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New book highlights the everyday 'superpowers' of children with autism

 May 25, 2023 at 12:02 PM PDT

S1: 1 in 36 children in America are diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum by the age of eight , according to the CDC. Here in San Diego , that number is even higher at 1 in 22 children. And while our understanding of this increasingly common disorder continues to grow , one of the biggest hurdles that remains for children with autism is acceptance. But a new book from a San Diego resident encourages readers to celebrate those with autism and to see those with the disorder not as challenged but as gifted. Derek Danzinger is the author of I'm Autistic and I'm Awesome , and he joins us now. Derek , welcome to Midday Edition.

S2: Thank you so much for having me. Really appreciate it.


S2: He's not the spectrum is a wide spectrum , so he's pretty high functioning. But over the 12 years of just experiencing his behaviors , I came to just learn , you know , how unique it is to to know somebody on the spectrum and that a lot of times these things that often people look at as disabilities are really the special gifts that these kids have , and they manifest themselves in different ways. And so I thought , you know what ? It would be something that would be helpful to me to sort of write down and chronicle these things. But also , if I could turn it into a book that could help parents and friends and families to better understand the children , that that would be something that I would want to do. And so that was sort of the the impetus.


S2: I mean , the word spectrum in and of itself means it's a wide range of of various attributes and things that we see. So , I mean , you have everything from children that are nonverbal communicators to ones who are highly verbal and highly gifted in so many different ways. So every every child is unique. I would say with with respect to my own son , things that I've just noticed are this amazing memory that he has where he can remember details of things from , you know , months and even years ago , or his attention to detail. He can watch a a YouTube video on how to fix something and will go in and and literally act like a little engineer and fix this. He's also somebody who I've noticed from a sports standpoint , he doesn't get excited about team sports , but he loves all the sports that are individual sports. So whether it's skateboarding or wrestling and he's tried surfing and horseback riding things where he is in control of that seemed to be things that he gravitates to. And again , I can only speak for for him , but those are just some of the things that that I've noticed with him , given.

S1: That he's so high functioning.

S2: There were often times where he would stand in the corner and not engage , and we would have to prompt him to engage , or he really didn't know how to continue a conversation. So it was , you know , not asking somebody how their weekend was and then kind of going from there to the next question. And the next question was something that he didn't didn't develop quickly. And so he he had some delays in in speech and in like coordination with writing and some other things. And those were the sort of indicators to us that maybe there was something that was different that we needed to look into parenting.

S1: A child who's got autism , I'd imagine , is a journey in a journey of learning.

S2: So as a parent , it's not to say that you don't have very difficult days and outbursts and and all of those kind of things that that any parent that's raising children has. But I think you have to be especially aware of the triggers that that set the children off. And in the case of my son , too , who's a spectacular kid , you know , he he's aware enough on the spectrum that he doesn't want to be treated differently or seen differently by his friends or things like that. So he's very aware of that. And I do my best not to try to treat him like he's he's any different , if that makes sense.

S1: You're listening to Midday Edition on KPBS , and we're discussing the book I'm Autistic and I'm Awesome with author Derek Danzinger. Derek , you talk about reframing autism and viewing children with the condition as having their own unique superpowers.

S2: And so if you can sit down and like my son can hear a song played on on , I mean , his favorite thing is YouTube. But if you watch as a YouTube video , he can sit down at the piano and literally start playing that song. I mean , those are those are amazing abilities. Not saying that every child on the spectrum has that same interest or the same focus , but I think it's better for us to encourage and celebrate that uniqueness. And given that there are so many children that have this diagnosis now , I think it's incumbent upon not just parents of the children , but friends and also educators , special education teachers and others to really understand what they can do to both motivate and encourage the children and to see these as as special abilities. And I would just also add to that it was very intentional in the book that I wrote that it's reflective of children of all racial backgrounds. And , you know , autism does not discriminate. It's it's all races , socioeconomic backgrounds. And so I didn't want to single out anybody but to show that it's something that has an impact across the board.


S2: I mean , I think I mean , I could point to so many things in society today that when I was growing up , somebody would never have talked about that. And today , you know , we're very open in those types of things. And I feel like the discussion of autism is is something that's gaining more awareness and acceptance and things like that. And you see very public people. I think if I saw just the other day , the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles , Jeffrey Lurie , is a big proponent of of autism and awareness and made a substantial commitment to autism research and things on the national level. So I think the more we talk about it , the more comfortable people get. And you can see that. And you know , there's also those folks and and I don't know for sure , you know , the diagnosis , but you hear the names of very well known people , be it business leaders or others , celebrities and others , where people will say that they fall on the autism spectrum. So I think people need to understand , too , that you can be wildly successful as an autistic person , too. It's not it's not this inability to be functional. It's just a different way. You know , you're neurologically you're just different in the way that you approach things. And , you know.

S1: That's interesting because given that it is so prevalent , you know , I would think that the perspective on that would change and that , you know , at some point it may not even be viewed as a disorder.

S2: That would be the hope is that we're so we're so used to it and that because of the the number of kids that are being diagnosed that it it normalizes normalizes it. I guess the question that that I often get asked from people and I don't have the answer to it , too , is why do we think that there are so many more children being diagnosed with this now than ever before ? And was it that it's been around and we just didn't have a way to understand it and to interpret it in other days and we sort of classified it as such ? Or is there something , you know , that's that's changed to have so many more people being diagnosed is on the spectrum. And again , I don't have the answer to that. I think it's an interesting question , but I'm glad that people are talking about it. That's that's what's important.

S1: And while you've written I'm Autistic and I'm Awesome as a children's book specifically , there's a lot adults can glean from it as well.

S2: Yeah , for sure. I've been really overwhelmed , honestly , with the the nice feedback that I've received from parents of children on the spectrum or parents of friends who have a child on the spectrum who who complimented the simplicity of the way it's explaining why the children may be behaving the way that they're behaving and as a tool for them to to better understand that and share that with others. And certainly children are not the only ones diagnosed with autism. I mean , there are adults living with autism and their voices are equally important. I actually had a an autistic adult reach out to me who had heard about the book and was complimentary of the book and said he would love to see more books written by adults with autism sharing their stories , too. So I think we're only kind of scratching the surface in many ways on on where we can go with this and and what we can learn from it.

S1: Children with autism process information differently.

S2: But I will also say that my experience , at least here in San Diego and in the school district that that we're in is that there are some incredible people and incredible resources that are made available to children on the spectrum through individualized education programs or that are like providing additional assistance to children in a normal typical classroom. But they get , you know , whether it's if they have trouble taking tests in a in a setting where all the other kids are there because it's distracting , but they allow them to go take the test on their own where it's quiet or different things. So I am , you know , as big a I'm a champion and I'm grateful to the school districts that I've worked with in terms of how how helpful they've been in terms of identifying this and providing resources to those children.


S2: I mean , a lot of people have reached out to me who were surprised that I wrote a book like this or didn't know , you know , my own personal story there. So that that was unique. But I've you know , I enjoy reading all the reviews that that pop up online and just the numbers of people that have reached out to me who have children on the spectrum , parents and others where they're saying , oh , this is such a great tool for us. It's been wonderful. It's been wonderful to me. It's this is a passion project for me. I've I've written a number of other children's books that are sitting on my computer right now , and I have a full novel that I wrote to , but this is the one that I was like , If I get anything out there and actually can get something published , try to do something that's actually going to be meaningful and help people. So I've been really I've been really happy to to get the responses that I've had.

S1: Derek Danzinger is the author of I'm Autistic and I'm Awesome. And you can find the book on Amazon. Derek , thanks so much for joining us.

S2: Thank you so much to.

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The cover of the book "I'm Autistic and I'm Awesome!" is pictured in this undated photo.
Derek Danziger
The cover of the book "I'm Autistic and I'm Awesome!" is pictured in this undated photo.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 36 children in the U.S. are diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum by the age of 8. Here in San Diego, that number is even higher at 1 in 22 children.

A new book from a San Diego resident encourages readers to celebrate those with autism, and to see those with the disorder not as challenged, but as gifted.


Derek Danziger, author