Light It Up Blue! 2014

The month of April is Autism Awareness Month. And April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. A time to learn about and think about and be aware of Autism in our lives. It has been a big part of my life. I have spent a lot of time walking and playing and just sitting with young people who have autism as part of who they are. Autistic people do not perceive the world the same way that most people do. Their senses work differently than most of the world’s.

CIMG3491Some autistic little people love to stroke my hair – with their hands, their feet, their faces. Some don’t like to touch my hair at all, but they like the feel of my leather leash. They stroke it with their hands and rub it on their faces. They feel things differently.

People with autism sometimes smell the world differently. I have had kids sniff me from one end to the other. They want to smell my feet and my ears and in my mouth. They bury their noses in my hair.

I’ve been on many a walk with autistic little people. For some, the world is far less confusing with their hand on my back. For some, holding on to my leash is comforting.

And the illustrator of my book Reading With Rhythm, Paul Howell, is a very talented young man with autism!

IMG_1501I recently did a post about a Listening Walk. I like going on listening walks, and sniffing walks and rain walks. Today I’d like to take you on a walk with Ian.

IMG_5648IAN’S WALK
A Story About Autism

written by Laurie Lears
illustrated by Karen Ritz
published by Albert Whitman & Co. in 1998

Ian is a young boy with autism. This is a fictional story told through the eyes of Ian’s older sister, Julie. Julie, and another sister, Tara, are planning a day at the park and Ian wants to go, too. But Julie isn’t sure she wants him along. Ian sees the world differently and has to be watched closely. He sometimes does things that are embarrassing. But the girls decide to let him come along.

The walk to the park is all about how differently Ian senses the world around him. The things that he sees and doesn’t see. As they pass a diner, Ian wants to stop and watch the ceiling fan, but doesn’t notice all the people. The things that he hears and doesn’t hear. A fire truck rushes by with its siren blaring, but Ian doesn’t seem to notice. Ian smell things differently – he doesn’t like the smell of the flowers at the flower stand, but when they go past the post office, he puts his nose up to the wall to smell the bricks. Ian doesn’t like the feel of a soft feather, but lies on the ground to feel the warm, hard pavement. When they stop to sit on a bench and eat some lunch, the girls get distracted and Ian slips away. The girls are now in a panic and rush around frantically asking people if they have seen him. Julie decides to close her eyes and try to think like Ian. Where would his senses take him. Suddenly, she hears the big bell ringing and remembers that Ian loves that bell best of anything! And that is where she finds him! The girls are so relieved to find their little brother that they decide to walk home the way Ian likes.

IMG_5649This is a really lovely little book with some great illustrations. This is not a book to teach you all about autism. It is a picture book that provides a window into a life with autism. I like that it’s the point of view of the sister. Siblings of autistic children can have a particularly hard time sharing life with autism.

There are lots of resources out there for further study —

The Autism Society website is here.
Autismspeaks.org is the official Light It Up Blue for Autism website.
NPR recently had an interesting program about some new studies of autism.

Here is a recap of the 2013 Light It Up Blue campaign

Think BLUE today! And Light it up tomorrow!
Your friend in BLUE
Rhythm

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Percy Learns to Fly

I was bred to be a Guide Dog for a Blind person, but that was not meant to be. Instead I became a special friend to young people with special needs. I spend much of my time at school helping these little folks adjust to a world that is sometimes harsh and misunderstanding. For kids with autism and down’s syndrome and other disabilities, I become a bridge to a more comfortable day at school. If they can hold on to me, school doesn’t seem such a scary place. If they can walk me down the hall, other kids are impressed and want to talk to them. If they can hold my leash or brush, they can learn to hold and use a spoon or a pencil. If they can laugh, the world is good.

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We have a special Fiction Picture Book that is all about being different and trying to fit in.

IMG_4144Percy Learns to Fly was written by Patricia Schetter, a Behavior Analyst and Autism Specialist.

It is illustrated by my special friend Mary Livingston.

It was published in 2013 by ABTA Products and Publications. (Autism and Behavior Training Associates)

Percy Learns to Fly just recently won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award. For more about this award check HERE.

Themes – Being different, penguins, motivation and inspiration

From the book – “Everyone can see Percy is different. He tries hard to fit in with his friends and do well in school.”

“The families of Gull Island were excited as their eggs began hatching. The Hatcher family was the most excited because this was their first chick.”

Percy Learns to Fly is kind of an Ugly Duckling tale. The birds on Gull Island are sea gulls; graceful flyers of the sea. Percy does not look like all the other chicks. He’s big and gawky and doesn’t sound like all the others. As all the chicks grow bigger, they develop long wings with fluffy light feathers. Percy’s wings are short and stubby and sleek. His parents know that he’s different from the other chicks, but they are non-the-less proud of him and love him. When all the chicks started school, everyone made fun of Percy because he couldn’t do things like they did. They told him he was “hatched from the wrong egg.” But his mom told him that “God made each of us in a different way so we can do what we are called to do in life.”

IMG_4146And that’s what Percy found to be true. When it came time for all the chicks to fly, Percy just couldn’t fly like all the others. But he soon found that he COULD fly — in the water! Then everyone cheered him for his differences.

This is a great little book for talking about finding your special talents. It’s a good motivational tale of overcoming difficulties. Percy is an inspiration!

I hope that you will check out Percy Learns to Fly and see for yourself. There is a great list of resources in the back of the book for parents and teachers.

You can find out more about Mary Livingston at her blog, The Backdoor Artist.

For more information about autism visit Autism Speaks.

The California Academy of Science has a live penguin cam where you can watch penguins “flying” underwater. Check it out HERE.

penguinsAnd here are some funny penguins made from water bottles

Click on the picture to visit a Pinterest board that is chock full of all things penguin.

Since today is Perfect Picture Book Friday, you might want to visit Susanna Hill’s blog for more Perfect Picture Books and lists of resources.

Spread your wings and FLY!
Rhythm

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My Buddy

My Buddy Walker went to West today and had a big day. He visited the life skills class and had a great time playing games with the boys there. And then he got in some reading in the library with some 3rd graders and some kindergarteners. He says they were all very kind and respectful. The librarian chose a book called My Buddy. This is a book that we actually have in our home library and is one of our favorites.

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It’s written by Audrey Osofsky and illustrated by Ted Rand. It was published by Henry Holt and Co. in 1992. It’s about a boy with muscular dystrophy and his service dog, Buddy.

Walker happens to carry a few pictures with him of his time as a Guide Dog in Training and he shared them with the kids. They thought it was pretty fun that Walker did some of the same things that Buddy did! Like going to a mall!  Buddy knows 60 commands and the kids figured that Walker knows about 30. But they thought that was pretty smart!

We like this book because it’s about a service dog and Walker and I come from that background. This is a really nice book to read with kids that shows them how special service dogs can be. It talks about some of the training that Buddy goes through and also how Buddy and his boy have to train together. At first they had a hard time trusting each other. The boy tied Buddy to his wrist so that they had to spend every moment together. Even taking showers together! I used to take showers with the Mom Person. I liked that. Now I’m too big.

Buddy does a lot of stuff for his boy that makes life easier and more fun. He becomes just like one of “the guys”.

IMG_1742Buddy and the boy go shopping at the mall and Buddy gives the money to the shop lady! That’s not something Walker ever learned! I think this book helps kids appreciate what a dog can do for people. And I think that these kids in West really appreciate our visits. It’s been fun going there.

We couldn’t find any information on the author of this fine little book. Ms Osofsky has written a couple of other books, but seems to be rather elusive! We did find a nice review of My Buddy with a little about how she came to write it. You might check it out here.

For more information about service dogs visit Canine Companions for Independence.

And for Guide Dog information visit Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc.

And a little video from Canine Companions for Independence —

Spreading JOY

IMG_1688I have a guest today. This is my buddy Walker. Walker lives with me and makes a very fine pillow. Walker and I take turns with work days. Yesterday, Tuesday, was Walker’s turn to go to school in West. He doesn’t like to talk much. He mostly says it all with his tail. So I’m ghost writing for him.

About 8 TDI dogs showed up at West Elementary School Tuesday morning. They were all different kinds of dogs. As soon as they walked in the school the oohs and aahs began. The dogs each visited rooms for about 15 or 20 minutes. That makes for lots of petting!!! Walker got to show off some of his tricks and play some hide and go seek. (This is our favorite game where someone hides our toy and then helps us find it by telling us if we’re hot or cold.) (I can play this game all day! Walker gets tired of it pretty quickly.) He also got to read our book, Dog Loves Books. And all the kids sat around and petted and brushed. They asked all kinds of questions about Walker. Kids always want to know how old we are in “dog years”. I don’t ever understand this question. But the Mom Person tells them that they have to do math and that if they multiply our real age by 7 they will have an approximate dog age. So in one of the classes at West, they did more math and figured out that we dogs have a birthday every 52 days! Isn’t that something! If you would like to check into this issue further check this link.

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After visiting the classes, all the dogs settled in at the school library. Then more kids came in to visit. This time the dogs got to stay in one place and the kids rotated around. More pets and brushing and reading and questions. Walker said some of the kids had lost their dogs after the explosion and were worried about how they would find them. I think that there are lots of folks working on this problem. I hope those kids and dogs find their way back to each other. That must have been a really scary thing for those dogs. And now they’re somewhere worrying about where their kids are. There sure are a lot of puzzles to be worked out in West.

Here are some links to websites that are helping in this lost pet puzzle.
https://www.facebook.com/westanimals
http://www.spca.org/

But for yesterday, West Elementary School seems to have been a pretty JOYful place!

Copy of 904545_440154319409108_1390469710_oThis is a picture of Walker reading with a little girl at the Distribution Center on Sunday. It was taken by a photographer who has a studio in West. Lindsey was nice enough to share it with us. Her studio is called The Studio on Austin.

There has been a great outpouring of goodwill flooding into this small town. People are coming from far and wide to pitch in and help out in whatever way they can. West has a big heart and lots of courage. The town and its people are standing tall through this crisis. I’m glad that we have been able to help out in our own small way.

And since I don’t have a book to tell you about I’m going to leave you with a little uplifting music from Michael Kiwanuka —

School is Back in Session in West!

Yesterday, Monday, we were in West greeting kids who were just going back to school after a horrendously frightening few days off. The High School and Middle School were completely destroyed so the big kids don’t have a school to go back to. From now until the end of school, they will be bused to another small town nearby that happens to have an empty building that West can use. They don’t have textbooks or school supplies or backpacks. Lots of the stuff they need has been donated by Helper folks around the country.

At the end of their school day the big kids were bused to a car dealership in West where their parents came to pick them up. And that’s where we went to meet and greet. They all seemed pretty jolly as they got off the buses and were quite excited to see a bunch of dogs waiting there! There were 7 of us — all from TDI — all shapes and sizes. Some of the kids gave us quick rubs as they passed by. Some sat on the parking lot and gave us good rubs and hugs and talked a lot. Some of the teachers cried. They all thanked us for being there.

Next we went to visit the elementary kids as they were getting out of school. Their school was not damaged except for water pipes. Most of the town is without water because of damage to all the pipes. They put in some special pipes for the school so they have water but it’s not drinkable. No worry though, because the command center is overflowing with donated bottled water! At the school, we laid down on the porch and under the trees and waited for kids to come out. And was it ever fun when they did! Just like the big kids, the little ones were excited to see dogs at the school!! I have a hard time imagining a school without dogs. But I’m finding out that school dogs are pretty rare! It’s odd. Well, we got some good belly rubs and ear rubs and kisses and heard lots of laughter. I like that. And lots of Thank-yous.

After all the kids had been safely transferred to their parents, the school adults had a meeting. The superintendent stopped to give some ear rubs and got up with tears in his eyes saying ” Thanks for being here. It’s not just the kids who need these dogs.” Now doesn’t that make you feel good? It does me.

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These pictures are not from West. No pictures from West today as they asked us not to take any. But this is what my day was like.

I sure love my job! It’s the best job a dog could have!

To be continued …………

Inspiration Found in West

Wow! What an intense week we’re having! Yesterday, Sunday, we drove to West, Texas, a quiet, little town of about 3,000 people that lies about 65 miles west of where I live. Last week this quiet, little town had a big explosion that destroyed about half of the town including the high school and middle school and lots and lots of homes. On Sunday this quiet, little town was FULL of news trucks and fire trucks and all sorts of law enforcement folks and red cross helpers and insurance tents and food trucks and church vans and buses and trucks and trailers delivering donated stuff and more volunteers than probably the whole population.

And quite a few dogs. Therapy Dogs, International, the organization that I am registered with, put out a call for dog teams to come provide some comfort and emotional support for the people in West. So, there have been dogs there working every day since the tragedy happened. On Sunday, there were 6 dogs from TDI and a few dogs from other organizations. For me, it was a lot like going to the State Fair of Texas! Soooo many people that wanted to pet and hug and talk and visit. And sooooo much food! Everywhere you looked people were handing out hamburgers and hot dogs and sandwiches and fruit. And all over the ground, everywhere my nose passed over, there was food. It was intoxicating!

We took my work bag with us that is full of all the tools of my trade. Brushes and toys and books. I did get a LOT of brushing! And a lot of hugs! And a few tears. And the tears were from the adults. I can always find those folks who really need a dog hug. Something about ’em just calls out to me. We did get to read some books to a few kids. We took one of my very favorite ones — Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates. This book was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2010. The little dog in this book is the happiest little dog I have ever seen! And he sure put some smiles on the kids’ faces. It’s about a dog who loves books and wants to open a bookstore. But no one comes to buy books. So he reads and gets lost in his book. It’s a lovely story.

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They asked us not to take pictures of the kids, so we just took pictures of the surroundings. I wish you could see these inspiring young folks! They are full of such courage!

Today, Monday, was the kids’ 1st day back to school and we were there to visit them when they got out. Tomorrow, Tuesday, we’re going back to visit in the classrooms. That should be fun! And I’ll tell you all about that tomorrow.

And now all of you say your prayers and be thankful that you have your own bed in your own house to sleep in tonight. There are people in West who still don’t even know if they have a house to go back to.

Goin’ to Work!

There’s a small town not too far from us called West. You may have heard of it. Or not. It’s famous for it’s Kolaches and It’s Westfest Festival – a celebration of it’s Czech heritage.

Now it has become famous for it’s fertilizer plant — that exploded this past Wednesday and destroyed a good part of this small community.

Tomorrow we’re going to visit the people of West and see if we can be of any help.