We all have our own ideas about what ‘attention’ means. However, when asked to fully describe attention, many of us will...
Monique Cain is a mother from Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula who drew from her experiences as a parent of two children with Autism to give voice to the Autism experience and help unravel the mystery of Autism for others, particularly young children.
She created The Everyday Autism Series – a series of children’s books that uses easy-to-understand language to explain how the world looks through her daughter Madi’s eyes. With Madi as the storyteller (and sometimes her son, Thomas), teachers, parents and children have been able to gain a greater appreciation of what Autism really means.
We spoke with Monique Cain to find out more about her revelatory books.
TALi: Did you have any experience in writing before jumping into the book series?
I had absolutely no previous book writing skills or experience. I had written a few good stories at school, journaled from time to time over the years and casually appreciated rhyming poetry. I began writing more regularly as a form of therapy after both of our two children were diagnosed with Autism (ASD). I couldn’t talk to anyone about our kids without breaking down, so I began to express my thoughts and feelings on paper instead.
TALi: So then, what prompted you to turn your writing into books?
One morning, a little boy at kinder said to me that Madi was dumb and didn’t know anything. I honestly didn’t know what to say, especially to a five-year-old, so I said, “Madi is not dumb – she just doesn’t talk very much.” Shortly after that experience, a poem I wrote turned into a story that I then turned into a book with photos of ‘Madi At Kinder’ for the kids and teachers to understand her more.
After an overwhelming positive response, I continued writing about more of our life experiences. I had a collection of books illustrated and published in simple and entertaining language for both children and adults to gain an instant understanding about ASD. I began to strongly feel like this was the path I was destined for and must follow – to, literally, give our children and others alike a voice and help explain their behaviour.
TALi: What’s your process and how has this experience with the series affected your life?
I love writing traditionally with a pen and paper, and then transfer my words to laptop and edit as I go. The illustrations were created from family photos and our experiences relating to the appropriate pages of each book and drawn as identical character images.
I was extremely busy bringing everything to life on top of my day job and two children with additional needs but it became my passion. I also employed two lovely ladies as my editor and brand manager, who I met through a friend, to help guide me through all the processes. It was a fun, rewarding side project among everything else going on in our lives.
TALi: Tell us about the response to the books. Did it meet your expectations?
Even before being published, our books exceeded all expectations! After publishing, my initial aim was to see our books considered as valuable resources for teachers in kinders, schools and Autism family homes to promote kindness and inclusion.
The series has been extremely well-received throughout the entire Autism community. We wholesale to various Autism and early childhood organisations, and I’ve also become a respected speaker and exhibitor at Autism events.
TALi: So, what’s next for The Everyday Autism Series?
Well, I was incredibly proud to release our first chapter book last year – Never Give Up: Riding the Emotional Rollercoaster of an Autism Parent – which shares our family’s journey with tips and tricks we’ve learnt along the way to help others.
Our social media pages – @The EverydayAutismSeries – continue to grow with regular blogging, and the sharing of helpful information that people can relate to. We enjoy communicating with passionate people who are following our journey.
New opportunities are also always evolving. Further books and products may eventuate in the future but I’m not putting too much pressure on myself. I’m already extremely proud of what we’ve achieved so far, and how our little brand and business has developed. You never know what’s around the corner but I’m presently focusing more on our two children and their ongoing development.
TALi: What do you hope your books will do for others living with Autism?
In general, I hope that everyone who reads our books will gain a greater understanding of Autism and become more compassionate towards others. We would like to encourage other Autism parents and families to continually educate themselves and seek assistance from all the various professionals and products available.
Everyone can learn but sometimes it may just take a bit longer, and require extra help and support. We aspire to give hope and inspire other families to follow passions, love unconditionally and ‘never give up’ – as my book title says.
TALi: Are your own kids aware of the books and what you’re doing with them?
It’s hard to know exactly how much our kids understand but they are aware of their books. They’re fairly famous within our local community and their school but they don’t fully comprehend the entirety of it all.
They are our inspiration and the reason our series began. We will continue to advocate for them and all Autism families by sharing our story to help raise awareness throughout the world.
“As mother to a child with ASD (Autism), the challenges have been enormous and mentally exhausting,” explains Amy*. “Having to advocate for my son on a regular basis and educate others has been an ongoing battle.”
The struggles Amy has experienced are fully evident through her words. Even though her son Josh’s school has been sympathetic and supportive of their situation, finding a solution to their problems ultimately landed on her shoulders. As she admits, “Unfortunately, schools do not have the resources or, in most instances, the knowledge of supporting children with Autism.”
With Josh having trouble organising and planning, maintaining focus, shifting between tasks and decisions, and managing emotions – as well as other executive function challenges, such as fidgeting and touching, that are specific to Autism – Amy took it upon herself to undertake some research and see if she could find a solution for making their daily life easier. It was during this research that she stumbled upon TALi TRAIN and decided to give the attention-strengthening program a go.
“It had somehow appeared on my Facebook page,” she says, “I phoned and made some enquiries. I spoke with a lovely gentleman who kindly provided me with an extensive background about the TALi program and its benefits.”
But she did not implement TALi immediately: “ My son’s school had received the services of an Outreach Support Program, and I believed, at the time, that these services were going to provide the assistance my son required. Unfortunately, it became apparent to me that the program was not suitable and did not provide the support Josh required. Instead, it focused on consequences and exclusion. Six months later and a report of recommendations that was more generic than specific to my child, I decided to look into the TALi program.”
Amy met with Josh’s teacher prior to the September holidays, and alerted her to the fact that she was going to trial a five-week attention training program, TALi TRAIN, and consequently would like to hear the teacher’s feedback. First week back from holidays and the results were already evident: Amy’s son received an award for demonstrating the value of responsibility, which was presented to him at the school assembly.
“His class teacher was extremely surprised by the change and noticed my son had become less fidgety and distracted, more focused and was showing better listening skills,” admits Amy. “Our TALi journey proved to be so beneficial for Josh that the teacher and staff took notice and requested further information about the program to possibly assist other students at the school.”
In the months following his attention strengthening with TALi TRAIN, Josh kept surprising her. His Term Four report showed a complete turnaround from first semester report. For instance, his overall classroom behaviour went from ‘Needing Attention’ to ‘Good’, and his overall effort in all subjects increased from ‘Working Towards’ to ‘Expected Level’ and ‘Above’.
The outcomes of TALi TRAIN outweighed anything Amy had expected. As she readily concedes, “My initial expectations were that it couldn’t hurt to trial and, if it managed to do half the things it mentioned in the research, then it would be well worth it.”
But now, Amy is a great advocate of the TALi program, as her personal journey can attest.
When asked if she had any tips to give to other parents and carers, Amy says, “Encourage your child to complete the program, even when it becomes mundane. Persevere and, by the end of the program, the benefits become evident. And you may find that your child may even miss playing TALi long after the program has finished – my son did.”
*Names have been changed to maintain privacy