Note: I was contacted by the author Joanna L. Keating-Velasco with a request to consider this book for review. After accepting, she sent me a free copy for review. This is the copy that I will be giving away to a lucky reader. Gently used, I promise. I received no other incentive or promise of blog promotion for my review.
Because of the staggering numbers of autistic kids who are being bullied in school, In His Shoes: A Short Journey Through Autism appealed to me. And, while this is not a book about bullying, it is a book that could help prevent or alleviate bullying of ASD kids.
In His Shoes: A Short Journey Through Autism is written for a middle school audience. The book is arranged in chapters containing vignettes of daily experiences of a 13 year-old autistic boy named Nicholas. Nicholas speaks, but is not conversational. He suffers from sensory integration issues and is often quite frustrated at his inability to communicate his thoughts and needs. Nicholas is enrolled in a self-contained classroom, but attends inclusion classes to learn and socialize with typical kids.
Through the vignettes, we observe Nicholas as he experiences many things common to autistic kids. We also see the experiences of the typical kids who interact with him. Which is important. It can be hard, when worrying and hurting for your bullied child, to remember that kids are kids and usually do not have the knowledge or life experience to understand our children’s eccentricities which do seem weird to typical kids. He (and they) experience such things as: transitioning to middle school, meeting new people, meltdowns, food aversions, being taken advantage of, bullying, birthday parties, being talked about, sibling relationships, sensory overload, adapted curriculum, going to the dentist, and more. Following each vignette, is a “Points to Ponder” section of thought-provoking discussion questions.
I particularly like the design of this book. Having worked with thousands of middle schoolers, I can tell you firsthand that middle schoolers do not care about autism. Middle schoolers care about middle schoolers. They are still very self-centered at this age. It isn’t that they don’t care when faced with another person’s difficulties. It is that they are mostly oblivious to them.
When you want to reach the hearts of a group of 11-13 year-olds, you have to first put them in the other person’s shoes. This is what Keating-Velasco does with the aptly named In His Shoes. Each of the “Points to Ponder” questions asks students how they would feel if faced with the same situation. The questions are excellent, and I can tell you from experience that they would start a wonderful classroom discussion about tolerance, compassion, and bullying. Middle schoolers actually love to discuss these issues – especially when given an opportunity to share their opinions!
I see In His Shoes best being utilized in a group setting. It would be an ideal book to use in 15-20 minute segments. I could see youth groups, peer counseling groups (student led school guidance activities), or classroom teachers using it. It is quite the thing these days to have built into the school schedule advisor-advisee periods – usually once a week or during a short homeroom period – when teachers or guidance counselors lead discussions about topics such as this.
If you are a parent whose ASD child is transitioning to middle school or having problems in his/her school, I would take a copy of this to the guidance counselor or principal and ask if they might be willing to use this with the students. I would go that route first rather than the classroom teacher, as approval would no doubt be needed first. This book might also be useful to put in the hands of siblings of ASD kids (or their friends) who are having difficulty understanding a brother or sister’s needs.
Joanna L. Keating-Valasco also has a similar book geared toward elementary students. As my teaching experience has been only middle school for the past 14 years, I decided I would best be able to evaluate this book. But it might be an option if your child is in elementary school.
In His Shoes: A Short Journey Through Autism is a book written with a specific purpose – opening the hearts and minds of middle schoolers to the experience of kids with autism. Based upon my professional experience, I think it would do an admirable job of doing just that. Highly recommended.
The author’s website and information for ordering: http://aisforautism.net/.
If you would like to enter to receive a free copy of In His Shoes, please leave a comment below. Must be received by February 9, 2012. (Planning to simply draw a name out of a hat!) Question: Have you (or would you consider) visiting your child’s classmates (or having guidance assistance) to explain his or her ASD condition? Why or why not? And, if you did, how did it go?