Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
Looking After Louis is not a book I would share with others to teach about understanding children on the Autism Spectrum. Autism is not mentioned within the pages of the book, but rather the last page explains the purpose of the book by a Child Clinical Psychologist.
Looking After Louis starts off with artwork adorning the first page spread, as well as the last page on the opposite side of the section on autism. The story is narrated by one of the female students in the class, which is a regular education classroom without mentioning the actual grade.
The kids are acting silly with their images portraying laughing, sticking out tongues, chewing on hair, whispering and coloring. It is my guess that the class is either first or second grade.
Louis is the new boy at school, who sits and stares often at the wall. It seems from the text that Louis might have echolalia. I have no experience with echolalia as my son Nicholas has regular speech and Matthew is nonverbal. According to Wikipedia, "Echolalia is the repetition or echoing of verbal utterances made by another person. Up to 75% of autistics exhibit echolalia in some form."
Louis would repeat portions of the conversation other children would participate in, when he was addressed by the teacher or another child he would repeat it. There was never any mention of a speech issue or echolalia from the teacher. The children often laughed finding this funny, without really benefiting from an explanation to the behavior.
While outside for recess with the other classmates playing a game of soccer there is Louis walking around flailing his arms, oblivious to what is taking place with the rest of the children. The artwork shows some kids running and dancing around, mimicking what Louis is doing with others screaming and upset over the interruption.
The recess page spread lacks utilizing support for the children and Louis during the outside break. There is no one watching over Louis or helping to facilitate socialization among the students. A few pages later the reader is introduced to " Mrs. Kumar, who sits by Louis and helps him." The terminology is not correct in identifying Mrs. Kumar as an aide, in fact she is wearing a pink polka dot apron over her clothing!
There is even a boy wearing a hat backwards in the class - this would not be allowed in any classroom at schools my children have attended. The images and text are cutesy, but not overly realistic to any actual mainstreaming for a child on the Autism Spectrum.
When Louis repeated the teacher, Miss Owlie in saying to sit up straight, everybody the girl who is narrating makes mention that while everyone laughed when Louis repeated this sentence, had it been Em, Sam or her she would have been angry.
At recess one morning Sam was busy playing with his new soccer ball while Louis ran around. Sam would try to pass the ball to Louis, who would chase it with his arms outstretched. A few other boys joined in the game and each time Louis got close to the ball Sam would yell out, "Great game, Louis!"
All day long Louis spent the day drawing, which appeared to be a picture playing soccer. This girl brought the picture with Louis to show the teacher. He got rewarded for doing the drawing by being allowed outside with Mrs. Kumar and Sam. The rest of the class watched from the window with the girl displaying her irritation over this to the teacher with her hands on her hips. After she pondered the teacher asking her how she felt that Louis and Sam were allowed to play outside, she finished the book by saying, "I think we're allowed to break rules for special people."
The data listed at the back of the book on autism includes, "Louis is able to watch and learn from his peers and to practice social skills, while his classmates learn empathy and respect for individual differences."
As a reader of Looking After Louis I did not find that to be true since the children were laughing and not given any assistance during recess with the end result being Louis got to play outside another time that they could only sit in the classroom and peer out the window.
Looking After Louis is too simplistic without expanding on the mainstreaming and social skills aspect of the message it seemed to convey. I showed the book to my almost eleven year-old son Nicholas, who is high functioning and he did not think it was encouraging. He made mention that some of the children's eyes were too wide and far apart and not what really happens in the classroom or at recess.
The backside of the book writes - " Louis has autism, but through imagination, kindness, and a special game of soccer, his classmates find a way to join him in his world."
I do not know what the target age for reading Looking After Louis is, or even who it is marketed to, whether it be classmates of those children who are mainstreamed, siblings or the general public at large.
There are better books on the market that showcase children with autism at school participating in positive ways. It helps when the text includes explanations for the reader to comprehend what is taking place, instead of showing children laughing and no one interjecting the reason for the behavior or supervising children on the playground.
Glad Monster, Sad Monster