Creativity and compassion are contagious in the DeMonia family. Between writing, drawing, and acting as advocates for children with autism, Lori DeMonia and her daughters, Leah and Sarah, are an inspiration to all families.
Lori, a mom who has worked in behavioral health as a therapeutic staff support with special needs children for more than five years, recently published a charming children’s book called, Leah’s Voice. Lori said she was inspired to create the book as she witnessed the special, loving bond between her own two daughters who are now 13 years old and 10 years old, respectively.
Lori’s oldest daughter, Leah, was born in 2001 and diagnosed with autism at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Ohio in 2003. Daughter Sarah was born the following year. Over time, Lori has watched Sarah grow into an amazing advocate and a special “voice” for Leah. Sarah not only helps people better understand autism, but she encourages them to have compassion for those with special needs.
The award-winning narrative children’s story, Leah’s Voice, tells the story of two sisters who face the everyday challenges of meeting people who don’t understand autism spectrum disorder. It’s not always easy for a sibling to explain autism and it’s equally hard for a child who doesn’t understand what autism actually “looks” like to know how to act. In the story, one sister teaches by example the importance of showing inclusion and acceptance for all people. The 28-page picture book provides an excellent example for children (and a reminder for adults) to accept differences and to treat everyone with respect.
While the book is illustrated by Monique Turchan, Leah’s personal artwork was skillfully added to several of the pages. The ability to express herself through art has long-provided Leah with a calming, therapeutic outlet. Her talents are vast as she has earned multiple awards over the past few years. The talents of the DeMonia family have created an excellent tool for teaching inclusion and acceptance for all people.
Meet the Author: Lori DeMonia
How did the venture of writing “Leah’s Voice” first begin?
I had written my first children’s book years before I had children, and was about to have it published. The night before the contract was due, the owner of Halo Publishing called me at home. She encouraged me to write a book about autism because she could tell I wanted to create awareness and help others have a better understanding. When I explained that a story about autism was just an idea, and maybe would be the next book I wrote, she insisted that I do that book first. I hung up and felt like I had just gotten homework, but the next day started to write.
What was your inspiration for writing this book?
My daughters’ relationship inspired the story. Through the ups and downs, their loving devotion to each other has always remained strong. I wanted to write a story about a sibling learning that her older sister is on the spectrum, and started to speculate about the future and how bringing friends to the house may become difficult for her. Leah’s younger sister is so mature for her age, and has compassion for her sister and all families affected by autism. She supports her sister no matter what, and we are extremely proud of her!
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When did you first realize artwork was therapeutic for Leah?
When she was first diagnosed at age two, we would try to re-direct her during a melt-down, and soon noticed that giving her art supplies did the trick. It would calm her and it was something she enjoyed.
What is Leah like when she is creating?
She is very focused and will concentrate on what she’s doing for long periods of time. At the same time though, she is relaxed and happy. She usually is very proud of her work too, and brings her creations to us to share.
Have you seen any changes in your daughter since she discovered her talent for art?
As she has gotten older her art styles have changed. There was a period where all she drew were people, then mostly abstract art, then for a long time sketched and added designs to clothing she drew. Her clothing is still something she is drawing and maybe one day she will design her own clothing line.
How did your daughters react when they first saw “Leah’s Voice” in print?
They both liked being on the back cover. The illustrator finished the cover illustration before the photo on the back was taken. My younger daughter Sarah was very happy with the book, and shared a copy with her teacher.
What message do you hope people take with them from reading this book?
I hope they would have a better understanding about what some of the characteristics of autism “look” like. For example, a child covering their ears in the grocery store or repeating a phrase to themselves. I hope with more understanding, and not just awareness about autism, that there will in turn be more acceptance and also more support towards families that need it. I also hope children who have a peer on the spectrum will accept and include them. Some behaviors can be confusing to children, but I hope with a story that will hopefully resonate with them, they will understand and show acceptance.
What do you find most rewarding about being a mother to your girls?
It’s rewarding to watch two sisters who love each other unconditionally, even when communicating has been difficult. It’s also rewarding as their mother to see that they are setting a good example for others. Despite having a sibling with special needs, Leah’s younger sister is amazingly loving and supportive, it is rewarding to know other children will observe and learn acceptance by their example.
Lori’s Awards for Leah’s Voice:
• 2014 Temple Grandin Outstanding Literary Work of the Year Award (awarded by the Autism Society)
• Mom’s Choice Award (Children’s Books / Developing social skills category)
• New York Book Festival Honorable Mention
• London Book Festival Honorable Mention
• Reader’s Choice Awards – Finalist 2013
Leah’s Awards for artwork:
• 2009 – Art grant from KindTree / Lane Arts Council for her drawing Four Balloons
• 2010 – Leah’s drawing, We’re All In This Together, was chosen by the KindTree judges for her second art grant – she was one of six artists chosen
• 2011- Leah received her third art grant for Liberty, a 24 x 6 acrylic painting – she was one of three artists chosen nationally
• 2012 – Fourth art grant was awarded for Under My Quilt
• 2013 – Fifth art grant was awarded for Night Valley
• 2014 – Leah was awarded a Certificate of Recognition by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Dept. of Education for an excellent art exhibit at the National Autism Conference at Penn State