I had the pleasure of interviewing this lovely children’s author/illustrator that lives in Upstate New York with her husband and two teenage sons. She has many published books under her belt but people would be surprised to know that she is also autistic. I wanted to interview her to continue to bring light to the fact that just because you have autism does not mean that you can’t be a successful human being. She certainly proves this with her body of work. See below about what she has to say about having autism.
1.) You are a pretty well-known author and illustrator, but some may not know that you are also autistic. Were you diagnosed at an early age or later on in life? What is your experience as a female having autism?
I grew up in the late 70’s/80’s where autism wasn’t known or understood the way it is today, and most definitely not on the radar during the formative years of my childhood. I was just a very awkward kid who had a lot of “issues”. I felt like an alien trying desperately to fit in and belong, often being teased and bullied by others for my “odd” or “weird” behaviors. Little did I know that the struggles I faced both at home and school were because of my autism, and as a result, I often blamed myself by constantly wondering What is wrong with me? Why don’t I like hugging my parents and sister ? Why do I get so agitated when someone turns on a ceiling light or uses metal cutlery? Why the need to suddenly escape when entering a crowded mall? Why do sock seams digging into my toes and sleeves creasing under my sweater hurt so much? Why is it so hard to develop and maintain friendships? (you get the picture). I worked so hard to manage simple daily tasks and even harder to fit in socially, often mimicking the way the girls in my class talked and dressed…desperate to feel a sense of belonging. I became a chameleon, reflecting the “colors” of personalities around me with such success that I started to lose sense of who I was. I remember noticing the positive attention a girl in my class received from the way she’d say certain words, so I began to mimic her in hopes of receiving that same response. I did that throughout my childhood and adolescence.I struggled. And felt alone. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college at 19 years of age, did I receive a general autism diagnosis, and a further 25 years later before receiving my current diagnosis.
2.) What are the challenges, if any of having high functioning autism? What would you say to other parents to keep in mind when supporting a child with high functioning autism?
Every child on the spectrum faces their own struggles, and I can only speak for myself through the idea “ If you’ve met one child with autism, then you’ve met one child with autism”. For me, most of my “struggles” come from auditory and tactile input capacity abilities as well as extreme discomfort with unexpected change. For example, I can only take in so much auditory input before my brain feels “full”. Anything more can put me into a tense and internal stressful space of needing to shut everyone out and retreat to my own space. Textures are very heightened for me as well, and as a result, I’m only able to wear certain fabric blends. Clothing aspects such as tags and seems on socks can be quite “painful” for me and put me into a heightened state of agitation if I cannot change into something more comfortable right away. In regards to love of consistency, even to this day I can find it difficult to maneuver unexpected changes in plans…no matter how small. The only difference as an adult is that I know how to talk myself through these situations in a way that keeps me from going into a tailspin. Just a couple of months ago, before we were home full-time under quarantine, my husband and I were driving on a routine trip to the grocery store. He was driving, and decided to go a different route. I immediately felt my hands tense up and stomach turn. My breathing pace picked up and my chest began to tighten. It wasn’t the route I always like to follow. I had to close my eyes and tell myself “Take a deep breath and chill. Yes…he’s going a different way than you’d like, but you’re still going to get to the store. And so what if it’s a few minutes longer? Does that really affect your day? Just relax.”
In terms of helping support kids on the Autism Spectrum, it comes mainly to understanding what those triggers can be and figuring out ways that you can offer support and tools to help cope with those stressful moments.
3.) How did you discover your passion for writing and drawing? Do you think autism enhanced these abilities?
I have always loved to draw passionately since I was a young girl. It’s the one constant I’ve had throughout my life of diving “all in” to various interests such as Microbiology/Virology, Interior Design, Architecture, etc….When I find myself interested in a particular subject, I get obsessive and saturate myself to the point of doing nothing but researching and talking about it 24/7. Drawing and writing have always been the common threads that connected every subject together. I went to UW-Madison in 1992 and studied Microbiology for five years. Kendall College of Art and Design in Michigan subsequently followed, where a love of woodworking took over and carpentry was confidently proclaimed as “the trade I MUST do for the rest of my life!” That obsession quickly turned over to ceramics, which in turn lost to oil painting. 6 years ago, my current agent Kirsten Hall approached me about working in the picture book industry. I was 40 at the time and had just started returning to art after taking several years to fully focus on raising our sons. 12 books later, and I have no plans of stopping. I love that it offers me an ability to change things up within my medium from book to book while providing consistency and structure through deadlines. The ability to focus like crazy when passionate about something has directly fed my growth as a visual artist and author.
4.) Tell us a little about your book series “Little Senses” and what your inspiration behind this series was.
Little Senses was created out of a need for something I wish I had access to as a child in my younger years …a series of books purposefully void of any qualitative adjectives or labels that might otherwise turn away a reader who needs it most. These books introduce topics in an approachable way, often using light touches of humor to keep the reader engaged while offering tools to help maneuver overwhelming moments. Each story of the Little Senses series offers a window into what a child might experience when faced with an overload of sensory stimulation. There are so many nuances within the eight senses (visual, tactile, taste, smell, auditory, vestibular, proprioceptive, and introception), that writing just one story would prove impossible if I wanted to properly address each one.
5.) I love that some of your books talk about the importance of picture schedules as a visual support for children with autism. Can you go a little bit into the types of tools that are most helpful for children with autism?
Thank you so much! For kids that thrive on visual schedules, visuals can provide concrete examples to help make sense of time. Time itself is so abstract, and providing a layout through images can make the time-table more easily understood. Knowing what’s coming after each represented moment helps alleviate anxieties and bring about a sense of comfort and confidence. Visual schedules can also aid in helping introduce flexible thinking, especially in cases where an unexpected change may occur. My last book of the series, “It Was Supposed To Be Sunny”, centers around that exact topic. The mother uses a visual schedule to help her daughter cope with unplanned surprises that come during her birthday party (comes out Spring 2021) and offers ways to help work with the new changes and still have an incredible day.
6.) Tell us about any new projects you are working on. Where can we go to find your latest work?
My latest Little Senses book, Can I Play Too?, just released March 31st and the fourth one is now off to the printers :). We just released a free-to-download educational resource packet to coincide with Can I Play Too? that I’m so excited to share with everyone…I’ll provide a link below with my other media links. My latest 3D book, The Secret Rhino Society written by Jonathan E Jacobs, debuts June 2nd (pre-order available now anywhere books are sold!). I am currently working on my next 3D adventure…a wonderful book entitled Thankful, written by Elaine Vickers. That one will be releasing in Fall 2021.
7.) Where can we find you online, drop your social media handles for those who are interested?
@littlesensesbooks (all things Little Senses)
Educational Resources Link for Can I Play Too?:
Happy Belated Mother’s Day to all those who celebrated yesterday and I do hope you enjoyed this feature! Continue to be safe and use precaution in the midst of this Corona pandemic.
Love and light,