Monique grew up in Rosebud, a beautiful seaside town on the mornington peninsula, is married to Michael and is the mother of two very special children, her daughter: Madi and son Thomas. Like most women, becoming a mother was a life changing event. In Monique’s case, even more so, every parent knows that their children are special, but Monique’s really are. They are both beautiful, and they are both autistic. While this could be overwhelming for most parents (and at times it has certainly been that for Monique). Monique has found her true purpose and is now determined to educate other children, parents, teachers and friends, that different is not something to be scared of and everyone needs a friend.
When did you first notice a difference in Madi’s development?
Everything seemed fine until Madi was nearly two years old: she’d learned how to walk, said a few words and was playing with us. Almost overnight, it seemed, she withdrew, she became fussy about her food and the clothes she would wear, and our sunny, delightful, picture-perfect daughter became a major challenge.
In retrospect, the signs were there earlier, but like many other parents, we didn’t see them because we didn’t know what to look for. Thomas’s story is similar: a normal start to life, but because we’d seen it in Madi we understood what was probably going on and we sought help earlier.
How difficult was it to learn initially that Madi and then Thomas were both autistic?
Initially it was heartbreaking. We knew nothing about autism, we knew something wasn’t right with Madi but we had no idea to the extent it would turn out to be. Then with Thomas, he seemed different to Madi, interacted more and made more eye contact but wasn’t developing as he should and was showing some signs of sensory issues so we started the whole process earlier, knowing what to do. Having both of my 2 children diagnosed with autism was absolutely devastating.
How and why did you come to be an author?
In Madi’s second year of kindergarten, her teacher asked if there was anything she could do, or how to help the other kids understand her better after comments such as ‘Madi is dumb’ and ‘Madi doesn’t know anything’. So I started to write, initially a poem, I tried to describe what was going on inside Madi’s head. I wanted to help the other children understand that autism is not something to be scared of.
This ultimately led to my first book, the response from teachers, parents, and Madi’s classmates was amazing, and so began the series.
I revised them, changed the illustrations, and presented them to the wider world in the hope that they will raise awareness and understanding of the growing reality of autism.
I’d like to think they will help other parents of autistic children to understand their children better and encourage them to see what is possible, and I’d like to think that the wider community might become less fearful of autism and more skilled in relating to people on the autism spectrum and able to appreciate their gifts of concentration and intense experience.
So when most parents would be overwhelmed with everyday life, you are driven by a passion for helping and educating others, is this something you always had?
I have always been quite a driven and passionate person but this is to the next level. I was in a really dark place for a long time after both kids were diagnosed and writing the books really helped me. Then progressing with the whole project, gave me more hope and confidence to continue to move forward. To turn what had been such a negative in our lives into a positive. To be able to help other people in a similar situation, to make their lives a bit easier, to give them more hope, is an unbelievable feeling to now have. We still face our challenges each day but things have really improved.
So, what’s next?
I want to continue educating and sharing with children, parents, teachers and friends. I would love every kindergarten and primary school to have my series of books about Madi. Autism is more common today than ever and we need to understand more. There will be more books, I plan on having a series for boys and the option of personalising them as well.
I also want to look at how I can help with the sensory issues that the children deal with and this might be down to the clothing they wear, or even a sensory Madi doll.
It sounds like you really know what you want to do? Has that always been the case?
No, I had no idea. After putting together the first book, initially for Madi’s kinder teachers and classmates, things just progressed from there. The more positive feedback I receive, the more confident I become and continue to think of more ways that I can help others. We have lived this every day for the past 5 years and learned so much, so now I want to help and inspire others.
You now have a website and have published a book series, what was your biggest challenge to get this far?
It has taken a couple of years to get to this point. Trying to juggle all aspects of life, work, motherhood, time, energy, finances has all been challenging. I think one of the biggest challenges is really trying to be confident and proud and not worrying too much about what everyone else thinks. It has been a big thing to put myself, my daughter and our story out there. It is all very personal and emotional.
Who was your biggest support?
My husband Michael, has been there every step of the way, encouraging me and helping me to succeed. He is an amazing father and a wonderful husband, I am very lucky and could not have done any of this without him. It has been an emotional rollercoaster ride over the last five years but it has bought us even closer together.
What advice would you give to other women facing major life events or choices?
Give yourself time to process it all. It is ok to feel sad, angry and upset, it is only natural and you need to. I got to a point where I didn’t want to be unhappy anymore so I saw a councillor. Talking to a professional really helped. At the time it was emotionally draining but It was good to get it all out, off my chest so I could try to move forward. You will have your good days and bad, it all takes time but things can change and get better.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Life is forever changing. You just never know what is around the corner… Believe in yourself. Be more confident. Be patient, you will find something you are really passionate about follow your dreams no matter what.
You can follow Monique and Madi’s journey on Facebook.
You can follow Monique’s LinkedIn here.
You can visit the Official Website for The Everyday Autism Series here.
You can visit The Everyday Autism Series’ Twitter here.