When Gina DeGregorio-Sonbert’s son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, she wanted to make sure others understood the condition and she wanted to normalize it.
“It’s become my mission to let everybody understand Teddy and understand autism so that he can walk into this world and be welcomed and loved and accepted,” she said.
DeGregorio-Sonbert is doing just that with the release of her first picture book, Theodore Bearkins Lost His Blue Sunglasses.
Helping others understand autism with subtlety
The Merrick mom of three is clear when discussing what she hopes children and parents alike will take out of the book.
“I’ve geared this toward that population of people who don’t have anyone with autism in their life,” she said.
“The main character has autism, but we don’t talk about autism at all in the book. So what that does is that it allows any little kids who want to pick up the book to read about these cute characters and read about their funny stories.”
The book features Theodore, who is reflected as a bear. While he is non-speaking, he can express his feelings in an engaging mood for all readers to understand and enjoy.
It’s DeGregorio-Sonbert’s goal that “everyone can relate to his stories, feelings, and experiences, setting the example that we are all different, yet all the same.”
And that’s why the book’s end features a discussion guide for parents who may not be familiar with the challenges of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), to answer questions that many often have.
In addition to releasing her first book of what will be a series, she has spent parts of the past decade in the community attempting to normalize the stigma around ASD.
Having graduated with a Master of Science in Counseling and Clinical Health Psychology from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, she decided to found a nonprofit company called Families for Inclusion, which teaches people how autism should be approached and understood.
“We provide education and support for elementary teachers or just parents of kids in elementary school… to give them the materials that they need to teach their peers, their children and students about autism.”
Everything DeGregorio-Sonbert has done is for her son, she said, and that stems from a lesson she learned that she wants the world to know.
“‘I’m not worried about him. I’m worried about the rest of the world not understanding him,” she said of Teddy’s diagnosis. “It’s become my mission to let everybody understand Teddy and understand autism so that he can walk into this world and be welcomed and be loved and accepted.”
Theodore Bearkins Lost His Blue Sunglasses will be released on Sept. 16.