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New Children’s Book Explores Life from the Lens of an Autistic Child’s Sibling By Shaila Abdullah

Zain, his younger sister Sofia, and parents Arif and Dr. Salima Ali are the inspiration behind my newest children’s book titled A Manual for Marco.

At the age of two, Zain was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a developmental disability that affects 1 in every 68 children. Zain is very bright with remarkable memory and exceptional math skills. He taught himself to read at the age of three.

Living with an autistic sibling can be interesting and challenging at times, according to Sofia, who is smart and caring and helps her parents in taking care of her brother.

There is no easy access to Zain’s mind. But the now 13-year old and his family, who live in Texas, are an example of all that is possible with unconditional love and patience.

Here are a few words of wisdom from Dr. Salima Ali:

Despite the challenges we faced in raising a special needs child, we never regarded autism as a life sentence. Instead, we consider our experience as an opportunity for us to grow stronger together. It was a tough journey for us, especially for young Sofia, who did not understand the nature of Zain’s condition at first. She went through many stages of confusion, fear, anger, and embarrassment. As is commonly seen in siblings of special children, Sofia in time became a compassionate and caring sibling. As parents we always made sure to acknowledge her feelings. Here are some of the questions raised by Sofia and the solutions we came up with

“It’s not fair!”

Solution: Create a special one-on-one time for the sibling where he or she has exclusive access to one or both parents.

“Why won’t he play with me?”

Solution: Find common ground. Say “Your brother or sister likes it when you spin with him or play board games.”

 “I’m scared!”

Solution: Find a safe haven or a corner in the home where the sibling
feels safe.

“I feel like the parent.”

Solution: Allow time for sibling to be a child. Play hide and seek and silly games with him or her. Make time for playdates with friends his or her own age.

“He’s so embarrassing!”

Solution: Encourage honesty—and laugh about it together! Like we do after reading A Manual for Marco.

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Shaila Abdullah is an award-winning author and designer based in Austin, Texas. She has written five books: Saffron Dreams, Beyond the Cayenne Wall, My Friend Suhana, Rani in Search of a Rainbow, and A Manual for Marco. The author has received several awards for her work including the Golden Quill Award and Patras Bukhari Award for English Language. Several academic institutions have adopted her books as course study or recommended reading, including the University of California, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Indiana University, Boston University, California State University, and George Washington University.  Learn more about the author at

You can connect with Shaila via: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Blog

About A Manuel For Marco


Pages from the diary of an eight-year old girl who decides to make a list of all the things she likes and dislikes about dealing with her autistic brother, and in doing so realizes that she has created A Manual for Marco.

Q&A with author Bina Shah