Talking to young children about autism wasn’t something I even thought about when my twin boys were in nursery, even though unbeknown to me one of my children was autistic.
Certainly signs of his autism did surface when he was there. Not making friends, a dislike of sticky art materials, getting really upset when the music class was changed to the other room and a passionate dislike of colouring in and learning to ‘write’ over yellow lines.
He didn’t have a full diagnosis of Aspergers for another four years, but I so wish it had been earlier.
The safe nursery space would have been a perfect place to help him and his peers gently understand autism. My book therefore is the quite simply the book we never had when he was small.
Autism is a ‘hidden’ disability that is quite frankly useless at hiding. Young children soon spot those classmates who act differently. As very young children are wonderfully accepting of difference they are also curious, this is why this is great age to introduce autism in a simple, gentle and positive way.
My children went to primary schools where simple sign language was taught to the students to help communicate with with those with hearing difficulties. How great it would have been if students were given simple strategies to help communicate to children with autism who have their own communication difficulties.
I was also very keen to talk about the abilities of children with autism. Children with ASD do have challenges but they also have great strengths too. Isaac the boy in this book, is bright and curious, he’s good at running and jumping, he has great memory and he loves to play. He however does find making friends hard and has a literal use of language, he also has sensory difficulties which can effect his behaviour.
When planning the book with my editor at Walker Books it was important to make it accessible to the three plus age group. As early awareness and diagnosis increases it make it the perfect age for newly diagnosed children, siblings families and classmates.
Autism is lifelong, there is no ‘cure’. However with early interventions and support the ASD child can flourish.
Helping the ‘neurotypical’ children to be more accepting of their classmates in their early years can only help the ‘neurodiverse’ thrive into adulthood.
Isaac and his Amazing Asperger Superpowers! by Melanie Walsh is published by Walker Books.
School Autism Awareness week is from 14-18 March.