“I would advise teachers to treat their students humanely regardless of their beliefs about disabilities,” Diego Pena, Age 9
By Debra Muzikar
A couple months ago I became aware a Ventura County third grader who was non-speaking and had an autism diagnosis had written book Anatomy of Autism: A Pocket Guide for Educators, Parents and Students which was now on the Amazon bestseller list. I wanted to know how that book came to be and decided to interview him for an Art of Autism exclusive.
Diego is fully included in a general education classroom with his communication partner, Amanda. Diego also participates in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program in his district. He was awarded a $150 grant by the GATE program to develop a poster and class video with his peers to educate others about autism. Diego’s teacher, Mrs. Amy Wood, encouraged Diego to turn the project into a book, which we now know as one of Amazon’s bestselling books, Anatomy of Autism. Diego loves creative writing, telling sarcastic and witty jokes, and playing outdoors.
Here are my questions and Diego’s responses.
Q: How old are you?
A: I am the magical age of a young genius, which is 9.
Q: How old were you when you started writing the book Anatomy of Autism?
A: I was only 9. It was a piece of cake. And yes, that was sarcasm. It was a labor of love.
Q: Why did you write the book?
A: My teacher told me to write about my Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) project, “Anatomy of Autism.” After I was done she said to publish it which was the best advice.
Q: Can you tell me something about your education experience.
A: I attend public school and it’s mostly been awesome. The one negative experience I did have could have ruined my life because of lacking education. I would advise teachers to treat their students humanely regardless of their beliefs about disabilities.
Q: What is the biggest myth about autism you’d like people to know?
A: The biggest myth is that we aren’t smart, but we are.
Q: What do you want people to know about non-speaking autistic people?
A: Speak to us like everyone else. We understand you. We need time to respond. Our bodies aren’t always cooperative.
Q: Any advice for parents and educators?
A: Never give up.
Q: Are you going to be having any book signing events in the near future?
A: I need to hire an assistant first.
Some excerpts from Diego’s book which we will add to our autism favorite quotes page:
“Trust me, I want to talk to you. My inability to speak is confused for my intelligence. I do have a voice, I speak with a Talker (my iPad), and I get to share my ability as a thinker like everyone else.”
“Working on communication in a meaningful way should be a priority when working with us. There is nothing worse than being left out of the conversation. Talk to us please; we love to be included. You have the power to make a difference in how people judge a person with autism.”
“When you encounter someone like me, don’t stop teaching because we are capable of learning. We are capable of being motor superstars at our own pace. Just know we try hard every day.”
This year Diego was award the Autism Society of Ventura’s Awesome in Autism Individual of the Year award. Diego’s book Anatomy of Autism: A Pocket Guide for Educators, Parents and Students can be purchased on Amazon.