How do I explain autism? That is a question that every autism parent is faced with and it was my turn when my son was diagnosed with complex autism at age 5.
Trying to juggle my own mixed emotions of relief on the one hand, and grief on the other, my overriding concern was not my own emotions but my son’s. How would we explain this to him in a way that left him feeling abled, and not disabled? So, I started searching for childrens’ books that would help me with that.
I realised there aren’t many childrens’ books about autism, and the ones I could find were missing what for me was the most crucial message that I wanted my son to take onboard. I wanted him to understand how he is different to other kids, but at the same time I didn’t want him to feel like there was anything wrong with that. But most importantly, I wanted him to feel like this wasn’t going to stop him from achieving his goals and dreams in life. Because knowing what our strengths are and how we can use them, is how we can make the most of life. That’s true whether you have autism or not.
And then, my thoughts went to Superman. I loved watching the Superman films when I was a kid, and suddenly I remembered how Superman can hear people screaming for help when no one else can. My thoughts wandered on to other superhero characters and I quickly realised that most of them have sensory issues!
“The superhero brain can hear things that a lot of people miss.
Like the littlest noise in the grass from a toad
Or a car starting its engine far down the road.”
And that is how the story about The Superhero Brain was born. Explaining what autism is in a fun and straight forward way, but with an emphasis on finding the child’s strengths and to never give up on dreams coming true. Or as someone who reviewed my book said “a mix between Dr Seuss and Dr Martin Luther King”.
I started writing straight from my heart, and the words just flowed out of me. They even rhymed! When I was done, I couldn’t wait to read it to my son but there was something inside me pulling the brakes big time. Because what about my other son, who doesn’t have autism? How could I tell one of my kids he has superpowers and not the other?
Seeing my kids grow up next to each other, there is no doubt that living with an autistic brother has given my youngest son some serious superpowers too. So I wrote him a story called The Superhero Heart. It talks about autism from the sibling’s perspective and by adding a little bit of magic in to the mix, it also gives the child some coping mechanisms for the trickier moments and the difficult days.
“The things that make the brain tired,
are many times easy for the heart because it’s differently wired.”
When I had read the stories to my kids, it was beautiful to see what happened. They had a simple framework to help them explain and understand their differences, and they felt pretty cool too!
My stories were never intended to be shared with the world, but as I started sharing them with family and friends I saw the impact they made and decided to get them published, and a few weeks ago it finally happened!
It is my hope that my stories can help kids understand autism and feel confident in their own abilities, no matter what life throws at them. And to never think of themselves as disabled, but as differently abled. If I could give my son only one thing to take with him in life, that would be it.
“So if you have a superhero brain
work out what amazing things your brain can do.
Then go and use your special powers to do incredible things, you too!“