FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Picture-book series facilitates peer understanding of children with spectrum disorders
PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island – Drawing from her own experiences as a parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, author JM Sheridan introduces autism to young children, using situations a child can relate to, in her latest installment of the Brianna & Mrs. Moomoo series, “French Fries in the Park.” Driven and inspired by her daughter Brianna’s experiences with ASD, JM Sheridan compassionately offers a tool to help children and adults understand disabilities they’ll encounter among their classmates.
“JM Sheridan created a warm and welcoming story with endearing characters that introduces young children to the idea that their friends, siblings, cousins and/or neighbors with autism really are more like them than not, just like their other friends,” Joanne G. Quinn, Executive Director of The Autism Project says. “It provides opportunity for adults to describe differences in a non-judgmental manner in language young children will understand.”
To JM, early education is essential to greater acceptance. In the series’ first book, “Dragonfly Magic,” children are encouraged to never give up believing in themselves. With “French Fries in the Park,” she helps readers understand behavioral differences such as eye-contact avoidance, non-verbal and parallel play vs. interactive play. In doing so, she provides a tool for children to become a better friend, sibling, cousin or even neighbor. In the series’ upcoming third book, Mrs. Moomoo and Brianna will learn about service dogs and how to appropriately interact with service animals and their owners.
About the Book
“French Fries in the Park”
JM Sheridan | September 2017 | AuthorHouse
Paperback ISBN: 9781546209638 | Price: $15.00
Children’s picture book
About the Author
JM Sheridan lives in New England with her husband, Kevin, her daughter, Brianna, and four very mischievous kitties: Peabody, Shermanis, Thistle and Poppy. She attended the Institute of Children’s Literature in Connecticut, as well as numerous children’s book writing workshops, events and classes. “Dragonfly Magic” and “French Fries in the Park” are the first books in the Brianna and Mrs. Moomoo series designed to educate and inspire our children, as well as support local children’s charities. You can find out more about her at her website https://www.jmsheridan.com.
In an interview, JM SHERIDAN can discuss:
- The unique challenges faced by high-functioning children with special needs and their families and how to raise awareness of these unique challenges
- How her daughter Brianna inspired the main character in her books
- How to help children and parents non-judgmentally identify subtle differences in child behavior that might indicate Autism Spectrum Disorder
- The limits of the differences between children with ASD and those without ASD, and how to recognize the wants and desires these children have that are the same as other children.
- The importance of supporting charities dedicated to Autism research
- The stigma around special needs
An Interview with JM Sheridan
How, when and why did you decide to base your main character on your daughter? Did you ever hesitate to make your family’s private life public in this way? How did you overcome those concerns?
Brianna has always been my muse. The fact that she is high-functioning autistic has made me a better person by helping me be a more understanding and accepting person. She inspires me in so many ways. Bri was actually thrilled to be one of the main characters in the Brianna & Mrs. Moomoo series. The original Mrs. Moomoo is a small beanie baby cow that my good friend Mina gave Brianna when she was about one year old. Now that she’s a celebrity, Mrs. Moomoo sits on a book shelf in Bri’s room guarded by other stuffed animals.
My family never really looked at this series as infringing on our private lives, and we are all very passionate about the messages and the purpose behind the books!
How does your book help children understand differences among their peers? Can you explain some of the specific differences you help children understand?
In “French Fries in the Park” I carefully selected specific behavioral differences a child around the age of six would recognize and identify with. For example, no eye contact, non-verbal, stimming and parallel play vs. interactive play. Not only does Brianna notice each of these behaviors throughout the book, she gains a better understanding of them with the help of the boy’s father, and she accepts this boy and his differences by continuing to stay with him in the park and play right alongside him. Learning about and accepting someone’s differences is very important, but Brianna also learns that the boy likes a lot of the same things she does, and recognizing similarities is just as important.
What’s next in Brianna and Mrs. Moomoo’s adventures?
Well, in their next adventure Brianna and Mrs. Moomoo learn all about service dog and why some children need to have a service dog. They learn how to behave around them and how they are trained. Some service dogs, she finds out, even know how to surf!
There are thousands of children with disabilities who would benefit from having a service dog. Unfortunately, the expense to have one trained can run a family upwards of $25,000. Canines for Disabled Kids is an organization in Massachusetts that has a scholarship fund program to help families in need of a service dog but cannot afford the high cost.
A percentage of the proceeds from my new book will go to help support this important scholarship fund program.
Tell us more about your cat-pack! They seem to be important figures in your life… Do they crawl on the computer while you’re trying to write? How do they relate to Brianna?
♫ Everybody wants to be a cat, because a cat’s the only cat who knows where it’s at. ♫
We love our cats. All four of them were adopted from our local shelters. About five years ago we adopted Poppy and Thistle (two girls), and one year later we adopted Peabody (aka P-Man) and Sherman (two boys). Or so we thought! We found out shortly thereafter that Sherman wasn’t a Sherman after all. She was a girl! So we named her Shermanis. For the most part, they all get along pretty well. Shermanis is Brianna’s baby. She loves to climb in her lap for a good scratch and rub down. But watch out – she’s a drooler!
They all love being with me when I’m in my office writing. It’s comforting to have them there with me – right up until they jump on my desk and get in between me and the keyboard. They remind me every once in a while that I need to take a break!
What are some of the misunderstandings people have about children with high-functioning autism? How can we, as a society, help to alleviate and correct some of those misunderstandings?
With low-functioning ASD individuals there are clear behavioral differences that are easily recognizable (as described in “French Fries in the Park”). Children and teens seem more accepting and patient of another child who is significantly disabled. It is the middle and high-functioning children who, because they can stand up straight, walk, talk, write and speak that are expected to be able to navigate the mainstream and act like everyone else. But they can’t. Their brains are not wired the same way. They do not process things like a typical child.
Education is key to a better understanding and a more accepting community. I would recommend that all school teachers and personnel be educated in ASD, and that the administrators and school systems support this education.
How have you experienced the stigma around special needs? How do you handle it?
Oh yes, all the time. I’ve lost track of how many times I have heard, “She doesn’t look autistic,” or “No, she speaks too well to be autistic.” During Brianna’s riding lesson one afternoon, I was engaged in a conversation with the woman sitting next to me on the bench. I mentioned that Brianna had autism and she turned to me pointedly and said, “She doesn’t have autism. I work with kids with autism. Trust me she does not.” I replied, “Yes, she is autistic. She is high-functioning-” She interrupted, “That’s what they say about all kids who are a little weird these days.”
I simply smiled, told her that was an interesting opinion and walked away. Unfortunately it is tough to change a traditional way of thinking, but I certainly hope books like “French Fries in the Park” will help raise awareness.
Do you have any concrete pieces of advice for helping society accept and understand those with high-functioning ASD?
Top on the list would be that there is nothing “wrong” with people who are high-functioning autistic. They are not broken, demented, sick or my least favorite word, “retarded.” They just process things differently, uniquely. Most high-functioning people are very smart, especially in math. Brianna closed the school year in June with a 100 in her math class.
They are very honest, especially children. And they have a hard time reading emotions. This is because children with ASD are self-directed. They are not thinking of the emotions of others or even their surroundings – not because they are rude, spoiled or self-absorbed, but because it is simply how they are wired.
Prior to your experiences with Brianna, did you have much experience with children with ASD? How did you educate yourself? How has your perspective changed?
My younger brother, Jon, is high-functioning autistic. Growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the medical industry did not know as much about ASD as they do today, and they would diagnose many children with ADHD and put them Ritalin.
I remember being in middle school with a boy much taller than everyone else and about 50 pounds heavier. He was clearly low to mid-functioning ASD. He got picked on so much, just like my brother. I was constantly running to their defense, shoving away the children who were picking on them. Even back then I knew it was wrong to not be accepting of others.
It wasn’t until I had Brianna that I truly started to educate myself. My husband, Kevin, and I would attend classes, read reports/books, watch documentaries, and do literally anything we could get our hands on that would help us better understand Brianna and make us better parents.
What do you ultimately hope readers will get out of your book?
With adults, I hope the little bit of information on ASD I provided in “French Fries in the Park” ignites a spark within them to learn more and start researching on their own. I also hope that both children and adults gain better awareness of ASD and will recognize these signs and ultimately be more patient and accepting of everyone’s differences.
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