October was Autism Awareness Month, which was a pretty good time for West Island author Stéphanie Deslauriers to be informed that her French language book, Laurent, C’est Moi, was a finalist for the 2019 Governor General’s Literary Award (Young People’s Literature – Illustrated Books). In the end, the prize went to Stéphanie Lapointe et Delphie Côté-Lacroix for Jack et le temps perdu.

Deslauriers’ story is centred on a little boy with autism, Laurent, who becomes engrossed with plants and their proper names, and it explores his relationships with his young classmates. The interesting thing is, there’s no mention of Laurent having autism throughout the book — it’s only on the cover.

“I didn’t want to put a sticker on his forehead that said ‘autistic child’. I wanted people to see inside a child with autism, which is why the only time we talk about his diagnosis is on the back cover,” Deslauriers explained. “In the book, we explore about what it’s like to be him day to day.”

Deslauriers, who wrote 11 books before this one, came up with the subject by drawing on her own personal experiences.

“In 2009, I was doing my master’s degree and my thesis was about children with autism and the attachment they have with their mothers,” she said. “I was working with the Mira Foundation who train dogs for autistic children, so I worked with autistic children and their brothers and sisters. And for six years I’ve been a stepmother of a teenager with autism. And I thought, ‘Well, there’s something here we have to talk about.’”

Deslauriers used her main character of Laurent as a sort of spokesperson to educate and demystify the younger generation about autism, using a beautiful story to offer a glimpse into their unique lives.

“I wanted kids with autism to have a role model in books so that they can think, ‘He’s like me and it’s not the end of the world to have a diagnosis of autism,’” she said. “And, because there is more and more inclusion in schools and daycares, this book is for other children to understand what it’s like to have a friend with autism. If they are able to judge less, inclusion is easier, and we can all live together in harmony. That is really the whole point.”

She added, “I often go into schools and libraries to meet with parents, teachers, social workers, and children, and I talk to them about being unique and being yourself, and hopefully the book is all that. Just have the courage to be yourself.”

Laurent, C’est Moi (Les editions Fonfon) is available in bookstores.

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