“Emotions can be broken down into logical pieces most of the time, but what’s hard to grasp is the cause and effect relationship that comes with the emotion. When a person is sad (the cause), they might cry, listen to slow soft music, contact friends as an effect of the sadness. It’s a bit more complicated than simply subtracting two, isn’t it? Still, there are even more complicated situations than that such as looking at an effect and guessing what emotion caused it. Then, there’s the ability to do that for the feelings of others. Honestly, don’t you think all those normal people do emotional calculous every day without realizing it?”
How to Be Human: Diary of an Autistic Girl, by Florida Frenz (a pseudonym), is an extraordinary look into the life of a 15 year old girl with autism. Although her diagnosis was pretty grim at age 3, the work she did with her parents and her therapist, Shelah Moss, helped Florida become more comfortable in what she came to understand as an alien world. She explains herself this way:
Though Florida was diagnosed with autism and “mental retardation,” her family and support team were able to break down and address each of her learning and socializing issues. They tackled each problem as it arose. When at age 8, Florida realized what it meant to have autism and how different she was from other children, she began working to overcome those parts of her autism that kept her isolated from the rest of the world. How to Be Human is the result of that process. Moss says, “She is a gifted artist and writer so using art seemed like an obvious tool to help her work through understanding what, to her, were foreign concepts. Each picture represents hours where we discussed or read about or role-played different scenarios. The pictures represent eight years of growth.”
Florida generously shares her hard earned lessons:
|I still have trouble figuring out faces.|
This is a wonderful introduction to what it’s like to have autism, but even more so, it's re-introduction to how hard it is to be human.
|We all have trouble with bullying ourselves|
You can see there’s lots of humor and insight in Florida’s writing. It humanizes her. She has autism, she feels like an alien, but she’s a unique and lively girl, too. I’ve read her book to 6 and 7 year old girls, and have had a 12 year old girl read it. All of them could identify with the struggles Florida has with the calculous of human emotions. The art is funny, inviting and inspiring to them. I’m using it now in a class on journaling for adults to show what a powerful means of expression drawing can be.
All of us struggle with how to figure out when someone is being truthful. Florida’s insights about bullies, cliques and true friendship are touching. There's a rare honesty and authenticity in this slim primer.
If you want to understand what it’s like to have autism, this books takes you right to the heart of the matter. Of if just you feel you might have accidentally wound up on the wrong planet, it might help you feel like you belong here after all.
The book is beautifully bound and fits nicely into your hands. Creston Books is a small independent press publishing beautiful and innovative books for children of all ages. They're having their books printed in the United States, so that's pretty cool. You can see their catalog by clicking here.
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