Carol Cujec is an educator and author. Her latest book, written with Peyton Goddard, is a middle-grade novel, called Real, which invites young readers into the world of a girl with nonspeaking autism. Peyton wants kids to understand autism not as a disability so much as a different way of experiencing the world. Real is a groundbreaking story that celebrates the magic that happens when we value and include all people.
Carol lives with her family in southern California and enjoys yoga, cooking, playing guitar with her daughter and, of course, hiding out with a good book
Peyton Goddard was born to Patrick and Dianne Goddard on December 26, 1974, in San Diego, California. She was the second of two children. From the age of three, Peyton was deemed unfit to attend classes with “normal” kids because of her inability to speak or control her physical movements or bodily functions.
For two decades, she was segregated in schools with no appropriate accommodations for her learning, which only exacerbated her movement challenges and led to increasingly restrictive placements and social exclusion. During her years in the special education system, she experienced the unrelenting traumatic stress of daily being unable to obey the commands of her instructors, who viewed her as purposely “non-compliant.” She was the victim of aversive restraints, punitive seclusion, and physical, mental, and sexual abuse. Unable to tell her parents of this abuse, she could express herself only through self-destructive behaviors.
However, on March 21 of 1997, Peyton’s life changed dramatically when she was introduced to an innovative communication strategy called Facilitated Communication (FC), which uses applied resistance to enable intentional movement and communication through a keyboard or computer. Among her first words, Peyton typed, “i am intlgent.” For the first time, she had a reliable method for communicating with others and has since been supported by numerous trained facilitators. Peyton was finally able to request a real education and within a year found the courage to begin telling her parents about her experiences of abuse and neglect during her youth.
Peyton enrolled in Cuyamaca College in the fall of 1998. Four years later, she graduated as the valedictorian with a nearly 4.0 GPA and an Associate’s degree in General Studies, becoming the first person using supported typing to graduate valedictorian from a U.S. college.
Since then, Peyton has become an advocate for inclusion in education and society. Her wisdom is sought after by educators, doctors, parents and community groups nationwide, who have invited her to deliver more than 75 presentations at conferences and universities on the subject of esteeming all people. In 1995, she was awarded the Collaborative Advocacy Award from TASH, an international organization promoting inclusion and supported participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of life. In 2003, Peyton was awarded CALTASH’s annual Mary Falvey Outstanding Young Person Award.
Peyton writes passionately about her experiences and offers a rare perspective of autism by someone labeled as “low functioning.” In l993, even before she learned to communicate using a keyboard, she made a vow to herself (she calls it her I.O.U.) that the rest of her life would be devoted to “quietly changing this worrisome world.” She knows that children are dying in institutions and at the hands of parents who have lost sight of their child’s value. Her story has been featured in numerous publications such as the San Diego Union-Tribune and she recently co-authored the foreword of a book for K-12 educators entitled Collaborating With Students in Instruction and Decision Making (Corwin Press, 2010). Peyton has completed her book, co-authored with her mother Dianne and Carol Cujec, entitled i am intelligent: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey from Heartbreak to Healing. Peyton considers i am intelligent, along with her continued advocacy, the fulfillment of her I.O.U.
My name is Charity. I am thirteen years old. Actually, thirteen years plus eighty-seven days. I love sour gummies and pepperoni pizza. That last part no one knows because I have not spoken a sentence since I was born. Each dawning day, I live in terror of my unpredictable body that no one understands.
Charity may have mad math skills and a near-perfect memory, but with a mouth that can’t speak and a body that jumps, rocks, and howls unpredictably, most people incorrectly assume she cannot learn. Charity’s brain works differently from most people’s because of her autism, but she’s still funny, determined, and kind. So why do people treat her like a disease or ignore her like she’s invisible?
When Charity’s parents enroll her in a public junior high school, she faces her greatest fears. Will kids make fun of her? Will her behavior get her kicked out? Will her million thoughts stay locked in her head forever? With the support of teachers and newfound friends, Charity will have to fight to be treated like a real student.
Inspired by a true story, Real speaks to all those who’ve ever felt they didn’t belong and reminds readers that all people are worthy of being included.
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Thank you to Shadow Mountain Publishing for the advanced copy in exchange for a honest review.
Thoughts and Themes: This is a review that I really wanted to sit on and not write immediately because I have mixed feelings about this book. I also didn’t want to much time to pass that I forgot my thoughts about the book or that my feelings would simmer down way too much.
First and foremost I did actually enjoy this book and couldn’t put it down. I wanted to know what would happen to Charity and also how the story would develop. I think this is a great middle grade story for disabled children to relate to, and for educators to read and gain a different perspective. I love that this story is an own voices story so that adds a lot of value to the narrative.
There are discussions that do need to take place around this book as you read and when you are done with it though. I do think that this is one of those that you can’t just read and put aside and not think about what you just read. There were several themes that I got from this book that so far I haven’t seen in other reviews so I am unsure if I read the book wrong. I also have yet to read a review from another autistic reader so that could be the reason the book wasn’t criticized
For me, one of the things that I kept settling on was the idea that this book perpetuates that as long as a disabled child could learn then they are valuable to society. Autism occurs on a spectrum and this book kind of made it seem like depending on where you are on the spectrum dictates what you deserve from society. I was really frustrated with the plot focusing on how everyone thought Charity was dumb but actually she’s the smartest person at that school. It felt like oh because of this now she’s valuable and we can take on other disabled kids if they are like Charity. It really is hard to put my thoughts surrounding this into words and I would love to flesh this out with other Autistic people to see what they took away from the book.
Something else that didn’t sit right with me was how easily the people who abuse Charity were left off the hook by others and also by Charity. I really didn’t like how they made it seem like Charity has to be full of grace and forgiveness for others because “oh they just don’t know any better.” I really would’ve liked to see her actually express the original thoughts she had towards people who were abusive and ableist towards her.
There are some scenes in this book that really feel like inspiration porn, such as the scene at the end of the story as well as the scene where they bring up Jaz as part of the court. These scenes felt like they were tokenizing the disabled students as well as saying “if they can do it so can you.” It was just so frustrating to see this happen and not have anyone comment on it. In the start of the story, Charity would comment about the ableist things that others were doing but that stopped happening once she was able to express herself through her keyboard.
Characters: This is the easy part of this review to write because there are so many characters in this book that are loveable. There are also plenty of characters in this story who I just didn’t like and still didn’t like at the end. I really love the group of friends that Charity has at her school and love how different they all are from each other. I liked that we get to see different disabilities through each of these characters. I also liked how we got to see Charity interact with neurotypical people as well in school and at home.
I really loved Charity’s parents and how her mother always adovated for her until she was able to speak for herself. I liked that they did have Charity’s mom take a step back once Charity could speak and she only helped her express herlsef rather than speak for her. I also loved how her dad was supportive of everything she wanted to do and just wanted to help her do all she could.
There are several characters who are ableist towards Charity and they change once she is able to speak. My opinion of these characters did not change even after they were accepting of Charity because it showed that she wasn’t important to them until she could contribute like they did. It showed that disabled peoples weren’t going to be allowed to participate in society or be accepted unless they were able to contribute in the same way that those without intellectual disabilities can.
Writing Style: This story is written in first person and is told through the main character’s perspective. I really enjoyed this style of writing because we got to see what Charity was thinking before she was able to speak. I liked that we were able to also see her thoughts that were not said out loud. I also really liked that her actions were included as well as the random animal facts that were going through her head. It was interesting to see her thought process throughout the whole story.