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Living With Autism

Ronna Mandel  reviews a new picture book that allows parents to start a conversation about autism with their children.

With current statistics at 1 out of 88 children having autism, chances are that either you have a child with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder or know one.  Therefore it makes good sense that we should learn as much as we can to help educate our children.

There’s a saying in the autism community that if you’ve met a child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism because no two children are affected the same way. Keep this in mind when reading David’s World: A Picture Book  About Living With  Autism ($16.95, Sky Pony Press, ages 5-8) by Dagmar H. Mueller with illustrations by Verena Ballhaus and translated by Kim Gardner.

David’s World brings us into the home of a family with one autistic child, David, and told from the perspective of his brother. I was immediately touched by the economy of words in a book that manages to speak volumes about such a serious subject. Every word the author has chosen works, quite powerfully in parts, in this wonderful new 28 page picture book. That David speaks another language, the language of autism is carefully conveyed in page after page and will open not only your child’s eyes but yours as well.

“Sometimes I don’t like David. He’s so different.” This is often a major struggle for siblings of children on the spectrum and it is handled so sensitively and appropriately. “He doesn’t laugh when we laugh, and he doesn’t cry when he’s sad.” But David is his brother and our narrator is going to do everything possible with the help of his parents to understand his brother’s world.

Sometimes David gets angry, sometimes David is sad, and most of the time, according to the narrator, he and David don’t like the same things. And while David likes to play piano and can play amazingly well, by ear, David’s brother plays soccer. However, from time to time he’ll “plop down on the carpet and listen …”  What I found particularly encouraging was that Mueller chose to focus on David’s strengths such as his musical gift and his innate ability to relate to animals such as a neighbor’s dog. This is extremely vital when explaining autism to children. Because it is a spectrum, there are varying degrees of how it impacts a child’s abilities.  Children need to appreciate the whole person and what special qualities every individual has, autistic or not.

Ballhaus’s illustrations are a blend of surreal and spot on when she depicts David with a brick walled body; overwhelmed by assorted annoying noises such as a mixer and a vaccuum; soaring free like a bird at the keys of a piano. There’s also a Matisse-like feel to the colors selected making the illustrations feel positive and complementary to the text.

I highly recommend this original picture book for all that it says and all that it does not have to say.

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Books That Help Make a First Doctor or Dentist Visit a Less Scary Experience

The First Time Series from Child’s Play International, Ltd. is reviewed by Rita Zobayan

My first memory of a dentist visit is of a dark waiting room that led into an office with a Mr. Men mobile over the examination chair and a few flower stickers on the white walls. Many years later, my daughters’ dentist office has multiple flat screen TVs with constantly playing DVDs, books and toys galore, a fish tank, and bright, multi-colored walls. For all the progress in aesthetics, however, a child’s fear of a visit to the dentist still remains.

Illustrated by Jess Stockham, the Child’s Play “First Time” series  of 8 titles ($5.99 each, Childs-play.com, ages 2 to 5) addresses children’s visits to a doctor, dentist, hospital, vet and *more. The easy-to-understand language, depictions of common procedures/situations, and culturally diverse illustrations provide a solid base for a parent to begin explaining what happens at these visits and whom the child will encounter.

Parents of younger children can use the illustrations to point out procedures, e.g., the little mirror goes into your mouth so the dentist can check your teeth. Parents of older children may find the text helpful in addressing a child’s questions and fears. Written from the viewpoint of the child (“I haven’t had a filling before. Will it hurt?”) and from the medical professional (“I’ll put some gel on your gum, so it shouldn’t hurt at all.”), the text provides clear explanations of what happens after the fun and games in the waiting room are over. Each book also features a glossary with definitions for personnel (dental hygienist), instruments (crutches), procedures (taking blood), and conditions (concussion). 

The books also address the more daunting aspects of these visits (an overnight stay at the hospital, an operation and a terminally ill pet).  Again, the simple explanations and matter-of-fact manner allow the parent room to provide more information and reassurance. For example, the Hospital book depicts a child being prepared for an operation. The nurse explains what will happen (“We will give you something to make you sleep. Then we’ll take you for the operation. When you wake up, it will all be over.”), while the mother holds the child’s hand. A parent can use this text to expand further and relate to their child’s situation: “You’ll be sleepy, too and I’ll be with you just like that mommy. When you wake up, I’ll be right there to help you feel better.”

While most children may never enjoy going to the doctor or dentist, the “First Time” series will help them understand what to expect. Of course, the promise of a small treat after a shot doesn’t hurt either.

*NOTE:  In this First Time series, you will find 8 books: Vet, Dentist,  Doctor, Hospital, Big Day Out, Nursery, Sleepover, and Babysitter.

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