School is all about words -- reading and reporting, songs and social skills -- how does a child who is largely nonverbal ever fit in? Enter the world that is Beyond Words.
Your guides are Mary Donnet Johnson, mother of Pace, a child with autism who was largely nonverbal when he entered a regular kindergarten classroom and Sherry Henshaw Corden, an inclusive kindergarten teacher with two decades of experience. They are joined by Dr. William Allen, a child psychologist and expert on autism, who offers practical suggestions and commentary. Their conversation is enriched by honest, insightful and humorous quotes from peers, parents, school staff and professionals. The result is a rich tale of one child’s journey through the first year of school that is as helpful as a how-to manual and as touching as a love story.
“Beyond Words: The Successful Inclusion of a Child with Autism is a fascinating look at a community of people who made it their mission to welcome a child who barely spoke into his rightful place and helped him find his own, unique voice.”
Nancy Franklin, Inclusion SpecialistLos Angeles, CA
Former Nashvillian and ASMT member Mary Donnet Johnson is back with another user-friendly guide for schooling our special children: Beyond Words: The Successful Inclusion of a Child with Autism. Her first book, 1,2,3, Get Ready! an eight-week summer program preparing a child for inclusion, proved highly popular among ASMT library users.
Johnson, a former off-Broadway actress and mother of a child with autism, has again performed her magic, co-authoring with teacher Sherry Henshaw Corden and psychologist William Allen.
Beyond Words is a simple how-to inclusion guide for parents, teachers, and other school personnel. Deftly, Johnson and Corden walk the readers through Pace Johnson's year in a Knoxville general education kindergarten classroom. Information is dispersed throughout the book, in several readable formats including short paragraphs, sidebars and bullets of comments by typically developing peers and their parents, Q and A sections between parent and teacher, and candid solo recollections by each. Psychologist Allen backs all with insightful scientific-based commentary. Pictures documenting Pace's inclusive school year provide a warm visual to the book.
Truly a hands-on guide for parents, the book includes an appendix of how-tos including a homemade book on the child - both the child's personal version and a fill-in-the-blank copy, 20 questions for a prospective teacher, schedules, reward boards, social stories and more.
Every parent of a school-age child with autism can relate to
Johnson's descriptions of her heart-gripping fears as she navigated
this first year. Corden's frank concerns and responding
turn offer parents a bird's eye view of a teacher's perspective.
teacher's revelations plus the comments of the typically developing
peers and their parents are a true gift. Autism parents come
experience of school inclusion with a weighty bag of anxiety, hopes and
dreams. The honest, tender and redemptive observations from
"the other side" from the inside provide a medicine cabinet's stock of
soothing antidotes for a parent's weary soul.
Pace is a good role model for inclusion. Having PDD-NOS at the time of kindergarten, he was blessed with typical and almost gifted cognition. Yet, he was challenged by the fact that he was largely nonverbal. He also had some fierce behaviors described in detail and not uncommon to our children - kicking, hitting and sometimes class-disruptive screaming. It would be easy to romanticize the successful inclusion of this child, but Johnson and Corden bring the reader back to reality. This kid had some big pluses but also some hefty challenges.
Luckily, his team had the right attitude plus a saint of an autism mum leading the way. Johnson gives us parents a template of how to work with school systems. Corden, as well, is a role model for general education teachers, the kind we wish we could all be so lucky to have.
* * *Leisa Hammett is a free-lance writer and mother of Grace, a child with autism. A dedicated activist and staunch advocate for all children with autism and their families, Ms. Hammett lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and among other things, is currently at work on a book about her journey through autism with Grace
William Allen, Ph.D.,
is a developmental
psychologist licensed in Tennessee. He has over 20 years experience in
working with children with autism, their parents, and their teachers.
Dr. Allen is a strong believer in the developmental potential of
children, and in the power of optimism and positive expectations. He
travels around the country conducting training in autism, child
development and integrated health care. Dr. Allen lives in rural East
Tennessee with his wife and three children. Away from work he relaxes
by hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and by learning
to play the harp guitar.
Sherry Henshaw Corden ( right) has been teaching kindergarten at Rocky Hill Elementary School in Knoxville, Tennessee, for two decades. She is a product of the Knoxville/Knox County Public School system and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Tennessee. A strong advocate for inclusion and champion of all children, Ms. Corden typically welcomes around five students with significant physical or learning challenges into her classroom every year. Aside from her work at school she also enjoys the company of friends, the closeness of family, and the delight of being a grandmother.
Mary Donnet Johnson (above center) grew up in Vermont, earned a B.A. at Sarah Lawrence College, and spent ten years in New York City as a professional actress. She then emigrated to the South and applied her talents to a second career as a writer, director, and producer of broadcast commercials and other corporate communication materials. Now married with two young children, Mary has settled in East Tennessee where she spends most of her time guiding and supporting the academic and leisure-time activities of her children while pursuing a third (and very rewarding) career as a writer and publisher of helpful books on autism and related special needs.
Pace Johnson is a rising third-grader with autism and has been fully included in regular public school classrooms since kindergarten. He most recently portrayed Thomas Edison in the second grade wax museum, gave an oral report on contrasting habitats to his entire class, and personally sent Valentines to nearly 30 friends, teachers, and classmates last spring. Pace loves animals, books, and the computer, and looks forward to the adventures, challenges, and triumphs awaiting him in the years ahead.