorder.  “Each child is an individual.  They can’t be lumped together because of the vast differences in how they think, learn, feel, behave and communicate.” 

This survival guide is meant for a parent and child to read together so the material can be discussed and questions answered.  It is an informative and upbeat book for children who have been diagnosed within the autism spectrum to learn about themselves and their disorder, and to find coping strategies to deal with daily challenges.  Beginning with a description of ASD and its many symptoms,  this guide includes information about relationships with family members, making friends at school, community involvement, changing schools, feelings, communications, body language,  bullying, playing, relaxation, sleep and personal hygiene.

What I like about this book:   Elizabeth Verdick and Elizabeth Reeve, M.D., are both parents of children with autism and offer a unique perspective.  The guide has a wonderful balance of text, examples, tips from famous people with autism, colorful and  lively illustrations, and stories from kids with ASD.  The book is a great resource packed with tools that kids can use to navigate new daily experiences, find a calm-down space,  talk about a new emotion (I am upset), organize schoolwork and schedules, and eat a balanced diet.  I don’t recommend parents read the book from beginning to end with a child.  It is a resource that can be used when they need help.   The chapters are well-marked and topics easily located.   You will find that this guide will be very handy as your child enters many new developmental stages.  

April is National Autism Awareness Month.   According to a report released March 29 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated number of U.S. autistic kids has skyrocketed by 78 percent since 2000.  Now, one in 88 American kids has autism, according to the new figures.  Among boys, it’s one in 54.  The big question is “why?”   One expert said, “better diagnosis, broader diagnosis, better awareness, and roughly 50 percent of ‘We don’t know’.”   Another advocate said, “we have an epidemic of autism in the United States.”   For more information, visit Autism Speaks.

Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome

Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome

Clarabelle van Niekerk & Liezl Venter, MA, CCC-SLP, Authors

Clarabelle van Niekerk, Illustrator

Skeezel Press, Fiction, 2006

Suitable for:  Preschool to Grade 2

Awards:  2010 Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award, and the 2009 Mom’ Choice Award.

Themes:  Understanding a child with Asperger Syndrome, Helping the child succeed at home and at school, Teamwork

Opening“Sam loved to giggle.  He would close his eyes, throw back his head, and just giggle.  This would make everyone else giggle.  Sam was a happy boy but he was a little different.  He did not like loud noises.  He did not like to rough and tumble with other boys.  Making friends was hard for Sam.”  This is an endearing story about Sam, who  acts differently.  He lives with his parents, his sister and his dog.  Sam doesn’t like his pancakes to touch each other on the plate.  He doesn’t like to wear new clothes because they feel funny.  He builds puzzles by himself at school and the kids tease him.   A fair comes to town and Sam’s father takes him to ride on the Ferris wheel.   Sam loves the feeling of going round and round so much that he slips out of the house later that night and returns to the Ferris wheel.  That’s when his parents realize it’s time to see a doctor.

Why I like this book:  The authors give a realistic portrayal of child with Asperger Syndrome in an upbeat and happy way.   The illustrations are colorful and beautifully support the positive mood of the story.  They show how important it is for the doctors, therapists,  family, teacher and students to work together as a team to understand and help Sam.  Over the months Sam learns to interact with the other students and they include him in their activities.  And, Sam is given his moment to shine at a school event where he shares a very special gift.

Activities:  At the end of the book, the authors have a special discussion guide for students, family and friends.  They offer 10 very helpful tips for kids who have friends who may seem a little different.   These tips will promote a thoughtful and lively classroom or family conversation.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

International Autism Awareness Day, April 2, 2012

Light It Up Blue on April 2

April is National Autism Awareness Month, which will be kicked off today, Monday, April 2, with an International Autism Awareness Day.  Join  Autism Speaks in the third annual “Light It Up Blue” day to help shine a light on autism.  The entire world is going blue to increase awareness about autism.  You can help by changing the light bulb in your front porch light to blue, turning your website blue, reviewing a children’s book on autism, or watching a library copy of the award-winning HBO movie “Temple Grandin,” and learning more about the autism spectrum.

According to a report released March 29 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated number of U.S. autistic kids have skyrocketed by 78 percent since 2000.  Now, one in 88 American kids has autism, according to the new figures.  Among boys, it’s one in 54.  The big question is “why?”   One expert said, “better diagnosis, broader diagnosis, better awareness, and roughly 50 percent of ‘We don’t know’.”   Another advocate said, “we have an epidemic of autism in the United States.” 

This is a unique global opportunity to help raise awareness about the growing public health concern that is autism.  Iconic landmarks around the world will Light It Up Blue to show their support today.   Among the 2,000 buildings going blue last year were the: NY Stock Exchange, Empire State Building, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, Niagara Falls, Al Anoud Tower in Saudi Arabia,  Cairo Tower in Egypt, Great Buddha at Hyogo in Japan, CN Tower in Canada and Sydney Opera House in Australia.

The month will be filled with activities for families and friends, so make sure you check out Autsim Speaks.  Their website has a wealth of information, tool kits for newly diagnosed children, facts, treatment information, research and resources on the Autism Spectrum.  I will be reviewing some new books on autism in April and all year-long.  I hope you will join me!   Light it up Blue today!  

Since April 2011, I have reviewed 13 books in the Autism Spectrum.  You can click on Autism Spectrum and Asperger’s Syndrome in  the “Topics” side bar to the right of my blog to find all the reviewed books.  The titles include Picture Books (PB), Middle Grade (MG), Young Adult (YA) and books for Parents.  Titles include:

I Am in Here: The Journey of a Child with Autism, Elizabeth M. Bonker and Virgina Breen (YA/Adult)
How to Talk to an Autistic Kid, Daniel Stefanski (MG)
Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism and Love from His Extraordinary Son, Tom Fields-Meyer (Parent)
I’m Here, Peter Reynolds (PB)
Mocking Bird, Katherine Erskine (MG)
Wild Orchid, Beverley Brenna (YA)
Waiting for No One , Beverley Brenna (YA) (second book in a trilogy)
Rules, Cynthia Lord (MG)
A Friend Like Henry, Nuala Gardner (Parent)
Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes, Jennifer Elder (MG)
Marcelo in the Real World, Francisco X. Stork  (YA)
Not My Boy, Rodney Peete (Parent)
My Brother Charlie, Holly and Ryan Elizabeth Peete, (PB)

 

Rules — Autism Awareness Month

 In wrapping up Worldwide Autism Awareness Month, I wanted to end my children’s book reviews with Rules, by Cynthia Lord.   This is a chapter book for children in grades 4-7, published by Scholastic Press.  The author won the Newberry Honor and the Schneider Family Book Awards in 2009.   Lord, is the mother of two children, one of whom has autism.  She is also a former teacher and behavioral specialist.

The book cover says it all, “No toys in the fish tank!”   It is one of many rules, that 12-year-old, Catherine has made up to help her autistic brother, David, understand his  world.  There are others too:  Flush!   A boy can’t  take off his pants in public.  This is Catherine’s room.  David must knock!  It’s okay to hug Mom, but not the clerk at the video store.  Don’t chew your food with your mouth open.

Rules, is a very convincing story about the challenges for siblings living with a brother/sister with autism.  For Catherine, it’s about wanting to live a normal life, which is not possible when life revolves around David.  Catherine is an endearing character, struggling with her own identity and wanting to have friends.  She has all the normal feelings of resentment, anger, embarrassment, frustration and jealousy that siblings share.   A diagnosis of autism is very hard on siblings.

Yet for  Catherine, it becomes a fine balancing act.   She loves and fiercely protects her brother, but she also has wants and dreams for herself.    A lot for a 12-year-old girl to handle, as she is attempting to come into her own.  The  rules begin to blur for Catherine as she becomes involved in other friendships.  You begin to wonder who she has really written the rules for — David or herself.   In the end, what is important to Catherine is that everyone is different in their own way.  And, that is okay.

This book is an inspirational read for siblings and their parents, and an exceptional  discussion book for  teachers and students.

Transition into Adulthood – Autism Awareness Month

As many youth within the autism spectrum transition into adulthood, the next decade will be an especially important time.  I want to share one of my favorite young adult fiction novels, where the protagonist is faced with that very challenge.  

Marcelo in the Real World, a brilliant and authentic novel written by Francisco X. Stork, allows the reader to experience the life of a high-functioning  17-year-old boy, who has a unique form of autism commonly known as Asperger’s Syndrome.  Stork has created an endearing  character in Marcelo Sandoval, who is raw and honest in the way he perceives the world.  The book is written in first person, although he highlights Marcel’s flat inflection of voice, his  use of third person in conversations,  and his obsessive interests.  He gives us a glimpse into his mind. 

Marcelo has led a fairly protective life attending private schools for kids with disabilities.  He is looking forward to a summer job as a stable man at the school, caring for the ponies.  As Marcelo ends his junior year, his father, Arturo, feels differently.   He wants Marcelo to experience the real world, and spend the summer working at his law firm interacting daily with workers.  Arturo strikes a bargain with Marcelo.   If he follows the rules of the real world and succeeds, he will be able to decide whether to return to his private school for his senior year, or attend a public high school.  

Marcelo works in the mailroom where he is supervised by Jasmine, a striking co-worker, who confronts Marcelo about his “cognitive disorder.”   Marcelo explains that the term implies that “there is something wrong with the way I think or with the way I perceive reality. ”  “I perceive reality just fine.  Sometimes I perceive more of reality than others.”  Jasmine is very accepting of Marcelo, and finds ways to use his strengths.    

Marcelo also will have to deal with Wendell, the conniving son of Arturo’s partner, Stephen Holmes.   Through his daily interactions with people at the firm,  it’s sink or swim for Marcelo as he learns to navigate  the real world.  Marcelo learns about  competition, anger, abuse of power, betrayal, envy, desire and compassion.  Marcelo is challenged to make very difficult decisions when he’s confronted with a situation of  injustice  in the law firm.  Will Marcelo be able to stand up to his father and Stephen, expose the truth and do what is right?   

Stork really took the time to create an engaging and educational experience for those wanting to journey into  Marcelo’s world.  An excellent book for teenagers and young adults.  It received the Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 2009, the School Library Journal Best Book for 2009, and the New York Times Children’s Book of 2009.

For more information on helping your teenager make the transition to adulthood, contact Austism Speaks  for their helpful  “Transition Tool Kit.”  Over one-half million children will make this transition, and they will want to have homes,  jobs and friends.   This is a societal issue.

Carly’s Voice – Changing the Voice of Autism

What a fascinating month to share interesting stories of the heroes of autism and the daunting work that goes into helping each child transform his/her life.   Although I am not reviewing  a book in this blog, I want to share with you a remarkable story of a teenager.

According to the organization Autism Speaks, 1 in 110 children are diagnosed within the autism spectrum, making it the more common than childhood cancer, diabetes and HIV.  One in 70 children diagnosed are boys.  In the U.S. alone, there are 1.5 million people, and tens of millions worldwide.   Thus, the reason I am going to feature a remarkable teenaged girl who has autism — Carly Fleischmann.   Carly, a twin, was diagnosed with autism at age three.  She has never spoken and she spent her life feeling trapped in her body.   One day she surprised her family and typed out three simple words on the keyboard — help  hurt  tooth.   She was sick and asking for help.  Learning to type on the keyboard unlocked her world.  The rest is history.

Carly was featured on a segment about inspirational teens, on CBS The Talk, April 15, with Holly Robinson Peete.   She has been featured on 20/20, The Today Show, ABC and the Larry King Show.   I hope you enjoy this remarkable video.

She has a website, Carly’s Voice – Changing the Voice of Autism at  and a Facebook following  with over 51,000 fans.  She is also wrote a novel of her life, which I found quite compelling.   She vividly describes in great detail what it is like to live in her body, which some times burns and feels like ants crawling on her skin.   “I am autistic, but it doesn’t define me,” says Carly.  “There are times when I wanted to give up, but I can’t give up hope.”

In the next decade, 500,000 children with autism will reach adulthood and it will become even more important that they are prepared for life, and society is there to embrace their transition.   Children within the autism spectrum are very intelligent and have unique talents in the fields of art, music, science, computers, and math.

On Friday, April 22,  at 2 p.m., The Talk will air the last of its series on autism.   They will focus on the autistic children transitioning to adulthood.  Autism Speaks has a special “Transition Tool Kit” on its website.

A Friend Like Henry — Austism Awareness Month

When I began reviewing books in honor of Autism Awareness Month, I never imagined how much I would grow in my understanding of the complexities of the autism spectrum, and the level of respect I have for those with autism and their families.   One of the things I have discovered is that no children are alike and their methods of learning may vary.  I found that in this wonderful story A Friend Like Henry, by Nuala Gardner.   An international bestseller by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Nuala  bravely invites us into her world sharing with great authenticity the pain, agony and despair  a  family with a severely autistic child copes with daily.   A nurse, Nuala recognized very early that her son Dale’s infant behavior didn’t seem right.  He was simply “the perfect baby.”    He was passive and rarely cried and slept through the night without a peep.  Everyone commented how good he was.  When she shared her concerns with her physician, she was dismissed.   As the months passed Nuala, began to see that Dale was addicted to motion.  When he was with other babies, he was unresponsive.  He learned to crawl quickly and when he discovered his legs he ran on his tiptoes.   One day at a play group, he sat next to a little girl, studied her and then wacked her in the face with a toy.   By the time he was two and three, severe tantrums began when something wasn’t on Dale’s terms.   And, his sleeping patterns changed — he would only sleep two hours at night.  Dale didn’t speak for a long time.  Nuala and her husband, Jamie, were exhausted.   Finally a friend recognized his behavior and recommended a doctor and he was diagnosed with severe autism.

After years of working with Dale, a small breakthrough occurred.   At a family outing, Dale met two dogs and began playing and laughing.   The Gardners had never seen their son so happy.  They took Dale to visit a litter of Golden Retriever puppies, and one dog in particular chose Dale.   The bond between Dale and his new puppy, Henry, literally changed his world.   Within three weeks of having Henry, teachers were reporting significant changes in Dale.   Through his unconditional love, Henry helped unlock Dale’s world and him how to feel, communicate and care for himself.   Henry helped Dale navigate in the world.

Although this book was written from his mother’s perspective, we gain some insight into Dale’s life through his recollections at the end.   There are a number of videos on the web about Dale and Henry.  Just click on:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJSu3G0U5SY

Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes

Since we are midway through celebrating Worldwide Autism Awareness Month, I want to focus  on important individuals  within the autism spectrum who have been successful in life.  I discovered Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes, by Jennifer Elder, who has a son with autism.   This book is a chapter book for children, ages 8-12, with illustrations by Marc Thomas.   Quinn, is an eight-year-old boy, who likes baseball, dolphins and Egypt.  And, he has autism.   He’s shy,  doesn’t easily make friends, and feels different from other children.   One day he discovers that when he draws, other kids in his class gather around him.  For Quinn, drawing helps him find his niche at school.

Different Like Me,  is an exceptional book about the lives of  historical and famous figures who are in the autism spectrum that have made tremendous contributions during their lifetimes.  They have worked in the fields of science, mathematics, philosophy, art, medicine, literature,  music and entertainment  — all the time feeling like social outcasts. These people include Albert Einstein, Dian Fossey,  Andy Warhol, Andy Kaufman, Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Andersen, Julie Bowman Robinson and Temple Grandin among others.   As Elder is quick to point out, tha diagnosis of autism wasn’t made until  the 1940s, by Dr. Kanner and Dr. Asperger, who began thinking about similarities in some of their patients.   She said it wasn’t until the beginning of the 21st century that “we learned more about autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.”

What I like  about this book, is that it really focuses on differences in people.   Elder creates short easy-to-read portraits of the lives of each famous person.   She shares their journey from childhood to adulthood to their achievements.  Each found a way to fit in through a talent as did Quinn.   Each famous person is a role model of what a child can do.  It is a book about what the human spirit can do if given the freedom to fly.   This is a book is a beautiful resource for children with autism, their families, friends and teachers.

I want to mention again, that Friday, April 15, at 2 p.m. EDT, the daily CBS, The Talk, will feature a discussion with inspirational teens who are autistic.   They have done a segment every Friday to promote Worldwide Autism Awareness Month.