A local 7-year-old boy has struggled with being different from others. People often point and talk about him when he gets overwhelmed, making him feel embarrassed and upset.
Ezra Bertram was diagnosed with autism at 4 years old. Last year, his family created a phrase to help him: "embracing different."
With help from his family, Ezra created a character — Audie the giraffe. Audie is different from others, and he has to learn to embrace his differences instead of being angry about them.
"As Audie's story developed, we saw a need for a book to help others understand how they can embrace their differences and thank God for the way they are made," Christa Bertram, Ezra's mom, said.
Together, Christa and Josh Bertram and their three children wrote a children's book, "Audie Embraces Different," to raise awareness of autism.
April is Autism Awareness Month. One in 54 children is diagnosed with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The message in "Audie Embraces Different" is God made each of us unique, and we should embrace our differences: "You are different from the leopard, but only your long neck will be able to reach the tippity top of the trees. I am different from the elephant, but only his trunk can lift heavy things."
The book will go into production once the illustrations are done. Christa said she hopes for it to be done by the beginning of the school year because she knows some preschool teachers who are interested in using the book in their classrooms.
In the book, Audie plays differently and talks differently than the other animals, and the other animals stare and talk badly about him. Audie has a meltdown because he is overwhelmed, and his mom helps him understand it's OK to be different.
Everyone with autism is different and experiences things differently, Christa said. Ezra gets overwhelmed in public places, and people point and talk about him like they can't hear them, which is embarrassing and sad for them, she said.
Christa said writing this book with Ezra and hearing him describe how he feels in different situations has helped her learn more about him. The book gave Ezra a voice and an outlet to express how he feels, which is often difficult for him, she said.
"We really relied on Ezra to share how it feels when he feels overwhelmed and use a lot of descriptive words," Christa said. "We wanted people to see how that affects the person with autism."
Creating Audie the giraffe and writing the book have helped Ezra accept his differences.
"I should be thankful that everyone is different, even me, because God made everyone special," Ezra says in the book.
For more information, visit the "Audie Embraces Different" page on Facebook.