“Inclusion is more of a mindset than it is anything else. The best place to begin teaching attitudes of acceptance and inclusion is in the homes and early childhood institutions,” says Christine Staple Ebanks in regard of her newly released children’s book, ‘I’m Just Like You But Different: A Story About Living With Cerebral Palsy’.
The feeling of alienation is the typical experience of children with special needs. It takes intentionality to ensure that there is awareness and understanding about how to include children with special needs in a way which respects their rights and encourage other children to relate to and play with them.
I’m Just Like You But Different: A Story About Living With Cerebral Palsy was written to solve the issue of alienation for Nathan, a young boy with cerebral palsy who lived in Jamaica. Cerebral palsy is a childhood disorder which affects movement and development in children. Nathan was diagnosed with this disability at 9 months old. At 5 years old, he was smaller than his peers.
He used a wheelchair for mobility, and because he was nonverbal, he had a caregiver who went to school with him. His classmates saw his differences and because his caregiver fed him his meals, they called him ‘the baby’. This made Nathan incredibly sad and he didn’t want to go to school.
Christine soon recognized that Nathan was unhappy at school. She decided to spend some time in his class to figure out what was the problem. She quickly saw that he had no friends. None of his classmates talked to him or included him in playtime because he looked different. Christine wrote the story ‘I’m Just Like You But Different’ to introduce Nathan, and his special needs and his aides to his classmates. The story shared some of the ways that Nathan was the same as his classmates and explained his special needs.
It showed how his classmates can play with him. This changed everything for Nathan. That year he formed some incredible friendships and experienced true inclusion for the first time. It was a win-win situation, as his classmate’s parents later shared that their children (without disabilities) became more helpful, caring and empathetical.
For children, we know that they can be more accepting of differences. But laying the right foundations is vital to foster this development. ‘I’m Just Like You But Different: A story about living with cerebral palsy targets young minds so they can learn that children with disabilities are children, much like themselves, and they need not be afraid of them because they may look, sound or act differently in some ways.
Another great value we can derive from this book is that can all relate that as children, we were drawn to stories that resonate with the challenges we were facing. Being able to connect with what others were going through helped to give us a sense of belonging. Feeling safe to be oneself, overcoming challenges and bonding with others in friendships are some of the stuff that translates into purposeful meaning for the young readers.
Having books on the shelves like this one is important for children with disabilities and special needs, as they will not only see children without disabilities through the pages of books but will also see themselves and their stories being carried. This is certainly achieved in every page of this great book, as it depicts children with and without disabilities learning and playing together.
The book is a beautiful example of love and collaboration. Future by Design Studio illustrated the story in a way which captures the heart and spirit of this beautiful story of inclusion. Erin Mercer, speech and language pathologist through skilful developmental and editorial editing, brought out the themes of friendships, support and belonging. All in all, this beautiful children’s book sends the message that every child matters. Every child has the right to belong and to have meaningful friendships, no matter their abilities or disabilities.
I give the book 10 thumbs way up. If you would like to support the work of Nathan Ebanks Foundation® (The NEF), you can find the book now available on Amazon worldwide in print and ebook. Read more here. At Nathan E-Banks foundation, we are thankful for Future by Design for collaborating with us in designing and illustrating our book and also, UN volunteers for providing their support and hard work.