Every parent has a different story when it comes to their kids’ growth and development.
“Troy was my first [child], so he was easy and he hit all his milestones. When my daughter, Alicy, was born she started off easy then started to digress. Around 18 months, I realized she wasn’t talking anymore and she wasn’t saying any words. She was getting constant ear infections,” said Stacy Yildiz.
At the age of three years old, Alicy was diagnosed with nonverbal autism.
“It was devastating at that time. You have to have a grieving period. It’s the hardest thing because you grow up with thinking your life is going to be a certain way,” said Yildiz.
Yildiz, an elementary school teacher, said it was what she witnessed on the playground that inspired her to write a children’s book.
“A lot of times kids will see her and they’ll want to talk to her. When they realize she can’t talk, they just ignore her unless my son is there and says ‘she can’t talk, but she still wants to play,’ then they’ll include her. I thought to myself, ‘I need to come up with something,’” said Yildiz.
The book titled ‘I Want to Belong’ is about inclusivity. It’s a lesson Alicy’s older brother Troy is constantly teaching their friends.
“She just has autism and that doesn’t make her different,” said nine-year-old Troy.
“He tells them [his friends] everything. Just because she doesn’t talk doesn’t mean she’s not smart. ‘She can climb to the top of the rock wall.’ He says all of the amazing things about her. He’s just the best big brother,” said Yildiz.
The book illustrates scenarios Alicy, now six years old, and many other kids with autism can relate to. For example, a child may try to talk to Alicy and she won’t be able to respond with words, but makes certain noises. The book also illustrates Alicy on the floor crying and having a certain reaction to things that others may not understand.
Yildiz also has a page showing Alicy at a birthday party. It’s a memory she said will stick with her forever.
“Everybody wants to go to birthday parties and be included, even if they don’t fully participate in ways you’d expect. The first birthday party invite we got I probably cried for an hour straight because it was exciting someone wanted to include her,” said Yildiz.
Even Alicy’s behavior analyst, Brittany Ayala, is featured in the book.
Ayala has been working with Alicy and her family for years. She said they’ve been working on different ways to communicate.
“Everybody deserves their voice to be heard, so we take what motivates them and teach them how to communicate for it. So instead of crying for something she wants, she can use her communication device or even some of her vocals to tell us what she needs,” said Ayala.
One of their favorite ways to communicate is illustrated in the book: a high five. Ayala said it’s the breakthroughs and progress that make her job well worth it.
“It’s very rewarding. It’s always a blessing to see that and how hard the parents work to make sure their kids get the access to everything they need,” Ayala said.
It’s a message spread through this story: treat special needs children just like any other child.
“You still try to talk to them and play with them, as long as you’re including them, that’s all that matters,” said Yildiz.