I hope Lori DeMonia children’s book, Leah’s Voice, finds its way in every elementary classroom because of its important message. Leah’s Voice is an autism Social Story for siblings and friends about inclusion and acceptance. The 28 page picture is about a sibling with autism but its important message on the acceptance of differences and treating everyone with kindness and respect is for all children. Reading Leah’s Voice with your children or to a class is the perfect way to open up discussions on children with special need, accepting differences, respecting and including others.
Leah’s Voice Award Winning Book
Congratulations to the team that worked on Leah’s Voice as it is a recipient of the prestigious seal of excellence by The Mom’s Choice Award, (MCA) Silver Honoree. It was The Mom’s Choice Award recipient in the children’s books category for developing social skills. The Mom’s Choice Awards honors excellence in family-friendly media, products and services.
Announcement: Leah’s Voice has been awarded the 2014 Temple Grandin Outstanding Literary Work of the Year by the Autism Society of America.
We are pleased that Lori DeMonia agreed to take part in our Author Interview Series. Read our interview of Leah’s Voice here.
Lorna: First tell us about your family and how your daughters are doing. What signs could you notice in your daughter’s behavior that led you to have her evaluated and then diagnosed with autism? How old was she at that time?
<<Lori DeMonia: My daughters are doing very well! They currently attend the same school, ride the bus together, and also both participate in an after school track program together called Girls on the Run. My husband and I will celebrate our 17th anniversary this year.
Leah was reaching all her milestones, walked on her 1st birthday, and would run across the room to me when I came home saying “mommy”. Then at around 18 months we started to notice she would not respond when we said her name and she became agitated if we tried to sit close to her while she was playing. I noticed these changes and immediately thought something wasn’t right. I didn’t work and was with her all day, so I think I picked up on it before my husband did. We thought she would benefit from being around other children and having some social interaction. So we tried daycare centers where she was enrolled just one or two days a week. But after 2 different daycare centers asked us to remove her because of her behavior, we knew this had to be something more serious.
I found out about early intervention from a parent, and they recommended we take Leah to a Cleveland children’s hospital. That is where a developmental pediatrician told us she more than likely had autistic spectrum disorder. Hearing that diagnosis was devastating, but at that point we knew that the sooner we start getting her the help she needed the better. So much information and awareness about autism wasn’t available when she was diagnosed in 2003. I’m glad there is so much more awareness and resources available for parents now.>>
Lorna: I read you now work in behavioral health as a TSS, therapeutic staff support, with children with special needs. Please explain about your work.
<<Lori DeMonia: I work for an agency that provides behavioral specialists, mobile therapists, and one-on-one support to children with special needs. I work as a TSS, therapeutic support staff, one-on-one with a child in the school setting to provide behavior interventions and support in the classroom and throughout the entire school day. I was deciding on going back to work and wanted to put my degree to use and one of Leah’s former teachers told me about this type of position. While in college I worked at a supportive living home for special needs adults, so I had the experience needed as well. It is so rewarding to be using some of my hands-on experience with Leah to make a difference with other children.>>
<<Lori DeMonia: On the cover are the two sisters who are the main characters of the story. A playdate doesn’t go so well which starts the younger sister to question what is it that’s different about her sister. I was motivated to write it when I started thinking about what it will be like when we start having other children over and how will they react to Leah. I wanted to tell a story that showed some of her behavior that may be puzzling and bring awareness to kids who might not understand autism. Many children with autism are placed in a general education classroom and their classmates will have a better understanding by being read a story that might resonate with them better than just being told about what autism is.>>
Lorna: What advice do you have for parents to help the siblings of a child with special needs feel loved and an important member of their family even though a lot of the parents’ time is spent with the child who has more needs?
<<Lori DeMonia: I think telling the siblings how much their patience and understanding about their brother or sister is appreciated is helpful. I tell Leah’s sister as often as I can what a wonderful, loving sister she is. My husband and I try to give as much individual attention to her as we can. Letting her know that it’s ok to be mad sometimes and letting her talk about her feelings helps too. We also got her a copy of the workbook The Other Kid, by Lorraine Donlon, that guides siblings through different drawing activities and has a writing journal in the back.>>
Lorna: Not only do you have a great book but you also have a great web site with activity pages parents, homeschoolers, and teachers can use when they read and discuss Leah’s Voice. Do you meet with support groups or have speaking engagements with parents of special needs children? What message do you try to share?
<<Lori DeMonia: I haven’t spoken to parents yet, but just got involved with PEAC, The Pennsylvania Education for All Coalition, as one of their parent consultants. They advocate for inclusion for special needs children by helping parents and speaking at colleges and universities to future teachers. Parents share their own personal experiences about raising children with special needs so future teachers will have a better understanding.>>
Lorna: In my review I wrote, “Mom-author, Lori DeMonia and illustrator Monique Turchan make a winning team. Full page, colorful illustrations on each left hand page bring the three main characters to life. In each drawing Monique Turchan uses facial expressions and body language to support the beautifully written text.” Explain how you and the illustrator collaborated to get this book to the publisher. Do you each do your work and just email back and forth? How did your daughters feel about your book?
<<Lori DeMonia: The publisher hired Monique as the illustrator and then I sent her the story board with my ideas for the illustrations for the story. We used dropbox to share files, and I gave her photos of the house in Ohio we used to live in. That’s how the interior of the house came about. I sent her photos of Leah’s easel as well that her grandfather gave her. The cover illustration was my idea, I just had witnessed Leah drawing and getting a big hug from her sister, and it turned out exactly how I described it to Monique. She was wonderful to work with, and the illustrations turned out amazing. The back cover photo was actually taken after the illustration of the two of them was done. My daughters are excited about the book, and gave their teachers copies of it.>>
Lorna: Thank you very much for writing to us about your book and for this interview. Will you write another book anytime soon? How can we follow you?
<<Lori DeMonia: I have been in touch with Monique and maybe will work together again in the future. I would love to take your advice Lorna and do a similar book with boy characters!
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