Tag Archives: early years

My Brother is an Astronaut – a story book to explain Autism to young children

Guest blog from Michelle Rundle. Michelle is an occupational therapist who supports disabled children and their families. She has previously written a book for Scope with a parent called Haylee’s Friends and has now written a new book called My Brother is an Astronaut.

About this time last year, Haylee’s Friends was launched by Scope. It is a story to help explain what cerebral palsy is to a young child. There were several comments from various people who read it,  that there ought to be a series of stories explaining different disabilities to children and many suggestions were made as to what the next book should be about. One of the suggestions was autism.

Autism is a condition that fascinates me and has for a long time. More specifically, it is understanding how children and young people with autism might experience the world and how that differs from most people that is particularly of interest. I am very aware that understanding this can be a key part of helping these children and their families manage and get through each day, but that it isn’t always an easy topic to get to grips with as adults. It is even more tricky then for siblings, peers, friends and classmates. So the idea for  “My brother is an Astronaut” was born. Oddly enough, I knew what the title was going to be before I’d even written the opening sentence!

I know that there are lots of children – and adults! – in the world whose sensory experience and therefore understanding of the world is a little “different”. It isn’t the exclusive domain of people with autism, so autism isn’t mentioned in the story. People with ADHD, ADD can have difficulties in this area too, as well as some children who are a bit “quirky” and don’t fit into any particular category. This book is written for them and for those they spend their days with to try and help give an insight into their experience of the world. It was written with children aged 5-8 in mind, but could have relevance outside of that age range.

Condensing all of the possible sensory processing tendencies and differences into a short children’s story is not possible and I did not want to over simplify it either. So it is perhaps most useful as a starting place to recognising that there might be diffirences and realising that sometimes there is a reason why children in the classroom or at home do things that are a bit annoying or don’t seem to make sense. It won’t provide the answers, but it will hopefully get people thinking.

In writing it, I have included some of the tendencies and habits of a range of children that I have met and worked with in my job as a paediatric Occupational Therapist over the past 20 years. They and their families have taught me so much. I do wonder how many will recognise their child’s particular “quirk” when they read the book. I hope they do!

My Brother is an Astronaut is now available to buy on Amazon Kindle. 

Read tips from the online community about siblings.

Haylee’s friends

A guest blog from Emma, author of Haylee’s friends, a new story book for young disabled children.

Haylee's friends ebook cover

About a year ago my daughter, Molly, became aware her left hand didn’t always do the things she wanted it to do. Sometimes she got quite cross with it when it was uncooperative. It has a habit of going off at an unhelpful angle which is awkward for her and gets in the way.

Molly’s frustration prompted me to look for some books to help explain in simple terms what cerebral palsy is. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything that was child friendly or presented cerebral palsy in a positive way.

After some encouragement from friends, and of course motivated by Molly’s questions, I contacted Scope to see if they had any story books to help Molly understand. As our conversations went on I asked if they would help me write a book to answer these questions, they agreed.

Getting started

I arranged to meet one of the Scope team at the Kidz up North exhibition 2012 to discuss our ideas. Whilst at the exhibition I bumped into Molly’s occupational therapist Michelle and we got chatting about what I was doing at the exhibition.

A couple of days later Michelle emailed me offering to write the book with us, and so the project started. Michelle had never written a children’s story before but it was on her “one day I would like to do” list, all she needed was some inspiration! After a few luxury hot chocolate meetings, the story started to take shape.

Michelle spoke with speech and language and physiotherapy colleagues to hear what they would like to have included in the story. She also met up with a family that she has been involved with for a number of years and asked both the parents and the older child with cerebral palsy, “if this book had been around when you/your child started school, what would you have wanted it to say?”

The answers were to provide the central theme of the story.

“Never say it is all going to be okay, because it isn’t. But if you do your exercises and wear your splints, it can make things a lot easier”. And “however hard it is and however much you don’t want to, always answer your child’s questions truthfully”.

Molly’s help

Throughout the process of developing the story, Molly insisted on being part of it, giving us lots of inspirational ideas and letting us know if she didn’t like something. She vetoed some of the illustrations, like the original pictures of Lilly, the walker, which were met with a very disapproving face from Molly! She also gave us suggestions of what to include, like using her fork and knife and helping to name the characters. Most importantly, she wanted our family dog to be the model for Toby in the illustrations.

Now Haylee’s Friends is published Molly is our best advocate for it. She loves sharing it with anybody willing to sit down with her. Visitors to the family home this summer have all benefitted from Molly sharing “her” book with them and her school friends have commented that “it tells you the things that help Haylee” and “I like the bit when the lead gets tangled up.”

The story has really helped Molly to understand why her body behaves like it does and it has helped her to share this new understanding with the people she meets. Now we hope that Haylee’s Friends helps other children, their families and friends in the way it has helped Molly. Already it is making its way into primary schools in the Harrogate District, it has been shared at Portage training sessions and is appearing in Children’s Centres, Child Development Centres and libraries.

We are all so excited and we hope to have a celebration and launch somewhere local to where it was written and where the hot chocolate was drunk very soon.

A limited number of hard copies are available. If you would like a copy please call 02920 815 452 or email training@scope.org.uk. You can also buy it as an ebook on Amazon.

Supporting parents of disabled children

Guest post from Jackie Logue – Scope Early Years Training Manager and the author of Working with parents: Of Children with Additional Needs (Inclusion).

At the Kidz South conference, Scope Early Years Training Manager Jackie Logue gave a presentation called Parent Support to help professionals who work with disabled children to:

  • understand the needs of parents and the wider family through diagnosis and beyond
  • learn more about breaking down barriers between parents and professionals
  • recognise the importance of valuing the child

Through diagnosis and beyond

Jackie, as the mother of a daughter with complex needs and as a Portage worker, has seen the relationship between parents and professionals from both sides.

What parents mean when they say they are “fine”

  • Fed up
  • Insecure
  • Neurotic
  • Emotional exhausted

Breaking down barriers between parents and professionals

Parents and professionals, Jackie said, often want the same things but sometimes they are at cross-purposes.

  • Turn up on time for appointments
  • Cancel if you can’t attend
  • Ensure family understands what is said at meetings
  • Do you check parents understanding of your role and what you can do?
  • Do you always pass on information you promised to get them?

Tips for professionals working with families of disabled children

  • Keep an open mind
  • All children are unique
  • Share information sensitively and honestly
  • Carry out your promises
  • Little things count
  • Encourage parents to ask questions
  • Be prepared for conflicting views
  • All parents/carers are different and will want different things
  • Ask what information they want to know and in what format
  • Take time to listen
  • Don’t judge
  • Be honest, be positive