Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Autism and Writing

I’m not sure how many people are aware of the number of children who have been diagnosed with autism. My first introduction to autistic children was years ago when I taught in a school for child development for pre-schoolers with various developmental disabilities. We didn’t know much about autism at the time, but it was amazing how much they changed as we worked with them. No, not miraculous cures, but they tolerated us more and more and actually started to do the tasks we introduced to them.

One of my great-granddaughters had autistic tendencies and started school in special classes. Now at age 11, she’s in regular classes, does wonderfully well in mathematics, in fact, likes to solve math problems for fun. (Certainly didn’t take after me.) Only once in awhile does anything she does have an autistic quality. Here’s one: She loves track and is doing well. At one of the meets she told her dad, “I’m going to try for third.” Her dad said, “Why don’t you try for first?” “No, I’m going for third.” She is a most loving child, likes to hug and be close, something some autistic kids can’t tolerate.

We had a young teenager who attended our church from time to time who was diagnosed as autistic. He was more difficult, didn’t communicate, and some people were scared of him. There was no need to be scared–he just didn’t want to be bothered. He is now in a group home that specializes in autistic young men and doing quite well.

I helped at Vacation Bible School all week and one of the children who came was a beautiful nine-year-old girl with autism. She loved the songs and dancing that went along with them, sometimes would go on stage with the rest of her class, at other times preferred to remain in the pew. She told me she was a mermaid and then asked, “Do you believe in mermaids?” And of course I told her yes.

Now I’m going to bring this all around to writing. In one of the classes, the kids were supposed to fold paper to make a canoe, she said, “I don’t want to. Can I have a pen?” She was given a pen and wrote a story. It was a darling story about a little girl who was a mermaid–she gave her a name–and a little girl who was autistic–she gave her a name too, but it wasn’t her own. These two girls went on vacation with the family. The story ended like this, “They spent a lot of time in the bathtub.” I asked her why, and she said, “Because one of the girls was a mermaid.”

We talked about writing stories and I told her I was an author and wrote books. She was fascinated. Every time she saw me after that she said, “You’re an author, aren’t you?” “I told her she was one too.”

This child fascinated me and in particular the fact that she could write so well and had such a great imagination. I hope I’ll get to see her again some time.

If you’d like to watch a video taken when I was at the Hanford Library talking about my books, here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYf11ShLhKo I had an extremely runny nose that evening.


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