Let’s start and do away with the medical definition of Autism –
Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder, beginning in the early childhood and is characterized by deficits in social communications and presence of restricted interests and repetitive behaviors.
These medical terminologies sound just like complex jargon to general population and do not help us to understand people with Autism. But, to be a truly inclusive society, it is essential that we understand these children and adults with Autism and sensitize ourselves. It is equally important that our ‘normal’ children also understand about the diverse nature of people in the society and accept them as they are. Hence, to understand these kids and their challenges as individuals and as families, we can take help of books.
Books can be a very good resource to know more about the characteristic features of children with Autism like fleeting eye contact, lack of initiation of human interaction, preference to be in their own play and work and so on. Here are some different kinds of books on Autism.
Resources for parents of children with Autism
Generally, when their kids are somewhere between the age of 2 to 5 years, parents come to know about the diagnosis of their child for the first time and in such situations too many questions start coming in their minds. Parents are worried about their child’s growth and development, ability to speak, ability to attend ‘normal’ school, ability to lead ‘normal’ life and so on. These innumerable questions sometimes can’t be answered well even by a medical professional. Books on various therapy modalities could be useful and teeming with lot of knowledge, but as a parent sometimes the information can be overwhelming jargon to absorb and understand, and stressful to apply too.
Here, books written by parents of children with Autism can come to the rescue. Parents’ testimonies, their challenges, and the solutions that they found for themselves help other parents to find their answers.
‘Beyond the Blue” by Gopika Kapoor, an Indian parent as well as a therapist herself, lucidly describes her journey of accepting her son’s diagnosis of Autism, and then the challenges she and her family faced, and how she herself then empowered herself by becoming an autism therapist to help other kids and their families.
“In a Different Key : the story of autism” by John Donvan and Caren Zucker is a case series of stories of people with Autism and their families. This book also talks about the history of Autism and various theories like ‘refrigerator mother’ or ‘association between measles vaccine and autism’ etc. and rightfully explains why these theories are refuted. There are various references of films, YouTube videos, other articles etc. mentioned in this book, which can be then explored as one reads more about autism.
Books written by People with Autism
No one can explain better the challenges as well as strengths of Autism than the individuals with Autism themselves. They can provide us with authentic, first-hand information and thus offer us the helping hand to enter their world.
In the book ‘The reason I jump”, author Naoki Higashida, a non-verbal Teenager with autism from Japan answers most commonly asked questions to people with Autism- like why they jump, why they cup their ears, can people with autism speak, etc. He has also written another book named ‘Fall down 7 times, get up 8”. Both these books add to our knowledge and help us understand people with Autism better.
Temple Grandin, an autistic individual, has played a crucial role in bringing awareness about Autism. She is a researcher and consultant to livestock industry, and based on her research, the livestock industry of United States have developed their system of slaughtering the animals calmly, humanely and respectfully. Her life’s work has helped us understand how people with autism too are empathetic and how they deal with emotions.
‘Thinking in Pictures’ tells us about her strengths as a ‘visual learner and thinker’ and how it helped her to empathize with animals who are also visual learners and thus grow as a consultant in livestock industry. In her other title “The Autistic Brain” she talks about her struggles in learning social skills, how she studied dating and then tried her hand in dating and having relationships. She also mentions about her mother whose undaunting support she had all her life.
- Fiction books for Young adults with characters with Autism
Another domain where we can understand and explore Autism are Fiction books. There are many Fiction books in Young adult genre where characters with Autism are part of the story. These books portray the characteristic features of individuals with Autism like their special interests, mannerisms, their sensory issues, their strengths as well as challenges. One such book is “The curious incident of the dog in the night-time” by Mark Haddon where the protagonist is a teenager with Asperger Syndrome (i.e. previously a separate diagnosis, but now included under the term ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder) and he has savant skills in Mathematics. His specific interest in prime numbers is rightly shown in the book by numbering the chapters as 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13 and so on. This book also has a story around his family, the challenges he faces in school and around and so on. It’s a very engaging read and one can actually be ‘ in the shoes’ of this teenager with Autism , because the book is in first person narrative and we can totally feel and understand what happens in the mind of an individual with Autism.
‘Odd girl Out’ by Laura James talks about the struggles of a women with Autism in a ‘neurotypical’ world. She writes about her struggle and discovering about having autism in her forties and her journey from diagnosis to acceptance. Her book highlights that being different doesn’t mean being ‘lesser’ than anyone.
- Books for children
Such books in picture book format or short story formats can be helpful to make children understand kids around them who appear to be different and thus accept differences. Children, by default, are very empathetic and giving them the opportunity to know kids around them better with the help of stories, can bring about acceptance for other kids with special needs like Autism. One important point while discussing books for children is that these books should be read with children instead of letting them read alone. Because, these books are an opportunity for us to discuss with kids various elements of neurodiversity like it’s okay to be different, accepting kids with different behaviours or unusual behaviours and becoming an inclusive society.
One such good title worth mentioning here is ‘Ian’s Walk’ by Laurie Lears where in the dilemmas of a sibling who wants to be there for her brother with autism , but also sometimes feels the peer pressure of ignoring her ‘weird’ brother is beautifully portrayed through this picture book.
There is a picture book named ‘Autism is..?’ by Ymkje Wiseman van der Laan in which a grandmother helps kid with Autism understand what is ‘Autism’. Similarly, other title named ‘Different Like Me’ by Joy Harris Bird explains together different disabilities in one story. We as parents should not hesitate to introduce kids to various topics like neurodiversity, gender equality, inclusion, understanding gender etc. because kids have very accepting brains and empathetic hearts. They can assimilate various differences with ease, if exposed at an early age. As adults, inhibitions that we have bestowed upon as being part of the society are detrimental in making our society inclusive. For this reason it is essential to expose kids to such varied books. Some other interesting titles in this category to mention are “Vibhuti Cat” by Shikhandin ; ‘ Kayu’s world is round’ by Lavanya Karthik ; ‘ Anya and her baby brother’ by Jerry Pinto; Understanding Samantha by Dustin Daniels.
- Books by Professionals for general public(Non-academic books for professionals)
Lucid in language and descriptive enough to absorb and assimilate the information given, books by Oliver Sacks play a pivotal role in putting light on the topic of Autism. His books titled ‘An anthropologist on mars’ and ‘the man who mistook his wife for a hat’ are such books which help us explore Autism in detail. One more simple and short book which could be useful to understand communication with children with autism is ‘How to talk to An Autistic Child’ by Chris Wilson.
So, as we can see there is a sea of resources for us to read and explore and understand Autism. All we have to do is begin somewhere and start swimming in this world of books. For more details on books on Autism, click on the following link for Youtube video.