Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
It's Time is an easy to read soft cover book for children and adults that is suitable for classroom reading from a parent or teacher. This will give insights into what types of issues or behaviors may arise if a child with autism is also in the classroom. It's Time introduces the reader to Tommy, who is a good reader in the second grade. With a new school year just starting this is a good book to have on hand for other students to peruse on their own through the classroom and school libraries.
Parents will appreciate the soft pastel pages and illustrations along with the gentle reminders to "use their words". We learn what Tommy is feeling by observing an illustrated mouse that is located in the bottom corner of each page, in a square box. The expression on the mouse will coincide with how Tommy is feeling, but has trouble expressing it in so many words.
It is indicated on the back cover that they are in second grade with a very understanding teacher. The illustrations of the students appear larger than second grade, more like third or fourth grade. The author, Judith Mammay was a special education teacher in New Hampshire. She moved to Florida after retirement and spends time with her grandchildren, one of whom has autism. The illustrations are by Todd Fargo.
It's Time starts off with Tommy at home playing in his room before the school bus arrives to take him to school. His Mom reminds Tommy that the bus is due to arrive in ten minutes. This transition is not going well as Tommy is in the midst of building a garage with what appears to be Lego's from the illustration. Tommy knocked down the garage and threw himself on the floor. His Mom rubs his back while reminding him to use his words. "He took a deep breath and tried to calm down. It was hard to stop building when he wasn't finished."
Tommy gets a two minute reminder about the bus while he is picking up the blocks. He gets a hug from his Mom when he has finished and they wait outside for the bus. Most families with a child on the autism spectrum can relate to the transition issues and how extra preparations and reminders are a necessary step. I like that they explained what set Tommy off, which is quite helpful to classmates in understanding autism.
The reader does not actually see a school bus or the school. The next page Tommy has already entered his classroom and is in the process of putting away his backpack and jacket when more classmates run through the door. Jake puts his arm around Tommy's shoulder wanting to play a game. This physical contact made Tommy uncomfortable, wanting to run away. The mouse illustration in the corner box has his hands outstretched to indicate do not touch me.
The text explains that sometimes Tommy's heart pounds fast when someone is close to him or they touch him. It is also mentioned that he sometimes forgets to say Hi. This is not explained if there is too much information coming in and that is what causes him to forget the greeting or he is distracted in other ways. The information shared to the reader would be great to utilize as a conversation with the student letting him know the boundaries. This would help other students learn from the child that has autism on what he can and cannot handle or tolerate.
This does open the lines of communication to other students if reading the book in a group setting. The following page has Tommy helping Jake follow the morning rules by putting away his backpack and jacket. "First, put away backpacks and hang up jackets. Then do morning work." Tommy was emphasizing the sameness that takes place each morning. This is the routine and he has it memorized.
Jake and the other students were making a lot of noise, which distracted Tommy from doing his work. Tommy uses his words to follow and stay on task, "Time to work" He tries to stay calm in his chair but soon his breathing gets faster and he yells "TOO LOUD!" Next everyone stops and looks at Tommy. The teacher, Mrs. Brown tels Tommy it is okay and places her hand on his shoulder as she reminds the classroom to use their inside voices.
The illustration shows Tommy with his hands over his ears and his eyes closed. He is trying to tune out the volume in the room. Mrs. Brown gives both Jake and Tommy a five minute warning that circle time is next. Tommy likes getting this reminder as it keeps him calm and lets him finish what he was doing.
After circle time they had reading and math. There were reminders to clean their desks and gather their homework. Tommy knew that next it would be get backpack, jacket and line up at bus. There was a phone call in the classroom with a message that Tommy would not be riding the bus. His Mother would be picking him up instead.
Tommy did not take the change in transportation very well, responding by pounding his fists on the floor. This scared his classmates who moved away from him. One girl started crying while others placed their hands over their ears. The illustration has a red cloud of anger surrounding him. Jake than shares with Tommy how his screaming scares him. He tries to reassure Tommy that he will take the bus the next day.
The following day Tommy was ready for the instructions to do math next when the teacher announced that they would skip math for a surprise. Tommy felt his heart beat faster, not liking surprises since he had no idea what would happen next. He started to clench his fists and was ready to jump on the floor when he remembered how that scares his classmates. Instead Tommy gripped the chair to stay calm, reminding himself to "use his words". The illustration shows the tension Tommy is feeling, while the mouse seems to be gripping his tail with his eyes closed.
The class was going to see a puppet show by The Kids on the Block. Tommy was confused since it was math time, even though he did like puppets, he needed a sense of order to his day and what would come after the puppet show? Mrs. Brown let the students know that it would be lunch time and the afternoon activities. "First puppet, then lunch, then story and science."
Whenever changes took place Tommy would use his words and ask, "Then what will happen? The words helped him know what it was time to do. That helped him stay calm."
The back cover mentioned that Tommy would be upset if his schedule changed. I wondered why they did not utlize a schedule board for the classroom to help all students remember the parts of their school day. I know from visiting classrooms over the years at the Elementary School that they had the schedule on the wall and some classes even had it on the door.
I feel the title for this book does not hit the mark since it really leaves you wondering what is it time for? The book is written for kids, but having a child included in general education would mean an IEP that would list goals and accommodations for Tommy. Sudden changes with the parent picking him up instead of the bus are bound to exacerbate the situation for any student when they are told five minutes beforehand.
On top of that situation the following day is another change to their routine and schedule. The puppet show is done as a surprise with no preparation. It is stressed often to "use their words" to express feelings, but the teacher lacked using words to ease the transitions. Tommy sat between Jake and Mrs. Brown. It is mentioned that he needs his headphones since the music is too loud. One of the puppets is in a wheelchair and they are using words to solve their problems, although it is not evident to the reader what the puppet show is about.
The book explains autism by examples to the school day and sharing with the students what helps to calm Tommy down. There is no lost terminology for kids perusing It's Time. This is a book that fits all grades in the Elementary School. It is easy to comprehend for kids with the mouse and Tommy illustrations capturing the effort and struggles Tommy makes. The word "behavior" is never used so I wanted to make sure I did not utilize it. This is all about having Tommy fit into the general education classroom and work through staying calm with his words and reminders of the schedule.
My 13 year old son is high functioning and read through the book with no feedback from me beforehand. His impression follows:
Very interesting book suitable for young kids to learn how all kids handle their feelings in this age group. Mrs. Brown helped Tommy deal with his anger and calmed down the classroom. She was good at explaining autism to the kids. She seemed to understand him. I liked the mouse sharing Tommy's feelings in the corner of the pages.
To purchase It's Time visit www.JudithMammay.com or through Barnes and Noble.
Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.