My first baby, Maximillian, was born with tons of black hair and enormous blue eyes and weighed a whopping 9lbs 3oz. We were instantly in love. As Max grew from an infant to a baby to a toddler, it was clear to us we had a special kid on our hands. Before he could walk he was pointing out the letter “O” anywhere we went. By 2.5 he was counting to 100 and reading tons of words. When it came time to send Max to preschool, we picked out the highest-rated preschool in the city. We knew, even though he was starting school 2 days after his baby brother was to be born, that he would rock it. He would be the star student. He would love school and his teachers would love him. Max’s experience would be perfect in every way. We were wrong.
Max does not make eye contact.
Really? I never noticed that.
Max does not play with his peers.
Is he supposed to at 2.5?
Max makes weird noises.
Don’t all 2-year-olds?
Max does not greet his teachers.
Max does not transition from task to task well.
He does this so well at home!
Max has sensory issues regarding his food and won’t eat snack.
Also fine at home!
And the kicker. Max does not talk except to repeat what the teachers say.
WHAT? I’m freaking out.
I have a background in education. My degree is in Art Ed, which is very heavily focused in child development. I knew what this meant. I knew this checklist verbatim. This is the “early signs of autism” checklist. You think my child is autistic. In my 6 month long journey of grief, denial, acceptance, and peace, I just wanted someone to say AUTISM. WE THINK YOUR CHILD HAS AUTISM, but now the important thing is that I no longer care. I have come to the realization that Max is Max.
At this moment, while writing this story, Max just turned 3. We are still waiting for an official evaluation, but life is easy again. Life is good. Max is in 3 therapies – Occupational Therapy with an amazing therapist named Yoshi, who is never not smiling, Speech Therapy with Lauren Horton, who was the first person to help me see the light at the end of the tunnel and just so happens to be the co-author of Hoo Hoo Who, and music therapy at The University of Louisville’s Music Therapy Program. He is funny. He is smart. He is cuddly. He is perfect. He is delayed in language and does have trouble with eye contact. He much prefers to play with adults than with children.
I have learned that all of these “negatives” come with some really cool other traits. For Max, it’s perfect pitch. He names the notes of dog barks and the sound a pipe makes when you clang it. My electric toothbrush makes a “B Note” when you turn it on. He can also read so many words at just barely 3 – it’s amazing. And I have found that this is the case with EVERY SINGLE KID who does not fit into the “Neurotypical Category.” There are advantages and there are disadvantages, but at the end of the day, your kid is your kid no matter the label.
I don’t like to dwell on the dark days as we call them in my family (the six months of baby hormones and autism obsession that filled our house), but those days are important because we need to know as parents and caregivers of kids with different needs that the dark days are normal. They are important. And we all go through it. I laid on the floor crying, unable to bond with my little baby because all I could think about was my Max. All I could do was obsess over the autism question, over every little thing he did, or would be able to do in his life. I was crazy and my husband and my mom were scared (but very supportive and amazing).
As I said before, the coauthor of Hoo, Lauren Horton, was the first professional to help me get out of the dark days. She did this with one simple sentence: “Max is so smart.” It was that easy. I needed to hear someone, somewhere say something good about Max. I was inundated with his faults, the skills he lacked, the box he was being put in. One compliment lifted me up. She never made me feel like Max was “wrong” or that he was never going to be normal. She focused on the steps to get him to the next level of speech. I needed this. A calm plan.
What does all of this have to do with the book?
Well, Lauren and Max work on WH- questions A LOT: Who, What, Where for now and soon, When, Why, How. Kids with language delays may not have trouble with labeling objects or even asking for what they want or need, but conversations are hard. Max never liked to answer questions – always complaining or whining when we did ask him something. I thought that was his personality. I even told my husband to stop pushing him. But it wasn’t his personality. Max didn’t know how to answer WH- questions. They were too much for him, too confusing. My kid who has known his colors, shapes, number, letters for years did not know the difference between Who, What and Where. These questions are the building blocks of conversations and are HUGELY important to language development. I started thinking, why didn’t I know about this? Why doesn’t every parent know about the importance of WH- questions? Why aren’t WH- question books as prevalent as shape and number books? So I started doing some research. I wanted to find Max some books that dealt with WH- questions to help his language development along. All I could find were books with the word AUTISM in bold on the front cover. I wasn't searching for a textbook, just a storybook we could read together – so I decided to write and illustrate my own WH- series of books for all kids, beginning with WHO. And WHO better to go on this journey with than a speech pathologist, specifically one who has touched my life and Max’s as well.
I am so excited to show this book to the world and hopefully spread the word to ALL parents (not just to those whose children have language delays), the importance of WH- questions in language development and that they can be focused on in a fun and natural way – just like all those color books.
I hope you enjoy!
-Mary Maier, author of Hoo Who Hoo?