Thursday, April 30, 2009

Autism and Me Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Autism and Me Sibling Stories
Author: Ouisie Shapiro
Photographer: Steven Vote
Genre: nonfiction, children’s picture book, Autism
Publication: Albert Whitman & Company, March 1, 2009
ISBN: 9780807504871
Full Retail Price: $16.99

My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5 "I Love It"

My Summary Statement: What Living with a Sibling with Autism is Like in the Child’s Own Words; Useful Tool for Parents to Start Discussions with Their Children

This picture book with full color photograph illustrations is a collection of stories written by children and teenagers who have a sibling with Autism. The children appear to range from age eight to nineteen and their siblings are either younger or older than them.

In these stories, the children candidly share details about their sibling’s life including how they are schooled and what their strengths and challenges are. The stories include the neuro-typical sibling’s emotions (positive and negative) about their sibling and how their behaviors, emotions or biologically based issues sometimes negatively affect the family or their experiences doing typical family activities in public places.

Ouisie Shapiro crafted these stories from interviews she had with the neuro-typical children and teenagers. Her crafting of the stories is well done with the same topics being covered in each story. The children whose stories are shared show empathy and perhaps more maturity than their peers may possess yet sometimes their frustration is shared which is entirely understandable for their age. Or perhaps the issue is that the interviewer over-edited the interviews and the younger children come off as being better spoken or more mature than they really are, I am not sure. Regarding the negative emotions, we can’t expect children and young teens to have the maturity level or high patience threshold that some adult parents with children with Autism have been able to summon up. I am happy to see that the stories are realistic and honest which includes some negative emotions as that is their reality!

After reading all the stories the general message and information that I learned is that not all children and teenagers with Autism have identical manifestations of the condition. They are schooled differently and they have different strengths and weaknesses. The challenges and problems are shared but the book is not all negative because within each story the sibling conveys their empathy and love for their sibling despite having to deal with things like public embarrassment, annoyed strangers in restaurants. The empathy and the ability of the children to communicate their emotions, especially the love they feel toward a not always easy to live with sibling touched me.

This book is unique and no other book like this exists on the market today to my knowledge.

I see this book being used as a read aloud to a child whose sibling has an Autism spectrum diagnosis. It is an excellent way to explain how Autism can affect different children in different ways (not everyone with Autism will be just like the child’s sibling). Reading aloud the stories with their positive message as well as expression of some negative emotions felt by the sibling, is an excellent way to start conversations between parents and their neuro-typical child. The neuro-typical child in a family with a sibling who has Autism deserves time and attention from their parents too, and they need their parents to help them process their emotions. For that reason I think this book is a must read and discussions afterwards should be encouraged. The book could be read in parts spread over time (especially if being read to younger children), or it could be read all at once. Owning a copy would allow the family to re-read the book numerous times as good conversation starters which would allow for ongoing discussions not just a ‘one time’ talk.

Kudos to Ouisie Shapiro for creating this book.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book for the purpose of writing a book review for the Amazon Vine program.

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Momzilla said...

I think you, as a parent who does not have a child on the spectrum, have no real understanding of this issues parents or siblings of children on the spectrum face. I would never read such a book aloud to the siblings of my Aspergers kid because it would disrespect both their brother with Aspergers and them. We often talk about the issues their sibling faces and how they are impacted, but not by talking about other people. Autism, particularly high functioning autism, is extremely individual as is each family experience,with or without spectrum issues.

christinemm said...

Dear Momzilla,

Thank you for leaving your honest opinion. I take it you didn't read the book. If you did you may be mad at the author (not just me as one reviewer).

I was wondering if parents with a child on the Spectrum would actually want to read this to their other children. I now have one answer, you say you would not.

I wonder what others have posted as customer reviews on Amazon? If other readers liked it?

Yes it is true that I don't have a child with Autism. I don't know if you know that I have a nephew who is 9 and nonverbal and not at all "highly functioning" and who at this point, they say, will never live independently and will always be dependent on someone with 24/7 supervision. (I have shared that in various blog posts but not within every post I've done about Autism.)

Due to that fact I love someone with Autism I have read a number of books on it so I have some knowledge, enough to realize that the spectrum of how Autism manifests itself is wide. I do know book learning about a condition is not the same as being the parent to a child with Autism.

From the aunt-perspective and as a supporting person to my struggling brother I have more empathy and concern (for the child with Autism as well as seeing the problems it causes for his neuro-typical sibling)-- than just some random person or mother who has not a clue about Autism. And I do realize there are many adults who have not a clue about Autism. (Some of those clueless people are mentioned in the book.)

My heart goes out to all parents with a child on the Spectrum. Parenting is hard enough without adding another level of difficulty.

I also have some friends with children of varying ages on the Spectrum, and know some parents also through my brother and I see how different the PARENTS can be and how each family handles things differently.

Momzilla, I am happy to hear of your conversations with your kids. It is good to hear there is an open line of discussion. However do you realize that not all parents are like you? Some indeed would be happy to use a book as a conversation starter. Similarly some parents cannot even have a simple sex talk made up out of their head and they NEED a book to read to their child to start the conversation. Other parents use children's picture books to talk about character traits and values as they feel without it, no conversation can be started.

Also have you considered that reading the book may help the SIBLING feel open to talk about their emotions? Maybe the parent doesn't need it but the child does, especially a child under 8 years old?

There are parents who are not skilled or emotionally open enough to have good talks with their own spouse about marital issues let alone finding it easy to help their neuro-typical children handle living with a siblign with Autism.

Some parents I know with one or two children with Autism are so burned out and stressed and dealing with reactionary urgent issues all day and just keeping their child safe, that there is little energy left over for what I would classify as "typical parenting experiences" with the neuro-typical child let alone deep conversations about the way the child is handling the issues created due to the sibling with Autism. In some families the neuro-typical child is left alone too much as "they are safe and my attention must be on the child with Autism" or even, "we are too busy with appointments with the child with Autism so the other cannot have friends to play with or do sports or Scouts", thereby further isolating the neuro-typical child.

I still think the book has a place for SOME families. Glad to hear you don't need it. Momzilla, your kids are lucky to have a parent that is able to handle serious talks without guidance or prompts and that you are open and willing to discuss emotions. (Do you know some parents never talk about emotions (about any topic)? I know some people who admit they never do and my own parents never did with me and my brother.)

Thanks again for commenting.