Friday, April 04, 2014

Great Reads for Autism Awareness Month

With April being Autism Awareness Month, I wanted to highlight my favorite books about autism.  Before we begin, let's look at some facts from the Autism Society of America:
  • 1% of the U.S. population ages 3-17 has autism or is on the autism spectrum. 
  • 1-1.5 million Americans have autism or an autism spectrum disorder. 
  • Only 56% of students with autism finish school. 
  • Costs of lifelong care can be reduced to 2/3 due to early diagnosis and intervention. 

You can't talk about autism without mentioning Dr. Temple Grandin.  Dr. Grandin may be the most famous person with autism; although her primary work is in animal science (she has pioneered ways in which to humanely handle and house cattle), she is a sought-after and influential advocate for people with autism.  Her books are numerous, but my favorite is The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum.  We also have the award-winning Temple Grandin television drama based on her life. You can read my May 2013 review here (I've quoted the entire review): 
Temple Grandin's latest is a must read for anyone fascinated by neuroscience (I love that stuff, so it's right up my alley).  Although Dr. Grandin obviously discusses autism quite a bit in this excellent read, there's a lot about the effect of brain injuries, the way artists, musicians, authors, and scientists use their brain, sensory issues, and much more.  She also shares her concern over the revised (and controversial) DSM 5 (diagnostic manual by the American Psychiatric Association) and her thoughts on treatment and care of people with autism spectrum disorders. Definitely going on my list for top reads of 2013.

I was very happy when Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World was selected as one of the Fauquier County Middle School Battle of the Books selections.  Not only is it a fine middle grade biography of Dr.Temple, but it also includes her advice for children with autism/autism spectrum disorders.

The Tales From Alcatraz series, which starts with the 2005 Newbery Honor Al Capone Does My Shirts, features a secondary character with autism.  As this takes place in the 1930s, autism is not specifically named.  This look at a family living on Alcatraz Island (father is a prison guard) is a memorable historical fiction novel for middle grades.

Nora Raleigh Baskin's YA novel Anything but Typical won the Schneider Family Book Award, Middle Grade division, for its authentic, occasionally funny, occasionally heartbreaking, and inspirational tale of a high-functioning 12 year old boy on his journey to self-acceptance.

We have a handful of the Medikidz series, and I'd eventually like to get more as needed. Unfortunately, not many are available in the United States.  The Medikidz is a group of preteens from the planet Mediland who help children coping with various issues.  Not the greatest of literature, but it presents medical information with a lot of kid appeal.  In addition to Medikidz Explain Autism, we also have Medikidz Explain Breast Cancer and Medikidz Explain Food Allergies.

My Brother Charlie explains autism from a sibling's point of view.  Although it's sometimes hard to understand Charlie, Callie loves her brother very much.  Although he is different from other children, he is very much the same as other children--he loves to swim, play the piano, and play with his sister.  Perfect for very young children who need books about autism.

Cynthia Lord's exceptional Rules received a 2007 Newbery Honor for its unforgettable portrayal of a 12 year old girl who longs for a normal family life--one that isn't constantly disrupted by younger brother David's embarrassing behavior.  Forming an unexpected friendship with a paraplegic boy named Jason makes her question if anyone could really be called "normal" or have a "normal family."

Free Spirit Publishing is a noted publisher of books for children and parents dealing with a variety of difficulties.  The Survival Guide for Kids With Autism Disorders (And Their Parents) is part of their Survival Guide series, which explains coping mechanisms for children with ASD (we also have the ADD and the Learning Differences guides)

One of the most incredible reads I've experienced in the past five years is Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, And the Search for Identity. Yes, it is unwieldy at times, but if you're into developmental psychology, you need to read this!  My longer 2013 review is here (I've quoted the entire review):

Far From the Tree is a DOORSTOPPER. The actual narrative (minus the notes) runs about 800 pages. Yowza. Andrew Solomon interviewed families with exceptional/special needs children (deaf children, autistic children, severely disabled children, prodigies, children with dwarfism, children affected by Down Syndrome, etc) as well as families affected by adult children with schizophrenia and children (some adult, some not) who committed crimes (he interviewed the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine High School shooters, at length).  When possible, he interviewed both parents and children. He also researched the history of how these very different children and adults were educated and treated by society.  There's lots to absorb in this meaty read--not only in the tons of fascinating information about these families and how exceptional or different children have affected their lives, but also in the emotionally charged stories related by the families and their (grown) children. It's an impressive read, but can be overwhelming at times. In the chapter on deaf children, Solomon delivers an outstanding discussion about cochlear implants, giving both sides of the controversy careful due, and explaining both the benefits and significant limitations and problems of these implants. In the chapters on deafness, autism, dwarfism, and Down Syndrome, he interviews activists who challenge the inclination to "cure" such situations with devices, therapy, genetic engineering, prenatal testing, or surgeries, as well as those who support such inclinations. The chapters on adult schizophrenia and parents of criminals are the most challenging to get through; while the chapters on children afflicted with disabilities and disorders offer many stories of struggle, heartbreak, and challenge, there are also stories of acceptance, integration, activism (by both parents and children), and personal growth. Such stories are few and far between in the chapters on schizophrenia and crime (even less so in the schizophrenia chapter). As you can imagine, you really need to dedicate time to digest this book, but it's well worth it.
For more information on autism, check our selections here.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

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