A Niagara region man living with autism visited Norfolk County last week to speak to students about overcoming obstacles.
Michael Jacques, author of Can’t Read, Can’t Write, Here’s My Book, told the students about how he hopes his book and his message will inspire anyone that has been told they can’t do something.
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Holy Trinity Catholic High School, Valley Heights Secondary School, and Sobeys in Simcoe were on his list of stops in Norfolk. After speaking at the two schools Jacques held a book signing at Sobeys, which included a cake with his book cover decorated on it.
“It means a lot, it’s like a second family,” Jacques said about meeting Sobeys’ employees across Canada. “It’s awesome to talk to them, and they gave me this awesome cake. It’s things like that that make them a second family. They didn’t have to do any of this stuff but they do.”
One of the topics Jacques covers in his talks at schools is the importance of having a job and being an active member of society. Jacques works at Sobeys in Fonthill, is a Special Olympics athlete, and sits on the board of directors of Community Living Ontario.
Grade 9 Holy Trinity student Tessa LeBrun heard Jacques speak and knew she needed to head to Sobeys after school to get a copy of his book.
“I learned how much not being able to read or write can affect your life,” said LeBrun. “Not knowing which bathroom to go to if there’s not a picture, it’s really basic things that it affects.”
Jacques’s story helped the student connect with people close to her.
“It’s not really that uncommon (to not be able to read or write),” said LeBrun. “My older brother is autistic, I have a friend who has fetal alcohol syndrome that can’t read or write. I saw my friend and my brother in that.”
LeBrun added that it was inspiring to see someone with the same obstacles as her brother and friend be able to overcome them.
“I like to show students that anything is possible, that hard work pays off, and to think outside of the box,” said Jacques. He also touched on the topics of positive attitudes, and being kind to each other.
Writing a book for someone that can’t read or write is difficult, but Jacques was able to use a voice to text function on his iPad that allowed him to dictate the words to the page. A problem he encountered during this time was that his speech impediment led to the technology hearing words he wasn’t saying, so he had to delete a full page of the book and start over again.
The process began when he was 21 and was completed when he was 26.
Another one of his messages to the students was that it is OK to ask for help, Jacques had the help of multiple friends and family members throughout the process of completing his book.
No one in his family knew Jacques was writing a book until one day his sister was using his iPad and stumbled across the pages of notes already written.
Jacques lives in his parents’ home and even they had no idea he was working on the book. Characteristics of Jacques’s autism include talking to himself and pacing, so hearing him talking alone in his room wasn’t out of the norm for his family.
“My wife and I didn’t know he was doing this,” said Jacques’s father, Marcel. “We just thought he was just being his normal self.”
The book has 10 chapters that are each accompanied by art from a different artist. The different art styles and icons beside paragraphs help Jacques visually know when a chapter begins, and know what the paragraph is about.
Jacques’s book is available in all Sobeys locations across the province. You can also learn more about his store at heresmybook.com.