March's Tough Topics: Special Needs and the Differently-Abled

Petworth Library

March's Tough Topics: Special Needs and the Differently-Abled

In 1987 President Reagan proclaimed March “Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month” to provide the encouragement, independence and opportunities Americans with developmental disabilities need to reach their potential. As interpreted by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, “Developmental disabilities are severe chronic disabilities that can be cognitive and/or physical, appear before the age of 22 and are likely to be lifelong. Some developmental disabilities are largely physical issues, such as cerebral palsy or epilepsy. Some individuals may have a condition that includes a physical and intellectual disability, for example Down syndrome or fetal alcohol syndrome.” --(excerpt from

This month’s tough topics endeavors to deepen children’s understanding, empathy and respect for the lives of their peers and other people living and thriving with special needsOur children’s services staff is ready to assist you in selecting appropriate and interesting books such as those I’ve listed below. Try setting aside 20 minutes with your children to read and have ongoing discussions of these and other topical books. As always, feel free to click the book titles of choice in order to place a hold on each one. You will receive an email when your requested books are available at the library for pick up!

Special Needs, encompasses a variety of differently-abled conditions that are apparent during childhood. For greater specificity, I have subdivided the selections into 4 categories: 

Behavioral Disorders/Emotional Disorders
Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry  by Bebe Moore Campbell (K-2nd gr ) 
I Can’t Stop! A Story About Tourette Syndrome by Holly Niner (1st - 4th gr) 
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin (5th - 8th gr)

Developmental Disabilities
How to Talk to an Autistic Kid  (2nd-5th) Daniel Stefanski
Attention Girls! A Guide to Learn All About Your AD/HD by Patricia O. Quinn, MD (4th - 7th)
Al Capone Does My Shirts / Al Capone Shines My Shoes / Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko (5th – 8th)
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (5th - 8th gr) 
Rules by Cynthia Lord and Jessica Almassy [audiobook] (6th - 8th gr) 
Earth Girl by Janet Edwards (YA fiction: 8th gr+)
Say What You Will: [They Told Each Other-- Everything-- Except What Matters Most] by Cammie McGovern. (YA fiction: 8th gr+)

Sensory Impairment
My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best (K - 2 gr)
It’s Ok to Be Me: Just Like You, I Can Do Almost Anything! by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos (1st – 3rd gr)
I Am Deaf  by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos (2nd -4th gr)
El Deafo by Cece Bell (3rd - 5th)
Who Was Helen Keller? by Gare Thompson (3rd -5th)
Who Was Louis Braille? by Margaret Frith (3rd -5th gr)
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznik (4th -7th gr)

Physical Disabilities, Birth Defects
The Right Dog For the Job: Ira's Path From Service Dog to Guide Dog by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (PreK - 1st)
Arnie and the New Kid by Nancy Carlson (Pre-K - 2nd gr)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (K -3rd gr)
I Funny  /  I, Even Funnier   / I Totally Funniest  by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein (4th - 6th gr)
Wonder /  The Julian Chapter  by R.J. Palacio (4th -7th gr)

For Additional Information on Special Needs visit:
  • DC Public Schools' downloadable Special Education resource guide for families 
  • The Master's in Special Education website has a downloadable, colorful infographic to promote understanding of "The Anatomy of a Special Needs Child"
  • The Bridges Center, a program of the DC Department on Disability Services, offers day rehabilitive services and employment readiness training to encourage autonomy within young adults who are beyond school-age. Bridges Center coaches some of these young self-advocates to spread awareness and share their experiences as people with different abilities.