Mandi Mathis a practicing attorney in Athens, Georgia, mother of two boys, and serves on the Butterfly Dreams Farm Therapeutic Riding Program’s Board of Directors. She was introduced to the world of autism while running through the grocery store at a full sprint with her youngest son, Sawyer, tucked under her arm like a football while he was screaming at the top of his lungs. He was experiencing sensory overload. Soon after, he was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and Sensory Processing Disorder. Mandi says that teaching Sawyer how to comfort, calm and advocate for himself is one of her greatest accomplishments. She captures her son’s story in a delightful children’s book.
Tell us about your book, The Littlest Inventor.
The Littlest Inventor captures effective self-advocacy of a spectrum child whose sensory processing issues prevent him from going to the grocery store. At first, the external stimuli is overwhelming. He is overwhelmed by an errand many of us take for granted. However, with his own self-awareness, access to the tools he needs, and support of his family, he turns a disaster into a huge success.
What inspired you to write it?
My son Sawyer is an inventor. He wakes up each morning and goes to sleep each night with inventions foremost in his thoughts. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 2 but even before then, it was incredibly difficult to take him anywhere. We didn’t know about his sensory processing issues at the time. Leaving the house was always an ordeal. This book is a literary combination of Sawyer’s quirks and talents.
I hope that kids like him will read it and be inspired and proud of their strengths and aptitudes. I hope they will enjoy reading about a kid like them. I hope parents will read it to their kids and be reassured by the positive message. When Sawyer was diagnosed, positivity was not something I came across in my ASD research very often. I’d like to change that. When we believe in our kids and equip them to do their best, they will. We all understand the difficulties, but I really want more focus on strengths.
Who’s your illustrator and why was she perfect for capturing the spirit of your book?
Danielle Ragogna illustrated the book. She has been a family friend since she was in high school. She has pursued art on her own but had never illustrated for someone else before this endeavor. I’m glad I talked her into it! She has known Sawyer his whole life and was able to really capture his struggles and his spark.
Who is the ideal reader and how do you see the book being used?
This is obviously a children’s book. I read to my children often and I hope there will be other parents, teachers and adults who enjoy reading it to their children. Quirky or not – we all have a lot to learn from each other. That’s why I wrote it with a lyrical rhyming verse. I think it’s easy and fun to read aloud. There are not many words on the page so it is easy to read even for kids who may have reading difficulties, learning disorders or visual processing issues.
What’s the message you want your readers to take away after reading the book?
I hope that kids will see some of themselves in the character. His ingenuity, inventiveness, and self-awareness are qualities we each have in us. All our lives are enriched when we provide our spectrum kids with the awareness, tools, and time to advocate for themselves.
Do you have a proud moment, inspirational story, or moving fan feedback you’d like to share?
We’re very early in the process because the book was just released on June 30, 2016. I did share the book at our local library in Bogart, Georgia. After I read the story, they had a wonderful “invention” day where the kids got to invent their own creations. While the kids were inventing, a parent came up to me and said “I’m like that. I don’t like crowds and noise like what’s in this room now.” I think recognizing our similarities increases the awareness and appreciation we all have for each other.
If our readers leave with only one message after reading this interview, what would you like it to be?
I hope we all learn to have a little more appreciation for our differences! Our quirks and uniqueness are what make us truly fantastic individuals.