The first time I met a person with a disability was while hanging out at my friend’s house during my teenage years. My friend and I went into the next room to get something I can’t recall now, and there I saw a young man who looked slightly strange, his face a bit shifted and his back slightly bent bringing to mind a hunchback. She grabbed the item and told me to keep following her, and I felt both embarrassed and awkward that I just quietly followed her out. When I asked my friend who the man was, she explained that he was her Uncle and that he was “autistic.”
It was a memory that stayed with me for the simple reason that I just completely ignored a human being, and that person was okay with it. Later I would meet a few more people with disabilities over the years, including the sister of my friend who was hearing impaired (we were good friends for quite some time) and soldiers I met every few weeks at a veteran’s hospital in Manila to chat with them and help them distract through small talk from the war they had just gone through and maybe the limbs they had lost.
People with disabilities aren’t as uncommon as one might think, and yet sadly there are not enough books to educate our young children on how to communicate with them, especially from where I am from. I find myself blessed to have met people who have corrected me on some of my misconceptions, including the terminology “autistic”. By calling someone autistic, we are putting the disease before the person.
Growing up, I didn’t know much about how to treat people with disabilities and eventually had to learn by experience and exposure. I’m glad to see Southeast Asian authors now also writing about this topic. Here are three that I have found so far (which are all currently in my book collection as well):
1. Sampu Pataas, Sampu Pababa (Ten Up and Ten Down)
Sampu Pataas and Sampu Pababa is the story of a young girl who is always fascinated by her friend’s mathematical prowess. He knows the number of steps to school, the number of steps from one place to another and he often boggles her by asking her mathematical questions she can’t even begin to calculate. A wonderful story that’s proof that disabilities don’t necessarily hinder true friendship.
Text by: Russell Molina
Illustrator: Conrad Raquel
Publisher: Adarna House
Language: Tagalog & English
2. Two Friends, One World
Two Friends, One World is the story of how two friends, one blind and one sighted, explore the park together and experience it differently. By sharing their experiences they discover how much depth the world really has.
Text by: Ramon C. Sunico
Illustrator: Joanne de Leon
Publisher: Anvil Publishing
Language: Tagalog & English
3. My Name is Nadia. I have Autism.
My Name is Nadia. I have Autism is the story of a young girl with autism who explains why she does the things she does, how she slowly starts to understand how the world works and how to properly communicate herself, but also most importantly how her strong support system helped her achieve all these. It’s an important reminder that children with autism are children to begin with; that we should not define them by their “disabilities”.
Also, it’s interesting to note that this book uses a dyslexia-friendly typeface called Dyslexie Font. It’s great to read to see a children’s book opting to do this!
Text by: Huda Patel
Malay text: Hidayah Amin
Illustrator: Evelyn Ghozalli
Publisher: Helang Books
Language: English and Malay
Honorable Mention: Si Ma Guang And The Giant Jar
Though this children’s book does not talk about children with disabilities, what makes it unique is that it’s the first Singaporean children’s book that also uses Braille dots for the blind and also uses a font to help readability for readers with dyslexia. This children’s book is a story about Si Ma Guang, who hurled a stone at a giant vat to save his friend. Read more on this innovative children’s book here.
My children and I have been reading these books for a while now, and L1 often has this weird expression where she’s not sure if she should be happy or sad. It’s very inspiring to see that not all children’s books nowadays are focused on happy endings; our children now, thanks to age-appropriate books, have the proper tools to help understand the real world better.
Here are some more readings you might be interested in:
10 Must Read Books for your Special Needs Child (by Smart Parenting Philippines) (Five are written by Philippine authors!)
Singapore book for special needs kids lauded (Straits Times)
Photos: Singapore Writers Festival, Anvil Publishing
This book is part of my 52 Children’s Books from Asian Authors collection. Discover more children’s books by Asian authors by clicking this photo below: