BY RICHARD GAWEL
Reprinted from NorthJersey.com
According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one child in 88 has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). That’s a 23-percent increase since the organization’s last report in 2009. That ratio is even higher in New Jersey, which reported one child in 49 diagnosed with an ASD.
In spite of his autism spectrum disorder, Daniel Stefanski wrote ‘How to Talk to an Autistic Kid’ at the age of 14.
While it may seem like an epidemic is underway, the CDC attributes a lot of this increase to improvements in identifying, diagnosing, and treating children with ASDs. It has absolutely nothing to do with vaccines, according to the Institute of Medicine, and the CDC agrees.
Some experts believe that New Jersey ranks so high simply because its medical and educational personnel are particularly adept at identification and diagnosis—and because parents in New Jersey are more aware of ASDs as well.
If you live in New Jersey, you probably know a family dealing with one of these disorders, which can include autism, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. Maybe one of your own children has been diagnosed.
The news can be shocking, even terrifying. Unfortunately, the stereotypes perpetuated in the popular media don’t help. The truth is that children with ASDs can be as intelligent as any neurotypical child, and they can share the same hopes and fears as anyone else.
Fortunately, many books are available to help families and other loved ones understand how these children really feel and what’s going on inside their minds, which just happen to be wired a little differently.
My Brother Charlie
Holly Robinson Peete is known as an actress, primarily for her role on the classic TV series, “21 Jump Street.” But she’s also a mother of four. One of these children, her son RJ, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. So, Holly and RJ’s twin sister Ryan teamed up with illustrator Shane W. Evans.
“My Brother Charlie” is about a girl named Callie and her relationship with her brother, who has autism. Callie describes how she loves her brother, but even when they were toddlers, she and her family realized he was different. There are times when he’s quiet, and he isn’t always affectionate.
However, there are times when he’s very curious and a show-off. He’s also very gentle with their dog, Harriet. Even though he sometimes seems to disappear into his own mind, Callie knows him well enough to see the subtle ways that he shows he loves her, too.
It’s a complex relationship. The beautiful illustrations capture the range of emotions—sadness, confusion, and loneliness, as well as warmth, happiness, and love—that are present in any complicated sibling situation. This brave and honest picture book pulls no punches in depicting life’s sorrows and joys.
As Callie says, “Charlie has autism. But autism doesn’t have Charlie.” It’s an inspiring story that shows how any family can accept the diagnosis without letting it define them. For more, check out HollyRod4Kids.com, a foundation dedicated to education about autism and Parkinson’s disease.
Life can be challenging for kids with ASDs. But they can succeed. They can even write their own books. In fact, Daniel Stefanski wrote “How to Talk to an Autistic Kid” at the age of 14. “I want to help kids without autism feel comfortable around kids with autism,” he writes in the book’s introduction.
He does an excellent job, too. In clear language that’s right to the point, accompanied by expressive cartoons illustrating the different social situations he describes, he explains autism’s general symptoms: difficulties in communication, awkwardness in social situations, and passionate interests.
Daniel describes his troubles understanding figures of speech, reading body language, and maintaining eye contact, and he asks other kids to simply be patient. He also asks for gentle reminders to change topics if he can’t stop talking about something he’s interested in.
Sometimes, children with ASDs have sensory issues. Loud noises, strong smells, or thick textures, for example, can make them very uncomfortable. That’s why their diet or their clothes may seem strange. Again, Daniel asks for simple understanding.
Most importantly, Daniel says, kids with autism can be great friends. They want to get to know other kids and have fun together, sharing interests, activities, and other good times. It all starts with respect and reaching out to those kids who may seem a little different. And that’s how any friendship really begins.