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Author turns children's learning disabilities into superpowers

A professor of psychology is creating books that give children with learning disabilities superpowers and voices to spread awareness.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The saying "not all heroes wear capes" is that cliche we use when we've done the bare minimum but Dr. Tracy Alloway is turning that idea into a reality in her new children's books.

Each of her four books highlights a child with a learning disability and how that disability has made them special -- super even.

Dr. Alloway is a professor of psychology at the University of North Florida but her books will be touching the hearts and minds of children across the country (and Canada and the UK).

“I’m really excited to be able to author this four-book series. It’s meant to kind of capture the superpower or the super memory power of kids with learning disabilities, specifically dyslexia, ADHD, autism, and anxiety," said Alloway. "Often times we focus on the difficulties but they have these incredible superpowers and I wanted to be able to bring that out to the front."

The books, aimed at kindergarteners through second-graders, are learning tools in disguise.

Credit: Tracy Alloway

"It’s set up for parents to be able to read it with their children," said Alloway. "So at the back, there’s a little how-to for a parent to talk to a child about these different learning disorders and memory tips too so that every child can improve their memory too."

Alloway said that despite publishing over 100 research papers, many of those being on education and learning disabilities, and several other books, these books were the most difficult thing she has ever written.

As she did her research, Alloway realized there was never really a voice for children.

"There is no one saying hey this is what it's like for me with dyslexia or ADHD or autism or anxiety and I wanted to create characters where they could identify and say 'that’s what it’s like for me' and they could show it to a friend and say 'you know when I am saying this, this is really what I am going through' so it kind of creates an awareness from a child’s perspective."

The first book, which became available in July is about a boy named Sammy with dyslexia. He and his schoolmates are tasked with finding a flag using a map. His dyslexia makes reading the map difficult and he gets his right and leg mixed up. But Sammy can shine when the map gets blown away.

Credit: Tracy Alloway

“His super memory power is his photographic memory and so even without the map he remembers all these landmarks and safely leads everyone back to camp," said Alloway.

The other books touch on anxiety, autism and ADHD and how children with these learning disabilities can shine in their own way with their own memory superpowers.

Alloway says these books were authored in an effort to raise awareness. She said even the publisher had a hard time understanding how some of the children in her books might think.

"I feel it’s so important that people understand that it’s not just that some of these kids don’t want to do it, but it just that their brain is wired in a way that makes it difficult to do that," said Alloway.

"That is really my goal is that people will be able to have a greater awareness. But also the back of the book I give research-based memory tips. So if you want a photographic memory like Sammy, the little boy with dyslexia, here are five things research shows that we can do," said Alloway. Each book has different tips on how to sharpen your memory like the protagonist in the story. "So I really want it to be two-fold, one, the awareness, but I also want children to see that they do have a superpower and here is how they can improve and grow this superpower."

Two of the books came out in July and the remaining two will hit bookshelves in October. You can purchase them at a bookstore near you or on Amazon or Quartoknows.com

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