Super Shamlal – Book Review


I wanted to write about a fantastic new children’s resource that has been added to the growing collection of books on Neurodiversity by leading editors Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Super Shamlal is a new book by K.I. Al-Ghani – the very successful author behind the visionary books The Panicosaurus and The Red Beast (if you haven’t already looked at these books then I would suggest investigating into them as they are very useful to those working with young people with related additional needs).

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I already use these resources personally so I was eager to read Super Shamlal with my eldest daughter, as this new book focuses on Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA).

Just to summarise, Pathological Demand Avoidance is a behaviour profile, that fits under the autism spectrum – the central feature being an “anxiety-driven need to be in control and avoid other people’s demands and expectations.” PDA is often very complex and requires a unique form of strategies to support the individual to thrive – a useful link for more information on What is PDA can be found here by the National Autistic Society.

Super Shamlal cleverly uses the analogy of ‘hobbling’ for Arabic racing camels – the metaphoric comparison works very well when you read the book and it is particularly apt because the Arabic word for camel means beauty.  Anyone who is a parent or a professional working with PDA will eagerly recognise the many great qualities that make each and every PDA individual beautiful on the inside – although these great strengths often get masked behind the behaviour that is projected outwards when there is a ‘perceived sense’ of losing control.

This is something my PDA daughter has recognised in herself and has used a similar analogy of comparing herself to being ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – click here for a deeper explanation on this as it is useful to discuss with a young child.

The hobbling of camels is a very befitting description and works very well visually when complimented by the dialogue in the book.  It is easy to identify being ‘hobbled’ or trapped by an invisible condition that few people around you can understand or know how to support you with.

The illustrations are endearing; my daughter loved the characters and was also engrossed by the captivating story.  She certainly identified with the central character – a very misunderstood but super Shamlal:

An illustration of Super Shamlal illustrated by Haitham Al-Ghani

As we were reading the book and Shamlal began to experience significant challenges in everyday situations my daughter turned to me and said; “that’s just like me.” 

She paused as she tried to process how personal this book was and how it explained her own internal dialogue. Shamlal received reactions from family members that my child had experienced too – especially the conflict of being understood by her mother in contrast to her father becoming more strict with her defiance.  A subject like parental disputes has to be treated very delicately and there are not many resources that often show the honest truth of what it is like to live with PDA in a household, particularly the pressure put on all family members.

There is also a very positive key adult in Shamlal’s life who demonstrates how to help the child to manage those tricky situations and is uplifting to see – the relationship between the grandfather camel and Shamlal made my daughter’s smile light up her face. I think she could see connections with her own grandad and the conversations they have about how she feels after a meltdown. 

This resource will not only empower children by understanding the challenges they face with the profile of Pathological Demand Avoidance, but it could be a useful tool to help other peers, family members or professionals to understand too.

In the time that I have been blogging, or speaking publicly on PDA, I can honestly say the conversation always returns to education and how is it possible to make appropriate accommodations to adapt into the school system for individuals with PDA.  It always seems to be a regular barrier that families face. This book ties in the subject of school very nicely and it also contains management strategies to help teaching staff and peers to support a child in their school with PDA. It’s vital to understand that when a child feels safe then their trust is enabled.

So on our weekly visit to school we took this book to share with my daughter’s teaching assistant and as we got it out of the bag she stated; “well it’s a book about a camel who is just like me.”

As we read the book she contributed to parts that she identified with – especially when the Shamlal laughs out of turn when others get hurt; “that’s what I do,” she said.  She continued to listen and engage with the story as she bounced on the chair and occasionally hung upside down – she seems to be able to concentrate better the reverse way up:

My daughter as she listened to the story with her Teaching Assistant

We even laughed at the moments when Shamlal escaped as her demand avoidance kicked in – my daughter and the staff member discussed the times when she was still attending school and she had absconded from the premises.  It was useful to reflect on previous incidents using this book and helped my daughter to understand her own fight/flight response.

The management strategy that is introduced to Shamlal at the end of the story is very useful and definitely something that could help children to manage their anxiety. 

The teaching assistant found so much of the ideas that were put into place for Shamlal in her school interesting and thought about using them in a professional context – even with other children.

I think that this resource can give those working with the PDA profile some new ideas and help them to understand the child better. It’s definitely an added book to the growing catalogue of resources that JKP are publishing and in my opinion an important book worth using to improve self-management.

*Super Shamlal – Living and Learning with Pathological Demand Avoidance is available from Jessica Kinglsey Publishers and can be purchased from this link.

*For a previous post about the book The Panicosuaraus, and how it teaches about why we get anxiety from the perspective of a child – please click on this link.

**Disclosure** No payment was taken for this review and all views are my own.

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