Long Beach teacher raising autism awareness with children’s book

The evolution of children’s literature has revolutionized special education, and “My Name Is Zuma: A Story About Autism” is another tool created by a Long Beach educator for parents and students to use at home.

Isaac Osae-Brown, who is an education specialist teaching at Wilson High School, wrote the book with the goal of helping more people of all ages understand autism.

“The book talks about inclusion and how we can all support people with autism,” Osae-Brown said. “We have diversity in Long Beach and many of the kids here have diverse disabilities. So they have to be given that support and full inclusion so they can participate in our school system. They have to be able to support these kids to confront their fears.”

Osae-Brown was working as a special education teacher in the Compton Unified School District in 2019 when the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres made a statement on World Autism Awareness Day that inspired him, and he knows the quote by heart: “We speak out against discrimination, celebrate the diversity of our global community and strengthen our commitment to the full inclusion and participation of people with autism.”

“That got my attention,” Osae-Brown said.

In “My Name Is Zuma,” 12-year-old Zuma tells his own story—explaining how he feels about being autistic—accompanied by detailed graphic illustrations by George Franco.

“It’s written in simple language the kids can understand,” Osae-Brown added. “The disorder may impair their ability to communicate and interact. So to get them to socialize you have to connect with them using pictures and technology.”

Osae-Brown lives in Long Beach and has two children, but just 17 years ago he was a graphic artist in his home country of Nigeria. He was motivated to change his profession when he experienced the education system himself.

“I was overwhelmed with joy when I saw the kids here being taken care of in this school district,” Osae-Brown said. “Where I come from kids with disabilities are not very well taken care of. There are no policies that guide them in their educational and personal needs. That’s what made me change my mind to become a special education teacher.”

Osae-Brown earned his second master’s degree in special education at California State University, Dominguez Hills. He also received his administrative service credential.

After working with Los Angeles County in Covina and Diamond Bar, Osae-Brown started mentoring as a special education teacher in Compton in 2014. He’s also published newspaper articles about special education. This is his first year at Wilson.

He said he’s seen a need to demystify and explain autism.

“A lot of my students who are autistic don’t know the meaning of their disability,” Osae-Brown said. “Some of them, especially the parents, don’t want that label attached to their kids.”

There are portions of Osae-Brown’s book specifically intended for parents to better understand autism.

In the beginning, Zuma explains he feels trapped, discouraged that he’s not as popular as others among the kids in his community. His potential, Osae-Brown writes, is “locked inside his mind. While other kids can describe their thoughts with words.”

But help comes through understanding, not only from Zuma but his family as well.

“They understand that Zuma is not the only one who is different;” Osae-Brown writes, “everyone is.”

“My Name Is Zuma: A Story About Autism” is available on Amazon.

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