Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos
Do you have a child with Autism? Do you work with children with Autism?
It’s January 1986, and Nova is anxiously waiting for the launch of the space shuttle Challenger–it’s the first time a teacher is going into space, and kids across America will watch the event on live TV in their classrooms. Nova and her big sister, Bridget, share a love of astronomy and the space program. They planned to watch the launch together. But Bridget has disappeared, and Nova is in a new foster home.
Since Nova is nonverbal, her teachers and social worker dismiss her as being unable to understand, which is a big misconception. This dismissal of her intelligence frustrates Nova because she understands so much and just can’t express it! As the liftoff draws closer, Nova’s new foster family and teachers begin to see Nova’s intelligence and she starts to feel validated and more confident. Will Bridget come to the launch? Nova counts down each day to see her sister again.
This book was profound in many ways and I connected with the topic on many levels. As a child growing up in the 80’s, I understood the excitement of the Challenger and the devastation after the launch.
I also connected with Nova because of the population that I have worked with for almost 20 years and meeting many children like her. As an Augmentative and Alternative Communication Specialist, I have evaluated and trained both children and adults with Autism that have complex communication needs. Many of the children that I see are “locked in” and can’t communicate due to expressive language disorders. This causes frustration, passivity and a significant decrease in quality of life. I love how I can help open the world up for these children and give them the gift of communication. It is truly the best job and a real gift to help these children.
I think what I found most difficult was that Nova didn’t have a way to communicate consistently. During the 80’s, the world of Augmentative and Alternative Communication was very different and communication options were limited. It is unfortunate that she wasn’t able to communicate efficiently but satisfying to know that her foster family believed in her and saw the light in her eye. I hope to see a sequel to the story where Nova gets her communication system and shows the world her knowledge and intelligence.
The Valuable Lesson
The lesson in this book is to assume competence when you meet a child with Autism or any specific disability. Just because a child is nonverbal, does not give you any indication of their cognitive status. This is a statement I feel very strongly about. Additionally, children will only show you what you expect. If you expect nothing, they may give you nothing. If you expect the world and empower children with Autism, they will meet that expectation. This book gives you a sneak peak into how a child with Autism may perceive the world and feel about their inability to communicate and express themselves.
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