Tuesday, August 05, 2008

autism on the brain

There is something about the first summer vacation of my son's life that puts autism in the forefront of my mind. Day after day of unstructured time... utter bliss for some kids, utter torture for an autistic kid. And his parents.

Schedules, clocks, breaking everything down into controllable-feeling chunks of time... these are the days of our lives.

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review: It's Time by Judith Mammay

Note: The only place I've been able to find this book for sale online is Barnes and Noble.

It's Time by Judith Mammay. Illustrated by Todd Fargo. Turtle Books, 2007 (978-0-944727-20-1) $9.95 pb

It's Time follows a school day in the life of Tommy, an autistic boy "mainstreamed" in a regular classroom. Tommy has a hard time when people touch him, it's too noisy, or the routine gets changed, and sometimes that leads to screaming and tantrums. But Tommy doesn't want to scare the other kids in his class, so he is doing his best to keep calm and use his words.

It's Time stands out amongst most other autism books for being from the autistic child's perspective, and Mammay does a nice job of showing how hard Tommy is working not to melt down and demonstrating the tools he uses, like asking "what will happen?" when there's a scary change in routine. The sometimes negative responses of the other children in the class are also depicted; they are reminded by their teacher that "it is Tommy's autism that makes him do this" and encouraged to help him by being quieter when it's too noisy for him.

An artificially high note at the end of the story is a bit jarring--"After that, whenever there was a change, Tommy did better using his words"--but my main problem with this book is the pen & ink and watercolor illustrations, which are unattractive , stilted and oddly proportioned, not maintaining much character consistency from page to page. Insets of a mouse at the bottom of the pages, intended to demonstrate what Tommy is feeling inside, just come off as gimmicky since they basically show the same emotions already shown in the illustrations. Perhaps they would have seemed to have more kid-appeal to me if they were more attractively drawn.

It's Time may be of interest to autistic kids, but its main audience will probably be classrooms like Tommy's, that need some understanding of an autistic child's needs. I actually think the story is inherently interesting enough to have a more general appeal, if the book was redesigned and reillustrated. (6-10)

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