Book Review and Give-Away: Asperkids by Jennifer Cook O'TooleJoslyn Gray
Since my son received the diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, I’ve slowly been amassing a small library of books on the topic. When he was first diagnosed, I read everything I could about autism and Asperger, trying to wrap my brain around this new label for my son’s quirks. As time went on, I read about sensory therapies and special education. Then my 10-year-old daughter was also diagnosed, and I started reading more about girls and women on the spectrum.
Through all of this, I have found the words of who are actually on the spectrum to be the most informative. Although it seems obvious that a person with Asperger might offer the most wisdom, the majority of books out there aren’t by people with autism. They’re written by neurologists, or psychiatrists, or parents. And while all of those books are helpful, they don’t really give me that inside look I’ve been seeking.
Ms. O’Toole is, by profession, a social worker and a teacher who has worked in both special education and mainstream education. She has three children with Asperger Syndrome. And, Ms. O’Toole has Asperger Syndrome. Having the opportunity to read the words of someone with this particular background is an unparalleled treat. She writes honestly and unflinchingly about herself, her children, and parenting.
Asperkids bills itself as “an insider’s guide to loving, understanding, and teaching children with Asperger Syndrome,” and it truly is. The book neatly covers play, communication, learning challenges, and daily life in chapters that are rich with information, but still easy to understand. Ms. O’Toole tackles difficult subjects like “theory of mind” without sounding like a textbook, and provides usable information for parents and teachers.
One of the teaching methods that Ms. O’Toole addresses is breaking down tasks into steps, something I’ve had trouble with. When I tried to teach my son how to put on his own jacket, I realized there are a lot of very small steps involved in getting that jacket on. Because it’s something that’s become instinctive to me, it was really hard for me to explain and demonstrate each small movement, one at a time.
Reading Asperkids, I see a lot of my my own family in her family. Ms. O’Toole relates that her mother’s nickname for her dad is “the Absent-Minded Professor,” which happens to be the same nickname I use for my husband in my blog. Although my husband doesn’t have Asperger Syndrome, it reminded me of the fact that everyone’s brain works a little differently, and this world needs that.
At a time when I’m getting press releases that labs are now trying to screen for autism prenatally, it’s important to remember that we need the autistic mind. In my life B.C. (Before Children), I did administrative work for a large engineering firm. Looking back, I’ve realized that many of the engineers there had some spectrum-y traits. And that’s a good thing. Who do you want designing bridges, if not someone with intense attention to detail?
Besides the career fields that are typically thought of as Asperger-friendly (science, technology, engineering, math), there are other important jobs for adults on the autism spectrum. One of those important jobs, it turns out, is writing books like Asperkids. And it’s good to note that Ms. O’Toole’s career has included social work and teaching–two jobs that break the stereotype of autistic people not being able to relate to others.
The best part of Asperkids is that it focuses not just on helping kids with Asperger navigate around their areas of weakness, but on helping them capitalize on their strengths. In writing honestly about her own process of learning what she’s good at, and what she’s not good at, Ms. O’Toole gives parents and teachers many insights.
I love that Ms. O’Toole emphasizes the importance of seeing the Asperger child’s “special interest” as something to be respected. The special interest, whether it’s fish, superheroes, Star Wars, ancient Egypt, Littlest Pet Shop, or Harry Potter, is not only positive, but is the ticket to better education and communication. (I had to laugh at Ms. O’Toole’s list of special interests, because in our house we’ve been entrenched in Star Wars, Littlest Pet Shop, and Harry Potter for some time.)
As a neurotypical mom with two kids with Asperger syndrome, Asperkids gave me an inside look into the minds of my own children. Ms. O’Toole’s unique viewpoint really helped me understand how I can communicate better with my kids, support their talents, and help them navigate the world. I’ll definitely be sharing this book with other parents, and with my children’s teachers.
Asperkids is available for pre-order on Amazon.
If you’d like to win your own copy of Asperkids (to be received after official publication in May), leave a comment on this post! A winner will be chosen at random. Note that if you comment just as “Anonymous,” I have no way of knowing who the heck you are. Please leave some sort of name in your comment. Thanks!
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