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Author Catlaina Vrana On Her New Book “Ella Autie”

Catlaina Vrana By Catlaina Vrana | 10/8/16 5:53 PM | About Autism | 3 Comments

Hi! My name is Catlaina Vrana, and I am the author of "Ella Autie". I started "Ella Autie" as just an assignment for my senior project, but it has led to many great opportunities. Here is a quick summary of Ella Autie:

Ella Autie is a book about autism, SPD, dyspraxia, neurodiversity and friendship. During this story, we follow Ella (a non-verbal autistic 4th grader who has a lot to say) through her school day, and get to see a glimpse of what being autistic and having SPD and dyspraxia is really like. Many of the experiences and interactions with people Ella has are similar to my own. This story is told first-person unlike most disability books. Ella meets the new girl at school, Sarah, who greatly misunderstands Ella's autism and is 'overly helpful' to Ella's dismay. This book is my contribution to the autistic civil rights movement- it explains in a kid friendly way much of the stigma we face daily because we are autistic. This book also give information on AAC, PECS, dyspraixa, SPD, the neurodiversity symbol, why autistic people prefer identity-first language, stimming (or self-stimulation behavior), eye contact (and why it's so hard) and special interests. 

Ella_Autie_Cover.jpgI am a young adult with developmental disabilities. I am autistic, and have SPD, cognitive disability, and a motor disorder called dyspraxia. Before writing "Ella Autie," I checked out many children's disability books from the library, to maybe get an idea of what information I should put in my own book. I found a few similarities in these books that I was not too fond of:

1.) They were never told from the disabled person's perspective

Empathy is an important part of writing for children- you want them to empathize with whoever they are learning about. Writing from the disabled child's perspective accomplishes this much better then writing from the non-disabled child's perspective. Likely, the audience who reads this book is non-disabled, reading because they want to learn about a classmate who is different.

2.) They seemed to be afraid to talk about the actual disability

This one baffles me. If a child checks out a book about autism from the library, it means one of two things. They are either friends or classmates with an autistic person, or they are autistic themselves. Chances are, they probably want a book about the subject they checked out. I do not understand why you would title a book about a subject, and then not talk about the subject. Just the other day at college (I go to a life skills transition program), a girl started asking me questions about my AAC, or 'talker.' (It's a tablet with picture cards). Then she suddenly was quiet, and asked if talking about my AAC was too personal or embarrassing. Of course it wasn't! Why would I be embarrassed to talk about something that is essentially my voice? Disability is not a bad word, and being afraid to talk about it gets us nowhere in terms of understanding.

3.) They contained 'disease' language, and often got the civil rights part of disability wrong, especially with ASD.

A cure for autism is a very controversial topic, but this kind of language does not belong in a children's book. Disabled children who read this may feel uncomfortable with who they are, and it makes it worse when their classmates are always treating them like they are diseased. Pity does not help anyone. These books also included the use of person-first language (which would be 'person with autism' not 'autistic person') Person first language is highly rejected by the blind, deaf, and autistic communities. As an autistic person myself, it's kind of surreal when you call yourself 'autistic', and are corrected in your language by people who are not disabled.

With "Ella Autie", I wanted to make Ella's and Sarah (her classmate) interactions with each other as realistic as I could. I was never physically bullied because I was autistic- I was mostly just baby talked to. That's why the antagonist in "Ella Autie" isn't your typical bully- she's really not a bully at all- she just wants to help Ella as much as she can. By constantly pitying and condescending to Ella, she really just takes away Ella's voice.  

My book is for an audience of 7 to 13-year-olds, so while I wrote about many of the civil rights issues facing autistic people I didn't go too in depth. For more information on the basics of autism, some of the civil rights issues that surround it, and intended for an audience of teachers, parents, and caregivers but still from an autistic perspective please see my other article about autism. I hope you find the information useful. Please remember that I am only one person on the autism spectrum, so my experiences are not the same of all autistic people. 

Catlaina Vrana Catlaina Vrana is a writer, illustrator, and public speaker. She believes that fear of disability hinders progress, and wants to spark the conversation on autism and other special needs, so communities can work together to make the world more 'able-ing' for people who are developmentally disabled. She enjoys cartoons (especially Rebecca Sugar's Steven Universe), cats, swinging, and church. 

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