LIHU‘E — Shana Cruz finally has the community she’s been seeking, and she built it by reaching out to other families who are raising children with developmental disorders.
She’s also just finished writing a book about life with her two young sons.
Brothers SJ and Matthew are about two years apart, and both have autism. Both were diagnosed with developmental disorders at about age 2. Now, the brothers, ages 9 and 7, respectively, are the stars of a book written by Cruz, entitled “Two Local Bruddahs with Autism.”
The picture book, illustrated by Mike Motz, details the journey the family has taken, including conversations with teachers and doctors, their journey to understand autism, learning patience, and ultimately finding a way to enjoy life to the fullest.
Cruz started the project in 2016, after already starting a parent-to-parent support group on-island for children with developmental disabilities. Known as “Be The Voice,” the effort was a way to both help other families and gain inspiration for herself.
“I just wanted more of a community,” Cruz said, remembering back five years to the time she started voicing thoughts about the book. “I wanted to be able to share with others.”
The group Be The Voice started that community. Working with organizations like Easter Seals Kaua‘i and Kaua‘i Autism Taskforce, Cruz has been able to create more of a foundation for families who need information about autism. Now, with a newly-released picture book, her story will reach even more of an audience.
Every April, the organization passes out puzzle pieces, made from crayons — the multi-colored puzzle piece is the international symbol for autism. It’s a way to promote Autism Awareness Month. Those same puzzle pieces decorate the edges of the pages in “Two Local Bruddahs with Autism.”
“The kids colored those puzzle pieces themselves, and then I took them and made copies,” Cruz said, explaining how she worked the boys’ art into the book.
The story brings the reader into life with the Cruz family, in which there are four total children: the eldest is SJ, then Matthew, Caleb and Amelia. Parents Frank and Shana balance life in the book much like they do in life, taking one day at a time and working hard to include SJ and Matthew.
The book concludes: “When you look beyond the label of autism allowing the child to be a child and explore the world, they will embrace autism and find the capability to do many things people say they can’t do.”
That, Cruz says, is her mission — to empower families to reach and out and connect, and to empower individuals to see beyond their own challenges and shortcomings.
“Two Local Bruddahs with Autism” is available for purchase online.