|At age 8, Joshua Smith already knows he wants to be an artist when he grows up. And with 19 published books and his own business card, the soon-to-be third grader is well on his way.
Joshua, who attends Bubb Elementary School, started writing and illustrating books when he was 5, his father Craig Smith said. The books are inspired by his everyday life -- subjects include visits to the doctor and a trip to Hawaii. They amount to an important outlet for Joshua, whose autism keeps him from communicating in other, more typical ways.
"He does this," his father said, indicating the books, "but when it comes to reading in class, it is hard."
Sitting in his family home near Moffett Field, Joshua buries his head in a pillow, avoiding eye contact at first. He often takes cues from his dad, repeating sentences and ideas.
Joshua has Asperger's Syndrome, which is one of several so-called "autism spectrum disorders." According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the neurological condition is characterized by repetitive actions and certain problems with communication and speech.
"These are [kids] who have some features of autism" which cause "difficulties socially," explained Steve Gingras, director of special education with the Mountain View Whisman School District.
So Joshua uses writing and pictures to communicate more fully, says his dad, an engineer. Although writing out so many stories demonstrates real narrative skill, Joshua's true passion is drawing.
"I am going to write more books and then sell them all," he said.
Joshua first started drawing and writing three years ago after seeing an animated movie called "Flushed Away." He was so excited by the film that he wanted to recreate it on the page.
His parents have been encouraging the practice ever since, helping to upload his 19 books onto Lulu, a Web site where he can publish and sell each story for about $2 in PDF or for about $13 for paperback. One woman from London saw Joshua's work online and now wants him to illustrate her books.
He rewrites versions of already famous stories, such as "The Three Little Pigs" and "Charlotte's Web." But he also makes up his own stories, usually depicting the life of his favorite character: Frog.
In "Frog Goes to the Dentist," Joshua draws amazingly detailed pictures of Frog and the dentist's equipment. His books are easy to follow, especially considering they were written by an incoming third grader.
With Asperger's syndrome, "You will see a skill, some skill will excel," Craig Smith said. "He needs visual cues or he will get lost."
"We will use this as an avenue to give him skills he can use in the future."
At Bubb, Joshua has a tutor and speech therapist to help him with his studies. Local administrators say there has been an increase in special education students, especially those on the autistic spectrum, nationally. To accommodate these students, the elementary school district just started two new special day classes, and the high school will open a new special education building in the fall.
Joshua has sold 19 books so far, and except for the tithing he regularly gives to his church, he has saved most of the money. The pace of his writing is only increasing: He has five books under his belt from this summer alone, and hopes to write one more before school begins.
All that money puts him closer to affording his ultimate goal: a school bus. Suddenly less shy, Joshua smiles as he describes his dream vehicle.
"Inside it is going to have a bathroom, video games and a parents' room."
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