'Wires' book transmits story about autism

July 31, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

"Deke," the school bully, has a learning disability. "Tommy" is an autistic student and a target for playground teasing.

In "Wires," a children's book written and illustrated by three Berkeley County schoolteachers, the fictional characters somehow become fast friends.

Co-authored by Donna Russler and Tyler Long and illustrated by Christopher Fleming of Tuscarora Elementary School in Martinsburg, the book was written to help general education students and teachers better understand students who are autistic.

"If you don't work with special education kids, and you see them with your eyes that aren't trained for special ed, you think that they can't learn ... but they can, they just do it differently," said Russler, who is as an autism mentor at the school off Tavern Road. "This is why it's called 'Wires' ... they're connected differently."

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects social behavior, communication, fine motor skills and other behaviors.


Long, who teaches students with learning disabilities, estimated nearly 1,000 copies of the book have been sold since its publication was announced in April. The teachers have donated more than $1,000 in proceeds to the school's library.

The book has attracted interest from other educators. A Shepherd University professor purchased 20 copies for the school's education program, Russler and Long said. The book also was approved for use in the Manassas Park, Va., school district, Russler said.

They also discussed the book with West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine and Gov. Joe Manchin in April and presented the officials with signed copies.

The authors will be at Waldenbooks at Valley Mall in Halfway on Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. for a book signing.

The book was started as a project for a children's literature class Russler took two years ago. Long suggested they publish the story, which is not based on any particular students.

"I had these ideas, but I didn't know how to put them on paper -- that's where (Long) came in," Russler said of their collaboration.

Russler and Long since have decided to write another book about teamwork and good sportsmanship, and said they might write more books after that.

"We want to go all the way down the guidance curriculum," Long said.

Russler, 50, who has worked with autistic students for 12 years, said she only accepted the job with the intention of "getting her foot in the door" to become a kindergarten aide.

"But (now) I would never change, never," she said. "I love my kids, they make me laugh. These kids are really, really unique. They teach us as much as we teach them."

Long, 30, said he first went to school to become a police officer and "fell into this" after about 18 months of working at a correctional facility for children in Falling Waters, W.Va.

"Working with special-needs students, they make every day fun," he said.

Long said he first worked with students who had behavior disorders when he was hired about six years ago and has been teaching students with learning disabilities for two years.

While Russler never considered writing a book before her class project, Long said he always wanted to write a history book, but was at a loss for how to do it.

His desired topic? Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., the older brother of President John F. Kennedy.

Fleming, who teaches mentally impaired students at the school, was unavailable for an interview this week.

If you go...

What: "Wires" book signing

When: Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m.

Where: Waldenbooks, Valley Mall, Halfway

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