Student uses children’s book to explain adult passions


Brian Hayes

Amy Lightfoot, junior Communication Sciences and Disorders student, poses with a copy of her book, “My Cousin Lili” in Ablah Library. Lightfoot’s inspiration for the book was her cousin who has autism.

The images that shaped Amy Lightfoot’s childhood, and in effect, her career aspirations, appear vibrantly illustrated on the pages of a children’s book.

Lightfoot, a junior studying communication sciences and disorders, published the children’s book “My Cousin Lili” last year. The story revolves around Lightfoot’s relationship with Lili, her cousin with autism, as they twirl through childhood together.

After first meeting her cousin at age five, Lightfoot developed a passion for people with who are different. This helped Lightfoot find her calling to work in education and speech therapy.

“Speech therapy is helping people like Lilian still communicate with the world,” Lightfoot said. “Just because someone can’t talk doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to say.”

Lightfoot said she intentionally avoiding using the word “autistic” to describe Lili in her book. She describes her as different, but never within a labeled distinction, much like it was explained to Lightfoot when she first met Lili.

When they met, she wanted to play with her cousin and form a connection. As their relationship evolved with age she discovered the simplicity of joy found in interactions with people with special needs.

Lightfoot said the root of her passion for teaching and pursuing speech pathology is her relationship with her cousin, as she finds it is easy to love those with a disability.

Through taking simple lessons learned in her own childhood, Lightfoot also realizes the effect her relationship with her cousin has had on her everyday life.

Lightfoot’s mother and coauthor of “My Cousin Lili,” Sally, is an elementary teacher. Lightfoot’s parents have both encouraged her to acknowledge value in everyone, regardless of differences.

“There is a big ministry there where you can help kids, grow them and love them,” Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot’s passions play out daily in her job as a paraeducator at low-income elementary schools in Wichita. She also researches programs for students with autism at the collegiate level with two other graduate students.

While Lightfoot’s long term goals are in the classroom, she will begin to apply to graduate programs at the end of this year.

Lightfoot stays focused on what brought her to her current appreciation for high need and diverse areas, largely the result of familial interactions and service opportunities.

Lightfoot hopes the story of her relationship to Lili might encourage young kids to love others despite their differences. She hopes students can identify others who might be different, and that they can still love like she does Lili.

“It doesn’t look like Lili is capable of love, but spend five minutes with her and you will know otherwise,” Lightfoot said. “She is so full of joy, you can’t help but smile when you are around her.”