An Irvine mother and father are celebrating the release of their second children's book, "I Can Fly Super Duper High."
Zuma Ayriyan and John Khachatryan wrote their first book, "Look Who Is Coming…", in 2009 that was inspired by Alex, their autistic son. They also founded their publishing company, VaZu Kids, the same year.
When reading "Look Who is Coming…", children insert pictures of family, friends and guests in the story. The goal of the book is to give autistic children a "heads-up" about new people in their lives, reinforce facial recognition and make them feel comfortable when guests arrive.
Although both books are for all children, Ayriyan said they were written to provide their son with challenging and exciting reading experiences that wouldn't overwhelm him.
Ayriyan said many children with autism don't enjoy reading because of the insecurities that go along with trying something new.
"Not knowing what to expect can shut them down," she said.
Their second book is slightly more complicated than the first. It deals with an issue that many families with autistic children face: recognizing emotion.
The interactive story is about a child sitting inside on a rainy day. Throughout the story they imagine their toy plane pushing away the clouds so they can play in the sunshine. During the story, the child gets to insert pictures — acting out the emotion — to correspond. For example, images show boredom when looking at the rain, fright when flying in the air and excitement when the sun shines.
"Once you put them in the context about what is happening around them, they're like, 'Oh yeah, this is a time when I would be scared,' and they try to apply this understanding to real life," she said.
Alex is the "test driver" of their books. His mother said Alex gives them a thumbs-up.
"He really mastered identifying the facial expressions and understanding why are we supposed to feel this way in this part," she said.
Ayriyan said Alex has definitely applied the book to real life.
"After that, he would always look at somebody's face and be like, 'Is he happy or is he sad?'" she said. "It was a turning point for him to see himself within the context of the story."
Besides facing difficulties at the bookstore, an observation during one of Alex's therapy sessions gave the parents the idea.
When Alex was a toddler, his therapist cut out images of his parents as a teaching method. The parents thought it would be a useful teaching tool to incorporate personal pictures into books as a means of recognizing and contextualizing the material.
Kathy Wales, co-owner of the store, said "I Can Fly Super Duper High" is clever, colorful and easy to use.