'A Special Friend' describes perspective of disabled child

June 23, 2013

A special education teacher created a book that helps children understand each other.

"A Special Friend" is a book written in the point of view of a child with a disability. It enables parents and teachers to explain why they may be "different." Laura Matuszewski's book "A Special Friend" is on the shelves at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville. Laura is a special education teacher in the Lake Zurich school district.

The idea of writing this book came when students without disabilities started asking about their peers.

"My students last year and even this year only go into the general education setting for part of the day; they go into art, PE, music and library. Some of them go for social studies and science, but no one was really taking the time to explain to the kids in general education why they were only spending part of the day with them," Laura said.

"A Special Friend " is written from the voice of a child with a disability.

"No one particular disability in general, so it could apply to all children who have special needs but basically the message is they are more alike other children than they are different, Laura said.

The illustrations were done by an 8-year-old named Mikayla. She is a child with autism spectrum disorder.

"I did not tell Mikayla about the book. I just collected her drawings from different samples that she did throughout the year," said Laura. "I matched her work with the words that I had so there were only two pictures that I specifically ask her to draw and the rest just came with the work within the school year."

Mikayla's mom Mary Jane Crow said the book changed her.

"I think she is a lot more confident now. I shared the book with a lot of neighbors and I felt that now that they understand her they are able to help her a lot more," Crow said.

"I hope it will be adapted into curriculums because inclusion is the way education is moving. They want those kids around the kids in general education more and more as much as possible, and we can't do that if we don't help kids understand what makes these kids special and how to treat them and how they have feelings. And it is important to treat them like any other friend in your classroom," Laura said.

"A Special Friend" sells for $11.95. Fifteen percent goes to the Anne and Robert Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

For more information on how to purchase the book, e-mail: aspecialfriend@comcast.net or visit www.andersonsbookshop.com

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