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Autism unveiled in authors’ talk, book-signing

GENEVA – With 1 in 88 to 1 in 55 children being diagnosed with autism, author and advocate Diane Mayer Christiansen said it is more important now than ever before to introduce the disorder publicly, to parents, teachers and other kids.

“A lot of parents just starting out do not get to see other parents and other kids,” Christiansen said. “It’s tough for them. A typical parent might look at that child and think, ‘He’s willfully misbehaving,’ and make judgments. It’s kind of good for other parents to see their kid is just like my kid.”

Christiansen, 47, and her son, Jackie, 12, will do presentations and book signings of “Jackie’s Journal” and “The Snub Club And The Case Of The Disappearing Donuts” on Saturday at Barnes and Noble, 102 Commons Drive, Geneva.

Christiansen will do a teacher-parent chat for adults at 1 p.m. and Jackie and his friend, Cameron Mercer, also 12, will do a children’s corner at 3 p.m.

“I will talk about my journey and things to do in the classroom and at home,”  Christiansen said. “I will give a message of celebrating instead of looking at a negative, I will push the positive.”

Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identify 1 in 88 American children as on the autism spectrum, which is a tenfold increase in the past 40 years. 

Autism is four to five times more common in boys than girls, with 1 out of approximately 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls diagnosed with autism in the U.S.

The author, who lives in Glenview, said “Jackie’s Journal” was started when her son was 8. Jackie is between Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified and Asberger syndrome. 

“This was a book that we wrote together as a way to talk about what autism was,” Christiansen said. “Things would happen. He missed social cues. He’d come home and say, ‘I want to die, everybody hates me.’ Through writing, we could discuss it and better understand somebody else. ... He’s got a really funny, sarcastic sense of humor. He wrote most of it and did the artwork.”

Mercer also has autism and attention deficit disorder. They are featured in “Snub Club,” a children’s chapter book that presents autism so younger children can develop an understanding of other students in their classrooms.

“I just want people to understand, when they use the word ‘autism,’ that it has such a wide range,” she said. “It’s important to teach our kids at a very young age kind of what that means.”

Talking about the books is difficult for the boys, but Christiansen said it is an opportunity for them to stand up and say who they are.

Every time she talks about autism, someone asks her thoughts on what causes it. Christiansen said she always says it’s not her concern.

“It’s done,” she said. “I have to celebrate who my son is and celebrate a world that will meet him halfway. I get tired of trying to fit him in to what he’s ‘supposed’ to be. This is too much of a battle. I expect the world to understand and meet him halfway.”

Kimberly Luthin, a spokeswoman for Barnes and Noble, said the book chain also is hosting an educator forum on Common Core curriculum standards on what each district expects, how to prepare for it and how the bookstore can help.

Luthin said it was part of the bookstore’s Educator Appreciation Week, which kicks off Saturday and goes through Jan. 19.

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