Kayla is on the move, so is Piper.
From the very beginning of Karen Autio’s picture book I Can, Too! her two main characters, Kayla and Piper, are in motion. They bike, skate, ski, ride horses, play on the beach, and more while forging friendships along the way. The only difference between these two energetic children is that Kayla has a physical disability and uses adaptive equipment to help her get around. From a hand-propelled tricycle to a sit-ski, I Can, Too! shows readers how adaptive equipment helps children with physical disabilities play and be active.
The first time I came across I Can, Too! at my local library, I did a happy dance. I love how this book invites children to see themselves in the pages of the story. Whether that child has a physical disability like Kayla or doesn’t require adaptive equipment like Piper, this book is a celebration of movement and play for all children. I did a second happy dance when the author Karen Autio agreed to meet with me in person so that we could discuss her book further.
I Can, Too!
Author: Karen Autio
Illustrator: Laura Watson
Target audience: 3-7 years
Publisher: Scholastic Canada
Interview with author Karen Autio
Josée Bergeron: Thank you Karen for taking the time to meet with me. To get started, I would love to hear about what inspired you to write this book and why now.
Karen Autio: My inspiration was my daughter Annaliis, who was born with spina bifida. Although I came up with the idea for this book in 2006, the idea kept growing until I knew it was a story I wanted to write, which was around 2017.
JB: I’m so glad you wrote it! It does a great job showcasing diversity and inclusivity of children in motion. I really enjoyed seeing all the adaptive equipment that Kayla used (beach wheelchair, hand-propelled tricycle, hiking wheelchair, sit-ski and more). Did your daughter have the opportunity to use all these pieces of equipment? What were some of her favourite pieces to use?
KA: Yes, she used every piece of equipment in the book. She loved sit-skiing. She tried sledge hockey but didn’t have a competitive cell in her body. She was part of a wheelchair basketball team but more for the social part. Sports weren’t as interesting to her as speeding down a mountain.
JB: It sounds like your daughter had access to a lot of great adaptive equipment in her life. Is this the norm? Do parents with children who experience physical disabilities have regular access to all this adaptive equipment?
KA: I think there is a wide range. Living here in Kelowna we are blessed with having the ski hill close by and Powderhounds Adaptive Snow Sports. In bigger communities there are more resources, but it all depends on the interest in communities. I’ve seen smaller communities with wheelchair basketball. It helps to have volunteers and people willing to fundraise to get equipment.
JB: What advice would you give parents who have recently discovered that their baby or child has physical disabilities, in terms of accessing adaptive equipment or opportunities for adaptive activities in their communities?
KA: Definitely child development centres are a great place to start. There are people there who know how to access adaptive activities and equipment in the community. For example, often you can borrow beach wheelchairs. Also, doing some research about what’s available in the community, like adaptive playgrounds, is great too.
JB: The community of West Kelowna recently opened its first fully accessible playground for kids: Julia’s Junction. Were you involved in that project?
KA: Yes, I donated a portion of my royalties from the sale of I Can, Too! to help fundraise for Julia’s Junction. It’s really the gold standard of adaptive playgrounds, but there are more and more city and school playgrounds being renovated to add accessible components.
JB: One thing I enjoyed about I Can, Too! was seeing Kayla and Piper enjoying various physical activities together, and accessible playgrounds offer a great space for that to take place. Sometimes, however, parents and children might not know how to interact with a child with a physical disability on a playground. What would you suggest to help parents and children foster inclusion?
KA: First off, treat a child with a disability as any other child. Go up and say, “Hi! My name is… What’s your name? Do you want to play? What do you like to play?” If the child is nonverbal, the parent or caregiver will give that information. Try to encourage your own child not to blurt out anything about the disability but instead compliment the child’s adaptive equipment. As you get to know the child, the questions you might have at the beginning won’t seem as important. If your child has a question, such as when seeing a person using a wheelchair, respond in a matter-of-fact way with your child: “That child uses a wheelchair to get around.”
JB: How has the response been to I Can, Too! since it has been published?
KA: The response has been incredible! It has been extremely well-received, even winning an award. What’s been most meaningful has been hearing from families who have a child with a disability. These children are often seeing themselves for the first time in a book. The child might not look exactly like Kayla but they use the same equipment. It’s a huge boost for the confidence of that child.
JB: This book truly sparks conversation, awareness, and a feeling of belonging in the world of physical activity for all children. Are you planning a sequel?
KA: Yes! Playdate Surprise is coming out in fall 2024. It will be a companion book to I Can,Too! that explores inclusion and accessibility in play dates.
JB: Thank you for taking the time to share more about your book with our readers.
Keep the momentum going
I Can, Too! is a wonderful picture book for children between the ages of three and seven that’s filled with brightly coloured illustrations done by Laura Watson. It can be found at many local libraries and is also available in French. Whether your child has a physical disability or not, this book encourages active outdoor play for all children. As Karen Autio uses the language of Rudine Sims Bishop, it provides children with “a mirror to see themselves, a window to see into the life of someone else or sliding glass doors to immerse themselves in a world of someone different from themselves.”
If you or someone you know is looking for more resources for helping children engage in adaptive activities, here are a few helpful links: