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Jamaican teacher publishes books on autism

Published:Monday | April 16, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Lena McCalla Njee with the two books she has written since being elected Teacher of the Year for the Irvington School District in New Jersey. - Contributed

Nashauna Drummond, Lifestyle Coordinator

In the April 4, 2011 issue of the Flair Magazine, we highlighted the achievements of Jamaican teacher Lena McCalla Njee. After teaching in the United States for over 19 years, she was elected as Teacher of The Year for the Irvington School District in New Jersey.

Almost a year to the day, Njee, though she didn't win the award for teacher of the state, has published two books on her area of speciality - teaching children with autism. Holding a master's degree in special education, with concentration on children with autism, she has spent most of her professional career working with children with disabilities.

The books are designed to help more than her students. "I knew I wanted to be a published author for a very long time, but I guess the time is just right," she explained.

She explained to Flair in an updated interview that the books are for parents, teachers, caregivers and even medical doctors, some of whom are still perplexed about the disability itself and the behaviours of children who have autism.

A passion

Her first book, Hope As A Mother's Savior, Children With Autism Inspire! is a compilation of short inspirational stories about some of the many children with autism she has taught over the years. "It is my hope that parents will see beyond the disability and accept the child for what he/she is able to accomplish," she notes.

In her previous interview, she had noted passionately her choice of career, "Be sure you love children if you intend to make teaching a viable career.

"My goal is that this book will be to bring some solace and hope to the parents of a child with autism."

Her second book, Ivan Gets a Dream House, is the story of a young boy who lost his home in a fire one Christmas. He was tired of moving from place to place not knowing what he would eat or where he would sleep most nights. His biggest dream was to have a permanent home and a stand where he could keep his toothbrush.

"This book is also about hope, and I try to depict homelessness of the characters with dignity and self-respect."

Njee always knew she wanted to be a teacher, and writing was her second passion. "I have lots of unpublished material about children," she told Flair.

"I was encouraged by family, friends and co-workers to publish my work. When I told or read some of my stories to them, one refrain I kept hearing over the years is: "You need to put that in a book." I was given extra encouragement in my reign as Teacher of The Year for the Irvington School District to publish my work."

Taking the message home

With her focus on assisting children with disabilities, Njee is taking her expertise home. She is currently in Jamaica to give a seminar in Ocho Rios hosted by the Kiwanis Club. This will be followed by a second seminar at her alma mater, Sam Sharpe Teachers' College. "This is just the tip of the iceberg, but I felt the need to make a start,"she told Flair, revealing that she not only wants to bring awareness to the topic but in the future to help raise funds to help service children with disabilities in Jamaica.

"I believe that in Jamaica children are more at a deficit than in the United States since there is so little resource available and many teachers are not trained to teach children with autism. There seems to be such an explosion of autism all over the world at this time. there is no cure and until then, all children with this disability are at a deficit."

McCalla reiterates how personally fulfilling her job is and adds, "My advice to encourage teachers to work with special-needs children, is that if you have the will and the patience and want to effect change, and want to feel fulfilled every day, this is an avenue to consider and enter."