Cousin with autism inspires WSU student to write children's book

  • Communication Sciences and Disorders student Amy Lightfoot has authored a children's book titled “My Cousin Lili.”

  • The book is based on herself and real-life cousin with autism, Lili.

  • Lightfoot's book features a Latina child with special needs – a character not seen often in children's books.

Wichita State student Amy Lightfoot has authored a children's book titled “My Cousin Lili.” The book is the real-life story about Lightfoot and how her cousin Lilian, who has autism spectrum disorder, inspired her to understand and love people with disabilities.

Lightfoot, a junior in the Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) program and a WSU Gore Scholar, is pursuing a degree in Speech and Language Pathology. When Lightfoot was 5 years old, her aunt – a missionary in Honduras – adopted Lili.

“At first I was scared and didn't know what to do with Lili because she didn't walk, talk or play like me,” she says. “My mom told me, ‘She's a kid just like you, so go play with her like any other kid.'”

Lightfoot noticed that Lili enjoyed spinning and twirling around, so she started copying her actions and learned how to play with her. They soon became best friends.

Throughout her childhood Lightfoot became comfortable around Lili and other people with special needs. She made several trips to Honduras to visit Lili and help with projects supporting children with disabilities. In middle school she realized that she truly enjoyed spending time with them and wanted to help make their lives better. That passion stayed with her into adulthood.

“I realized when I was writing essays for college scholarship applications that Lili kept coming up as my source of inspiration,” she says. “My mom suggested writing a book about my experience and we had a rough draft within a week.”

Lightfoot said the entire process – editing, illustrated and publishing – took about six months.

The illustrator, Teofilo Padilla, is a Deaf man who works for the Honduran Bible Translation Project and is also a graphic designer. His illustrations were based on actual childhood pictures of Lightfoot and Lili, and details like their outfits and Lightfoot's dog and room are shown in some of the drawings.

Lightfoot says Lili has taught her so much about life and is a joy to be around.

“Once you get to know Lili she is such a wonderful person and good listener – she's one of my favorite people in the whole world,” she says. “It's hard not to smile when you're around her.”

Lightfoot says she has received positive feedback about “My Cousin Lili,” particularly from elementary school teachers. She says they look forward to using the book to approach the subject with kids.

“I want kids to know they don't need to be afraid of people who are different,” she says. “They're just communicating and showing love in a different way.”

Lightfoot says “My Cousin Lili” is unique because of the topic and main character's ethnicity.

“Most people haven't seen a book featuring a main character being Latina with special needs,” she says. “It addresses kids from a different country, autism in children, interactions and relationships.”

She says writing more books about Lili has been discussed, with the possibility of a series delving more into who she is and how she interacts with people.

Lightfoot is appreciative of the support she has received from her department and the College of Health Professions. She credits Wichita State for helping achieve her dreams by providing opportunities that have made her grow and expand her horizons.

“My Cousin Lili” was published in English and Spanish and is available through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.