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Children's Books on Special Needs

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Explaining a disability to your child or his classmates, friends and young relatives can be a challenge for parents. These books discuss special needs in a kid-friendly way that can shine a positive light on a tricky topic.

1. Asperger Syndrome

Cover image courtesy of Jessica Kingsley Publishers
All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome by Kathy Hoopmann; 65 pages.

Each glossy page has a color photo of a cat in an appropriate pose, with a short bit of text describing an Asperger's behavior. Simple language and big letters make this a nice choice for explaining AS to young siblings or classmates. It may also be a good little volume to pass on to older relatives who don't quite know how to handle your child's quirks, and aren't quite willing or able to read those reams of reports and research you've been passing their way.

2. Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

All Dogs Have ADHD by Kathy Hoopmann (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)
Cover image courtesy of Jessica Kingsley Publishers
All Dogs Have ADHD by Kathy Hoopmann; 65 pages.

This sequel to All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome (see above) takes the same approach, matching adorable animal photos with the particular traits of children with the disorder. It's an extremely accessible formula, and one that has the potential not only to inform, but to make kids with ADHD feel better about themselves by comparison to such cool critters.

3. Down Syndrome

Cover image courtesy of Five Star Publications Inc.
I Just Am: A Story of Down Syndrome Awareness and Tolerance by Bryan and Tom Lambke; 85 pages.

If you're looking for a book to explain Down syndrome to children or teens -- anyone, really, who responds to photos and captions better than long detailed text -- I Just Am is an excellent choice. Through photos and good-humored captions, Bryan Lambke tells about his life as a person with Down syndrome, and a person with two jobs, and a person with two girlfriends, and a person who loves nachos and pizza, and asks "If this isn't 'normal,' what is?" Accompanying the photo essay are short fact round-ups about Down syndrome and an essay by the daughter of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, who tells of their joyous acceptance of her baby sister with DS.

4. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

9 Lives, I Will Survive
Cover image courtesy of Jan Crossen
9 Lives, I Will Survive (Compare Prices)
9 Lives, Cat Tales (Compare Prices)
9 Lives, Full Circle (Compare Prices)

These three chapter books follow the story of Joshua, a child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, from his birth family through foster care and to his adoptive forever family. As he grows up, his behavior becomes increasingly irresponsible and puzzling, until an FASD diagnosis puts the pieces together. The books, a fictionalized account of Crossen's own son's story, are written for young readers and those with a lower reading level, with Joshua as a friendly narrator.

5. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

My Invisible World
Cover image courtesy of Better Endings, New Beginnings
My Invisible World: Life With My Brother, His Disability, and His Service Dog by Morasha R. Winokur; 64 pages plus photos.

A book written for kids by a kid, My Invisible World is a sister's story of her brother with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. The simple, straightforward text conveys good information about FASD and what how hard an "invisible disability" it can be, and also shares the experience of being a sibling of a child with special needs in a way that transcends this particular disabiity. Also along for the story is Chancer, the brother's service dog, whose part in the family is sweetly documented.
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6. Food Allergies

One of the Gang by Gina Clowes
Cover image courtesy of Gina Clowes
One of the Gang: Nurturing the Souls of Children With Food Allergies by Gina Clowes; 44 pages.

Helping young children understand what it means to have food allergies without scaring them silly is a tough line to walk. This sweet picture book by Gina Clowes of Allergy Moms discusses some of the downside of having to watch what you eat, but emphasizes all the great things food-alllergic kids can do with their friends -- and in life, too, with some famous food-allergic adults pitching in. It reminds me of those old Mr. Rogers photo books that applied his gentle approach to explaining disabilities and life issues to kids. That's about the highest compliment I can give a book like this.
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7. Learning Disabilities

That's Like Me
Cover image courtesy of Jill Lauren

That's Like Me!: Stories About Amazing People With Learning Differences by Jill Lauren; 40 pages.

Kids with learning disabilities need role models to let them know they can achieve, and this book offers fifteen stories full of the needed inspiration. Some tell of young people succeeding on their own terms, others of adults who have gone on to success in fields like explorer, trapeze artist, veterinarian, and race-car driver. There's an introduction by children's book illustrator Jerry Pinkney, who has dyslexia, and a space at the end for kids to write their own stories.

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8. Mental Health

Cover image courtesy of PriceGrabber
Don't Feed the Monster on Tuesdays!: The Chldren's Self-Esteem Book by Adolph Moser; 55 pages.

Talking to your child about mental-health issues can be tricky. How do you explain to a child, especially a learning-disabled or language-challenged one, that the way he or she is thinking is wrong, without lecturing, confusing, or criticizing? It's so easy to add to bad feelings while you're trying to relieve them. That's where Don't Feed the Monster on Tuesdays! and other books in Adolph Moser's day-of-the-week series come in. Written for kids, with simple language and colorful pictures, it explains the problem and offers practical suggestions for solving it. Other titles deal with stress, anger, grief, lying, and violence.

9. Sensory Processing Disorder

Cover image courtesy of PriceGrabber
The Goodenoughs Get in Sync: A Story for Kids About the Tough Day When Filibuster Grabbed Darwin's Rabbit's Foot and the Whole Family Ended Up in the Doghouse: An Introduction to Sensory Processing Disorder and Sensory Integration by Carol Stock Kranowitz, illustrated by T.J. Wylie; 89 pages.

Filibuster's a dog. Darwin's a boy. And the Goodenoughs are a family with a spectrum of sensory problems that make them perfect for explaining sensory integration to children and helping them feel better about the way their own bodies work. Kranowitz, author of The Out-of-Sync Child, wrote this book for children ages 8-12, but it breaks things down pretty nicely for their parents, too, with smaller-print sections kids are allowed to skip.
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10. Tourette Syndrome

Cover image courtesy of Five Star Publications, Inc.
Tic Talk: Living With Tourette Syndrome: A 9-Year-Old Boy's Story in His Own Words by Dylan Peters, illustrated by Zachary Wendland, painted by Kris Taft Miller; 50 pages.

In clear, simple first-person prose, with help from his buddy Zach's illustrations, Dylan Peters tells about being diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, his fear of telling his friends about his condition, his worries about what they must think about his tics, and his eventual decision to make a presentation to his third-grade class. The way his friends accept him makes this a good choice for sharing with your own child's classmates -- and the tips for teachers at the back of them book can help them be a little more sensitive, too.
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