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Vignettes Of Author's Daughter Inspired Kid's Book About Sensory Differences


We all know the five senses - sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. But when author Lindsey Parker Rowe went through therapy with her toddler who'd been diagnosed with autism, she learned that there are three more.

LINDSEY ROWE PARKER: Which are proprioception, which is your body in space. You have vestibular, which is - if you think of yourself spinning in a circle or on a swing, that kind of feeling. And then there's interoception, which is, like, the feelings of inside your body - so if you're hungry or full or you have to go to the restroom.

CORNISH: Everyone experiences all eight, but people with sensory differences feel them, well, differently. Parker Rowe and illustrator Rebecca Burgess, who is also autistic, have distilled this complex and sometimes confusing experience in a new children's book. It's called "Wiggles, Stomps, And Squeezes Calm My Jitters Down." Parker Rowe says she collected vignettes of her daughter, and that's what the story is based on. It follows a mom and daughter through a day.

ROWE PARKER: And the child has heightened sensory differences. The mom is incredibly supportive, but then she's also - you know, backs away and lets them, you know, experience things on their own.

CORNISH: Let's give an example. Is there a page that you remember working pretty hard on?

ROWE PARKER: I think one of my favorite ones is when the child is running around the room. And it says, (reading) Round and round, I zoom, touching every wall. And I giggle and shriek. My voice is loud inside my head. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow (ph) - and that's what calms my jitters down.

And basically, the child is running around, zooming, feeling the vibrations of her feet as she runs through the house. And her mom is just, you know, making dinner and smiling and knowing that she's getting that sensory input that she's looking for. She's getting her - you know, her zoomies (ph) out.

CORNISH: Let's talk jitters for a second. Actually, trying to put a sensory experience in 2D is probably pretty complex. Rebecca, can you talk about how you wanted to depict this experience?

REBECCA BURGESS: Yeah, I think the jitters thing specifically, I mean, that's something people don't understand because, on the outside, it kind of looks like it's an emotional thing, but it's more like a physical thing. I guess that's how I drew it as well. Like, when you feel jitters like that, that's a great word for it. Like, that is, like, an actual feeling, when you do need to move around to get rid of it. It can make you feel unwell if you don't do anything about it. It's hard to explain to adults, you know? You don't have the language when you're a child.

CORNISH: So as a kid, what was that like? I mean, you're saying that you couldn't quite explain to adults. Kind of what scenarios would that play out?

BURGESS: I didn't have a happy childhood (laughter) 'cause my mom's a therapist, so she kind of tried, like, therapy stuff, thinking I was just worried about things, but it was, like, sensory things. So - but no one realized that. And yeah, so I just used to be stressed out all the time and, like, very tough to, like, go to kids' parties that I really didn't want to be at because that's very overwhelming and just be, like, dragged to stuff where people would just be thinking that I was, I don't know, maybe having a tantrum, I guess.

CORNISH: Lindsey, from a parent perspective, that's a great example, the idea of a tantrum, right? How a child is trying to outwardly express distress - that comes from a very specific sensory experience. And the mom in this book, I have to say, she never looks flustered, upset or angry, even when her daughter pushes her away, right? How much of that is part of your parenting experience?

ROWE PARKER: I mean, I definitely get pushed away. But, you know, in those moments, it's not about me, you know? It's about what's best for her and how to get her to calm down and sometimes step back and just be there and support them in the ways that, you know, they need.

CORNISH: Fundamentally, you guys have sort of named something in a way that doesn't feel stigmatized, right? The idea of the jitters and wiggles and stomps and squeezes are - I think, are things that, like, any kid can relate to. Lindsey, what does your daughter think of this book?

ROWE PARKER: She is basically my No. 1 fan (laughter). A lot of these things she's experienced, and her favorite page is absolutely the one where the child gets stuck inside the shirt.

CORNISH: Right. This is a scene where the mom is trying to help the child into the clothes. And what's interesting about it is it's not just being stuck inside the shirt - because I have a 3-year-old; that happens all the time. But the - what's going on through the child's head while this is happening.

ROWE PARKER: It just - it feels so real, and you don't know if you're going to be able to get out. And just capturing that in the way that Rebecca drew it, it just - I was like, oh, that is it; that is the feeling when you're inside and you're like, where are my hands? I can't move. I am stuck. And it's just - that's one of my favorite pages in the book, and that's absolutely my daughter's favorite page.

CORNISH: Rebecca, for you, you mentioned earlier that you sort of wish you had something like this growing up. Why?

BURGESS: It's nice to have put words to stuff, especially jitters feeling, because I think - when I was a kid, I used the word paranoid, which I didn't feel at all, but it was the only word I could think of that was a little bit like anxiety but not anxiety 'cause that's not what I was experiencing, so that's the word that my 9-year-old self came up with (laughter). It's just good to have, like, words for these things so that you can explain it properly to parents so that they can kind of understand your point of view.

CORNISH: Lindsey, fundamentally, is this for kids or for their parents?

ROWE PARKER: I think it's for both. When a little kid picks it up, you know, if they experience some of these sensory differences, they say, oh, OK, you know, I'm not the only one. And I hope that when their parents or their caregivers or their teachers or whomever pick it up also, they have a little more empathy for those things that they may see and outwardly could snap judgment on some of these behaviors. But instead, you know, know that there's probably something else going on that you don't understand and to give people a little bit of grace.

CORNISH: That was author Lindsey Parker Rowe and illustrator Rebecca Burgess. Their book is called "Wiggles, Stomps, And Squeezes Calm My Jitters Down."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.