Adrian and Super-A is a new series of life skills learning books that use pictograms and social stories as a base. Jessica Jensen, who has written and illustrated the first book and four workbooks so far, got the idea for the books when she was searching for social stories for her own autistic child. Her young daughter would just tear up the social stories written by her therapists. Jessica says it was because her daughter is was so smart she would always recognize the demands put on her when trying to address her behavior in different situations. As a mother, it was frustrating to see that the work from the therapist did little to help her daughter understand how the world around worked and what was expected from her. Since she was a toddler, her daughter has loved books and the family spent hours reading and visiting the library every Saturday. Jessica remembers how her daughter would memorize the books, and would correct her mother if reading just a word wrong. Now she can spend hours reading on her own, as long as there are pictures in colors; black and white will not do it.
Instead of the social stories from the therapists, Jessica decided to create a book with her daughter in a superhero version. At first, the intention was only to make a single print at one of the many photo book services. But when Jessica realized all the work she would have to put into her project, she also thought of all the other parents who where in the same situation as her own family and decided to look into the possibility of making the stories available to everyone. When the pharmaceutical company where she worked as a project manager moved locations, she opted to stay put and instead start her own publishing company. She named it Be My Rails Publishing. The name origins from the thought of autistic children being like trains, rather than cars. The “train-kids” may not be able to change directions, or start or stop as easily as the “car-kids” without a diagnosis. These children need their rails in the form of schedules, preparations, and a clear direction and rules to be able to stay on track and reach as far they can. And it is our job as parents and teachers to lay out their rails.
The first book launched in her series is Adrian and Super-A: Bake and Like Differently- Life Skills for Kids with Autism and ADHD 1. The book has received the Readers’ Favorite Five Star Seal and been translated into Swedish. In her Reader’s Favorite review of the book, Mamta Madhavan said, “the whole concept of educating autistic and ADHD children has been handled in a unique way.” She also finds the strategies simple and sums up her review with noting not only the educational side of Adrian and Super-A: “It is a fun book that deals with ordinary, day-to-day things in a playful way.”
In the first book, the reader meets Super-A and her brother, and with illustrations supporting the life lessons, the young child will get help in finding out how and why we do the things we do. As the siblings and their friends, Raily the Train and Thummie the Thumb, take on the small adventures of daily life, they will also teach a child what it feels like for a sibling to wait and how we ask Mom for permission. One of the main lessons in the book is the one that Jessica’s daughter barely could believe after coming home from her preschool one day, telling her mother that one of the teachers had told her that it is possible for us to feel differently about the same thing. Jessica still remembers the disbelief in her daughter’s eyes, and it was an equal revelation to herself, realizing how difficult the world must seem if you believe that everybody feels the same way you do. Take for instance the situation where you stand in a queue, if you want to go first, and you think everybody wants you to do the same, then of course you run into problems. In this first book, Super-A has a plan:
- Let’s bake cookies! Adrian is on board, he likes cookies too, even if they feel differently about trains. But wait, put on the red Wait-cap, and listen … what does Thummie the Thumb tell them to do first? Ask Mom and, of course, wash their hands! Now Adrian and Super-A are ready to follow Raily the Train and see him collect his pictograms with the steps of baking. Unless Little Miss Trigger gets her way of course.
The goal of the author was to turn everyday situations, like a simple Sunday of baking and washing hands, into life lessons with a superhero that every child can identify with. Jessica has made sure that even a non-verbal child can join the interactive story and Thummie the Thumb’s verses: If it’s right, you give a thumbs up! Giving a thumbs up is something Jessica’s own daughter started doing as soon as she first was told about Thummie the Thumb. She uses her thumb daily to check with her mother if she is getting it right. The stories are intended for children aged four to ten, and by skipping part in italics, they can be adjusted to a child’s age and abilities. Children from a school for autistic children have helped as “editors” with feedback on the images and found necessary changes during the writing process of the book. Jessica says this help has proven very valuable for the final book, which has so far only received positive reviews.
Each of the Adrian and Super-A books will be accompanied by several workbooks that build on the skills found in the book. At the moment, there are four workbooks published: STARTERS Bake & Like with Adrian and Super-A, STARTERS Wash Hands & Wait, and then the SMARTIES versions of both. These workbooks offer children a fun and simple way to develop skills when they follow the superhero and her brother performing tasks from the first book. The thought is that the life skills exercises, cut-outs, and memory games could be used by parents or special needs teachers. It is also possible to include your own pictures in some of the exercises to transfer the skills to familiar situations and persons in a child’s life. This is something the author encourages and Jessica has plans for a workbook with empty templates where you are free to compose your own exercises. To motivate the child into solving the simple life skills challenges, the author has used Lego bricks, trains, and building blocks. These “Lego exercises” also serve as a visual instruction, showing how the child should tackle the life skills exercises that follow.
Jessica also found it important to acknowledge the strengths in autistic children and she has illustrated the Adrian and Super-A workbooks with the visual and pattern recognition strengths often found in the autistic children in mind. She has also considered both verbal and motor difficulties by allowing children to solve the exercises in their different ways. Jessica’s own daughter was diagnosed with high-functioning autism and has always been very verbal, but she struggles with the pen. There are two difficulty levels available. The STARTERS Workbooks can help children as young as three to develop their executive functions, by teaching them to think in steps. Then there are the SMARTIES Workbooks for children who are ready to start learning numbers and to develop the understanding of how others feel or think (what professionals call theory of mind). An example of stretching the theory of mind, is the exercise where a child has to decide who likes four items, but there are only three persons and the child can then come to realize that more than one person may like and want the iPad, for instance. Jessica suggests that the exercises follow with a discussion on familiar situations in the child’s own life, so that the skills can turn into practical life skills.
You can read the beginning of the Adrian and Super-A book or look inside the workbooks at Amazon: http://amzn.to/1whTZfn
Jessica Jensen comes from an international family of teachers and published authors. She has a double university degree (combining psychology with information management) and is a firm believer in the potential that kids with autism (ASD) and ADHD hold for our world.
Be My Rails Publishing specializes in books and workbooks for children with autism or ADHD and their caregivers. You can vote for your favorite character or find out what social stories are covered in Adrian and Super-A at the author website: http://bemyrails.com.
This article was featured in Issue 25 – The Benefits of Tele-Therapy and Behavior Support