Under the Radar (UTR) is a regular review column on the ALAN website that highlights the publications of smaller presses. The most recent column is below; for archives of the UTR column, please see this page.

 

Under the Radar: Bullying and Disabilities

by: cj bott, Sean Kottke, Jon Ostenson, Jennifer Walsh, and (introducing) Myra Infante Sheridan

The mission of Under the Radar has been to feature publications of interest to adolescent and young adult readers from small publishers that may fly under the radar in the book world. While previous columns have each focused on a single publisher, this series of columns will embrace books from multiple small publishers that focus on different populations of adolescents most targeted by bullying, as laid out in Generation Bullied 2.0 (Miller, Burns & Johnson, 2013). Our first two columns in this series took up issues of weight discrimination and the need for more books for, by, and about Latino/a young people and Native American young people. This column looks specifically at the issues of bullying and disabilities, with a special focus on the autism spectrum.

We’re also excited in this column to bring in a new contributor: Myra Infante Sheridan. Myra is a PhD student in Literacy Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She formerly taught high school English in South Texas and Young Adult literature at The University of Texas Pan American. Her academic interests include Mexican American Studies, Young Adult literature, and Creative Writing. Welcome, Myra!

In this column, we feature four books that include characters and families whose lives are impacted by autism. We also have a bibliography which lists other works of fiction and resources that deal with this increasingly important topic.

A Personal Introduction, by Sean Kottke

It’s a mantra in the autism community that “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” For many years, I had to my knowledge only met one person with autism, and at that, vicariously: Raymond Babbitt, from the 1988 film Rain Man. Indeed, in Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal, we can observe multiple facets of the two core elements of an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as laid out in the current edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5): “persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts” and ”restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.” Indeed, Hoffman’s performance was so powerful that a decade later when Crystal, the second person I would meet with autism, joined my Humanities classroom, I was tempted to question the accuracy of her diagnosis. She could carry on a coherent and engaging conversation, albeit somewhat quirkily. She was able to navigate school independently, and didn’t require the assistance of an aide. Sure, she didn’t have a lot of friends, but I chalked that up to her being new in the district. After all, I had met one person with autism; I knew what it looked like, right?

Wrong. Thankfully, Crystal’s mother was the kind of tireless advocate for her daughter’s exceptionalities that we might wish we saw more of in our schools. She provided me with a library of resources on Asperger Syndrome, the particular constellation of behaviors with which Crystal had been diagnosed, and she helped me see that the behaviors Crystal manifested were different points on a spectrum along which Raymond Babbitt’s behaviors could also be observed. This was well before the American Psychiatric Association revised the diagnostic criteria for Asperger Syndrome and autism away from treating them as separately diagnosable conditions and toward conceptualizing them as different manifestations of a single condition, Autism Spectrum Disorder. The range of behaviors that could be combined in generating an ASD diagnosis is very wide, and may have variable degrees of severity. Nevertheless, those several behaviors can be classified into either of the two categories listed above, and when observable in combination from a young age to a degree that limits successful completion of what neurotypical individuals would consider everyday activities, an ASD is present.

Over the years, I’ve met many more people on the spectrum, and despite increasing attention to autism in the media, it often remains under the radar. This was certainly the case with two of the people I know best who’ve been diagnosed with an ASD, my daughter and my stepson. After years of alphabet soup diagnoses and a veritable apothecary cabinet’s worth of prescriptions, both were diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, my stepson in middle school and my daughter well after graduation from high school. They demonstrate unique combinations of behaviors that affect different aspects of their lives, filling idiosyncratic niches on the autism spectrum, yet those behaviors stem from shared ways of perceiving, interpreting and responding to the world. Furthermore, similar degrees of patience, sensitivity to their unique worldviews, and approaches to providing accommodating living and learning environments have demonstrated similar degrees of success in allowing them to thrive and contribute their best selves to our family and community.

It is in this spirit of helping readers better understand the lived experience of ASD that we offer our thoughts on recent books from smaller publishers written for and featuring young adults on the spectrum. Like my stepson and daughter, the characters in these novels are frequently misunderstood by their peers, to the point of ostracism and bullying. In these books, you’ll find protagonists whose uniqueness frequently flies further under the radar than that of the subjects of the books in our previous columns. We hope that through these titles, as well as those presented in the accompanying annotated bibliography, not only will the population of people with autism that you know expand, but that you’ll introduce them to young readers with whom you work to help expand their compassionate understandings of the people in their social worlds. With the Centers for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network currently estimating a prevalence of 1 in 68 children diagnosed with an ASD, chances are, your young readers have already met quite a few.

Featured Title & Author: Haze by Kathy Hoopman

hazebc

In Haze, Kathy Hoopman takes us into the world of Seb, a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome who is most comfortable in the world of computers. He has a friend, Guzzle, who […]. Much of the book moves between Seb’s home, where he spends lots of time with his own computer, and school, where he struggles to understand the social world of high school. To Seb’s surprise, some of the girls in his class reach out to make friends with him; a new computer teacher at the school also reaches out to Seb, seeing beyond his Asperger’s and through to his brilliant skill with computers and numbers.

The story takes a suspenseful turn when Seb gets caught in a web of computer fraud that throws him into a complicated situation; his skill with computers is not enough to figure this out, so he reaches out to a cyber friend of Madelyn, one of his new friends at school. This only gets Seb in deeper, and the book takes several turns before it reaches its conclusion. Haze is a quick and engaging read that portrays the challenges faced by students and teens with a diagnosis of Asperger’s.

Kathy Hoopmann, an Australian author who lives in Dubai, has written many books featuring characters with challenges like those that Seb faces. She has been praised in reviews for the compassionate and accurate way she portrays characters on the autism spectrum. Many of her books have won awards or been shortlisted for awards given to books written about these important topics. You can find out more about Kathy and her books on her website.

screamingbcScreaming Quietly, by Evan Jacobs, is a story about two brothers, one (Ian) who is neuro-typical and one (Davie)who is on the autism spectrum. The book is written from Ian’s perspective, and in many ways Ian is a typical teenager: he really wants to move from the JV team and play for the varsity high school football team and he’s beginning a relationship with one of the school’s prettiest cheerleaders. But at home, he feels like things are falling apart: his parents are divorced and his brother’s challenges with autism are embarrassing to Ian. When Davie is enrolled at Ian’s school, Ian worries that his secrets will be exposed, his friends will abandon him, and his new girlfriend will dump him. Davie’s outbursts at home are difficult enough, but when Davie starts acting out at school, too, Ian struggles with his conflicting feelings.

Evans’ book sensitively and insightfully explores Ian’s conflicted feelings about Davie and his relationship with his brother. Although it’s not told from the perspective of the autistic Davie, it shows a realistic and compassionate portrayal of those who love and live with family members on the autism spectrum.


This book presents a different perspective on a young person with autism, told from the point of view of a “typical” teenager. What does this story gain from taking on the perspective of the “normal” brother with an abnormal life? What unique insights does this choice give readers?

Sean

Screaming Quietly presents Ian and Davey as foils, one neurotypical and one on the spectrum, which allows the reader to contrast how each reacts differently to a series of stressful situations. What’s remarkable is that the contrast isn’t a simple case of what’s easy for Ian is challenging for Davey. Ian has to cope with daunting social pressures, too, which are difficult enough without having to deal with the communicative and social learning barriers that Davey faces. However, the book isn’t posing a simple argument that everyone’s on a spectrum and the differences between Ian and Davey’s responses to stress are just a matter of degree. Early on, Ian observes “Davey’s reactions never changed. Davey never changed” (p. 18). In a low stress moment (for Ian, that is), Ian is able to recognize when Davey is becoming agitated and employ a strategy to adapt the environment in a manner that de-escalates the situation. Later in the novel, Ian is less successful, as he encounters Davey’s agitation from a position of high stress and cannot easily disengage from the moment to help Davey from experiencing a meltdown. It’s moments like the latter that should ring true for readers who are parents, siblings or educators of children on the autism spectrum. We can get frustrated and wish they would just change and “act normal,” not recognizing that it’s our responsibility, as neurotypicals, to meet children with autism where they are and adapt the environment to accommodate them. It’s not that children with autism are incapable of growth, but it doesn’t happen spontaneously in a highly stressful moment teetering toward meltdown. Providing Ian as a foil for Davey and as the reader’s lens onto the siblings’ world brings that sense of responsibility to the forefront in ways that telling the story strictly from the point of view of a child with autism would not.


cj

Well said Sean. It is the teacher’s (parent’s, sibling’s, others’) responsibility to meet each student where he or she is. Which is a huge job and one that not all educators are trained to handle.

What I liked and disliked was that the story was told from the brother’s point of view, because I wanted Ian to be perfect while I was accepting of Davey not being so. Which is what Ian sensed from most people who knew his circumstance. I had to keep reminding myself that both brothers were written to be realistic and needed to be interpreted so.

 

Jon

Sean, your comments lead me back to consider the title of the book and its relationship to Ian. The contrasts drawn between Ian and Davey bring out something critical about the way we connect with those around us. Time after time, I was cheering for Ian to open up and be honest with others about the way he was feeling inside; I especially felt that way with moments when Ian would feel embarrassed about Davey in front of Jessica. Feeling that being honest and open is a foundational piece of any relationship (especially a romantic one), I thought Ian could have benefitted from opening up to Jessica earlier on. We learn later that Ian really admires how “real” Jessica is, and I can’t help but think he admires that in her because he’d like to be more like that himself. Davey’s screaming and frustration is very open, while Ian’s quietly screaming about things that don’t have to be a burden if he would open up. While I don’t think the book is meant to be didactic at all, I do think that it provides insights into how neurotypical young people might authentically handle the challenges of associating with siblings or friends on the autism spectrum.

Did you find Ian a sympathetic character? Why or why not?

Sean

I did find him sympathetic, as his reactions to Davey’s behaviors mirrored those I observed in my own son in reaction to his sister and his stepbrother. As an adult, my son is able to relate to his siblings on the spectrum, recognize how environmental stimuli affect each of them differently, and patiently seek out and employ accommodations that allow all three of them to engage with the world together harmoniously. However, in the thick of adolescent egocentrism and preoccupation with an imaginary audience, he carried the same anxieties that Ian does over becoming a social outcast by association with Davey. Ian doesn’t always make the right choice, but his reactions are sympathetic to the extent that they feel real. What Screaming Quietly does well is provide a case study of an emotional growth trajectory. Early on, Ian recognizes, but doesn’t deeply understand, Davey’s differences, and on a good day he can elect to employ accommodating behaviors that de-escalate potentially explosive situations. However, Davey remains an Other, apart from the norm, and Ian remains in a reactive position, happiest when Davey isn’t around. By the end of the novel, Ian has little difficulty stating “That is my brother” (p. 212), embracing Davey as an integral part of his life and an ethic of care featuring inclusive adaptive learning approaches as a natural part of his social repertoire. One could map Krathwohl’s taxonomy of the affective domain in learning cleanly to Ian’s character development.


cj

I found Ian a realistic character–torn between his role as a helpful older brother and his own independent role at school that he has carefully kept separate from his big brother role. School is the place where he can be seen without his family responsibilities. Many students enjoy being “their own person” without ties to their home life, parents. or other siblings/cousins. School can become an escape where “people only know me as me!”  Evan Jacobs did a thorough job with the character development of these two brothers.


Jon

Sean, I’d like to connect your comments about Ian’s emotional developmental arc to my previous comments about Ian learning to open up to others. We might consider that relational honesty a sign of maturity, and I think the narrative shows how these moves help Ian become a more integral person, where the differing elements of his life are becoming bound into a more cohesive identity. And cj, I agree with your description of Ian as realistic (and the idea that he can be realistic without, perhaps, being sympathetic or even likable). I think compartmentalizing the different personas we adopt throughout our lives is very common, but I wonder about how healthy that is. At first, reading the book, I felt like Ian deserved “a break” from Davey while at school and it seemed healthy for him that he could exist outside of that responsibility. But the more I reflect on the book and the path Ian travels, I think he’s better off integrating those two elements. It’s left me thoughtful about the ways I find myself fragmented at times, with different aspects of my life (as a professional, as a father, as a husband, etc.) sometimes come into conflict.

How did you feel about the portrayal of Davey, Ian’s autistic brother? Especially in light of our reading Naoki Higashida’s first-person account, how did you react to this “outsider” view of an autistic young man?

cj

If I had read Higashida’s story first, I hope it would have given me more insight. Reading it second after several other books on this topic, I felt it held answers to questions I did not know I had.

jewelsbc

Why does everything seem so easy for everyone else? As Jewels recounts her adventures from Kinderprison to Muddle School, she looks for clues to what sets her apart. Could she be an alien, a superhero, or something completely different?

Join Jewels as she explores the confusing – and often hilarious – world of social expectations. Jewels’ journey of self-discovery takes her to some unexpected places, and most surprising of all is finding a little bit of ourselves along the way.


The author of this book chooses a novel approach to share with readers insights into the mind and life of a child with Asperger’s, a form of autism: Jewel, the main character, shares entries in a log she keeps to document and investigate the possibility that she might be an alien. What did this format choice do for you in terms of understanding the lived experiences of kids who are faced with challenges from autism?

Sean

This book reminded me a lot of Cece Bell’s El Deafo in that both protagonists become aware that their perceptions of the world differ from the norm and conceptualize their unique limitations and coping mechanisms as superpowers.


cj

I loved the format as I felt I was witnessing a real kid.   The fact that the author’s daughter suggested writing a book “to help others understand how it feels to have autism” gave it a legitimacy I appreciated.


Jon

I really liked the use of the whole idea of a log of “normal” human behavior seen through the eyes of an “alien.” I feel that captures nicely what it must feel like for many young people on the autism spectrum: that sense that you don’t fit in and that you have to be careful about analyzing everything, especially things that others take for granted. While it’s true that there’s something about not fitting in that many of us can relate to, casting Jewel’s experiences in this way help us see the differences in Jewel’s experiences and come to understand better some of the emotions that kids on the autism spectrum might feel.

Which of Jewel’s entries did you enjoy the most or which were most surprising to you? Please elaborate.

Sean

“I Hate My Mother’s S’s” (Alien Log #14) resonated with me. Both my daughter and stepson have both pointed out that certain tones of voice that I occasionally take (my stepson refers to my teacher voice as “stern voice”) are especially agitating, just like her mother’s slight lisp irritates Jewels. Almost every one of Jewels’ entries illustrated a social challenge or behavioral quirk that characterizes both of my adult children’s experiences with autism, but this one in particular stuck with me. I’ve been involved in public speaking in one form or another since high school, whether participating in theater or debate, teaching, or presenting at conferences, and have carried a certain pride over my talents in that regard. However, it wasn’t until my children brought certain features of my vocal expression to conscious attention that I learned new directions for modulating my voice that have had positive effects in my professional communications, too.


Jon

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jumpbcThe Reason I Jump  by Naoki Higashida. Translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell. Random House, 2013 in USA.

At thirteen, Naoki answered questions about his autism that have been asked for a very long time, and he did this by pointing to letters on a grid (similar to a keyboard), a scribe recorded his thoughts. The one thing that Naoki kept repeating is that everyone expects people with autism to react a certain way and those expectations should not be applied to them as those questions do not fit the lives of people with autism.

In the book, Naoki poses questions about autism or autistic behavior and then provides insightful answers.


Let’s begin by looking at this quote:

Question 15. Why are facial expressions so limited?

Our expressions only seem limited because you think differently than us. It troubled me for quite a while that I can’t laugh along . . . For a person with autism, the idea of what’s fun or funny doesn’t match yours.

. . . when we don’t need to think about other people or anything else, that’s when we wear our natural expressions.

cj

That sounds very logical! And I am embarrassed that I have not understood that before, as I know I often change my face to reflect what I believe the person I am speaking with wants to see, but my honest feelings just instantly show.


Jen

I loved the insight this book gave for people who don’t have any idea what it’s like to live in an ASD mind.  So much of what Naoki said closed so many loops for me.  As a teacher in a school that houses four ASD/SXI classrooms, all with differing diagnoses and ability levels, I feel very unqualified to teach these students.  Naoki’s comments about facial expressions, as well as other nuances we may not understand, helped clarify some aspects of ASD for me.


Jon

I was struck here and throughout the book at how sensitive Naoki is and how aware he is of the way others respond to him. I suppose I’ve assumed in the past that those with autism simply don’t understand social conventions or that they aren’t aware of how different they might seem to others. I’d say that this awareness of how sensitive Naoki and those like him can be is one of the most important things I learned from reading his account.


Sean

As the saying goes, “if you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.” Although there are enough common criteria for the DSM-V to offer diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder (see the Autism Speaks website for a reproduction of the criteria), there are significant enough variations within the two broad categories of persistent social communication deficits and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior as well as in severity as to encompass a striking range of behavioral constellations. The absence of a “theory of mind,” that is, an understanding that others’ perceptions and interpretations of environmental stimuli can differ from one’s own and the ability to infer what others might be thinking, is a frequently cited manifestation of autism, and I found it interesting how often Naoki wrote in third-person plural, as if his experience of autism was universal to all individuals with autism. He does occasionally describe sensations and behaviors that he admits are not part of his experience of autism but do apply to others, but in general, there’s a lot of invocations of “we” and “our.” That might be interpreted as a general absence of theory of mind, if not for the fact that he is frequently able to articulate differences between his perceptions and those of neurotypicals. Temple Grandin, the world-famous animal scientist and spokesperson for autism awareness who is herself on the autism spectrum, displays a similarly high degree of intra- and interpersonal awareness in her writing on autism, to the extent that some critics have tried to claim that she couldn’t possibly be on the spectrum. I think those critics are off-base, assuming that an absence of or at least an imperfect theory of mind is an unchangeable condition of autism. It’s not, and Naoki demonstrates that admirably.


Myra

It’s only been in the last few years that I have developed relationships with people (family and students) on the Autism Spectrum. For this reason, Naoki’s account both challenges me and reassures me. I feel challenged to learn more about Autism, embracing the notion that each individual is unique. I feel reassured that my relationships are meaningful even when the individual may not explicitly express a connection. Naoki’s response to question 15 also helps me to understand that I need to give ASD individuals space. I tend to be the extroverted and enthusiastic teacher, but I need to be sensitive to students, who might find my enthusiasm overwhelming.

Was there a page on which Naoki’s explanation seemed so logical, you were surprised you had not thought of it? Explain.

Jon

I think Naoki’s answer to question six (Do you find childish language easier to understand?) to fit this description. I’m more than bit sheepish at how often I make assumptions about another’s cognitive ability based on their external way of being. I recognize, of course, that speaking more loudly to a non-native English speaker isn’t necessary, but I understand the impulse to judge that might lead us to act that way. The same goes for any other encounter with someone who we see as lacking in some way. I was surprised to read about Naoki’s feelings in response to being talked down to, yet it makes sense that a person as sensitive and aware as he (and others who are autistic) would feel slighted and less worthy when they’re spoken down to.


Sean

Throughout the book, I was struck by the simplicity of many of Naoki’s responses. For example, when asked why he memorizes time tables and calendars, he responds “Because it’s fun!” (p. 79). Although he later notes “For people with autism, living itself is a battle” (p. 97), Naoki frequently describes behaviors that appear peculiar from the outside as sources of joy and comfort. Indeed, while I’ve read a lot of accounts of individuals struggling with autism, it’s rare to find a first-person account of living with autism as joyful as Naoki’s.


Jen

As Sean said, I was also struck by the quote on page 97 about “living itself is a battle”.  I have no idea what it must be like to have all of these thoughts in your head, yet you are unable to articulate any of it.  Naoki’s honesty made me realize how real the fight is.  And, learning how what it actually took for him to write the book was amazing as well.


Myra

Naoki’s ability to convey an idea for his audience impressed me. He often explains his thought process or makes analogies. On pages 2 he says, “This also lets me anchor my words, words that would otherwise flutter off as soon as I tried to speak them,” and on page 41 he says, “If only there was a planet somewhere with a gravitational pull perfect for people with autism, then we’d be able to move around freely.” In this passages he shares the idea of anchoring and gravity. He feels that both his thoughts and body are in danger of floating away. Finding ways to weigh and anchor down allow him to communicate with people and the world around him. This makes me wonder how I can help students to find anchors or to identify when a student’s behavior is an “anchoring” process for them.

Question 25  What’s the reason you jump?

“. . . when I am jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky. Really, my urge to be swallowed up by the sky is enough to make my heart quiver.  

You may not jump, but what do you do when you are immensely happy? Is it that different?

Myra

This reminds me of the euphoria runners describe they feel when running. I wish I felt such euphoria! I will dance around if something I’ve been wanting happens; but, this is usually in the privacy of my own home. We recently installed a dashboard camera in our car for road trips through scenic routes, and we caught my usually quiet husband singing along with a rock ballad! I think all of these expressions of joy mirror what Naoki feels when jumping; he’s just able to articulate the feeling more poetically.


Jen

Thanks for this question.  I find that I get so caught up in the “busyness” of each day that I don’t stop to think about this much.  Ever since I was a child, once in a while I have what I call a “happy tinge” (named when I was about 10).  It’s a wave of temporary euphoria that zings from the top of my head to my toes, and for that short while I feel invincible.  I don’t know what causes it (if I did I would have a tinge daily) but I know that for that time, all is right with the world.  Oh, and I sing-  🙂

Respond to this quote:

Question 58  What are your thoughts on autism itself?

I think people with autism are born outside the regime of civilization. Sure, this is just my own made-up theory, but I think that, as a result of all the killings in the world and the selfish planet-wrecking that humanity has committed, a deep sense of crisis exists.

Autism has somehow arisen out of this.

We are more like travelers from the distant, distant past. And if, by our being here, we could help the people of the world remember what truly matters for the Earth, that would give us a quiet pleasure.

Sean

This quote reminded me of the phrase “an anthropologist on Mars,” which is how Temple Grandin describes social interactions in Oliver Sacks’ essay collection of the same name. The neurotypical world is often times an alien place for those on the autism spectrum (as Seb articulates frequently in Haze), and there’s a tension in parenting and educating children with autism over the extent to which we should accept individuals with autism living peacefully in their own world versus creating accommodations and attempting to shape the behaviors of those with autism to bring them into the neurotypical world. It’s a delicate balance, and I’m convinced only resolvable on the individual level taking the individual’s unique constellation of strengths and limitations into account. Many, including Temple Grandin, have observed that the sensory perceptions of an individual with autism are akin to those of other mammals like cats, dogs or cows, and their reactions to environmental stimuli are similar (see, for example, the picture book All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, by Haze author Kathy Hoopmann). Whether or not Naoki is consciously echoing these authors’ ideas, the similarities between the cognitive processes of humans with autism and those of other mammals suggests a connection between modern and pre-modern humanity via the autistic brain. By attuning our world to better accommodate individuals with autism, Naoki suggests there’s the chance that we’ll make a world more at peace with other inhabitants of our planet that are threatened by what we term “modern civilization.”


Myra

Most of what I know about Autism is from interacting with individuals on the spectrum. One individual told me they were able to be my friend because they never had to guess how I was feeling. Around me they could relax and not stress about trying to decipher social cues. Another individual will talk to me (not with me) in person, but will engage in conversation with me through email. These two examples show me that I have to allow ASD individuals to show me how best to relate to them. In fact, if I did this will all individuals, I would do my part towards what Sean mentions above, making “a world more at peace.”


Jen

Because I am now having to teach students with ASD in the regular classroom, I have learned a great deal in a very short time.  What I have learned is that autism looks so very different in every single student I meet.  Some are quiet, some are boisterous, some are quizzical.  But, it is my job to find a way to connect.  I love the idea of those with autism being “travelers from the distant, distant past”.  Not the future as we like to think, but the past. I feel that after reading these books, people with autism display on the outside, the very core of our humanity.

Did you learn anything new about autism from this book? What did you learn?

cj

When I was teaching, if I had a child on the autism spectrum there was usually an aid or counselor I would work through. This book has given me a whole new definitiion of autism and a patience I did not have before.


Myra

I learned that most of the behavior (and maybe all) that others would consider odd in an ASD individual are actually quite logical and meaningful.


Jen

I learned so much, especially the penchant for order and a love of nature.  I remember how much I learned from the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and this furthered my education and helped me get into that mindset that I am slowly learning.

Is there a question about autistic behavior that is not answered in the book? If there is, what is that question?

Jen

Naoki probably wouldn’t be able to answer this, but I truly wonder how some ASD students end up being so mellow for most of the time and some so easily agitated to the point of aggression.

Would you ever consider writing a book by pointing to letters on a grid? Why or why not?

cj

I believe I am not as patient as Naoki. Though it is similar to typing–after I am done, no one needs to transcribe it. This really is not only an amazing book but came to be through an amazing process.


Jon

I’m with you, cj; I can’t imagine how much patience it must have taken to write this account. Yet I am moved by Naoki’s effort and understand, based on what we read in the book about him, how compelled he feels by the desire to communicate with others. The ease of communication that I experience most of the time is something I’ve definitely taken for granted in my life. I hope that were I faced with a challenge like Naoki’s, I would learn to be patient because I can’t imagine not being able to share my thoughts and feelings with others.


Sean

Naoki’s efforts to write this book are even more impressive considering his admission that his “patience wears out so quickly. I get tired so soon and lose all track of what the sentence was about” (p. 81). Like Jon, I suspect that I would have no other choice than to build up a level of patience and discipline in order to communicate if thrust into a similar situation. Locked-in syndrome is one of my deepest anxieties, though.


Myra

I agree with all of you! Before reading Naoki’s story, I was impressed with people who typed out entire novels on their phones. Jon points out that Naoki feels compelled to communicate with others. This encourages me to observe the “tells” students have for this same compulsion during the writing process. A student may verbalize reluctance to write but demonstrate a desire to communicate in a different mode.

Try to sum up this book in as few words as possible.

Jen

Without trying to sound trite: “Everyone who works with anyone on the autism spectrum should read this book.”


cj

Reading this book will enlighten everyone who has ever known someone on the autism spectrum, no matter how much we thought we knew, this book teaches us more.

Fiction

Picture Books & Novels

Adalyn’s Clare by Kari Dunn Buron. AAPC Publishing, 2012.

With the help of Clare, a specially trained labrador puppy, and the wise animals in the science lab, Adalyn learns to deal better with the ups and downs of everyday life at school.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2004. In this first novel in an ongoing series set on Alcatraz in the 1930s, 12-year-old Moose Flanagan arrives with his family at the prison island where his father works as a guard. Accompanying him is his sister Natalie, who has autism. Alcatraz’s most famous resident becomes a key player in the evolution of Moose’s ethic of caring in his relationship with his sister. The novel is followed by Al Capone Shines My Shoes (2009), Al Capone Does My Homework (2013), and the forthcoming Al Capone Does My Dishes (2017).

The Alien Logs of Super Jewels by BK Bradshaw. Goldmines Publishing, 2015.

By fourth grade, Jewels knew she was different, more different than everyone else’s different, perhaps a super power! Perhaps an alien! With more than her share of energy, sparkling Jewels tackles Muddle School. Bradshaw has packed this book with Asperger’s Syndrome’s characteristics and strategies to handle them.

Blue Bottle Mystery: The Graphic Novel by Kathy Hoopmann, art by Rachael Smith (Jessica Kingsley)

This graphic novel retelling of Kathy Hoopmann’s best-selling Blue Bottle Mystery brings the much-loved fantasy story to life for a new generation of readers. The hero is Ben, a boy with Asperger Syndrome (AS). When Ben and his friend Andy find an old bottle in the schoolyard, little do they know of the surprises about to be unleashed in their lives. Bound up with this exciting mystery is the story of how Ben is diagnosed with AS and how he and his family deal with the problems and joys that come along with it.

Episodes: My Life As I See It by Blaze Ginsberg. Roaring Book Press, 2009. Inviting the reader into his world as a high functioning autistic teenager, Blaze Ginsberg writes his memoir as a tv series with each episode following his set order–exactly the clarity and organization he needs.

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly. Henry Holt, 2010. After sixteen-year-old Drea, who has been diagnosed with a “touch of Aspergers,” and her mom move in with her grandmother, Drea makes friends with Naomi and Justin. Could she have found a normal life?

The Half-Life of Planets by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin.  Hyperion, 2010. Told in the voices of two brainy high school kid — each with baggage. Liana loves astronomy but has a reputation because she loves to kiss and and Hank who loves music, has Asperger’s syndrome and believes no girl will ever want to kiss him.

In His Shoes: A Short Journey Through Autism by Joanna-Keating Velasco. AAPC Publishing, 2008. The story of Nicholas, a 13-year old boy with severe autism navigating the transition from elementary to middle school, conveys the experience of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) for middle school readers. “Points to Ponder” that conclude each chapter provide occasions for discussion with young readers to promote their understanding of peers with ASD.

Isaac and his Amazing Asperger Superpowers! By Melanie Walsh. Picture Book. Candlewick Press, 2016. Told from Isaac’s point of view as he explains how he maneuvers through school, how he occupies himself as his brain is always busy, and how his pets understand him best. At the end of the book  a list of seven websites that focus on Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome is included.

Janine by Maryann Cocca-Leefler. Picture Book. Albert Whitman & Company, 2015.  Based on the life of the author’s daughter. Janine, who knows no boundaries or ways to exclude others, is not invited to a party, so she decides to have her own party and invite everyone!

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke. First Second Books, imprint of Roaring Brook, 2016.  Jack’s mom has to work an extra job for the summer so Jack is needed at home to care for Maddy, who is autistic and does not talk. The two of them go to a fair and a mysterious man gives them a box filled with seeds. Maddie plants the seeds which grow into magical plants with minds of their own and then Maddie speaks!

Marcelo in the Read World by Francisco X. Stork. Scholastic, 2009. Marcelo, seventeen, autistic, and working in the mailroom at his dad’s office, always hears music in his head which his father, a corporate lawyer, does not understand. Marcelo’s story illustrates the challenges faced by adolescents with autism transitioning to adult responsibilities and independence.

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu. Illustrator Erin McGuire. Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins, 2013.

Oscar knows he is different, but the Magician Caleb has given him a job, a place to live, and bread to eat. All of which enables Oscar to have limited contact with people until Caleb goes missing and Oscar has to run the shop and face other challenges–all of which he does very well particularly when he becomes friends with Callie.  Autism is not mentioned but implied in Oscar’s behavior.

Rogue  by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Young Readers, 2013.

An eighth-grade girl with Asperger’s syndrome tries introduces herself to each new kid at school and has done so since third grade, continuing her tradition, she tries to befriend her new neighbor, Chad.

Same But Different: Teen Life on the Autism Express by Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth Peete, RJ Peete. Scholastic Press, 2016.  Ryan Elizabeth Peete and her twin brother RJ write alternating chapters as fictional characters Callie and Charlie as a way to incorporate others’ experiences into their own journey on the “Autism Express.” Since childhood, Callie has acted as Charlie’s second mom, protecting him from bullies, teachers, and strangers. For the first time they are separated as Charlie had to repeat the ninth grade of high school. Callie and Charlie both yearn for independence in different ways. As Charlie encounters new situations with friends who take advantage of him, he also goes on his first date. Callie and Charlie’s parents learn to allow Charlie room to grow. The narrators’ voices are sometimes pained, but often hopeful. As Charlie says, “I have autism, but autism doesn’t have me.”

Screaming Quietly by Evan Jacobs. Saddleback Educational Publishing, 2013.

Ian Taylor lives a secret life. At school he’s a varsity football player, dating one of the hottest cheerleaders on campus. At home he’s his divorced mother’s right hand, helping her to keep his younger autistic brother, Davey, in line. To Ian, Davey is a freak, that no one must ever know about. But it’s a game changer when Davey begins attending a special day class at Ian’s school. Undaunted, Ian continues his charade of denying Davey’s existence, even when Davey has massive public meltdowns. He internalizes his strong feelings–Screaming Quietly inside–until resentment, anger, and embarrassment force him to burst. But his love for Davey and his desire to man up eventually allow him to overcome peer pressure and fully own his life.

The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Ward Kehoe. Viking, 2014. Sixteen-year-old Daisy, over-achiever with strict structure as her defense and her saxophone as her escape, lives with her parents and her severely autistic younger brother Steven, the center of all family dynamics, until his strength threatens the family’s safety.

There Are No Words by Mary Calhoun Brown. Wentworth & Collins, 2012. Jazone McKenzie is a twelve-year-old deaf girl with autism that loves to read and is being raised by her grandparents. One night she admires a painting in their home and one of the figures asks her, “Come with us,” And she does.

Waiting for No One by Beverley Brenna. Red Deer Press, 2010. Main character Taylor Jane Simon is eighteen, lives with her mother, maybe wants to find a job, is brilliant in a very structured way, and has Asperger’s Syndrome. Taylor tells the story and makes the reader love her and her special brand of clarity.

The White Bicycle by Beverly Brenna. Red Deer Press, 2012. Taylor Jane is nineteen and travels to southern France with her mother to work as a Nanny for the sune of her mother’s boyfriend. Taylor is autistic (Asperger’s Syndrome) and yearns for structure and a way to be independent.

 

Other Fiction Titles

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin. Simon & Schuster, 2009. Publisher summary. Jason a twelve-year-old autistic boy wants to become a writer, relates what his life is like as he tries to make sense of his world.

Hate Mail by Monique Polak. Orca Book Publishers, 2014. Shows how a young person learns to deal with autism and depression. Just doing the right thing and standing up can bring about change…A quick and easy read. (Library Media Connection 2015-03-01) Amazon

Haze by Kathy Hoopmann (Jessica Kingsley, 2003)

Seb is a loner. Brilliant with numbers but hopeless with people, he prefers the company of computers and his only friend, Guzzle. Things change for the better when he makes friends with Kristie, Madeleine, and Jen, and a new computer teacher – Miss Adonia – arrives. However, Seb is soon caught up in a web of computer fraud, then lies and turns to Madeline’s mysterious cyber friend for help. Weaving the facts of Asperger Syndrome into the story, this fast-paced book is acclaimed author Kathy Hoopmann’s best novel yet and will be a riveting read for teenagers of all sorts and abilities.

How to Say I Love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo. Feiwel and Friends, 2015. Pub summary. Jordyn is determined no one at school find out her autistic brother has started coming to her elite school.

Just My Luck  by Cammie McGovern. HarperCollins, 2016.  Book flap – Trouble seems to be raining down on fourth-grader Benny Barrows, he hasn’t even gotten any better riding his bike thought his brother George who’s autistic can do tricks on his.

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis. Amulet Books, 2016.  Jacket flap. MC Denise, 16 and autistic, needs to find her sister and help their mom get on the spaceship! Set in Amsterdam in 2034.

Remember Dippy by Shirley Reva Vernick. Cinco Puntos Press, 2013. Publisher Summary.  While reluctantly agreeing to help out with his autistic older cousin during the last summer before high school, Johnny discovers a new friend in his cousin, as well as an appreciation for what really matters in a person.

The World From Up Here by Cecilia Galanate. Scholastic Press, 2016. Publisher summary. Wren Baker is an anxious twelve-year-old, so when her mother goes into a hospital for depression, and she and her younger brother, who has Asperger’s, go to live with her aunt and her cousin, Silver, who has recently moved to Pennsylvania.

 

Resources

Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes by Jennifer Elder (Jessica Kingsley)

Told in the voice of Quinn, who is eight and three quarters years old, and he is autistic. Quinn starts by explaining the history of Autism. Dr. Kanner and Dr. Asperger were discussing some their patients that all seemed to live in their own world. The two doctors named the condition Autism, from the Greek word for “self”. Quinn started to wonder about other autistic people who lived before Kanner and Asperger started their research and discovered some very famous people had this condition–like Albert Einstein, Dian Fossey, Andy Warhol, Benjamin Banneker,  Andy Kaufman,Julie Bowman Robinson, Lewis Carroll, Isaac Newton, and more. There is an essay about each of the twenty people Quinn identifies.

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon. Scribner, 2012. Solomon explores a variety of exceptionalities, including autism, through the child raising experiences of parents who differ significantly from their offspring. Personal stories are informed by extensive historical and empirical research into each of the exceptionalities discussed in the book as well as their effects on family dynamics. Other exceptionalities covered include deafness, dwarfism, Down Syndrome, schizophrenia, disabilities, prodigies, children of rape, criminality, and transgender children. It is one of the most highly acclaimed nonfiction books in recent years.

Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger’s by Tim Page. Doubleday, 2009. This memoir provides a first-hand account of the sensory and perceptual experiences of a child on the spectrum in the kind of clear, relatable prose that Tim Page brought to his work as a Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic. Diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 45, Page helps the neurotypical reader see and feel the world through the senses of a child growing up in a world that is unaware of (and not accommodated to) his differences. The memoir illustrates where the developmental lines between extremely high-functioning autism and merely quirky neurotypical giftedness diverge.

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida, Translated by KA Yoshida & David Mitchell. Random House, 2013.

Naoki, a child with autism, answers questions about being autistic. First published in Japan by Escor Publishers in 2007, the book came to the USA through the United Kingdom and then Canada. Naoki wrote this book using an alphabet grid, as he is unable to speak. From his forward, “I wrote this story in the hope that it will help you to understand how painful it is when you can’t express yourself to the people you know. If this story connects with your heart in some way, then I believe you’ll be able to connect back to the hearts of people with autism too.”   This book is an amazing accomplish that will benefit all readers.

The Ride Together: A Brother and Sister’s Memoir of Autism in the Family, by Paul Karasik and Judy Karasik. Washington Square Press, 2003. This is a stirring memoir of living with a family member on the spectrum. Alternating chapters, in prose and comics, provide extraordinary access to multiple sibling perspectives on growing up (and growing old) with a brother with autism over half a century, a time span much longer than that afforded by most traditional parent-written memoirs of autism. It is unsparing and unsentimental, yet deeply humane.

Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew by Ellen Notbohm (Future Horizons, 2005) Resource Book.  Also by Notbohm, Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew.

Told in the voice of a child with autism by his mother, makes this book enlightening and inspiring. Here are the ten things that child wants you to know:

  1. I am a child.
  2. My senses are out of sync.
  3. Distinguish between won’t (I choose not to) and can’t (I am not able to).
  4. I’m a concrete thinker. I interpret language literally.
  5. Listen to all the ways I’m trying to communicate.
  6. Picture this! I’m visually oriented.
  7. Focus and build on what I can do rather than what I can’t do.
  8. Help me with social interactions.
  9. Identify what triggers my meltdowns
  10. Love me unconditionally.