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The Asperkid's Secret Book of Social Rules: Book Review, Giveaway, and an Interview with My 'Asperkid'

The Asperkid's (Secret) Book of Social Rules: Book Review, Give-Away, and Interview With My Asperkid (via Babble)Note: Give-away contest is now closed. You can view the results here.

“It’s not really fair if other people get to know this stuff automatically, and we don’t, because we don’t want to be missing out on something.” These are the words of my my 11-year-old daughter on why other tweens and teens like her need a book like The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens With Asperger Syndrome.

My daughter, known as the Pork Lo Maniac on my blog, has Asperger Syndrome. Formally diagnosed only a year ago, we’ve known for a long time that she’s anything but typical. She also has ADHD, an affinity for all things Chinese, OCD, and an interest in becoming a dendrologist (that’s a tree biologist, by the way).

The Pork Lo Maniac was given early chapters of The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules, and the opportunity to give feedback to the book’s author, Jennifer Cook O’Toole. (Full disclosure: Jennifer also sent the PLM an AsperKids Seal of Awesomeness t-shirt as a thank-you gift.) When the book came out, our family received a review copy, which we’ve read together.

Jennifer  Cook O’Toole, who blogs at Asperkids, is also the author of Asperkids: An Insider’s Guide to Loving, Understanding, and Teaching Children With Asperger’s Syndrome. A third book, The Asperkid’s Launch Pad: Home Design to Empower Everyday Superheroes is due out April 28.

While the Insider’s Guide book is for parents and teachers, the Social Rules is meant for kids aged 10 to 17. If you’ve read any of the Smart Girls’ Guides from the American Girl series, this book is similar to that in its straightforward, upbeat approach. It’s tween/teen-friendly without being patronizing.

The Pork Lo Maniac loves the book so much, and has talked it up so much, that a few of her neurotypical (non-autistic) friends have borrowed it and enjoyed it too. It benefits them in two ways: middle school is a mystifying time for everyone, not just kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders; and it gives them a better idea of things that their friend, the PLM, struggles with.

My daughter and I sat down and talked about the book recently, and I typed word-for-word what she said.

“The thing about social stuff is, everybody assumes that we know it, so it’s not like somebody’s going to tell us,” said my daughter. “It’s hard. You want people to realize what a great person you are, but if you don’t know what their social rules are, and they don’t know that you don’t know, there’s going to be a big mix-up, and they’re going to think you’re just rude.”

One of the things my daughter struggles with is not knowing how she’s “supposed” to react.

“When I really don’t know what’s expected, I just guess. If I’m with my friends, if I react the ‘wrong’ way, they’ll tell me how it makes them feel, and then I can kind of correct myself if I need to.”

I asked my daughter what she meant by reacting the “wrong” way.

“There’s really no such thing as a wrong reaction,” she clarified. “But I don’t want to laugh at something that is upsetting to someone else emotionally. If people don’t tell me specifically how they feel about something, I don’t always know. That’s what I mean by wrong reaction.”

One thing that the PLM really appreciated about the Asperkids book is the explanation that people don’t always mean what they say, and they don’t always say what they mean; they aren’t always looking for the “honest answer,” even when they say they are.

“I wish people could be more clear about what they want,” she sighed. “Why can’t they just say, ‘Please tell me I look nice today.’?”

I tell her I don’t know, but that they just don’t. I tell her that I think maybe it’s “neurotypical” communication that’s weird.

“One of the hardest things is sarcasm,” she said. “Sometimes I can tell right away when someone is using sarcasm, but sometimes I really can’t tell. Like, their voice doesn’t sound sarcastic at all. If I’m with my friends, usually one of them will kind of let me know that someone’s being sarcastic. ”

We talked about the different ways people communicate, and about how some things that Asperkids do (like hand flapping) seems like a pretty expressive method of communication.

“You know, sometimes, the communication problem isn’t us,” she said, meaning people with autism. “But it’s really hard for me to know if it’s me expressing things in a weird way, or if they’re just not really paying attention, or they’re just mean. I know sometimes it’s me, but sometimes it’s the NT [neurotypical person]. But when something doesn’t seem right, we Aspies are always wondering ‘what did I do this time?’ I mean, it’s probably me, but I don’t know.”

One major topic that’s covered in The Asperkid’ Secret Book of Social Rules is friendship: making friends, keeping friends, and knowing whether someone is a good friend or not. This section really resonated with the Pork Lo Maniac.

“I think maybe it’s not just kids on the autism spectrum, though,” she said. “I think it’s hard for other people, too. There’s not a really good way of knowing about people, until things are more sorted out. I think it’s just extra hard for Asperkids, because we’re already clueless about a lot of social stuff.”

I asked her what makes someone a good friend.

“A really good friend is when they know me, and they are understanding about things I do that are different. If I’m confused about something, they’ll believe me if I say that it’s not my fault, I just don’t know. They trust me that I’m telling the truth about that. My friends make things easier for me by telling me how most people would react.”

The Pork Lo Maniac has a small, core group of close friends who represent the whole of neurodiversity. They look out for one another, and they accept each other’s quirks. The PLM has learned, over the last couple of years, to hesitate before trusting people.

“It’s kind of hard for me to know, deep down, how good people are,” she said. “I know I can’t always tell when people are being honest, or sarcastic. And middle school is this whole time where you don’t know what your thing is. You don’t know exactly where you fit in.”

“And sometimes, I wonder if maybe some of the kids who seem mean, maybe they’re really nice but just don’t know how to fit in,” she mused. “And then also, sometimes they’re just jerks.”

I’m sure you can understand why I have absolutely no desire to change my daughter. She’s freaking awesome. What I do want is to help her navigate the neurotypical world and be less stressed by it. The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules is, in a word, perfection. It helps my daughter navigate the neurotypical world without asking her to be anyone other than who she is.

The other thing we love so much about this book is that it’s written by a woman who really and truly “gets it.” By writing this book, Jennifer Cook O’Toole has given my daughter not just some help with unspoken social rules, but also a role model. Since reading this book, the Pork Lo Maniac has taken Jennifer’s lead and embraced her Asperger Syndrome. She was never ashamed of it, but she also didn’t want anyone to know. This book has given both the language and the confidence to talk more openly with her friends about being an Asperkid.

And incidentally, the first step she took in “coming out” to her friends was wearing her Asperkids Seal of Awesomeness t-shirt.

* * * * *

How to enter to win your very own copy of The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules:

  • Leave a comment at the end of this post. Babble blog comments only; Facebook comment cannot be counted.
  • This contest is open between 9 a.m. EST on Wednesday, April 3 and closes at 9 p.m. EST on Thursday, April 4.
  • The winner will be chosen using a random number generator, and will be announced in a blog post here at 9 a.m. EST Friday, April  5.

Please note:

  • Only one entry/comment per person will be counted.
  • Open to U.S. residents only, age 18 or older.
  • After I announce the winner, he or she will need to contact me via e-mail in order for the book to be sent to them. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, an alternate winner will be selected using a random number generator.
  • The prize, your very own copy of The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules, has a list price of $19.95. (But you can get it on Amazon for $14.40.)
  • For Babble’s complete list of rules for Babble Blogger Giveaways, please see this link.

Can’t wait for all that? Buy it now from Amazon.

* * * * *

Read more from Joslyn on Babble and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow Joslyn on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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