Making “Howard the Fish” Relevant and Meaningful Symptoms of Autism from the CDC’s Autism checklist and how they can be applied to the book, Howard the Fish • Repeats actions over and over again Howard is content with life as it is in his bowl. He has his routine down, repeating the same actions over and over, day after day. Howard likes the world he’s built himself, he likes the safety of the “sameness”. • Has trouble adapting when routine changes When “Face” enters Howard’s world, it sends our little fish reeling. Howard’s comfort zone has been demolished… and he has to learn, on his own, how to rebuild it. With autism, learning to adapt to new experiences, new people, to everything unfamiliar, is extremely difficult… and extremely important. • Avoids eye contact and wants to be alone Howard’s first reaction to Face is to flee. He wants to be alone. He doesn’t want to deal with the stranger invading his space. He doesn’t know how to deal. • Have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel or sound Howard has an unusual reaction to Face “tapping the bowl”… he over-reacts. If you have a sensory-avoiding child, you know how overwhelming sights and sounds can be to them. It is important to condition them to explore the environment, to provide them with sensory activities, so that they can better adapt in these situations. • Be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play or relate to them After the initial shock of Face’s appearance dissipates, Howard’s curiosity kicks in. He slowly starts to emerge from his castle, but is unsure of what to do next. Lucky for Howard, Face initiates the communication. Howard takes a moment to “get” Face’s joke, but picks up on the social back-and-forth rather quickly and reacts with a laugh. Way to go Howard! • Has trouble understanding people’s feelings This point is something that we can address in our Parent-Child Dialogue after reading the book. I purposefully exaggerated Howard’s facial expressions in the book. His personality is bigger than life, and thus easy to read. It is important for parents to discuss feelings, emotions and expressions to their children with autism.