Tag Archives: autism

7 Amazing Books About Transplant And Disability

Summer is here! No trip to the beach or backyard barbecue is complete without a story that makes you laugh, cry, gasp, think or dream. Here are 7 amazing books that highlight the daily triumphs and struggles that come along with an injury, chronic illness or transplant.


7. Where Is The Mango Princess? by Cathy Crimmins


where is the mango princess

Topic: Crimmins’ husband, Alan, sustains a traumatic brain injury in a speedboat accident. As Alan copes with the effects of his brain injury, Cathy must learn to care for a man she doesn’t understand anymore.

Read It If You Liked: The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

Reader Review: “This book can be a difficult book to read because of the deeply emotional subject, but is a touching memoir told with a great deal of humor, and most of all… honesty.”

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“But all of a sudden Al stops talking and turns to me. “I want to call Cathy.”

I laugh lightly. “Al, I’m here. You don’t have to call me. Here I am.”

“No, I want to call Cathy. The Other Cathy. The one at home.””


6. Letters To Sam by Dan Gottlieb


Letters to Sam Gottlieb NPR

Topic: Gottlieb, paralyzed in a car accident, writes compassionate and insightful letters for his autistic grandson, Sam, afraid he won’t live to see Sam come of age. Gottlieb is the host of NPR’s Voices in the Family broadcast.

Read It If You Liked: Tuesdays With Morrie

Reader Review: “Letters to Sam is a touching, soul-provoking work of art which I could not put down. I read the book in one day and did not want it to end. As Dan Gottlieb [wrote] to his grandson, Sam, I could feel my own heart opening up.”

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I wanted to teach him what I’ve learned about fighting against the kind of adversity that I face almost daily and fear he will face also. And I wanted to tell him how peace often happens when we simply stop fighting.


5. Wonder by R.J. Palacio


Wonder Palacio book cover

Topic: What’s more intimidating than going to public school for the first time? That’s easy: starting 5th grade with glaring facial deformities. With courage and perspective, Wonder’s young hero, August, takes it all in stride.

Read It If You Liked: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Reader Review: “Wonder captures the dual nature of childhood, both how cruel and how tender we can be with one another. It’s about the wounds we inflict and the scars we carry, all the things that teach us to do things differently the next time.”

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Everyone deserves a standing ovation because we all overcometh the world. –Auggie


4. Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry


Gathering Blue Lowry book cover

Topic: Kira, a disabled orphan, is left to fend for herself by a callous, unforgiving dystopia that has labelled her useless.

Read It If You Liked: The Giver

Reader Review: “With characteristic grace, Lowry pulls her reader into this tale of a devastated world in which judgments are harsh and the dead are left to rot in the fields. Here we find Kira, her leg twisted from birth and her heart, impossibly, nourishing hope.”

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Fear was always a part of life for the people. Because of fear, they made shelter and found food and grew things. For the same reason, weapons were stored, waiting. There was fear of cold, of sickness and hunger. There was fear of beasts.


3. Change Of Heart by Jodi Picoult


Change of Heart book novelc cover Picoult

Topic: Shay is sentenced to death for a double murder. One of his victims has a sister who is now in desperate need of a lifesaving heart transplant. Is it ever too late to seek redemption?

Read It If You Liked: My Sister’s Keeper

Reader Review: “Her writing pulls you in until you cannot let go until the end. This book about life and death cuts so close that it keeps you wanting more.”

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There’s always going to be bad stuff out there. But here’s the amazing thing — light trumps darkness, every time. You stick a candle into the dark, but you can’t stick the dark into the light.


2. Pulse by Edna Buchanan


Pulse crime suspense book novel Buchanan cover

Topic: Pulitzer Prize winner Buchanan brings us this gripping page-turner about Frank, a businessman who received the transplanted heart of a man who committed suicide. Guilty and conflicted, Frank investigates his donor’s life and stumbles upon a gristly conspiracy.

Read It If You Liked: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Reader Review: “The writer’s imagination is a breath of fresh air, and I found myself involved with the characters – feel sorry for them, hate them, question them, and try to imagine myself in their shoes.”

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Frank Douglas has everything to live for. But someone else had to die first.


1. The Diving Bell And The Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby


The Diving Bell and The Butterfly cover memoir Bauby Elle

Topic: At 44, French Elle’s editor-in-chief, Bauby, was blindsided by a rare stroke. When he awoke from a 20-day coma, Bauby was “locked in:” his entire body was paralyzed aside from his left eye. By blinking his way through the alphabet, Bauby dictated this vivid and moving memoir one letter at a time.

Read It If You Liked: The Glass Castle

Reader Review: “At times, I had to suck in my breath and set the book down to pause, it was so profoundly heartbreaking. He shares with us his deepest, raw thoughts about his daily life, his former lifestyle, his children, the blessings he misses and the pleasures he now looks forward to, as well as the torment he cannot control.”

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Once, I was a master at recycling leftovers. Now I cultivate the art of simmering memories.

Did we leave out any of your favorites? Reach out to us on Facebook or on Twitter and tell us what we should read next!


No Limitations: Equestrian Vaulting

We spoke to Alanna Flax-Clark, a paraequestrian who competes in equestrian vaulting and shows in paradressage events. In 2008, Alanna contracted an infection that rapidly destroyed her ability to walk. For Alanna, hippotherapy was an introduction to the immersive world of adaptive athletics.

Alanna Flax-Clark paraequestrian adaptive athletics HelpHOPELive horses

Alanna Flax-Clark is a paraequestrian competitor.

“Sports like equestrian vaulting and dressage have played a big role for me in gaining strength, coordination and mobility,” Alanna said. “It’s important that no matter how you get around, whether you walk or roll, you feel confident and secure in your body. I’ve learned to feel stronger and happier through my participation in sports.”

About Equine Therapy

According to the American Hippotherapy Association, hippotherapy is a way for patients to “engage…neuro, sensory and movement systems.” As the AHA notes, “a horse’s rhythmic, repetitive movements work to improve muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination, strength, flexibility and cognitive skills,” and encourage patient responses that simulate the techniques used for walking.

horse therapy hippotherapy equine therapy

Hippotherapy can improve strength, flexibility and even cognitive skills.

According to Ride On equine therapy center, “the horse, in some respects, ‘lends’ his nervous system to the patient so that the patient may experience organized movement.”

While adaptive riding tends to be recreational, hippotherapy is considered medical rehabilitation and is always supervised by a physician or professional. Hippotherapy has been used to rehabilitate patients with cerebral palsy, autism, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injuries, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy and multiple other conditions.

HelpHOPELive equine therapy horse therapy rehabilitation horse riding horseback

Hippotherapy is always supervised by a professional.

New Challenges: Equine Athletics

Alanna began pursuing hippotherapy “with no expectations.” Today, she spends the majority of each week riding or training her horses for equine events.

hippotherapy horse therapy rehabiliation Alanna Flax-Clark

Alanna spends the majority of each week involved in equine activities.

While initially she worked with horses for physical therapy benefits, Alanna soon realized that she wanted more of a challenge. “After going through rehab and not seeing any progress, I began to get frustrated,” she said. “I wanted to get stronger, regain more mobility [and] coordination, and just be able to go outside in the fresh air and have fun.”

Over time, Alanna graduated from hippotherapy to adaptive riding lessons. At a riding show, Alanna competed in three classes and took home two first place ribbons and one second place ribbon. On a fateful day in 2013, Alanna saw an equestrian vaulting group perform at her riding facility. “When I saw what they were doing, I knew immediately that I had to get involved!” said Alanna.

equestrian vaulting gymnastics horse therapy

Equestrian vaulting is an impressive and challenging activity.

Equestrian vaulting is essentially gymnastics on horseback. To most, Alanna’s ambition as a wheelchair-bound rider seemed lofty and even ludicrous. But with tenacity, Alanna was able to begin competing on horseback at a walking pace within a year.

training equestrian vaulting Alanna Flax-Clark

Alanna kept practicing until she was able to compete at a walking pace.

The Benefits of Adaptive Athletics

Alanna identified some profound physical and emotional benefits of paraequestrian participation. “I didn’t grow up around horses and did not expect to fall in love with them as much as I did,” she said. “They really have transformed my life. Most people in wheelchairs participate in sports with other people who have similar disabilities. However, when I’m out of my chair on my horse, I’m on more of an even playing field with everyone else. You can’t even tell that I have a disability.”

Equestrian vaulting horse therapy hippotherapy Alanna Flax-Clark

“When I’m out of my chair on my horse…you can’t even tell that I have a disability.”

Equine athletics is supportive and collaborative, Alanna confirmed. “At practice my teammates ask for feedback on their routines and form; they don’t even see my disability,” she said. “They want me to jump right in and help. It’s an environment full of respect and encouragement.”

Equestrian vaulting hippotherapy Alanna Flax-Clark teamwork

Equine athletics is supportive and collaborative.

She hopes her tenacity will allow other individuals with disabilities to discover equestrian sports for themselves. “I’m the only [athlete] in a chair that competes at vaulting competitions, to my knowledge,” she said. “It’s a more difficult matter for people with disabilities to participate…at the competitive level – even though it shouldn’t be! Horses aren’t the first thing that people turn to when faced with an illness or disability. I hope that starts to change. Vaulting is truly an accessible sport for everyone, no matter your age or ability. When one person starts doing it, it opens up doors to others.”

Getting Started

Alanna urged fellow athletes to overcome their initial trepidation. “Many people think that getting on a horse is impossible depending on their disability, but if there’s a will, there’s a way!” she said.

equestrian vaulting equine therapy horses Alanna Flax-Clark wheelchair

“Horses are naturally empathetic animals.”

“Horses are naturally empathetic animals and can help people overcome their personal challenges. I never would have thought that I’d learn to post at the trot, be able to sit independently at the canter, and even do a shoulder stand or maneuver off my horse into my wheelchair!” Alanna said. I’ve made a huge amount of progress…I’m still continuing to make big strides and learn new things each day.”

Learn more about hippotherapy and paraequestrian athletics before you participate, and always discuss your plans with your support team. You can track Alanna’s progress in paraequestrian vaulting and dressage on her website.