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Empathy Day

Yesterday as I scrolled through my various social media accounts a picture caught my eye.

As I followed the link and familiarized myself with this day of empathy one thought took hold in my brain;

I ran to my computer with the intent to write the most profound heartwarming post that has ever been shared in the blogoshpere. That is when I heard the familiar creak of the pantry door and the bang of a kitchen cabinet and knew that my moment of solitude was over...the kids were up.

I ventured into the kitchen and found my 4 year old daughter perusing the pantry. Upon seeing me she grabbed my hand and placed it on a box of granola bars.

"Say, I want bar." I instructed.

"I. Want. Bar." came her reply.

This is our morning routine. It isn't always a granola bar, it may be an orange or banana or even the bucket of ice cream in the fridge (I've been known to give into ice cream for breakfast 😉) Whatever her choice she leads me by the hand and places it on the item. Then I prompt her to say what she wants, she does, and breakfast begins.

We follow the same routine at lunch, dinner, when she wants to watch T.V. or go outside, pretty much anytime she wants or needs something. She leads me by the hand, or will bring an item to me (such as the remote) and I will prompt:

"Say, I want outside." or "Say, I want Elsa." (When she brings me the remote it always because she wants to watch Frozen...again.)

This isn't typical behavior for a 4 year old. That is because my 4 year old isn't typical. She is autistic.

At this time in her life she is non-verbal. That is not say she doesn't say words. She says a lot of words. She can recite the entire Frozen movie, on repeat. She can sing "Let It Go" at the top of her lungs. Once she even yelled "I'M A SHARK!" while swimming at the pool. My eyes welled with tears. That may seem like a strange reaction, but I was amazed and proud! She spontaneously spoke an entire sentence AND in the correct context. That is a big deal in my world.

Every person with autism is different. For my daughter 'non-verbal' means she lacks the communication skills that allow her to have an interactive conversation. She can say words, but they are not always in the correct context.

Verbal skills are something we have been working on since her diagnosis two years ago. She receives speech, OT, and ABA therapy everyday.

Her speech therapist helps with communication.

Her occupational therapist helps with basic skills such as using a fork and spoon, gripping a pencil, getting dressed; all things she struggles with.

During Applied Behavior Analysis her therapist helps with behavioral issues such as screaming, self harm, and looking people in the eye.

Now that I've crammed some autism awareness into this post you probably understand why the Empathy Day logo caught my eye. I was hoping to finish my post on actual Empathy Day, but after breakfast it was off therapy and my other children insisted on milking the most fun out a very beautiful summer day. Alas I didn't get to finish my post. However, it turned to be serendipitous because the day after Empathy Day a video of a mother detailing the suicide of her son came across my Facebook feed.

This is why Empathy Day exists.

As a parent of 5 children, one with special needs, bullying is one of my biggest fears. Not only that my kids will be bullied, but that they could be a bully.

When the fears of the world trouble my mind I turn to my secret weapon; picture books.

Picture books soothe my soul. They simplify the most complicated issues and deliver smiles to all who read them.

Ok, I admit I'm a little bias. I am a picture book author after all. But don't just take my word for it, try it yourself. Here are two picture books that will lift the burden of sorrow and make you believe in a better world.

All My Stripes by Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer follows Zane as he struggles to fit in as a child with autism. He soon learns that there is more to him than his autism.

This is a must read for anyone with autism, a child with autism, a grand child with autism, a friends with autism, a friend who has a child with autism...okay everyone needs to read this book.

We're All Wonders by R.J. Palacio follows Auggie and his dog Daisey as they discover the wonder in the world around them.

I loved the middle grade novel Wonder by Ms. Palacio and was thrilled to see that she wrote a picture book.

Even though I am a little late to the Empathy Day party, it is my hope that through picture books we can teach our children the art of empathy every day.

For more books that teach empathy check out the Read For Empathy Guide

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