When Judy Cohen heard about a California woman who wanted to write a book because her young son with autism was not understood by the teachers or children in his classroom, she immediately called her daughter, Mindee Pinto.
“I suggested she write this book and I would help. Between the two of us, we have many years of experiential educational background to pull from,” says Cohen.
The mother-daughter team, along with illustrator Mark Fairbanks, created a book called “Mikey.”
Many children with autism attend mainstream classrooms for at least part of their school day. Many struggle socially and are at risk of being isolated or bullied. “Mikey” is written through the eyes of a child with autism, as he proceeds through his day in a regular education classroom.
It’s mission is to help teachers, parents, other family members and especially other kids understand how a child with autism may see and respond to his classroom.
Only after Cohen and Pinto teamed up with Fairbanks did they learn that he and his wife, Maggie, have a son with autism who is a freshman at Whitefish Bay High School, with very little academic resource help. Maggie is also a special education teacher.
“None of this we knew going into our possible business relationship. It was meant to be,” says Cohen.
After only two meetings, the team developed the concept for “Mikey” and began working on it.
Mikey’s character is an accurate depiction of autistic kids: he looks like his non-autistic peers, however he learns differently and reacts differently to the world around him. Also, the story makes it clear that he has the same emotions and needs as every other child.
“Mark completely pegged the facial expressions of Mikey, knowing full well Mikey’s emotions, as they currently live the real-life Mikey situation,” says Cohen.
Autism is diagnosed in 1 of every 50 children.
“Right now, many adults and children in our schools understand very little how even the littlest noise, as a furnace humming or a school bell, can quickly disrupt this child’s day,” says Cohen.
Cohen has been involved in education for over 30 years and in 2012 retired from the Milwaukee Public School system. She was a special education classroom teacher for the first 12 years and the last 18 years served as a diagnostic teacher, evaluating children referred for academic and behavioral disabilities in many schools, finishing at Hartford University School and Maryland Montessori School.
“I have evaluated many children on the autism spectrum, as well as taught children with autism in my classrooms,” says Cohen.
Pinto has degrees in speech pathology and a masters degree in early childhood special education, with an emphasis on autism. She is in her seventh year of teaching and during the first five years, her classroom was composed of children with only autism.
“This book needs to be in every classroom in every city, state and country. We must continue to teach children and adults about acceptance and tolerance for children with autism,” says Cohen.