Friday, June 30, 2017

Mom writes book to help kids talk about differences

By Louise Kinross

“This is me,” Sheriauna said proudly when she saw the book her mom Sherylee Honeyghan had published.

The cover is of a young black girl wearing a tiara, smiling at herself in the mirror. She has one hand.

Growing up, Sheriauna, now 10, didn’t see herself in the books and toys around her. Dolls “aren’t black, don’t have hair like me and have two hands,” she’d tell her mom. The only time Sheriauna saw herself was when she drew her own pictures. “She always drew herself without her left hand,” Sherylee says, noting that she was born with an amputation below her left elbow.

I am Sheriauna is a new children’s book Sherylee wrote six years ago, when Sheriauna was four.

“When she was younger she didn’t have the vocabulary and emotional regulation to explain 
this is why I am the way I am,” Sherylee says. “If children stared or asked what happened to your hand, she’d get frustrated and would cry. I wanted to open a conversation between children and the adults in their life where they could start to understand what an amputee is, and that people with differences are people, too.”

The book covers Sheriauna’s birth and her first prosthesis, fitted at Holland Bloorview. It talks about the things she can do with her prosthesis, and the things she does better without it. “It includes her encounters with other people and how that made her feel,” Sherylee says. “I explain why people might stare or be curious, because she doesn’t look exactly like them. The message is that we’re all different, and the world would be a boring place if we were all the same.”

When Sheriauna was small, Sherylee taught her to say “I was born this way and I’m special” when others asked about her arm. “When we were raising her, we always told her ‘God made you this way and everyone is different in their own way.’”

Sherylee says she wrote the book with simple language, from the perspective of a four-year-old, so that it’s easy to understand.

Today, Sheriauna is a social butterfly who adores hip-hop and loves to help others, her mom says. “She’s at the age where she can be her own advocate and participate in conversations. She’ll be involved in promoting the book and the message behind it.”

Sherylee hopes to launch a website for the book in the next couple of weeks.

She encourages parents to talk openly with children with physical differences. “My advice, first and foremost, is don’t shy away from the conversation with your child. From the get-go I would always roll up Sheriauna’s sleeve, for her mobility and accessibility. The social worker told me ‘You want to let her know that it’s okay to show your stump, to roll up your sleeve, and for people to see that there’s nothing wrong with what’s there.’”

Sherylee says that while it’s natural to want to protect your child, “the reality is that we can’t be there every minute. We have to equip them with the vocabulary, understanding and messaging to take with them, to get them through awkward moments and to feel more empowered.

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