Last week I had the opportunity to do my first out-of-province The Two Trees presentation to over 200 grades 2-5 students. It was a little challenging as I usually rely on the hands-on activities we do after the reading and discussion to make it extra special for students. But I was unable to bring anything along other than my PowerPoint presentation. Nonetheless, the students were eager to both answer my questions after the reading and pose questions of their own about what's it like being an author, question about autism, and more.
The highlight for me was at the end of the presentation when I was packing up. I felt a tap on my back and turned around to find a young boy eager to look through the copy of my book. I suspected that he had high functioning autism, as he was very focussed on what he was looking for while avoiding eye contact with me. (He was looking for a specific picture I had mentioned during the discussion, one that I personally had posed for to help out my illustrator. He was able to figure which one I was referring to within seconds.) Our exchange was only a few minutes long but it had a lasting impact on me.
When the boy left, another boy walked up to me and told me that his cousin (the first boy) had autism. And then he self-reflected on his own success in being kind to his cousin, just like I urge students to do with kids who may appear or act "differently."
The principal told me that my presentation was the ONLY one all year that the first boy had sat through without getting up and walking around or leaving. I was floored.
This is the power of books that portray characters in a way that kids can identify with. The first boy could identify with Syd in my book The Two Trees because he had high functioning autism like Syd. He walked away from the presentation validated, knowing that all those kids in his class and the other classes present too now have a better understanding and appreciation for his uniqueness and his special needs. And his cousin, the second boy, feels validated because he has assurance that he has met at least some of those unique needs of his cousin.
As my journey with The Two Trees has unfolded, I am realizing more and more how powerful my book can be as a tool for raising awareness about autism. My hope and prayer is that it increases kids' sensitivity for others, and helps students who may be tempted to tease or bully kids to refrain from doing so.
If you have a story about how The Two Trees has impacted you or your child, I would love to hear it. Please contact me at email@example.com. With your permission, I will share it on social media (no names).
From April to September 2016, I am donating $5 from every The Two Trees book sold on my website to an autism organization. This month, June 2016, the recipient will be PAATS (Parents Advocating Autism Treatment in Saskatchewan). To order The Two Trees and support the autism community, please click here.