As her son grew up, Anita Rollinson dreamed of writing a book about his struggle with Asperger's syndrome - one told through his own eyes.
And now, 18-year-old Burnie Rollinson’s story comes to life in “If You Were Me” - a book he co-authored with his mother. She wrote it in her son’s voice and he illustrated it.
“I just wanted it written in a way so that other students could possibly read it or have someone read it to them.” Rollinson said.
And she also wanted to send a message to other parents of autistic children.
“I just wanted them to feel they weren’t alone,” she said.
People with Asperger's syndrome, which is an autism spectrum disorder, have difficulty with communication, eye contact and maintaining relationships.
In the mother-and-son collaboration, Rollinson would write a line or two and read it to Burnie, who would then illustrate the meaning.
“I’d leave it to him,” she said.” I didn’t necessarily want to tell him how to draw because I wanted it to be exactly what he did and it to come from his own thoughts and his creativity.”
Celebrating Their Own Author
Burnie read from the book recently, at the Library Book Program to his classmates and their parents at Friendly High School. Librarian Sharon Gibson says it is a special occasion.
“Burnie’s served as a prime model of academic achievement and he’s served as a wonderful model to other students,” she said.
“If You Were Me” tells Burnie's story, from being born to "loving but inexperienced parents," to being diagnosed with Asperger's at age 3, to explaining why he doesn’t have too many friends.
“He’s a loner most of the time," his mother explained. "And then if he is approached by kids, he doesn’t always know what to say. He may not say something appropriate. They may be talking about movies, then, he’ll [say] something about chicken, something not even related to the conversation that they’re having.”
One page in the book reads, “If you were me, you get placed in special program with other children whose parents heard the same word and you’re in classes with no more than 10 students. You would hear the word ‘special needs’ to describe you and sometimes people are talking about you as though you’re not there.”
Burnie says he doesn’t like to be ignored. “I don’t like someone be talking about me, or people just not saying a word to you at all.” He also wants people to know he’s living a full life. He attends school, plays sports and has a part-time after school job at the library that he enjoys.
Different But Not Less
Anya Plana-Hutt, special education teacher at Friendly High, is proud of her student.
“The fact that Burnie was able to illustrate his mother’s book and share it with so many people, I think it’s a very good message,” she said. “It allows people to understand how it is to be on Burnie’s side of the road.”
She says it’s important for the community to understand people with disabilities, and that the book communicates what Burnie feels, when he says; “You’re you, and I’m me and I’m glad I’m me, different but not less.”
“Individuals with disabilities are like you and me,” she explained. “They could be sitting next you in the bus, they could be walking along the sidewalk with you and if you don’t understand how they interact with others, you may find yourself perplexed. And you don’t realize that maybe you should be more patient with other people, you should understand what they go through and how to empathize with them. Our students are trying to be productive as well. For them to be productive, they need people who understand how they work. We need to encourage them and support them.”
And this book just might get a lot more people to understand, encourage and support Burnie and others with autism.