Thursday, December 12, 2019

Book Nook: If I Squeeze Your Head I'm Sorry

Autism affects about one in every 59 children in the world, according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. And according to research, one in five kids with Tourette syndrome, meet criteria for Autism. So why is it that there are still misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding the disorders, and what will it take for that to change?

Autistic children can sometimes make easy targets for bullying, according to Time magazine. “Bullying can lead to depression, low grades, behavioral problems and even physical illness because of the stress it causes — and kids with autism may be suffering the brunt of the harm,” says Maia Szalavitz, health writer with Time magazine.

Many children on the autism spectrum comprehend and function very differently than a typical child, and tend to have difficulty understanding social cues, such as hugging and possible boundaries.

12-year-old Rylan thrives and struggles with Autism and Tourette Syndrome. He, along with his mom, Gwen, highlight life beautifully and creatively through the eyes of Rylan in
If I Squeeze Your Head I’m Sorry.

“Rylan is a very affectionate kid who loves to hug,” shares Gwen. “I will not squeeze you unless I love you a lot. When my love comes out, I get so excited and I can’t stop my hands
from squeezing,” shares Rylan.      

This one-of-a-kind picture book will draw readers in before they open the front cover. If I Squeeze Your Head I’m Sorry will ultimately uplift, educate, create dialogue, entertain, and allow readers to enter the brain of a child who sees, feels, and understands the world from a refreshingly unique perspective.  

Why did you write this book?
This book was a product of a homeschool project where Rylan and I studied about being an entrepreneur.  After interviewing a local cafe owner, Lennon, and Rylan talking about his interest in becoming an artists, she offered him the opportunity to host an at show at her cafe. Many months later, we launched his art show about what it feels like living in his brain with Autism and Tourette Syndrome.  The impact of that show eventually lead to transforming his art and descriptions into a book.  It was clear to me that his gift of describing his experiences in the world needed to be shared so others can relate with his insights and learn from his unique giftings.  

Why is it important for people to read books that people with autism have contributed to or written?
I believe it's important to read/learn from people of all different perspectives and experiences.  It's easy to keep our worldview small by staying in our comfort zones and assuming that our understanding of the world is the majority.  When we open our minds and hearts to various perspectives, we're able to treat people with more empathy and appreciation.  When we make an attempt to relate with and better understand the stories of people we don't relate to upon first glance, we learn just how universal our need for acceptance and inclusion are.  

What are some ways that adults can support families who have a child with autism?
Include us and even better, make it known that we belong in your school, your athletic programs, your church and your community events.  Being included is a first step, but when you make it known that our presence is vital to your health as a community, THAT'S when magic happens.  That's when we learn from one another.  It's when our kids see that the world is made up of all abilities and gifts and that we all bring value to every aspect of life.  A culture of belonging is what we crave and when the culture is welcoming and asking us to pull up a chair, our communities will thrive as ONE.

How can parents encourage their kids to be more understanding of kids who may struggle with social interactions due to autism?
Teach your kids how to look for the gifts in everyone around them.  Don't start with challenges and what appears to be a disadvantage.  And talk about our stereotypical "DISabilities" as "special abilities" first.  Rylan has Autism, which makes him the amazing human he is.  Rylan wouldn't be changing the world for the better if he didn't have Autism and Tourettes.  It's his special abilities that make him thrive in who he was created to be and when people around him choose to see him in that light, it's endless how much he and his community learn from each other.  

This book reminds us how absolutely important it is to listen to each other in an effort to truly understand each other, and to assume immense value in one another.  “Our stories matter, and we all have one to share,” echo Rylan and Gwen.

Along with the book, there is a curriculum guide available for teachers, parents, therapists, family members and individuals living with ‘specialabilities,’ as well as a unique online network for connecting, collaborating, conversation, storytelling, idea sharing and education all in the same space. 

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