About Monique Cain, Author of The Everyday Autism Series
Hi, my name’s Monique and I am the mother of two very special children: Madi and Thomas. Every parent knows that their children are special … but ours really are! They are both beautiful, and they are both autistic.
Everything seemed fine until Madi was nearly two years old: she’d learned how to walk, said a few words and was playing with us. Almost overnight, she withdrew. She became fussy about her food, she hated getting dressed, she wouldn’t go to bed, and our sunny, delightful, picture-perfect daughter became a major challenge in many ways. Putting a ‘label’ on her problem may have given us some extra support, but it didn’t really help us to cope with the challenges of daily life or the judgement we felt from others when she misbehaved in public, and, like any parents, we wondered what would happen when she went to school.
When Thomas arrived we were hopeful that he would escape this ‘difficult gift’ but we were also much quicker to notice when he displayed some of the early signs of autism, so we sought help earlier.
We are fortunate to have had a very supportive kinder and school for them to attend. Although each day presents its challenges for Madi and Thomas, as well as for their teachers, classmates, and parents we are all recognising that the learnings go both ways.
Monique also contributes to Source Kids’s blog content regularly sharing her experiences and insights she has learnt from Madi and Thomas.
Autism: A Difficult Gift
Our twenty-first century world is not made for autistic children (or adults) and, despite the increasing rate of diagnosis, many people have no idea what autism actually looks like or the impact it has on the whole family.
I call it the ‘difficult gift’ because when we look beyond the obvious challenges, many people living with autism also have a gift of wonder, focus, and emotional sensitivity that could transform our perspective (if we let it). Many autistic children look completely normal… until something happens that upsets them and they simply lose control. For those around them this is an everyday reality and it can be upsetting.
Eating. Playing. Getting dressed. Going shopping. Special occasions at school. Interruptions to imaginary play. Family events. There is always the sense of: “What is going to happen next?” which adds extra tension to the day when you are with an autistic child.
Am I a Failure Because My Children are Autistic?
I think every parent has moments when they feel as though they have failed, but when your child is autistic those moments come more often:
- Is there more I should be doing?
- What if I had recognised my child’s issues earlier?
- Are there treatments or programs I should investigate?
- Will medication help or hinder my child’s wellbeing?
- •What do I need to do or understand to help my child more?
Then there are the ‘if only’s’:
- If only my child could communicate more clearly so I could understand and help them.
- If only my child was normal so I could be like other parents and enjoy their performances.
- If only my child responded to her parents, grandparents, siblings.
Sometimes it’s the expression on stranger’s faces when they look at a 5-year old sitting in a trolley, throwing a tantrum, walking barefoot in winter, dressed as a dragon waving strips of paper around, or eating while we walk around the supermarket that makes me feel like a failure. I know it will only get worse as Madi and Thomas get older, because they look so normal … even beautiful … that it’s hard for people to realise they live in a different world.
I have to remind myself constantly that outsiders don’t know. They don’t understand who these children are or how hard they struggle to fit in. I have to extend compassion to them and try not to judge them as harshly and instinctively as they are clearly judging me.
Autism Brings Joy and Grief to Parents
I love Madi and Thomas dearly and I wouldn’t swap them for anyone or anything else in the world. They’re ours, and they bring us immense joy as well as untold sorrow. I never thought parenting would be like this – it’s not something that is discussed at pre-natal classes, or even new mothers’ groups – but parenting one, and then two, autistic children has increased my joy in the little things: – the times when Madi comes and stands close to me; or smiles her radiant, gorgeous smile that lights up her whole being; or reaches for my hand; or learns a new skill like bike riding; the times when Thomas’ vivid imagination reaches out and I am drawn into his wonderful world of fantasy; or when he sits quietly on his grandma’s knee and accepts her quick hug.
All those milestones which many children reach so effortlessly take so much more effort and courage for an autistic child, that they become extremely significant for their parents.
About The Everyday Autism Books
The Everyday Autism series sprang from a request from Madi’s Kinder teacher who asked if there was anything she could do, or anything she needed to know to help Madi succeed and enjoy herself at Kinder, and to help the other kids understand her better after comments such as ‘Madi is dumb’ and ‘Madi doesn’t know anything’. The response to the simple, heartfelt story in which I tried to describe what was going on inside Madi’s head was amazing, and led to other books in the series including one featuring Thomas, whose autism presents quite differently.
Teachers, parents, and Madi’s classmates found these books very helpful, and so I revised them, changed the illustrations, and presented them to the wider world in the hope that they would raise awareness and understanding of the growing reality of autism.
I’d like to think these simple picture books will help other parents of autistic children to understand their children better and encourage them to see what is possible. I’d also like to think that teachers and the wider community might become less fearful of autism and more skilled in relating to people on the autism spectrum and able to appreciate their gifts of concentration and intense experience.
CLICK THE IMAGE TO SEE ANDREW IN ACTION
Andrew’s artistic tendencies began to show at an early age. While attending Takapuna Grammar School, he used these talents to earn pocket money drawing assignment cover pages and marker-pen-tattoos for classmates. It wasn’t until he graduated from a Bachelor of Graphic Design degree at the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) that those abilities were further developed and enhanced to a professional level.
Currently he is living in New Zealand which provides a rich source of inspiration with it’s rugged landscape and diverse multicultural community.
He has been working full-time as a senior graphic artist for the New Zealand Herald newspaper for more than 17 years while also doing freelance illustrations.
Married to a Malaysian Chinese wife with a young family. His biggest fan and also biggest critic is his 10-year-old rascal daughter.