The voice of Sarah

The Voice of Sarah
by Kathy Jenkins

Frederick News-Post
May 23, 2006
© 2006, Frederick News-Post
http://www.fredericknewspost.com

I sit across from 22-year-old children’s author Sarah Ann Stup in the kitchen at her home. She glances at me briefly then looks down at her portable typing device. I ask my first question. Her fingers carefully choose the letters that become words. The phrase prints on a small tape exiting the side of the device. Sarah shares a tiny smile. The tape reads, “Open cookies first.”

Ms. Stup was diagnosed with autism at a young age. She received speech and occupational therapies with special education. After learning to communicate through typing, she entered a fourth-grade classroom with an instructional assistant. She showed academic excellence. At age 20 she received her high school diploma. Her dream was to become a writer.

The Arc of Frederick County facilitated this dream by providing a mentor, Aaron Stephens, who  offered encouragement, ideas for opportunity and strategies for making each of Ms. Stup’s choices a reality for “Sarah the typer to become Sarah the author,” including published essays and a curriculum for self-advocates. With support from her provider agency, The Arc of Carroll County, Ms. Stup is now a self-employed author.

She began writing her first book, “Do-si-Do with Autism,” last summer. Her favorite place to type is in the kitchen booth at home because she is relaxed with its sights and sounds. “Even though my sounding voice is broken, I want to use my loud writing voice to let others know that those with developmental disabilities are real people worth knowing. Words, stretched and bent and poked, can change minds.”

The children’s book is about square dance day at school for the main character, Taylor the Turtle, who is autistic. All the characters in the book are portrayed by animals. Ms. Stup chose Taylor to be a turtle because this animal is protected by a hard shell rather than soft fur and feathers.  Taylor can’t move about as gracefully, just as her body “acts dumb and rude, not doing what I
ask.”

Not only is Taylor autistic like Ms. Stup but he carries a book bag of favorite books and “I love  books,” she types. “A naughty beast called ‘autism’ lives inside me and that scares away friends.  But now the beast protects me from your world that pains me. I see and hear too much and  echoes follow me. Too many voices confuse me. My ears are for just one voice. Taylor and I have bodies that work differently but we are inside and we are thinkers.”

In the beginning of the story, Taylor feels isolated and confused but in the end all the classmates learn from one another. A fun story with a message was Ms. Stup’s goal. “Differences should not be feared …. Taylor can march out to let kids discover his shell is not empty.”

Ms. Stup relates this message in her essay “Read My Voice” as well. “When I write animal stories for children I can help them see how we people with developmental disabilities feel rejected and scared in a world that fears differences …. When my words are read I become a true person, not a shell that is empty.”

She is already writing a novel for middle school readers about Paul and the Beast, or autism, which is a “thief of politeness and friendship.” Her next published work, however will be for adults, with her collected works Volume 1 titled “Are Your Eyes Listening?” One of her journal entries says “Paper speaks to eyes that hear.”

Back to the kitchen booth, I write a note to myself. “Sarah Ann Stup, the author, likes my pen and proceeds to click it off and on.” After coffee and cookies, she moves to her beanbag in the living room to listen to music. I read her typed words from an earlier e-mail. “I am pleased to be with my family and my Arc, where autism is not hated. Some expect those with disabilities to pose as normal or hide in lonely corners of society. Because we experience your world differently, we may need to react to it in an unusual way. We cannot be you. I can’t be normal, and I am tired of trying.”

As lines from her poem “Eat My Sounds” express, “I am a silent voice … To type is my real voice … Read my words — they sound like Sarah, a real person.”

To order “Do-si-Do with Autism,” visit SarahStup.com.