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)


Wild Orchid, and Waiting for No One – Autism Spectrum

I was delighted when my writing colleague  Beth Stilborn introduced me to Wild Orchid and Waiting for No One,  written by Beverley Brenna, a Canadian author.   Please check out the interview with Brenna on Beth’s site.  Brenna writes about an 18-year-old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, who graduates from high school and begins  her journey into adulthood.    Since there is a large number of teens making this transition, Brenna’s books are very relevant and compelling reads for teenagers, parents, teachers and counselors.

In Wild Orchid, we meet Taylor Jane Simon as she graduates  and prepares to go with her mother to  Waskesiu, Saskatchewan for the summer, in Prince Albert National Park.    Taylor doesn’t like change, or her mother’s boyfriend, and is unhappy about the move.  Taylor’s teacher has encouraged her to keep a diary, so her story is written in first person.  Each chapter is a different length depending upon what Taylor has to say, or her mood.  Taylor’s  journal reveals her anger, disappointment, sadness, confusion, fear, anxiety, and courage to move forward.

Brenna really has a gift for getting into the mind of her complex character and showing how confusing life can be for someone with Asperger’s.  Taylor doesn’t like to make eye contact with people.  She finds social cues complicated and misreads responses from people.  Bright lights and noises bother her.  She hates the color yellow, and sneezes when she is near a yellow object.  She likes her daily routines and she counts everything in sevens.  She has meltdowns when she is overwhelmed.  She is intelligent and can quote facts verbatim.

Yet, Taylor perseveres and lands her first summer job in a nature center book store.   It is here that she begins to grow, discover independence, and gain self-confidence.   The summer in Waskesiu turns out to be good for Taylor and like any ordinary teenager she wants to make decisions about her future.   Taylor is very bright and has excellent verbal skills.  Taylor’s transition is a little more complicated since she falls under the autism spectrum, but her summer leaves the door open for hope for her future.

In Waiting for No One, Taylor has returned home from her summer in Waskesiu.  She has a new pet Gerbil, Harold Pinter, who plays a major role in her life.   She has plans and takes a biology class at a local university.  She rides her bike or takes the bus to class.    She participates in a dance class, travels alone by bus to visit her father in Cody, Wyoming for Thanksgiving, and looks for a job in a book store.

As her world becomes even more complex in this second book,  you find yourself cheering Taylor on as she steps outside of her comfort zone.   As a result, her obsessive-compulsive behavior becomes very apparent when she’s upset and feels out of control.  Swear words roll off her tongue at inappropriate moments, and add to the humor of Taylor.  Other issues of adulthood emerge.  She wants to become independent, when she feels there are others who want to hold her back.

Taylor meets a student in her class, Luke, and they become lab partners.   A real friendship develops between the two, and  Luke is very accepting of Taylor.  Luke invites her to his home to meet his brother, Martin , who has cerebral palsy.  Martin is unable to speak and uses an instrument on his computer to communicate.   Taylor sees Martin’s frustrations and she makes suggestions that are helpful for Martin, but upsetting to his father — more humor.  Taylor understands more than anyone how important it is for Martin to have rights and a voice.  Deep inside, Taylor wants to be seen as an individual and not as someone with a disability.   Some day she just might have that full-time job and an apartment of her own.

I was happy to learn that Beverley Brenna is writing a third novel about Taylor as she continues her path towards independence.

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.