Autism is a difficult disorder to study, mostly because scientists have yet to understand it themselves. It’s multifaceted, and no individual has Autism in the same exact way. While many individuals share traits of Autism, namely difficulty with social and emotional skills, there are many other struggles that can also be present in the lives of those on the Autistic Spectrum. Still, no matter how difficult Autism is for us to understand, we need to try. We can come up with all the theories in the world as to how Autism is acquired and how we classify it, but not matter what we do, Autism affects the lives of many, many people. It is their reality.
Those of us who work with individuals with Autism, primarily parents, educators, therapists, counselors, and doctors, need to do our best to understand where these individuals are coming from when they don’t do or see life from our perspective. They often struggle with minute details of life that we don’t even think about, and it’s only fair that we put forth an effort to understand their world as they try to live in ours. In order to help these individuals succeed in a world that demands a certain amount of conformity, we have to do our best to make connections, bonds between worlds, and books like this are a great way to do just that.
This is Florida’s story. When this book was published, Florida was a high school student. She often refers to her hardest year as the year she was eight, so it’s somewhat difficult to gather her age at first. According to her therapist’s note at the back of the book, Florida was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 3. She was also pronounced mentally retarded, and had a slew of other problems, such as Dysgraphia (according to the therapist, “an impairment that affects the ability to write letters”), a reading disability, visual-spatial disability, and the inability to play pretend. As you read the book, it becomes apparent that Florida has come a long way since she was 3.
The introduction is perhaps the most important part of the book. The first few pages are Florida’s overview of how children with Autism see the world. Florida introduces us to her topic by explaining that she was debating with a friend over which is worse, Anorexia or Autism. Florida comes to the conclusion that Anorexia is a struggle in the brain akin to a “software issue,” while Autism is more of a “hardware” problem. But that’s okay with her. She’s happy with herself the way she is. (Something I LOVE.)
Florida talks about how it’s easy to assume that children with Autism don’t want to be social. In fact, she refers to herself as an alien who got dropped on the wrong planet. She says, however, that stereotypes about people with Autism not wanting to be social are wrong; it’s not that they don’t want to be, but rather that they don’t know how to be. They have all sorts of struggles and distractions, everything from sensory overloads to not having the time to break down emotional cues in order to interpret the emotions of “humans.” She concludes, however, that with time and practice, it’s not impossible.
The rest of the book covers Florida’s lessons on being human. For example, the first lesson is called, “Step 1: Figure Out Faces,” which is followed by, “Step 2: Figure Out Feelings (Your own first of all),” then, “Step 3: Match the Feelings to the Faces.” And so on and so forth. Most of what she addresses has to do with learning social skills, which she says is the equivalent of learning “emotional calculus.” It’s easy to see that Florida has always desperately wanted friends, but it took her years to learn how to make and keep them. Her lessons in writing are always accompanied by her own illustrations, graphs, and charts that help her sort out the world around her.
The end of the book contains the note from her therapist on Florida’s journey, how she struggled int he beginning and how far she’s come on her journey.
- This book is a bit different than most of my books. Since the writing is done by a student, the writing itself is part of the lesson readers should take away. Misspellings, picture captions, and cartoon speech bubbles can be hard to read, but they’re authentic, and I wouldn’t change them. They tell you more about Florida’s abilities and how she sees the world, as well as what she’s capable of.
- I like how she periodically explains her drawings. Many of them are cartoons and graphs, tools that her therapist prompted her to draw in order to help her better understand the world. This is a technique I’ve seen a student with Autism use in the classroom, and it really helped him. He would use it sometimes to express what he was feeling when he didn’t have the words.
- As an educator, I appreciate that Florida’s therapist, Shelah Moss, adds an “Afterword” section. She explains with more specific vocabulary how Florida has progressed through the years and what types of specific interventions they’ve used with her. It’s only two pages long, but full of useful information. that can be useful to parents who are looking for help and for answers.
There’s really nothing I would change about this book. It’s like a case study all neatly wrapped up in a book that takes an hour to really digest if you study it closely.
There are so many versions of Autism that it’s easy to try and lump individuals together who are on the spectrum. This is a mistake, just as it’s a mistake to say that all extroverted students are verbal learners. Every person will have his or her own symptoms and his or her own struggles. Since it’s difficult for many individuals with Autism to express themselves, however, personal testimonies like this are gems, fountains of knowledge. Like I said earlier, individuals on the Autistic Spectrum are doing their best to fit into our world of conformity, so it’s only appropriate that we try to understand theirs as well. I’ve found in my work that when I strive to do this, my students often surprise me in delightful ways. Everyone wins.
Have you read this book, or have comments you want to share? Please post your questions and comments in the Comment Box Below. We’d love to hear what you have to say! Also, don’t forget that I’ll be sharing more links than usual this week in my newsletter to help with planning a summer for children with Autism. As always, thanks for reading!