I don't know what it's like to parent a child diagnosed with autism, but I can imagine that one of the first things I'd want to do is soak up a million books and web pages looking for ... well, everything I could, I guess. Information. Experience. Something that would help me understand, encourage, and support my child. For everyone with a connection to autism, there's a new book out that is receiving rave reviews from parents and autism experts alike. Written by Landon Bryce, author of ThAutcast, it's called I Love Being My Own Autistic Self, and it's filled with colorfully-drawn characters who gently explore the complicated issues of neurodiversity through simple, clear language.
As one blogger describes it, this book "helps those of us on the outside understand just a little bit more of what is happening on the inside." Here's more on the thinking behind I Love Being My Own Autistic Self, via a fascinating interview with Bryce:
On how the book came to be:
I had the idea for an autistic cartoon character named Vector several years ago. Many autistic people do not read comfortably and relate better to things that are presented visually, so I wanted to find ways to express important ideas that rely less on words. It took me a long time to figure out what Vector should look like and who his friends should be. I introduced them in a series of images on the thAutcast Facebook page this summer. People responded very positively, and my friend Jennifer Sheridan encouraged me to put them together into a little book.
After several false starts, I found an approach to writing the text that I liked when I stopped trying to write about the cartoons and let Vector speak for himself. Several of my friends, both people who are autistic and people who have children who are, helped me shape the book and figure out what needed to be in it.
Why the main character's name is "Vector":
In graphics, vectors are virtual lines that connect points through defined relationships. The character Vector is my attempt to help readers feel a relationship with the points I am trying to make. And of course, he is constructed from vectors, so it's sort of like naming your dog "Dog."
Why he created a nonverbal character:
Marko is Vector's best friend, and he is nonverbal. He's based on students I've worked with and the kids of friends of mine who don't talk yet. These are wonderful, fascinating, fully human people who are often talked about as though they are less than that. Amy Sequenzia, who uses assistive technology to communicate, was kind enough to make some very helpful suggestions on the text. I tried hard not to minimize the challenges that people like Marko face but to encourage people to reach out and include them.
On how much of the book is based on Bryce's own experience with autism:
Some of it certainly is -- for example, what Vector says about how difficult it is for him to deal with loud noises or other overwhelming sensations is pretty much me. So are the things about how hard it is for him to get along with other people. But for the last few years I have interacted every day with autistic people and their families through my website, thAutcast, and Facebook page. Adam Bailey, who has Asperger's syndrome and whose son has autism, described the book this way: "Landon Bryce has filtered the voices of thousands on his website through his brain and found a simple way in doing so." That's certainly what I tried to do.
On the difference between self-advocation and being opposed to treatment:
The iPad and other devices are allowing many autistic people to communicate in ways that they could not before, and I think that's great. Supports that make the challenging parts of autism less disabling are wonderful things, and we need more of them. Because a lot of the treatments that have been used on autistic people have been damaging, ineffective, or both, many self-advocates sound, to casual observers, like we oppose treatment for autism. I think we need to devote much more energy to researching treatments that will help autistic people communicate effectively and learn things that are hard for us. I guess it's not surprising that a teacher like me thinks we could get the best results for autistic people by investing in education.
I Love Being My Own Autistic Self sounds like an absolutely amazing resource for autistic people, their families, and those who care about them. A quick glance at the Amazon reviews shows how well-received the book has been since it was released just a week ago. As one reader put it, "Landon Bryce takes a very complicated subject matter and boils it down to all that really matters: people on the autism spectrum -- just like the rest of the world -- are all different, in beautifully different ways. And no less worthy of dignity and respect."