Parenthood is one of the greatest blessings a person is given. While children do not come to us in this world complete with instruction manuals, we navigate the world we live in and ensure that the precious ones we are given as gifts are protected, safe, healthy and loved. Vincent dela Luna is like every other parent. He and his wife, Chix, are blessed to have Nic, aged 11 and Izzy, aged 9. Like all other children, they didn’t come with instructions, and it would have been helpful as the children have autism, but it never crossed the Dela Luna’s minds that their children were any different – they are both special, unique and loved as any other children. For other parents, having children with special needs may look and feel different but for the Dela Lunas, they are like any other parents – eager for their children’s future, and ready to help them every step of the way.
Their lives changed course when they were given the challenges of bringing up children with special needs. Vincent spent the better part of two decades in Vancouver making Hollywood movies and TV shows but he was forced to stop work to provide full time care and advocate for his children, especially my youngest, Izzy, who is more severe, non-verbal and still in diapers at age 9.
“BC’s financial support for autism drops significantly at age 6, and when my eldest, Nic, turned 6, we decided to look elsewhere for better autism support,” Vincent shares. “We found great autism support in Hawaii, where we lived by a beach for four years.” They decided to return to Canada just before COVID-19 hit in 2019 and because the face of the USA changed during the presidency of Donald Trump. Now, living in Edmonton, they decided to move to Alberta because it currently provides the best support for mental health in Canada.
Advocating for their children was paramount for Vince and Chix. “When walking to school one day, I noticed people avoiding Izzy, likely due to some scary behaviour they may have witnessed or been a part of. That’s when it occurred to me. When you look at a school yard full of children of various colours and beliefs, there is no hate, just joy and the desire to have fun with one another. Then at some point, children are exposed to or taught fear, which can eventually lead to hate. Their early exposure to Izzy was fear and that was what they were learning,” Vince shares.
This inspired him to do something to expose all children to different abilities, races, religions, beliefs so that they will not have this fear. “I decided to try and find a way to teach Izzy’s classmates, their parents and their teachers what Izzy’s world is like through her eyes. I wanted to expose them to autism while showing them how similar they also are as children and then, hopefully, should she have an unexpected behaviour, they would understand what is happening and not be afraid.”
Izzy is Me: Adventures in Autism is his first endeavour of autism awareness. Vince said the writing process was quick, but it took a year to get the illustrations and the publishing done. “I changed from telling stories to adults to telling stories to children,” said Vince, who used to write for movies. “I believe that if you can teach and expose children to the differences in others and highlight the similarities that exist, they will learn understanding, compassion and kindness and that would leave less room as they grow into adulthood for fear and hate in their hearts.” And the children’s book, he says, hopes to teach this understanding.
“Izzy is Me is written in rhyme because my daughter has trouble focusing and communicating with others, but Izzy seems to remember things better with music,” Vince said. “As she grew up, I attached music to all aspects of her life. There is a song I sing for waking up, brushing her teeth, taking a bath, etc. That way once I start singing, she knows what we are about to do and is less likely to fight it. It’s my way of communicating with her.” He knew that while the target of the book was friends of children with autism, he wanted children like Izzy to also enjoy the book, and he needed to write it in a way that she could enjoy and engage with.
He received a positive response for the book, which is now distributed around the world.
“The book opened the door for teachers to bring up and discuss autism, mental health and the importance of inclusion and kindness because you never really know what another person is going through. Educators showed their appreciation for the book and started sharing it and buying books for their classrooms within their schools citing how inspiring and teachable the book was.”
It got such positive feedback in Edmonton that the Edmonton Catholic School District then decided to purchase multiple books for all 100 of its schools and use Izzy is Me as a teaching tool for autism, mental health and the importance of kindness. The Edmonton Journal heard about the book and wrote an article about it. “CityTV did an interview with me and the kids to do a weekend local story on it and they then told me that Izzy is Me was so important and inspiring.
“All people with disabilities need a voice or someone with the knowledge and ability to try and get them all the help they can get. People like Izzy have no voice, so I will be her voice,” Vince adds.
“Knowledge is power and it only takes the kindness of one person to change the world,” said Vince, who, with Izzy is Me: Adventures in Autism is making sure that that message is sent to the world, loudly and clearly, so that children and adults with autism have a voice.
(Izzy is Me is available anywhere you can buy books online: Amazon, Chapters Indigo, Barnes and Noble, Kindle and Apple Books. Bookdepository.com also delivers free worldwide, even to the Philippines.)