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Once nonverbal, man with autism writes children's book so kids feel less alone

In "I Will Light It Up Blue," young twins with autism learn how to speak up for themselves.
/ Source: TODAY

Growing up, Kerry Magro forged his own path. Diagnosed with autism at age 2, he often felt isolated and confused as a child because he had no role models with autism.

“Seeing someone in the media like myself growing up would have made a tremendous difference,” Magro, 31, told TODAY Parents. “It would have given me more self-motivation seeing that I wasn’t alone.”

He didn’t talk until he was 3 and doctors told his parents he’d never graduate from high school. But he exceeded expectations: Magro not only graduated from high school, but he also earned a doctorate. For the past decade, he has been working as an advocate, professional speaker and author — and his latest effort is designed to help kids with autism feel less alone than he once did.

Magro's new children's book, “I Will Light It Up Blue,” features children with autism as protagonists. The goal is to start important conversations by introducing characters with autism to children, parents and educators.

"The biggest motivator was to show how to be accepting of someone who is a little bit different," Magro said.

Kerry Magro shares his "I Will Light It Up Blue!" book with a child
Kerry Magro grew up without hearing many stories about people with autism. His new children's book aims to introduce people with autism in a nuanced way. Courtesy of Kerry Magro

The book focuses on twins, Doug and Emma, as they learn about “Light It Up Blue,” which is part of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2. Throughout the tale, the twins learn how to advocate for themselves as readers come to understand more about autism.

“I wanted to focus on a boy character and a girl character — even though boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism,” Magro explained. “I wanted to share the characteristics of a girl with autism in the hopes that people can recognize a girl who show signs of autism and make sure she doesn’t fall through the cracks.”

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Doug speaks while Emma relies on an iPad to communicate because she’s nonverbal. Having characters with differing abilities was also important to Magro because people with autism aren't all alike. Not everyone is good at math, for example.

“Doug is high-functioning and Emma is severely impacted,” he said. “I was consulting with other individuals on the autism spectrum to make sure it was as realistic as possible.”

While Magro is encouraged by pop culture characters with autism, such as Julia on "Sesame Street," he believes that more nuanced stories about people with autism are needed.

“If we are truly trying to be a society that focuses on inclusion,” he said, “We have to make sure we are representing the community as it truly is.”

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