There is something to be learned from the youth of today. Caden, a young boy who views being autistic as another way of being human, doesn’t let his youthfulness stop him from educating the community around him. Caden is very honest and immensely welcoming to those around him, especially if he can sense something “different” about a person. Being autistic has increased his empathy and his awareness, allowing him to identify and connect with others who have neurodiverse minds. Because of his neurodiversity, he has been instrumental in inspiring his parents, Emily and Ryan, to create their Elk Grove-based bookstore, A Seat at the Table Books, which is already open online and will have a physical location next year.
Emily, Ryan, Caden, and his little sister Audrey saw a need to have an inclusive space in their community that celebrates all identities and gives people a place to learn about each other’s identities and experiences in a safe, accepting way. They knew that a bookstore would provide the best opportunities to socialize, ask tough questions without fear, and read amazing books. “Books are magical,” Emily raved, because books have the power to educate, inspire, and “smash the kyriarchy” (a new term for the patriarchy that describes the social system that keeps all forms of privilege oppression in place).
Through A Seat at the Table Books, Emily, Ryan, and Caden deliver a message of empowerment, especially for those groups who are typically oppressed and marginalized. They invite anyone and everyone interested in or curious about intersectionality (the overlapping of many social and ethnic identities) to join in on the discussion, explaining that they want to showcase the books and stories that aren’t as easily accessible or centered at major retailers.
Currently, A Seat at the Table Books reaches the community through popup events hosted at local organizations and coffee shops; the brick-and-mortar store will open in 2021. With Caden’s help, they plan to design the physical store so that is inclusive of neurodiverse people. For example, they plan to provide a Quiet Room that anyone is welcome to use without needing to justify it. Features like this will make neurodiverse people, such as those with autism and ADHD, feel welcome and normalize their needs in a world that often makes them feel different and excluded. Caden says he is excited about the bookstore opening next year because it is a “multicultural space where everyone is safe and there is a quiet room to chill.”
The work Emily, Ryan, Caden, and Audrey have done for the community is amazing, and they couldn’t have done it without the proper supports and services in place for both families and clients. Caring for a child with an intellectual disability comes with additional responsibilities; it is challenging to be neurodiverse in a culture that doesn’t
understand autism, and being the neurotypical sibling of a child with special needs is a unique experience. Respite care, a service that provides temporary care for a client, has supported all of them in meeting their goals. Emily and Ryan recognized the importance of spending time together, taking a deserved break, and giving their youngest child individual attention. They also see the value Caden gets from spending time away from the family dynamic. His independence and self-confidence have grown through receiving respite services.
Emily and Ryan enthusiastically thanked their Service Coordinator, Andrea, for all of her help and support. Ryan said, “Working with Andrea has been amazing! She believes in us and validates us. Alta has been a wonderful part of our journey.”