A new series dealing with Autism, ADHD, OCD, Dyslexia, and Dysgraphia.
At least one in five kids are neurodivergent. This estimate is low if you consider some of the latest statistics. Approximately one in five kids are dyslexic, according to the International Dyslexia Association. One in 36 kids are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and close to one in ten with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
I write the books I wish I had growing up as an undiagnosed autistic girl and the books I want my neurodivergent kids and others like them to have now. In my family of five, we are all neurodivergent. We have different combinations of ASD, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), dyslexia, and dysgraphia.
My journey to get myself diagnosed with ASD as an adult and my three kids diagnosed led to opportunities to write journalistic pieces for newspapers and magazines. My most popular essay, “My Daughter and I Were Diagnosed with Autism on the Same Day,” was published in the New York Times. Having discovered my own neurodivergence by reading personal stories, I wanted to write essays of my own that advocate for those whose brains work differently. I also wanted to help those who were neurotypical have a better understanding of neurodivergence and be more accepting of it.
My journalism led to an opportunity to write my debut children’s picture book, Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism (Albert Whitman, 2020), illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, which is told from the point of view of an autistic girl who has sensory differences. My main character, Holly, needs accommodations to participate in a slime experiment at school. This book is not a book about autism or sensory differences but a book about a girl who just happens to be neurodivergent going about her everyday life by eating pancakes with sticky syrup and making slime with her classmates.
In my new chapter book series, The Infinity Rainbow Club, illustrated by Peter Francis, I write about neurodivergent kids who belong to an after-school club and go on adventures together. A lot of popular book series feature kids who belong to a club, but none that I know of center neurodivergent kids. So that is exactly what I set out to write—a series about a club where neurodivergent kids are the focus.
The Infinity Rainbow Club meets in a sensory gym after school. It is a safe space where all stims and different communication styles are accepted and celebrated. Each book in the series is told from the point-of-view of a different neurodivergent fourth grader.
In Nick and the Brick Builder Challenge, the first book in the series, Nick is an autistic boy who has trouble working in teams, a relatable issue for any kid, not just those who are autistic. If he wants to compete in the brick building challenge with his club, Nick has to be more flexible and collaborate with his partner—the new girl in the club. The story follows Nick as he builds plastic brick cities in his playroom with his sisters and competes in a school district-wide brick building challenge.
The Infinity Rainbow Club exists in the first place because Nick asks his special education teacher if he can start a club for kids that feel different like him. His mom, who is also autistic, tells him the rainbow-colored foam squares that line the floor of their playroom represent the colors of the infinity rainbow, a symbol for those who have brains that work a little differently.
In the second book in the series, Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit, Violet is a girl with OCD who has unwanted thoughts, does everything in sevens, and repeatedly checks for errors. She has to find a way to cope with her anxiety to have a successful opening night at the natural history museum where she volunteers with the club. The adventure starts with dinosaur bone hunting at an active dig site and moves to using augmented reality to bring to life the dinosaur bones in the museum.
In Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament, the third book in the series, Connor, a boy with ADHD, has trouble focusing on school and even his favorite sport, Taekwondo. When his nemesis—Wyatt—starts practicing at his dojang, focus becomes even harder for Connor. He relies on one of the tenets of Taekwondo— perseverance—to make it through his black belt test and his sparring matches in a local tournament.
To represent a wide range of kids with different brains, I included other neurodivergent characters in the series, such as a non-speaking autistic girl, a dyslexic girl with dysgraphia, a boy with dyscalculia, and a girl with dyspraxia.
While I wrote The Infinity Rainbow Club series especially for neurodivergent kids, neurotypical kids will also benefit from reading books that center kids with different brains. Neurodivergent kids will be able to see themselves in books, and their neurotypical peers will have a better understanding of what it’s like to be a kid with a differently wired brain.
An autistic mom of three autistic kids, Jen Malia is the author of The Infinity Rainbow Club series and Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism. She is Professor of English and Creative Writing Coordinator at Norfolk State University. Jen has written for or appeared on the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, Parents, Glamour, Woman's Day, and others. She has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Southern California and is pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Originally from Pittsburgh, Jen currently lives with her husband and three kids in Virginia Beach. You can find her on her website at JenMalia.com.