Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book Review (Kids): My Brother is Autistic

My Brother is Autistic, by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos, illustrated by Marta Fabrega

I'm posting this review today on purpose, because today is the day that the world as we knew it changed.

It's been exactly six years since we officially learned of Boo's autism diagnosis.

So much has changed in our lives and his since then, some for better, some for worse. On a daily basis, we see strides and accomplishments we never imagined while being reminded of how different our family is and the challenges ahead. Perhaps I'll have more to say about this anniversary in a separate post, but until then, here's this review with a personal perspective.

This was one of those "just in case" books that I'd gotten from the library.

I've mentioned before that Betty, Boo, and I read together every night before bed. We take our respective books upstairs into the guest room and read silently for about a half hour, sometimes more, sometimes less; sometimes pointing out a funny phrase or word, sometimes asking questions, sometimes throwing out a random thought. It is, by far, my very favorite time of the day.

On one of these reading nights in the late fall, I was reading Parallel Play, Tim Page's memoir of growing up with undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome. Boo asked me what the book was about. I took a deep breath and explained the story, that Tim was a bit like Boo in that his brain sometimes worked differently than other people's, that he knew a lot about music, and that sometimes people didn't understand him.

"Why does his brain work differently?" Boo asked.

"Because he has something called Asperger Syndrome," I said.

"Do I have Asperger Syndrome?" Boo asked, almost matter-of-factly. (Too matter of factly, I thought.)

I paused, drew in another deep breath, realizing that this was it. This, right here in the guest bedroom on a November's evening, was the moment I'd been scripting and rehearsing in my mind for nearly six years. The telling. The moment when Boo's world as he knew it would change. Just as mine did nearly six years earlier and would again.

I couldn't lie (as much as a part of me wanted to). I didn't want to over-dramatize this, nor did I want to make it seem no big deal. Still, this had to be handled right, in the exact, right way.

Whatever that was.

I said the hardest four words I ever said - ironically, all too similar to the easiest.

"Yes," I said. "Yes, you do."


And that was it, for a few minutes. I explained how when Tim Page was 8 and in second grade, like Boo, his teacher was upset with him when he wrote a report about a field trip. I read the passage to Boo, who just stared, taking it all in, asking why Tim Page's teacher was so upset.

The subject of Asperger's hasn't been mentioned much since, and that's OK. I think it is the type of thing that will unfold over time. For the most part, this revelation wasn't the drama that I expected. Nowhere near.

Still, I thought that there might be a chance that Boo might mention this to Betty, and indeed, Asperger's was a brief guest at the dinner table a few nights later when we were discussing music and Boo referenced Tim Page. And a couple days later, I found My Brother is Autistic at the library.

My Brother is Autistic is a wonderful picture book for kids, told from the point of view and in the voice of a sister whose brother, named Billy, has autism. They attend the same school where, one day during lunch, another classmate asked Billy if he could have one of his cookies.

"Billy ignored the boy and kept admiring his row of cookies, so the boy asked again. This time, Billy repeated the boy's question, and the boy thought Billy was making fun of him so he leanedover and grabbed one of Billy's cookies. And that's when it happened!

"Billy got mad! He squinted his eyes, started flapping his hands in the air, and squealed really loud. Then he stood up, flipped over his lunch tray, and kept flapping his arms. Billy's shriek was so loud that everybody had to cover their ears. And everybody knew that he was my brother! I was so embarrassed that, instead of trying to calm him down, I ran out of the cafeteria as fast as I could and left Billy with all that mess he had made."

The sister (who is unnamed throughout the story) confides her embarrassment and mixed emotions to her teacher. Together, they create a collage in the classroom of famous people who are on the autism spectrum, including athlete Jason McElwain "who made the winning basket for our [school] basketball team."

"At first I couldn't figure out what all these pictures of people Ididn't even know had to do with Billy, but when Mrs. Smitty asked the class what each person on the board and one in every 150 American kids had in common, I figured it out! All these people, who were so good at doing different things, had autism, just like Billy! Not eveybody with autism will become famous and, just like everybody else, some will be able to do more things than others. And that's okay because that's what makes us all special!"

"Going back home with Billy, I realized that now I saw him not only for who he is, but for who he could become. I told Billy that I was sorry for leaving him all alone in the cafeteria and I promised that no matter what I would never do that again. Billy smiled, touched my shoulder and said, 'you're IT" and then ran away."

I didn't read this book with Betty. I offered, but she wasn't too interested - so back to the library it went. There's probably a good chance that we'll be checking it out again sometime, though, for it is an incredibly well-done book that explains autism in terms that a young child can understand, without being scared or ashamed. It also offers a parent guide in the back of the book.

In addition to being a good book for young children who have a brother (or even a sister) on the autism spectrum, I think My Brother is Autistic would be helpful for others who are close to the child with autism - perhaps cousins who are close in age, friends, or classmates.

This is part of a series of books Let's Talk About It. Other titles include:

Are You Shy?

The Colors of the Rainbow

Daddy's Getting Married

Do You Have a Secret?

I Remember

Lost and Found

Mom Works Too!

My Friend Has Down Syndrome

My Grandparents are Special

My Mom Has Cancer!

When My Parents Forgot How to Be Friends

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


K a b l o o e y said...

Isn't it usually the case that things that we've built up in our minds to be daunting often go smoother than we'd imagined? I'm sure this will be a gradual process for your family, but it sounds like you (and Boo) are in a good place at this point.

I want to ask you about another book I just read, but I'll do that on a different day. Let this one stay about your family.

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) said...

Ask away, Kablooey. (And thanks for the comment, too. There's been a little bit of a silence here on the blog ... felt like I was talking to myself. :)

So yes, ask away.

Mama Librarian said...

Thanks so much for making this post. I appreciate you sharing your family's experiences with Asperger's. That sounds like a book I will definitely need to get for the library.