Rose Robbins
Scallywag Press

Rose Robbins’ latest picture book celebrates another cognitive difference that comes under the neurodiversity umbrella. Abigail has ADHD and she’s having one of those tricky days in class where her restless frustration leads her to do things that displease and disrupt others.

As a result she’s taken to the ‘calming down’ room for a while which makes her late for her next lesson. It’s music – a new activity for Abigail and despite her lateness, she receives a friendly welcome from the teacher, Miss Butler.

The other class members all seem to have a musical talent of one kind or another but Abigail struggles to find a way to join in successfully. Out of sheer frustration she lets out an enormous SCREAM! that causes cool, calm Miss Butler to approach her. Abigail expects to be sent back to the ‘calming down room’ but instead, her accepting teacher praises her voice, speaking of its singing potential. A transformation begins and with support Abigail finds a role, becoming the group’s totally cool singer-songwriter …

Sometimes a serious topic is best approached through humour: it’s certainly very successful here with Rose Robbins’ quirky illustrative style.

An important inclusive book for all youngsters and their teachers in early years and KS1 classes, as well as for sharing at home.

All Cats are on the Autism Spectrum

All Cats are on the Autism Spectrum
Kathy Hoopmann
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

This book is an updated version of the author’s 2006 All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome and since then what is considered acceptable terminology has changed and the author says in her note for this edition that people’s views are not all the same and that she hopes ‘readers will see past the finer details of disagreement and join me in celebrating, and deepening our understanding of, the richness and diversity of the autistic community.’ You can’t say fairer than that.

Essentially the book shows a sequence of photographs of cats/kittens in various situations accompanied by a sentence relating the visual to an element of being on the autism spectrum or as I prefer to say, neurodiversity. Thus the book opens with a shot of a kitty wrapped in a scarf and wearing a woolly hat introduced by ‘The first signs of autism are usually picked up very young.’ Now I could from my own experience challenge that for several reasons, but will say no more other than it’s generally truer for boys than girls, and remember the author’s words on her introductory page.
What I think Kathy Hoopmann is intending to present to readers how a child with autism might view the world: thus we have ‘Autistic people often have exceptionally good hearing, and loud sounds and sudden movements may scare them.’ 

and ‘Daily rituals comfort them, and they get worried if their schedules or surroundings are changed.’ 

as well as ‘When they are spoken to, they may refuse to make eye contact. When they talk, they go on and on about the same topic or ask the same questions over and over again …’

It’s great to read the acknowledgement that ‘with their unique perspective on life, their eye for details that others often miss and their passion for researching something they love, many will reach the top of their chosen fields … those on the spectrum are just like everyone else. They need love, encouragement and a purpose for life … and then everyone can sit back and enjoy the unique individuals they become.’

Poignant at times, funny at others, this book is a useful resource for teachers, parents, siblings, therapists; indeed everyone could benefit from reading it.

Talking Is Not My Thing

Talking Is Not My Thing
Rose Robbins
Scallywag Press

Having a neurodiverse member of the family can be challenging for everyone as Rose Robbins, the author/illustrator of this, her second book knows so well for she has a brother on the autism spectrum and she also teaches young people who have autism.

Much of this story is conveyed through the female narrator’s thought bubbles; the rest through her brother’s words in speech bubbles and Rose’s dramatic illustrations. The narrator’s opening thought is ‘I don’t speak. But my brother finds it easy.’

Having followed her brother’s call to come indoors as dinner is almost ready, we learn how she does sometimes attempt to speak using her voice but the words come out wrong. Furthermore as the narrator is sound sensitive the noises of dinnertime cause her some distress, but she likes to feel included.

She also on occasion needs to convey how she feels or what she needs by means of one of her flashcards ( PECS symbol cards perhaps),

It’s great that brother and sister are able to play games together and that sometimes little sister acts as teacher.

Clearly understanding is not a problem, for shared story sessions with her brother reading aloud from a book, give his sister much pleasure.

At other times, such as when things go missing, mutual assistance is enormously beneficial. First a beloved soft toy bunny is located

and then once his sister is safely in bed, she finds her brother’s lost car. A highly satisfactory ending to their shared day.

Once again, Rose has created an enormously empathetic story that she conveys with subtle humour and a sense of respect for the siblings she portrays in Talking Is Not My Thing.

That sense of respect and understanding is what I saw yet again very recently while walking in the grounds of Ruskin Mill College, a specialist education establishment near my home that caters for neurodiverse students of between 16 and 25. A fairly newly admitted boy whom I’ve never seen stand still before, stood transfixed watching a heron that had perched atop a tree in the grounds. At least three members of staff stood fairly close keeping a watch on his wellbeing, allowing the boy to take as long as he wanted to observe, what was for all of us an awe-inspiring sight.