Communication comes in many forms and for the DeMonia family it’s art. You see, the oldest daughter, Leah, is autistic and she expresses her emotions, her heart and her love through her art. And her parents and younger sister are doing everything in their power to make sure Leah has every opportunity to shine using her own artistic talents.
Sarah is a compassionate advocate and ‘voice’ for her older sister and never hesitates to make people aware of autism and share the gift of Leah. Their special relationship inspired their mother, Lori DeMonia, to write Leah’s Voice, a narrative children’s story to explain autism in an uplifting and inspirational way.
Curious to find out more about this gifted family? Read the interview and stroll through our virtual gallery exhibit of Leah’s art…
Lori, tell us about your family…
My husband Matthew and I both grew up in the Cleveland area. While living in Ohio, our first daughter, Leah, was born in 2001. She was reaching all her milestones until about 18 months old. Then we started to notice changes such as not responding to her name, and getting upset while doing things she previously enjoyed. I finally reached out for help by contacting early intervention, and then we received her autism diagnosis at Rainbow Babies and Children’s hospital in 2003. In 2004 we welcomed Leah’s younger sister, Sarah. She is such an amazing sister and advocate to Leah. It amazes me how much patience she has. Both our daughters are talented in music and art. They also enjoy dancing and doing gymnastics together.
I thought writing a realistic children’s fiction book based on some of our experiences would give others insight not just about autism but the life of a sibling as well. Since autism affects more boys than it does girls, I also thought a book with a female character with autism would be a useful addition for readers about the topic.
Have you ever written a children’s book before? How was that experience?
I wrote my first children’s book several years before having children and that’s what brought me to Halo Publishing, that manuscript. But after speaking to the publisher about my family, our daughters’ relationship, and our journey with autism, she convinced me to write a different book that would help bring awareness to autism and what happens within the family. It felt a little like getting homework, but I’m so glad I took her advice.
Who is your illustrator and why did you choose her?
The illustrator is Monique Turchan. Halo Publishing hired her a few months after the book was finished. Being from Cleveland, it was nice working with someone who lived there. She is a graduate of The Cleveland Institute of Art, while I am a graduate of Cleveland State University.
Is any of Leah’s artwork featured in the book too?
Yes, that actually was the publisher’s idea. The illustrator added some of Leah’s art to a few of the illustrations.
What’s story’s theme?
A girl is having her first play date at her home and invites her older sister to join in. Although the younger sister is used to her older sister’s behavior, the friend asks questions that she doesn’t quite know how to answer. This as well as other events lead up to the parents explaining to her about her older sister’s diagnosis.
What is the reading level of your book? Ages 6 and up.
What do you hope readers (and their parents) take away from reading Leah’s Voice?
I hope they would understand that siblings to those with autism need support and understanding too. Many kids are going to have friends who have a brother or sister with autism. It’s so important that they show acceptance. I hope the story helps readers actually experience some of the types of behaviors an individual with autism may have. Being aware of autism if great, but actually understanding what it may “look” like is more important. I also hope readers see how gifted and talented individuals with autism can be. Besides art, there are countless ways individuals with autism are exceptional people.
OK, Proud mom moment time…What would you like people to know about Leah’s art?
Leah has won 5 art grants through the Lane Arts Council /KindTree Autism Rocks.
Now it’s Leah’s turn…
Leah, what do you like to draw?
Pictures of people I see. (Leah draws her own yearbook pages.)
How does creating art make you feel?
It makes me feel good. (We notice Leah is very calm and focused when she is drawing.)
What do you think of Leah’s Voice the book you and your mom made together?
I like it. I gave a copy to my teachers.
Is there anything else that you’d like people to know about you?
Mom responds…Leah can play music on the piano after hearing it, and she has taught herself the clarinet and flute by watching YouTube and practicing on her own. She has an amazing memory too. Her teachers have told us that she can walk past a classroom, stop briefly and observe the room, then tell them the names of the students who are absent.
On to the gallery exhibit of Leah’s art…
We love your artwork, Leah! It’s very happy and it makes us smile. YOU are now one of our Mighty League Autism Ambassador’s of Hope!
Discover more at:
Image of Leah courtesy of Brittany Buitron Photography
The banner at the top is entitled ‘Liberty’ by Leah DeMonia