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A is for Autism, F is for Friend - Book Review

February 3, 2014 - Colleen Carpenter
A few weeks ago, a colleague offered to let me borrow a book, "A is for Autism, F is for Friend," by Joanna L. Keating-Velasco. It was obvious she saw the look on my face as she handed the book to me. She immediately explained that the book is written for kids around 5th and 6th grade, the title just sounded really young. I took the book and decided I'd check it out when I had a few minutes over winter break.

The book is written for the benefit of children who may have a classmate on the autism spectrum. The book is 39 pages with another 15 pages of resources and a glossary. The chapters focus on various aspects of characteristics someone on the spectrum may have. It's written in first person in the voice of Chelsea, a fictitious 5th grader with autism. She explains sensory issues, eye contact, self-stimulation (stimming), echolalia, and what it's like to try to make friends. Chelsea identifies herself as having "severe autism." I wasn't sure how much I'd appreciate or identify with this book knowing that my son would be considered "high functioning." Totally opposite ends of the autism spectrum. But, I read with an open mind and the thought that maybe I would know people who might relate more closely with this book.

I read. I read and I related. I read and I realized that people I know need to read this book to help them understand Lucas. Sure, he doesn't do everything Chelsea talks about and not as often or as obvious as she explains. But it explains, in simple, easy to read language, what it's like to be on the spectrum (or at least what I would imagine it's like.) Then it dawned on me...I should let Lucas read it and TELL ME if this is what it's like for him! Yes, he's 8, but his reading skills are easily above the comprehension level of A if for Autism, F is for Friend.

Lucas identified with most of the sensory information, the eye contact part and the section on stimming. That was enough for me to share this book with his older brother and a friend of the family. I even strongly suggested that Lucas' father read it. All three had the same response. They felt like it was a quick and easy read that gave them information that helped them understand Lucas a little better. It definitely conveyed that what may seem like Lucas being "bad" was really Lucas trying to cope with sensory input. Even a sliver of understanding is worth the 10 minutes it takes to read this book.

If you do want to use this book with kids in school, there are sections at the end of each chapter called "Talk Time." These are questions for discussion and try to put the students in a situation to help them identify with the student(s) with autism.

To sum up: I wish the name of the book didn't sound like it was written for kindergartners. Regardless of where a child is on the spectrum, there will be parts of the book which relate to the individual. Worth a read by anyone in the life of someone with autism.

ISBN: 978-1-931282-43-7


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