An issue that touches almost everyone in the state -- autism -- is the subject of a community book read being kicked off Jan. 28 at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.
Dr. Joe Hardin of Fort Smith, dean of the College of Languages and Communication, believes in the importance of the book launch, slated for noon in the Reynolds Room of the Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center, and related spring events.
“It used to be that 1 in 250 children were born with some sort of non-specified personality development disorder,” Hardin said. “Now it’s more like 1 in 88. In other words, everybody you know is related to or knows somebody with some sort of autism spectrum condition. We thought these statistics make this is an ideal book for a community read.”
This year’s book selection is “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon, according to Hardin. He said it is a novel that is narrated in the first-person perspective by a 15-year-old boy with what is obviously an autistic spectrum condition.
Hardin explained that a community read is a year-long community and campus series of events that encourage reading and promote the benefits of literacy. During a specific year, a book is chosen and read by community members. Various events related to the book are planned throughout the spring semester at libraries, schools, churches, bookstores and throughout the community.
Keith Fudge of Van Buren, associate professor in the Department of English, Rhetoric and Writing, is the principal organizer of Read This! He said he hopes that people will come away from reading this book with a greater understanding that people can be different, and that’s okay.
“This project is supposed to stimulate some sort of conversation among the people in the community and those who are closely associated with the University,” Fudge said. “The author of this book says it’s not about a boy with autism, rather, it’s about awareness and understanding and an appreciation that people challenged by disabilities can function in the right environment.”
Fudge said challenges of all sorts and origins creep into everyone’s lives.
“Just the aging process alone presents us with ever-growing issues of functioning in the world around us,” he said. “The hero of this book shows us that a spirit of optimism and determination can give us the necessary tools to thrive in an ever-changing more complicated world.”
Hardin explained how important a community read is.
“Our system of communicating with each other becomes more narrow with every text or tweet we send,” Hardin said. “The common denominators that once made us a society with many shared threads of thoughts and experiences are dwindling. A community read gives us something we share, something that bonds us together and something that makes us a unified society. These are important elements of a society that is not unraveling.”
Other activities surrounding Read This! include a March 4 community screening in the Reynolds Room of the HBO movie “Temple Grandin.” This biopic of Temple Grandin shows how a woman overcame the challenges of autism to become one of the top scientists in the humane livestock handling industry. Grandin will speak to the community at 5:30 p.m. March 11 in Stubblefield Center. She will conduct a book signing following the presentation. Admission to all events is free and open to the public.