The Ice-Cream Sundae Guide to Autism

I really love doing a book review when it’s a task that I can get my daughter involved in – this particular resource she enjoyed reading and managed to finish in just one go!

The book we looked at together is titled The Ice-Cream Sundae Guide to Autism and is written by Debby Elley and Tori Houghton. It is very cleverly illustrated by J.C. Perry and available here from Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

My daughter is nine years old and already has some insight into what it means to be autistic – she is also aware that she has a particular profile that fits into the spectrum called Pathological Demand Avoidance (or PDA for short). Often we focus more on the anxiety that is induced by following demands than we do on understanding the cluster of ASD features. Now that’s not to say these aspects are not linked to one another, but that she has found more identity by focusing on key details about PDA.

Even with her base knowledge and understanding (which has been accumulating for over five years now), this book still sparked her desire for self-learning and opened up new conversations. She picked up lots of new ideas throughout the guide and was able to gain a deeper insight into both the strengths and challenges she faces as an autistic child. I think this book can be useful to all children, regardless of their current level of knowledge on autism.

We dissected the front cover and talked about the design and she said that the image looked yummy; I’m sure you will agree from the picture below that the book certainly will be appealing to kids straight away!

Image book cover for The Ice-Cream Sundae Guide to Autism

We both agreed that the layout of the book would be appealing for children; the font and volume of the words are easy to read as well as the rhetoric being in a friendly, non-demanding tone. My daughter soon switches off if the style of writing is too dictatorial or direct and the fact she read the whole guide with me demonstrates it certainly had the right approach that suited her reading style.

We read through the pages and compiled a list of key points we would use to explain to anyone interested in reading the book (these were all on target until her avoidance started to kick in and she began writing about farts on my laptop). I refocused her attention to the content of the book and managed to annotate some of her thoughts.

My daughter reviewing the book

The book uses a simple, but effective, analogy of an ice cream sundae to explain what it means to be on the autism spectrum for children. My daughter understood the concept and really connected to the visual presentation of each ingredient throughout the illustrations given in the book.

The ice cream scoops simplistically represent the triad of impairments but are introduced in a more positive and tangible format. The scoops can also change and reflect the fact that the difficulties are individual to each person and are not always static. In the past I’ve found it difficult to explain these three compounds to the ASD diagnosis as my child usually rejects them – they often have terminology that seem negative and disabling.

My daughter noticed that the scoops were not always the same size and she commented that it was also true to life as we all do not look or act the same. I think the illustrations helped her to think about the ideas presented in a deeper, more metaphorical way.

Illustrations taken from the book

She discussed the chocolate scoop and said it was true as she identified facing challenges with speech and language. She slammed her hand down on the book and shouted “agreed … because sometimes you can’t say a word – you know how to but then you just can’t say it.” The guide then offers ‘spoons’ for the ice cream sundae for family, friends or support staff to use that may help the ice cream scoop become smaller.

The vanilla scoop represents being a ‘people detective’ and decoding the social clues in faces and bodies. It’s useful to note at this stage that my daughter did not find any challenges in this section and did not identify as much with the ice cream scoop. It’s quite befitting (and misleading) because an individual with a PDA profile can be far more proficient in this area but it is important to note that it can be superficial and may lack understanding of intentions or feelings underneath. It is usually the area that my girl asks a barrage of questions on, for example, ‘why did that person do that?’ or ‘why does their face do that?’ and even ‘what did that mean?’

The strawberry scoop stands for straight-line thinking and this area she really connected to. She compared it to what she had experienced recently and not being able to cope with an unforeseeable change “like when ‘Corona’ came along and ruined my life!” We laughed about her response but she thought about ways how she may cope over time with sudden changes and how those supporting her could use their ‘spoons’ to reduce those challenges.

Understanding the challenges

There are extra ingredients that are added to the sundae and detailed aptly – we particularly liked the chocolate sauce representing sensory difficulties. The sauce can make the scoops feel more difficult at any given moment in time, the challenges heightening with this extra layer of sensory difficulties on them, thus requiring calming strategies to reduce the scoops once again.

My daughter comically annotated “well the answer IS ice cream sundaes should not have chocolate sauce then!” The wit and humour of her PDA always shines through and adds the ‘cherry’ to her individual ice-cream sundae.

Looking at the individual ingredients

The resource is interactive and there are many puzzles and games to engage the young readers. These are well placed and add extra depth to the level of learning at the necessary parts of the book to deepen the understanding. I particularly like the opportunity to design your own version of an ice-cream sundae at the end of the book which really gives the child that time to process their ideas.

There was a small extra activity with the names of two autistic adults to search online and discover the use of their special interests in their work. We were both astounded by the eye for detail and the workmanship that almost seemed beyond a human capacity – it was a wonderful moment to revel in the beauty of a powerful, autistic mind.

Searching online in an activity

Overall this guide to explain autism is uplifting, funny and interactive, it’s well presented and a great introduction to understanding what it means to be autistic. It’s definitely recommendable for children, but also for adults or staff supporting children too. I definitely think this should be a resource available in all classrooms and SENCO departments, particularly in order to make schools more inclusive and therefore better equipped to support children with SEND.

**No payment was taken for this review and all views are my own, or rather, my daughter’s!**

Jessica Kingsley Publishers


  1. Louise Perry

    I loved reading this review – thank you! What age do you think this would be good for? My daughter is 6 and she really connected with the book Super Shamlal – she had her very own lightbulb moment! I’m just wondering if this book would be suitable for her age group too?

    1. PDA Parenting

      Hi Louise, I definitely would think she will get something out of this book, I read it aloud to Arijana and think it suits this format. Your daughter sounds very able if she connected with Super Shamlal, I think the basis of the scoops are easily explained. The book says it will appeal to a young reader so I’m sure it would be fine. All the best Danielle

  2. Tracey

    Firstly, can I have a spoon for Arijana’s sundae? Secondly, as a teacher this looks great and I’m ordering now 😊 Thanks Danielle & Arijana x

    1. PDA Parenting

      Ahh that’s lovely, thanks Tracey! Think the kids at school really will connect to this one. Hope you are all ok and I’ll pm you XX

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