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My Autism Book: Interview with the Author and Illustrator
Séverine Perronnet

Séverine Perronnet

Editor, Cultural Perspectives at the Parent Voice, Magazine
Born and raised in Lyon, France, Severine met her Indian husband in Beijing, China, and raises her daughter in Brussels, Belgium. Read More under "Meet the Team".
Séverine Perronnet

Alaskan raised, Cornish-Jewish, Brussels-based author and illustrator Tamar Levi has spent her life writing, reading and painting. Beginning with degrees in Philosophy and Psychology at London and Cambridge University, Tamar went on to win an award for her research and illustrate award-winning books. For the past few years she has devoted her time to writing and exhibiting her artwork in galleries around Europe. My Autism Book is her ninth children’s book. You can contact her via her website www.TamarLevi.com on Twitter @Tamarmagan or on Facebook @FineArtbyTamarLevi


Tamar Levi

Photo Credit and Copyright: Photographer Bengi Lostar Özdemir

You’re the co-author and illustrator of two children’s books about Autism, the latest one will be published this year. Can you tell us how this on-going project was born?

My co-author, Gloria Dura-Vila is a doctor who works with families. She was telling me about the amount of misinformation and miscommunication that can occur at home and at school. I suggested we write a children’s book specifically for the child who has received an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis. That idea became “My Autism Book,” a picture book with space to add their own words and pictures. We worked together translating clinical language into clear explanations, not for parents but from the child’s perspective: what Autism is for them. However, the child is free to share the book, if they want to, with their parents, grandparents, teachers… The point is that the individual is enabled to take ownership of their descriptors and experience. I even painted the illustrations from the perspective of the child.




Our second book, the one we’ve just finished, is for young people who are about to become young adults. It’s called “Me and My PDA.” That’s short for Pathological Demand Avoidance, a specific profile inside an Autism diagnosis. My co-author and I have been communicating with families in her clinic and on social media support groups, listening and learning that the PDA diagnosis is sometimes not identified by educational spaces and some support professionals. This book was created in response to those families who asked for more and clearer explanations about this specific profile.

Both our books are interactive so that the young person owns their diagnosis, can tick off and cross out what relates to them or not. There’s even space for the young person to write their own descriptions or draw their own pictures. Our publishers like to refer to this kind of book as a workbook, but I’d like to think that it’s more self-made-description and self-discovery than work!

When and where can we get the book? In which language will it be, and will there be translations available?

We have been working with a fantastic publishing house called Jessica Kingsley Publications. They have offices in the UK and the US and publish a long-established list of books that support families and professional carers, with topics such as autism, social work, mental health, palliative care and gender diversity. You can find our books on their website or in bookstores or on (affiliate link) Amazon. So far both books have been published for an English-speaking audience. We are excited to work on translations. My co-author Gloria Dura-Vila would like to share the book in her native Spanish and Catalan and I’d like to bring it to a Greek-speaking audience too. Fingers crossed translations will become available soon!

Why was this chosen format the best one to share your message? Why was this important to you?




I’ve worked on children’s books for many years now, this work experience, plus my University research on reading comprehension, has strengthened my conviction that the parent-child reading experience is a precious resource for clear explanation and a special space to provide attention and loving support to family issues.

What do you seek to achieve with this book? What message would you like to convey with this book?

I hope the outcome of both books would be the same: do not be afraid. You are not alone. This is not contagious and it is nobody’s fault. You are the expert of who you are. Please use these guided questions to share what being you feels like so we can be there for you.

Before starting working on this project, were you familiar with Autism and its wide spectrum?  Can you share your personal experience with Autism?

My graduate studies in Psychology and Education touched on the topic, however my experience as a teacher gave me the opportunity to work with amazing pupils from across the spectrum.

How did you prepare / what kind of research did you do? Did you discover unexpected facts about autism?

Autism was first taught to me by a professor as a way that the brain struggles with empathy. Later, working on these books, especially “Me and My PDA,” I learned that many young people with PDA enjoy role play and theatre acting. I hope others will be surprised that someone labeled “less empathetic” might be an incredibly passionate actor or actress!

Where did you get your inspiration from for this project?




Young People. Parents. Guardians. Families. Grandparents. The way young people want to understand, own their identities. The way parents are constantly fighting for advocacy, for recognition, for educational support, for their families.

How did working on this project change your perspective / mindset about Autism and the way you see it?

I had to think long and hard about the title. I spoke to seven different parenting groups on six different continents to discuss whether Autism is something you “have” or something you “are.” I have learned that one is not a person “with” Autism but a whole person, an Autistic person.

As an illustrator, how did you work to illustrate “Autism”, given the fact that it isn’t a “visible handicap”? Any challenges that you met as an artist to depict this condition?

Most of my previous projects involved illustrating big ideas such as Philosophy and Mathematics. Illustrating these abstracts meant utilising a lot of creative visual metaphors to explain complicated concepts. However, Autism is a complicated concept and the reader is often very literally minded so I had to completely drop all use of visual metaphors, which had been my forte, and become deeply involved in a realist’s depiction of the world. I chose to illustrate the child’s perspective by looking over their shoulder and seeing the world as if you, the reader, are them, the main character, and the main character is you, the reader. Hence the title “My Autism Book.”

What would you consider the biggest misconception/s people have about Autism?

A lot of people consider it to be predominantly gendered. Some psychologists have suggested it is an instantiation of an “extreme male brain.” This is a misconception, girls and women can be Autistic too.  

Do you find that perspectives and indeed, awareness of Autism differs across cultures/nationalities/ etc? How can we change that?

There are great discrepancies in support for families dealing with an Autism diagnosis across cultures and nationalities. There are even discrepancies between the kind of support one might receive in a big city and in other parts of the same country. Reading the same books, engaging with the same websites and social media support groups is a great way of getting on the same page and sharing the same vocabulary so that we can all move forward with some of the shared challenges together.  

What can we do as a people, as a society, to alleviate the ignorance, misconceptions, and such, and spread more information about Autism, in your opinion?




Individuals are their best advocates. If you have received an ASD diagnosis and are open about it with friends and family, it is at that point we can learn best, from you. I would suggest that Autistic people be welcomed more visibly in the media, in social media, in families. We listen best when people openly communicate their strengths and differences. Listening to discussions in local parenting groups online is also a great way to become aware that Autistic people are our friends and neighbours and classmates too.

Any resources, websites you’d like to share with our readers so that they can learn more and educate themselves about Autism?

I’d like to recommend the huge range of fantastic support in the books that Jessica Kingsley publishes. Here is their website: www.TamarLevi.com. All of the leading thinkers and doers are available with cutting edge support already there.

 


the author

Born and raised in Lyon, France, Severine met her Indian husband in Beijing, China, and raises her daughter in Brussels, Belgium. Read More under "Meet the Team".

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