AJ Cosmo....Advocating for autism, one book at a time.
A.J. Cosmo is a highly celebrated children's book author, who has been independently publishing quality children's books for the past four years. We absolutely fell in love with his work and his heart. He believes that reading is for everyone and has made a sizable footprint in the autism community in regards to awareness and advocacy. Here is a little bit from A.J. himself....
I was asked by Spectrum Inspired to share a little bit about by work and its connection to the autism community.
A little over a year ago, a mother reached out to me about her son's favorite book "The Little Bleeble." The story, which tells the tale of a baby monster feeling rejected by his parents only to find out that he is special, was requested by her son every evening. She asked if I would be willing to do a class visit via Skype and arranged the following month to do just that.
The children were absolutely wonderful and, to my surprise, they were all in a special needs class. Of the twenty or so children present, roughly two-thirds were on the autism spectrum. Again, they were amazing children and asked just as good if not better questions than their counterparts. One recurring theme in their questions was how grateful they were that an author would come speak to them.
Let me back up just a second. My work in children's literature is as much about welcoming the overlooked to the table much as it is to entertain. So when a classroom of kids who never thought an author would visit them showered me with praise, I couldn't help but seek out other ways to help them.
That visit led directly to the creation of "Nuts: Every Family is a Little" which follows the antics of Wally, a squirrel, and his loving but weird family. My step-cousin, who is herself the mother of an ASD child, assisted me in crafting the story with the goal of not only entertaining ASD children, but also communicating to their siblings how and why they need to understand their special relatives.
Each character in "Nuts" is based off of a different mental disorder. Ironically, as soon as it was released I started receiving letters from readers claiming that I had perfectly captured their family. This only reinforced my compulsion to make content for adults and children who normally don't see themselves represented in literature.
Soon after the release of "Nuts", I started communicating and connecting with the ASD community on Instagram. Through hashtags and outreach I soon met tons of families dealing with the special challenges that these children face. One parent in particular caught my attention as she is the mother of not one but three children with ASD. Each of her children are on different ends of the spectrum and while one mostly communicates through touch the other cannot stand physical contact. Their arguments will trigger the third child who is sensitive to noise.
In describing this delicate balance that she lives under, I asked her what use a book could be in her life. She replied "I just wish that my son knew that it was ok to hug me." The thought of not being able to hug my child broke my heart, so with her blessing I began work on what became "It's Ok to Hug."
"It's Ok to Hug" is a picture book specifically created for children with ASD. The goal is to both create acceptance for patterned behavior while simultaneously suggesting ways to break that pattern. Yet in the end, the book is simply a love letter from a mother to a child. The nature of the book and it's intended audience meant that a hardcover printing would be required, thus "It's Ok to Hug" became my first hardcover release.
To celebrate that milestone, I drew portraits of ASD children in their copy of the book. I did this for the first one hundred copies sold and am incredibly proud of how the children were amazed at seeing their own image. Parents reported a lot of great connective moments that happened as a result of the book while the mother who inspired the story couldn't hold back the tears. (The book is also dedicated to her family.)
So where do we go from here? I'm not entirely sure. I will continue to support and create for the autism community from here on out, however, I don't want to force books simply to fill up a category. "Nuts" will have a sequel shortly though and there will be plenty more monster and underdog books as well. No matter what, it's been an honor to be welcomed into this community and learn about a condition that affects so many around us. Life is about making space for people and meeting them where they are. In that way the ASD community is on the front lines of life itself. "