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A Path To Understanding

Sisters Jessica and Jocelyn Davis collaborate on a consciousness-raising children’s book about growing up with autism

by Sarah Iannone on October 25, 2012

 

For the first eight or nine years of their lives, Jessica and Jocelyn Davis were, figuratively speaking, joined at the hip. They saw each other as they were, twin sisters with an inseparable bond. “As a child, especially as a twin, I didn’t understand that there were a lot of differences [between us] until other people started telling me. . . . Until society started telling me,” says Jocelyn.

Jessica, you see, was different from her sister. She exhibited symptoms and behavior associated with autism. And she eventually was diagnosed with autism. At a very young age, however, doctors were unable to figure out what was going on with Jessica, and many of the reactions and advice her family were given were negative and off-putting.

At one point there was even the suggestion of putting Jessica in an institution. “As a family we had to band together,” Jocelyn says of that time. Their parents would not consider institutionalization.

“I didn’t always understand what was going on,” Jessica says of growing up. Bullying in the classroom was a big issue. She was given pointers on how to respond to taunts and bullying, but nothing clicked.

“Socially it was a nightmare,” Jocelyn says of their schooling. Going through school together, they kept themselves separate from the other kids. “When we were together we didn’t speak to anyone else,” Jocelyn remembers. And Jessica’s disability wasn’t something that was talked about.

It was many years before Jessica would open up about the experience.

Then six years ago, when then-23-year-old Jessica Davis was finishing up her B.A. in history at the University at Albany, she had the opportunity to be interviewed for Normal People Scare Me, Keri Bowers’ feature-length documentary spotlighting first-person accounts of people living with autism.

It was around this time that Jocelyn felt a keen sense of urgency to tell their story—and, hopefully, help other kids going through the same situation.

“I had a lot of things to say but I hadn’t been talking very much,” she says of the time. Jocelyn, who was in her first year of graduate school at Farleigh Dickinson University, had recently been given the classic children’s book Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss; filmmaker Bowers convinced her to write her thoughts down.

Inspired by Dr. Seuss’ eccentric tone and poetic influence, Jocelyn wrote There Will Always Be Love, a children’s book about autism. With no doubt in her mind that Jessica would illustrate the book, they began their first project together.

 

“Jessica’s special,” Mommy said with a coo.

“She is autistic, so she isn’t like you.

I know this mystifies, hoodwinks and confuzzles,

And that’s why I’m here: to help solve all your puzzles.”

 

Finally, in February 2012, the Davis sisters published the book, which comprises 25 pages of Jocelyn’s quirky rhymes and Jessica’s brightly colored images—the  latter inspired by Sailor Moon with influences of renaissance artist’s specific proportions and colors that no less mirror her sisters words.

The story is told from an 8-year-old’s perspective, and is about a child developing a relationship with her autistic twin sister. Its primary focus is on the understanding that being honest is important.

“When we were kids we weren’t allowed to be honest,” says Jocelyn.

The book is also offered to provide some of the insights they lacked when they were growing up, and present these in a way that is understandable to children. To Jessica and Jocelyn, There Will Always Be Love represents a journey of tolerance, learning and acceptance.

Looking back, Jessica recalls that there weren’t many suitable, helpful books on the subject appropriate for her when she was growing up. Even today there aren’t many books on autism for kids; this is one of the primary reasons they worked to publish it. “Generally they are all from the adult’s perspective and that doesn’t make sense for a confused young child,” says Jessica.

As naturally inquisitive as they are, kids have questions. Jessica and Jocelyn worked to create a simple standpoint on autism that presents the message that it is OK to ask questions and confide in the people around you because “questions are better than silence.”

“Everyday you got reminded how much people victimize those that they don’t understand,” Jocelyn says of her sister’s experiences. She was made aware at a young age that there are other people in society facing the same problems, and that they too need to know that this behavior is not OK and that they will be OK.

“The book is an outlet for young people struggling with these issues,” says Jocelyn.

Today, Jessica lives locally and works for the state of New York; Jocelyn lives and works in the Oneonta area.

“I never understood what a difference it would make for people, and now I understand what you’ve been telling me all of these years,” Jessica says, reflecting back on her mother’s years of encouragement.

Since the release of the book in February, Jessica has received an outpouring of support for her contribution to the community. Her encounters with readers can at times be overwhelming. But she talks enthusiastically about the encounters she has had with complete strangers: “I never realized how something as simple as [a book] could affect people,” she says.

This August, Jessica was nominated for a Naturally Autistic ANCA Award—an organization formed in 1995 to spread public awareness of autism and help children and their families through a variety of diverse approaches—for There Will Always Be Love.

The word is getting out.

Jessica Davis will host a book signing this Saturday (Oct. 27) from 3 to 5 PM at the Little Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza (1475 Western Ave., Albany). To hear both Jessica and Jocelyn Davis featured on The Morning Show with Bill Fox, tune in Saturday morning to B95.5 FM.