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Disabled Alumna Hopes to Enlighten Through Children's Books

Lawrence BroeCSU Stanislaus Alumna Jennifer Kuhns (B.A. ’05, M.A. ’08) has seen firsthand how unforgiving some children can be in the presence of other kids who are different. She also knows that behavior often comes from a simple lack of understanding.

It's that lack of understanding Kuhns is hoping to change through her own writing. Kuhns was born 10 weeks premature and is a quadriplegic due to cerebral palsy, but that hasn't stopped her from penning two children's books designed to help kids understand disabilities.

"I was bullied," Kuhns said. "I was treated as deaf, dumb and blind — or just plain stupid. My mom says early on, I developed an odd sense of humor and an acceptance of other peoples' actions toward me."

Kuhns dove into the study of literature at CSU Stanislaus, earning a bachelor's degree in English while graduating Summa Cum Laude in 2005. Three years later, she completed her master's degree in interdisciplinary studies with an English concentration. She was also published several times in Penumbra, the campus' annual art and literary journal, and she also worked on the journal's editorial staff.

In Kuhns' first book, "Were You Born in That Chair?" a girl in a wheelchair helps teach her classmates about disabilities, with one of the key lessons being that all of them had some sort of disability, but most just weren't as visible as hers.

The book — which was published in 2010 and recently won the Mom's Choice Award for family-friendly media, products and services — includes activities and cutouts that Kuhns said have been popular among teachers. Kuhns will soon publish her second children's book, "A Box Full of Letters," and she's working on a third book that will be more tailored to younger children.

She said she hopes the books will teach children to ask questions, be compassionate, and look beyond the surface to get to know people before making judgments.

"I guess what I learned most about growing up as a disabled person is to try everything you can, and don't give up," Kuhns said. "People can be mean, but that's usually because they don't understand or are afraid. And most of all, laugh."

Updated: 10/03/2012
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