I came across this quite unexpectedly whilst browsing the Kindle Unlimited marketplace and recalled seeing something about it go across my Twitter feed recently (which turned out to be the author being made an MBE in the year’s honours list). So curiosity bumped it to the top of my list and I immediately borrowed it and read it.
First off – the illustrations in the book are brilliant. They were done by Ben Mason, an illustrator who is autistic himself. The style is unique and eye-catching, in fact the style of the entire book is great. Even the font is done in such a way that it looks like a child’s writing without being difficult to read or distracting.
In terms of the writing, it’s also written from the perspective of a child, Taryn, so the autistic character, Jake, is described in the language that a child might use. A lot of time is dedicated to the sensory processing part of autism and it is a shame to see that hyper-sensitivity is the only sensory processing difficult mentioned. This isn’t a criticism specific to this book by any means, hypersensitivity just seems to get the majority of the attention and as a result people who are hypo-sensitive to sensory information rarely get representation in books, even those aimed at children.
Throughout the book Taryn implores the reader to be more compassionate towards people with autism, explaining with examples that children may find relateable what it feels like to have autism. Some of these are better than others – the tornado in the head is better than the example of the clumsy and inaccurate postman in the brain, for example. These are all accompanied by Mason’s illustrations.
The accessibility of the language is the book is good. There’s enough detail to explain different things about autism while never drifting into a territory where children might struggle with the terminology. Taryn also describes what people can do to help their autistic friends and it’s good to see this being discussed in a children’s book, especially given the older expectation that autistic children should change for everyone else all the time.
It was a shame to see the unverified armchair diagnoses of famous geniuses trotted out, especially as it felt jarring when it was dropped in after a long section of discussing Jake’s difficulties with sensory processing. It’s understandable that people want to balance out what can be seen as a list of problems or negatives but there are better ways to do this than trotting out a list of geniuses who may not have been autistic at all. Again, a common occurrence in more than just this book.
The next section covers some of the barriers in society and social and communication difficulties. This book does a pretty good job overall of balancing the fact that autism itself can be difficult for the individual and that society does a lot of things that make life difficult for autistic people. This links back into sections where Taryn advises people what they should do to help.
I think, overall, this book has the same setback that many books written with a specific person (in this case the author’s sons) in mind – it ends up being less about autism and more about particular people with autism. Which is fine, after all we are just as different to each other as any other person on the planet. It just means that it only really covers one portrayal of autism. Overall it is an informative book about autism aimed directly as school aged children and the content and the manner in which it’s delivered make it a potentially valuable addition to many classrooms.