January 2006


Teen with Asperger syndrome offers insight

Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence, by Luke Jackson, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, $18.95.

Luke Jackson is a cool teen. He’s smart, informed and he has Asperger syndrome. Fortunately for other teens with Asperger, he has written a book that addresses the many issues particular to them during this time. In a conversational and witty manner, he tackles issues ranging from sensory sensitivities to dating.

Asperger is an autism spectrum disorder. It is characterized by impairments in communication, social interaction and imagination. Often, repetitive behaviors, sensory problems and obsessions are part of the syndrome. One can imagine how this triad of impairments can further complicate typical adolescent issues.

However, this dynamically introspective 13-year-old has an expert’s grasp of the clinical and social issues that Asperger syndrome poses. He provides sound information on alternate diets that take food allergies into account and can be of great benefit to these teens’ "different physiology." He outlines ways to build and deal with different kinds of friendships and relationships, and clarifies socially appropriate hygiene, language and behavior. He goes to great lengths when discussing effective ways to deal with bullies and intimidation, citing his own experiences.

Luke’s personal anecdotes and reflections make this book extraordinary. His adolescent musings are marked by sparks of brilliance. He often pokes fun at "normal." When discussing his obsessive (he prefers the term "specialist topic") interest in computers, he asks the reader, "When is an obsession not an obsession? When it is about football." He asks us to examine our preconceived notions of who and what we consider acceptable. He proudly defends his right to be different and asks that we open our eyes to recognize the many gifts of individuals with Asperger syndrome. In Luke’s words: " ... the world in general does not accept that all people are different. People with Asperger’s are reluctant to tell others for fear of being considered a freak."

Luke is an excellent spokesperson for teens with Asperger. Undoubtedly, his self-help survival guide will help lessen the confusion and isolation that many of these teens experience. He has taken an important step toward "breaking the circle of silence" that surrounds Asperger syndrome. Emilija Novitovic, M.Ed


Tips for handling the threat of school terrorism

Innocent Targets: When Terrorism Comes to School, by Michael Dorn and Chris Dorn, Safe Havens International Inc., $19.95

The authors of this book are a father-and-son team, both school safety experts who have authored numerous publications on the uncomfortable, unsettling issue of terrorism in schools.

The Dorns point out that although there have been 35 school- or school bus-related terrorism incidents worldwide since 1968, these acts are relatively rare. Yet, when this type of violence occurs, the damage is typically great, vastly heinous and strikes a highly charged emotional chord in adults.

This book attempts to strike a balance between assisting school administrators in preparing "for an unthinkable horror without giving way to unreasoned fear."

This reviewer is not sure that balance is possible. School safety and the ongoing safety of our children as they go from home to school and back is a daunting daily challenge. With many potential predators and accompanying threats of domestic, neighborhood and national violence, children remain a fairly accessible target for acts of terrorism.

The authors present a sobering account of the history of school-related terrorist attacks and try to suggest some possible reasoning for targeting children. Rendering adults and their governments powerless to protect children is a hit to the national mental health and intensifies our vulnerability. The events of Sept. 11 taught us how these incidents become immediate and all-consuming subjects of media coverage and rapidly result in unhealthy exposure. Those parents who turned TVs off found it easier to return to some sense of normalcy in their families’ lives.

Innocent Targets stresses that it is important for school administrators to prepare an effective response, beware of "terrorism experts," use limited resources wisely and work collaboratively. Every school needs its own unique response plan. Identify a team, think through scenarios and responses, develop a communication and personnel training plan, practice, annually review and take into serious consideration the emotional impact on children. And have a plan for how to listen to the kids.

Though not an easy read, this book reinforces this wisdom: Planning and preparation reduce trauma. Good advice as we head into the second half of the school year. Anne Parry Director, Office of Violence Prevention Chicago Department of Public Health

Stan and Jan Berenstain offer parenting advice

The Bear Essentials: Everything Today’s Hard-pressed Parent Needs to Know About Bringing Up Happy, Healthy Kids, by Stan & Jan Berenstain, Random House, $12.99.

Since 1962, when the Big Honey Hunt was published, parents have read Berenstain Bears books to their children. Not just for the enjoyment, but also to help them understand everyday situations—such as an addition to the family, a visit to the doctor or starting school. For more than 40 years, the creative husband-and-wife team of Stan and Jan Berenstain have written books about their fictional bear family. Stan died in November but, with the help of sons Michael and Leo, Jan plans for the Berenstain Bears books to continue.

Over the years parents grew to consider the Berenstains to be child-rearing experts. This book is the culmination of their years of experience with their own children and grandchildren as well as their family in bear country. Each of the 17 chapters begins with an excerpt from one of their bestselling "First Time Books."

The opening chapter, "No Two Alike," helps parents recognize their children’s individuality, starting with Papa Bear’s trip to the pumpkin patch with Brother and Sister, who notice there are no two pumpkins alike.

I enjoyed the "Raising a Reader" chapter. The Berenstains stress the importance of reading while suggesting favorite books and authors, such as Dr. Seuss, their first editor. They point out that though parents need to guide reading selections, there comes a time when children want to make their own choices, and parents need to be supportive.

Other chapters focus on going to school, bullying, peer pressure and sports.

I like the Berenstains’ down-to-earth approach and that they relate their experiences to the topics in their books. What a great way to help us as parents work through many of these situations.

The book also includes an annotated list of the "First Time Books" series, as well as an index with the topics, authors and titles of the other books the Berenstains mention and recommend. Judy Belanger

Kids Eat Chicago

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