Interview Elizabeth Verdick, Co-author of The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism (And Their Parents)

Interview Elizabeth Verdick, Co-author of The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism (And Their Parents)

I love this book! I have written reviews on over 175 books on our Special Needs Book Review site and The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents) by Elizabeth Verdick and Elizabeth Reeve M.D is one of the best books I have read! Congratulations to the authors, Free Spirit Publishing and to the illustrator, Nick Kobyluch. The entertaining illustrations are perfect for the tweens and teens who have autism who will be sharing this book, preferably with an adult who can answer questions as they read along.

When I asked about the target audience for The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders I can see why Elizabeth Verdick wrote, “This book is for children ages eight to twelve, along with their parents, relatives, teachers, counselors, therapists, doctors, aides, and caregivers. The book can be read to children younger than eight. Teens are reading it, too!”  This book with its kid-friendly format featuring brightly colored text and cartoon drawings will be popular with so many kids with autism

We thank Elizabeth Verdick for writing a guest post introducing their book to Special Needs Book Review readers.  You can read her interesting post here. Once I received a copy of the book I could not help myself from adding a few paragraphs to her post to tell you the excellent features of The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents).

Lorna: Today’s guest is a remarkable woman– a mom of two, an advocate for her son who has autism, a student who just graduated with her Master of Fine Arts, a children’s book author who has more than thirty books to her credit, and now co-author of this fine book, The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents). Congratulations on all your accomplishments!  Let’s start with parenthood. How is your son with autism doing and how has his sibling’s life been different because there was child with autism to share his parent’s time?  

<< Elizabeth Verdick: My son Zach is my hero. He faces many challenges, but he’s come so very far. I remember when my husband and I dreamed of a day when Zach would go to kindergarten at our local elementary school. Now Zach will be heading off to middle school in the fall—mainstreamed—and it’s a proud and scary time for us. It’s hard for any child to handle middle school, but as we all know, children with autism have an even more difficult time with the pressures of staying organized, keeping up with assignments, navigating social situations, handling peer pressure and bullying, and just getting through the school day with its noise, hustle and bustle, and expectations. We know we have some tough times ahead.

But on the positive side, our son is growing up and finding things he loves to do. He’s an excellent fisherman—luckily, we live in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes! He plays the saxophone in the school band, and he’s very into video games, much to my chagrin. He’s a good reader and learner, and he’s a joker, always making us laugh. He has a serious side, too. The other night when he and his dad were on a fishing trip, Zach asked, “Do you think I’m a good person?” My husband was so touched by the question. “Of course you’re a good person,” he said, “and we’re all so proud of your accomplishments and who you are.” Then Zach said, “Yeah, I’m rockin’ my autism, right, Dad? Even though it’s hard for me, I’m trying my best.” That pretty much sums up how Zach is doing, and how we’re all doing. We love this kid, and we’re rooting for him every day. But we’re still aware of the challenges we face.

I’m glad you asked about my daughter too. Olivia is sixteen now, and she’s trying to get her driver’s license and a job. Like any older sister, she often gets annoyed with her younger brother, and she’s not always nice to him (or he to her). She knows exactly how to push his buttons. At the same time, she also knows how to comfort him when he’s sad about school or social challenges. One moment the two of them are yelling at each other, and the next they’re hugging. Everything is more intense in this sibling relationship because of Zach’s autism.

Olivia is a stronger person because of all she’s learned from having a brother on the spectrum. This sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. She’s developed insights way beyond her years. She hates it when her classmates are judgmental about anyone—she’s all about giving people a chance and trying to find out what makes them tick. She’s outspoken, and that’s not easy when you’re in high school. She has expressed to me that life with her brother isn’t simple, but it’s given her a different yardstick to measure by. She seeks friends who are open-minded and loyal, and who aren’t caught up in cliques, status, or popularity. I’m really proud of her in so many ways.

Lorna: I read on your awesome web site, “Her award-winning Best Behavior and Toddler Tools series help families cope with the normal but oh–so–trying daily struggles of early childhood…”  Please tell us about some of the book topics covered in these series.

<< Elizabeth Verdick: The “Best Behavior” series includes titles such as Teeth Are Not for Biting and Words Are Not for Hurting, Best Behavior series by Elizabeth Verdick includes titles such as Teeth Are Not for Biting and Words Are Not for Hurting,nonfiction board books for toddlers who are learning some of the earliest lessons about behavior at home and in childcare centers. The books are sturdy in case they get chewed on! They are full of colorful illustrations of young children of many backgrounds and nationalities. My goal with these books was to give young children simple, positive words to guide them toward better behaviors. So, instead of saying, “No biting!” the book uses more positive phrasing, “Teeth are not for biting. Ouch, biting hurts.” Parents can use the words as a gentle refrain. Young children pick up the phrasing themselves. I love hearing anecdotes from parents who tell me, for example, “My child now says ‘Words are not for hurting’ during playgroup!” The series includes Germs Are Not for Sharing, Tails Are Not for Pulling, Diapers Are Not Forever, Pacifiers Are Not Forever, and more.

The “Toddler Tools” series is another board book collection with the same wonderful illustrator Marieka Heinlen. This series focuses on daily transitions that all toddlers must learn to handle: Naptime, Bedtime, Calm-Down Time, Sharing Time, Listening Time, and more. When children understand that these transitions are part of daily life, they learn to expect them and handle them better. Day-to-day life becomes so much easier for children, parents, and caregivers when these “times” and transitions are more manageable. The books are friendly and supportive; they use simple words that young children can understand. There are 10 books in the series.

Laugh and Learn Series by Elizabeth VerdickLorna: Your Laugh & Learn books help older kids learn to handle their emotions and manage social situations. Tell us about this series.

<< Elizabeth Verdick: As a writer of self-help books, I realize that kids in elementary school and middle school don’t necessarily want to carry around a book about feelings or get caught reading books on social skills! This is why the books in the Laugh and Learn series are full of cartoons and jokes, as well as helpful advice. We’ve worked really hard to make every book in the series comprehensive yet entertaining. Even the titles are funny: Dude, That’s Rude (Get Some Manners), How to Take the Grrrr out of Anger, and Don’t Behave Like You Live in a Cave. It’s sort of like that old song about how “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” A good dose of humor helps the medicine go down; in this case, the “medicine” is advice about behavior, handling emotions or bullies, and getting along with others.

It’s important to me that kids can laugh while they read these “books with a message.” When we can laugh at ourselves and find humor in difficult situations, we stay more open to facing our problems and asking for help. We realize we’re not alone. We’re human: we make mistakes! We can find a better way and move on.

The books are designed for kids eight to thirteen, but they also work for kids slightly younger or older. They can be read with an adult, if needed. Each book is filled with all sorts of practical tips and tools that children can use every day.

Lorna: Tell us about your bilingual books. Will others be translated? Have you considered translating your books in French or in other languages besides Spanish?

<< Elizabeth Verdick: I am lucky that my books have been published all over the world in so many languages! On my bookshelves at home I have versions of my books in French, Chinese, Russian, and many other languages. This tells me that kids all over the world have many of the same issues as they grow up, no matter where they live or what language they speak.

The translated versions have been made available by publishers in many different countries. But more recently, my publisher (Free Spirit Publishing in Minneapolis) has produced bilingual versions of some of my most popular books. For example, Words Are Not for Hurting is now available as an English/Spanish edition. There is a board book version for very young children, as well as a more comprehensive paperback version for children ages four to seven. Similarly, Germs Are Not for Sharing comes in a bilingual edition, both as a board book and as an expanded paperback. We are very proud to know that these award-winning books are reaching a wider audience than ever before.

Lorna: You and your co-author, Dr. Elizabeth Reeve, both have sons with autism. What brought you together to write this book? The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents) by Elizabeth Verdick and Elizabeth Reeve M.D.Writing a 234 page book with all the bells and whistles yours has must not be an easy task. Please share what goals you set out to accomplish with this book.

<< Elizabeth Verdick: I met Dr. Reeve through a mutual friend, and she knew I was a writer of books that help kids cope with all sorts of social-emotional issues. I wanted to write a book for children on the autism spectrum, but I felt it would be very important to have an expert on board. The two of us made a good match! Dr. Reeve has a wealth of experience working with all ages—young children to young adults. She sees kids and parents every day, and she herself has raised a child on the spectrum. Her son is now a young adult going out into the world to find a job.

From the beginning, we knew our book would be long—there is so much to say about autism! It’s a puzzling disorder, and every child on the spectrum is highly unique. Autism affects individuals physically, emotionally, cognitively, and socially. It touches every aspect of a person’s life. We felt our readers deserved to have as much information as possible. Our goal was to create a handbook that can serve readers through many ages and stages in their lives. Readers can read the book in bits and pieces or cover-to-cover. They can dip into a section that will help them with a particular problem (there’s a good index and table of contents). They can read it with an adult or on their own, depending on their reading ability. They can focus on the stories of other kids on the spectrum to see that they’re not alone. There’s a lot there, but each chapter was designed to be manageable. The book has color, cartoons, and quotes from kids on the spectrum to help give readers a break from longer passages of text.The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents) by Elizabeth Verdick and Elizabeth Reeve M.D.

We produced a 234-page book, but the original manuscript was much longer! Part of our process was going back in and figuring out a way to simplify as best we could.

Lorna: The last words of the book, in a section set aside for parents, are, “Your child has a better chance of succeeding in life if you face the diagnosis with an open mind, an open heart, and firmer footing on the path ahead.” I am sure that youth with autism and their families will be able to use many of the great suggestions in your book.  What are some comments you have received about your book that has made all the work involved worthwhile?

<< Elizabeth Verdick: I know what it’s like to get that diagnosis that strikes fear in your heart. In the moment when you hear that your child has autism, you feel so powerless, so confused, almost as if a light has gone out and you’re in a deep, dark place. Often, the experts who give the diagnosis aren’t able to offer a treatment plan that you can start on right away. There are many questions but no easy answers. This is a big moment for parents and caregivers—a moment in which they have an opportunity to stand strong, face the diagnosis, and set out on a path of advocacy for their child. Many parents get caught in a stage of denial or questioning. I hope The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (and Their Parents) provides a window, a light in the darkness—a way for parents, children, and families to see that autism is only a part of who a person is. I just wanted to be able to say, “You’re not alone.” So, it’s very gratifying when parents who are just learning of their child’s diagnosis pick up the survival guide and give positive feedback. Suddenly, they are not as alone as they thought. They can use the book to help their child understand the diagnosis and how to cope.

I love the feedback Dr. Reeve’s own son gave her after reading the book, “Thanks a lot, Mom, you’re only about ten years late on this!” He says he wishes he had a book like that while growing up. My son is reading the book himself, and he brought it to school to show his classmates so they would understand him better. We’ve heard from kids, parents, and grandparents that the survival guide has been a helpful source of advice and support. It makes all of our hard work feel worthwhile! There is nothing better than hearing that our book helped someone feel more hopeful about the future.

Lorna: Thank you so much for taking the time from your very busy life to do this interview.  Are there new books coming out soon?  Please tell us how to follow you.

<< Elizabeth Verdick: I appreciate this chance to share information about my books. I love connecting with readers of all ages! I’m excited to have some new books for the youngest “readers” of all: babies. The new “Happy Healthy Baby” series includes six board books that celebrate all things baby. The six titles are: Move, Cuddle, Reach, Eat, Play, and Rest. Each book includes simple rhyming/rhythmic text, cute black-and-white photos of babies, and little illustrations that are both colorful and whimsical. The books encourage interaction while focusing on baby’s social-and-emotional well-being.

You can find more about my books on my web site: Learn about Free Spirit Publishing at Find me on Amazon and on Facebook, too.

Read Elizabeth Verdick’s post and our comments about The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders here.

Buy The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents) :  Free Spirit Publishing

This post was written by Lorna
Lorna d’Entremont: Co-owner of SentioLife Solutions, Ltd. the company behind KidCompanions Chewelry (2007) and SentioCHEWS (2013), mother of three, grandma of 5 and wife. She is a retired teacher and special needs advocate. Throughout she has taught all levels from grade 2 to grade 9. Lorna loved teaching and enjoyed seeing the students progress in the school system. During her 30 year career she took a few years off to raise her three children.