Like any 5 year old, Josiah Howard-Tobia loves to play with Lego, ride roller coasters at amusement parks and create YouTube videos. But Josiah is also the star of his own children's book, Josiah’s Ausome Adventures: My Autism, which highlights his personal journey with autism, from struggles to successes. The book, written by Josiah's biggest supporter, mom Katrina Howard, is a thought-provoking narrative told from Josiah's point of view as he explores the world around him. The story focuses on themes of empathy and self-acceptance while educating children on autism and highlighting qualities of Josiah's personality that all kids can relate to.
A former special education teacher, Katrina Howard says she was inspired to write this book by not only her son but the many people she encounters in her everyday life.
"Josiah is an amazing little boy," Howard tells Yahoo Life. "I know all parents say that, but he truly is. I'm told daily by those we encounter how special he is."
"I've heard so many times that Josiah doesn't 'look like he has autism' or he 'can't have autism because he is so smart,'" she adds. "There are a lot of misconceptions regarding autism."
Throughout the book, Howard refers to Josiah's experience as 'my autism' to showcase that although autism is a blanket term, each situation is uniquely its own. Howard says she and Josiah have continually challenged the notions of what it means to be neurodiverse.
"So many people have said they couldn't believe it because he didn't match their perception of autism; he's hyper-verbal, makes eye contact, is very outgoing and empathetic and on and on," she says. "People hear about autism and think of the movie Rain Man."
The beautifully illustrated book shares Josiah's daily struggles, from his aversion to loud noises to his affinity for watching the same television programs on repeat. And, when it comes to starring in his own book, Josiah has no problem sharing his life with the world.
"Everywhere we go he tells people he has a book and YouTube channel," says Howard. "He's a true people person: Josiah wants people to know that autism doesn't make him weird, it makes him special."
In many ways, Howard says she feels that autism acts as a superpower for Josiah. The book highlights the 'powers' that make him exceptionally gifted, including his super-strength memory which allows him to easily memorize songs, people and the lessons he learns in school.
To his Mother, Josiah has been a gift.
"I call Josiah my 'number one since day one,'" she says. "He was born on the one-year anniversary of my dad's untimely passing."
"Josiah was born three weeks prematurely and I truly believe he was sent to me to change the worst day of my life into the happiest," she explains. "We've barely been apart since the day he was born. I'm so blessed he chose me to be his mom. Josiah tells me all the time that I'm his best mom ever, and he makes me laugh and surprises me all of the time with his heart."
Josiah and his mom hope that, through reading his story, parents and kids will be more aware of how to include friends who are neurodiverse.
Josiah's 'ausome' tips for including friends who have autism
Say "Hi!" Even if the child is non-verbal they can still hear and see you. If a child is deaf, wave hello.
Include your friend in playtime even if they don't play directly with you. Just being included makes a world of difference.
Be kind when your friend is having a hard time. That may mean he or she is having a meltdown and needs time away or they are stimming (a way of moving or making noises to self-soothe) to calm themselves. Don't laugh or stare at them: that may make things worse.
Try to understand that your friend may only be interested in one thing, but that doesn't mean they are being mean or rude. Children with autism sometimes get really focused on one or two things and become experts in that area.
The "Golden Rule" always applies: Treat others the way you want to be treated.
The future proves promising for Josiah as he and his mom hope to evolve his book into a series. And, when he is not visiting two of his favorite places, Disneyland and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, he is pursuing an acting and modeling career.
Ultimately, Howard hopes readers will take away a message of understanding.
"I hope they'll take away knowledge that children with autism, no matter where they are on the spectrum, just want to be seen, understood and included. That's what we all want."
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