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Poetry Month Shares April with Autism Awareness Month


April is National Poetry Month. It’s also National Autism Awareness Month.
To tie the two together, I wanted to write a poem about autism. I found that it was not so easy!

Like many other things, there are different levels of autism. I got this definition from the Autism Society’s website:
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a "spectrum disorder" that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.”

Asperger’s Disorder is viewed by many to be a milder form of autism. “To the untrained observer, a child with Asperger's Disorder may just seem like a normal child behaving differently.”

I found a few good books for children about autism in our local library.

HOW TO TALK TO AN AUTISTIC KID, written by
Daniel Stefanski
(an autistic kid), illustrated by Hazell Mitchell, Free Spirit Publishing 2011.
Daniel was diagnosed with autism at age nine. He wrote this book at age 14, with some help from his mother. This is an excellent book that helps kids understand autism, and helps them to interact with kids who have it.

Daniel is a friend of mine. He has done many book signings. He talked with me about his book, and he answered my questions through e-mail. You can read my interview with Daniel in my blog post dated June 9, 2011. Click on June 2011 in my archives on the left side of the page here.

MY BROTHER CHARLIE, by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, Scholastic Press 2010.
This is the story of Charlie, told from his sister’s point of view. It’s also the story of a family who learns from Charlie about togetherness, hope, tolerance, and love.

RUSSELL’S WORLD, by Charles A. Amenta III, illustrated by Monika Pollak, Magination Press 2011.
This book gives readers an inside look at a boy with autism and his family. Kids can read about what Russell and his family experience together, including the challenges that can come with autism. Back matter includes a note to parents, how to find services and treatment, how to use this book, and a page about Russell and his family.

Each of these books shows a child with autism at a different level, which I also found interesting.

It’s now been two years since Daniel wrote his book on how to talk to an autistic kid. Mary Stefanski, Daniel’s mother, was recently a guest blogger on Free Spirit Publishing’s blog. Click here to read her blog post, Social Skills Classes Help Autistic Kids.

Near the end of the post is a link to the blog, Autism Speaks, and a post by Matthew Lerner about autism and Promoting Teen Social Skills.

I did write a poem about autism. It will probably be one of those poems that will take me six months or more to get it right! I figured that the next best thing to writing a poem of my own, would be to share some poems written by others. Click here to go to Child Autism Parent Cafe where you can read some poems about autism.

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Author Interview with Daniel Stefanski

Daniel Stefanski is a 14-year old middle grade student and the author of the book HOW TO TALK TO AN AUTISTIC KID. Having been diagnosed with autism about three years ago, Daniel gives the inside scoop on what goes on inside the head of an autistic kid and offers humorous advice on how to be a friend to those with autism. Written in a very direct and straightforward manner, HOW TO TALK TO AN AUTISTIC KID will help readers of all ages to understand and talk to people with autism.

I had the privilege of interviewing Daniel about his book. Here is what he had to say.

What was your inspiration for writing your book, HOW TO TALK TO AN AUTISTIC KID?
I told my mom that I didn’t like the way some of the kids were talking to me at school, so my mom asked, “how would you like to write a book?” and we did.

How long did it take you to write your book?
About two years.

Did you have any help along the way?
Mom and I have been writing down my experiences in a journal for years. Mom typed these up for me and helped make it into a book.

How did you find your publisher?
Mom sent a letter to publishers telling them about our idea for the book.

Did your book receive any rejections before Free Spirit Publishing accepted your book for publication?
Two publishers accepted our book and two publishers rejected our book. We chose Free Spirit Publishing because everyone who works there is very nice, and they write important books for kids.

What were the challenges you encountered in writing the book?
Getting my words out so they make sense. Trying to communicate what I mean.

How did you balance school work with writing? When did you do your writing?
We wrote mostly when I was on school breaks. Mom says “homework comes first.”

Did you encounter any obstacles along the way? What about being only 14? Did that make a difference when you were marketing your book?
I don’t know if being 14 made a difference. I don’t think so. Publishers and other people seem to think it’s pretty cool that a kid wrote a book.

What about doing book signings, and meeting the public since your book came out? Is that hard for you? Do you enjoy it?
It’s been fun. I’m learning to shake hands but it’s still hard to look people in the eye. Mom says looking people in the eye might always be difficult because of the autism.

What has been the most fun part of writing this book so far?
Getting respect from the kids at school. Even the popular kids say “hi” to me now.

What has been the hardest part of writing this book?
Still getting used to seeing my face on a book. It’s kinda strange but a good strange.

What tips or advice do you have for other teens and students who aspire to become an author?
Just do it. If you enjoy writing and being creative, have fun. Don’t worry about what others think.

What’s your favorite book (other than your own book)?
Probably, The Star Wars Character Encyclopedia.

Do you plan to write another book, or was this just one topic that you wanted to write about?
Yes, we are working on a book about Tourette Syndrome because my friend, Patrick, has Tourette’s. Like Autism, I want people to understand that it isn’t a kids fault if he has Tourette’s, and it’s not nice to tease.

Is being an author a career that you would like to pursue, or is there another career that you’d rather do someday?
I want to draw, write, plus make movies and video games.

Did you do your own illustrations for the book? If not, who did the illustrations? Did you need to find your own illustrator for the book? Are the illustrations similar to what you had pictured for the book in your mind?
Free Spirit Publishing hired an illustrator named, Hazel Mitchell. She did a good job of making the illustrated Daniel look like the real Daniel. He even dresses the same.

Adopted from an orphanage in Bulgaria at age four, Daniel now lives in Valparaiso, Indiana. He has a passion for writing and drawing, and is a talented golfer. An animal lover and shelter volunteer, Daniel is surrounded by the love of his mom, dad, stepfather, brother and five dogs.

Here are some links to sites about Daniel and his book.

Free Spirit Publishing: http://www.freespirit.com/catalog/author_detail.cfm?AUTHOR_ID=337

U-tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daqc2qAa0uw&feature=youtu.be

Facebook Daniel at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/How-to-Talk-to-an-Autistic-Kid/206146182737967

e-mail Daniel at: help4kids@freespirit.com
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