Kids don’t always understand when they might see a child behaving or acting in unexpected ways. And let’s face it. Sometimes other kids ask questions. Sometimes inappropriate ones. In public. A little too loudly. Parents may sometimes be at a loss for how to help their child be aware and sensitive to other children who may act or look differently than they do. Shenita Agee wanted to change this.
She wanted to raise awareness of the various behaviors kids with special needs can have. However, she specifically did not want to look at it from the lens of a disability. Instead, as a strength and a gift of what makes that child unique. I had the opportunity to do an interview with author and mother, Shenita Agee. She wrote her first book, “My Big Brother DJ“ about her son, DJ, with the hopes of changing young minds. The book is written from the viewpoint of DJ’s sister, Paige.
As a behavioral pediatrician I was excited to receive a copy of this book. I loved the story line and the positive, upbeat message. I loved the illustrations. Never once did the author mention exactly what condition DJ has. Just that he has special needs. In the end, it doesn’t matter what special needs condition he has, because he also is “just like any other kid.”
To Paige, DJ is “super-awesome.” The message his that kids with special needs “want to be treated like everybody else. They want to be your friend.”
Question and Answer with Author and mother, Shenita Agee
Q: What was your reason for writing ‘My Big Brother DJ’?
A: “I think as a society we think kids with special needs automatically means ‘autism.’ But there are other types of special needs. Special needs comes in different forms for different kids. When you have a kid with special needs, I wanted to write this so other kids are aware about this.
When they meet a kid that has a device with them, I want them to have seen and heard about it. Or if a kid charges at you like a dinosaur, then you understand that maybe it’s because he is nonverbal. My son now knows how to say hi, but before he used to just click at people. I wanted to bring awareness of the different layers so that readers have a sense of compassion.”
Q: What do you want others to know about your son, DJ, and others with special needs?
A: “He has the same likes and dislikes as any other normal kid. You may get one version of DJ and a different one, depending on the day.” They are all DJ, the DJ his family loves.
“DJ goes to a special needs school and I wanted to show kids what goes in there. I hope the book starts a dialogue. When DJ went to a mainstream school he had different needs and no one else in the school had a device. It was “not normal.” But now in his special needs school, it is.” One of DJ’s elementary school teachers took it upon herself to learn about and understand how to use the device when interacting with him. She cites that teachers can be great advocates for children with special needs and helping other kids understand and be accepting and help kids who think or act differently.
DJ is currently 15 years old and thriving in his special needs school. His day consists of learning how to vacuum and count money and learning other life skills. But he also does gym, music and receives speech and occupational therapy.
Q: Who is the ideal reader of your book, ‘My Big Brother DJ’?
A: I wrote this book for everyone. Obviously families of children with special needs already will have other kids who are exposed and understand what it is like. But the book will be good for anyone with a special needs person in their life, as well as educators.
Head over to the author’s website, read her blog and shop the store. When you buy the book from her site, you can also download a special coloring page.
And, more books about DJ coming soon!
For more information, make sure to check out:
Operation Uniquecorn (Facebook page): a new nonprofit dedicated to assist the needs of children with ‘invisible disabilities” and their families with the mission to do this through advocacy, increased inclusion, financial support, and improving education to families and public
For those of you in Indiana where I am, make sure check out About Special Kids (ASK), Indiana’s Parent to Parent organization that works throughout the state “to give support, answer questions, and provide information and resources to families of children with special needs.
Special considerations given the pandemic: COVID: Caring for children and youth with special health care needs (Healthychildren.org)
I will be keeping a copy of this book in my clinic so that my private practice clients can read it to their children. I hope that educators will want to buy copies of the book to include in their classroom or school library too! It is a sweet book that promotes inclusion and equity through the innocent eyes of a young child.