Eighteen-year-old Burnie Rollinson has Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. People with Asperger’s have difficulty with communication, eye contact and relationships. Burnie’s mother, Anita Rollinson, wanted to write a book to help people better understand the feelings of children with autism. She has now published, “If You Were Me.” Burnie drew the pictures for the book.
Sharon Gibson is a librarian at Friendly High School in Fort Washington, Maryland. She is speaking to a crowd of about 25 students and parents.
“I’m so happy to welcome everyone to our Library Book Program featuring our very, very own Burnie Rollinson. Let’s give him a round of applause.”
Burnie Rollison then reads “If You Were Me” to the gathering.
“You’re you, and I’m me and I’m glad I’m me, different but not less. You say, ‘Hey man,’ I say ‘hello.’ You say ‘see ya,’ I say ‘goodbye.’ You’re talkative and outgoing and I’m quiet and reserved. We’re different, but that doesn’t mean I’m less.”
Sharon Gibson says Burnie is a model of academic success. She says he has served as a wonderful example to other students.
“If You Were Me” is a children’s book. Burnie’s mother wrote it in her son’s voice.
“I just wanted it written in a way so that other children could possibly read it or have someone read it to them.”
She says she also wanted to send a message to other parents of autistic children.
“I just wanted them to feel that they weren’t alone.”
This is how the mother and son worked together on their book: Ms. Rollinson would write a sentence or two and read them to Burnie. Then, he would draw a picture to help explain the meaning of her words.
“I’d leave it to him. I didn’t necessarily want to tell him how to draw because I wanted it to be exactly what he did and it to come from his thoughts and his creativity.”
“If You Were Me” tells Burnie's story. It says he was born to "loving but inexperienced parents." It tells he was diagnosed with Asperger's at age three. It also explains why he has few friends.
“He’s a loner most of the time. And then if he is approached by kids, he doesn’t always know what to say.”
Burnie’s mother explains that he does not easily follow conversations. He may speak of unrelated subjects. For example, she says a group may be talking about movies and Burnie will say something about chicken. But he wants the interaction.
Burnie wants people to know that he has a full life. He attends school, and after class, goes to a part-time job at the library. He says he enjoys the work.
His teacher Anya Plana-Hutt is proud of him.
“The fact that Burnie was able to illustrate his mother’s book and share it with so many people, I think it’s a very good message. It allows people to understand how it is to be on Burnie’s side of the road.”
The special education teacher says it’s important for the community to understand people with disabilities. She says they are just like everyone else. But she says it is important to be patient with them and try to understand what their situation is like.
Anya Plana-Hutt says special education students are trying to be productive. She says they need people who understand how they work and will encourage them and support them.
And this book just might help a lot more people to understand, encourage and support Burnie and others with autism.
I’m Caty Weaver.
VOA correspondent Faiza Elmasry reported this story from Washington. Caty Weaver wrote it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
outgoing – adj. used to describe someone who is friendly and likes being with and talking to other people
reserved – adj. not openly expressing feelings or opinions
academic – adj. of or relating to schools and education
diagnose – v. to recognize (a disease, illness, etc.) by examining someone
conversation – n. an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people
encourage – v. to make (someone) more determined, hopeful, or confident