Cassandre Mentor, of Ottawa, Ontario, takes a unique view of her son’s autism, turning their experiences into a series of comic strips. Not only do they reflect the lived experience that Cassandre shares with her son, but they do so with a sense of honesty, compassion and, above all, gentle humour.
Cassandre reflects on how her son, who turned three last February, became her creative source. As she became a mother, she learned to see life’s challenges as fun opportunities. And all the time, Cassandre was making comic strips up in her head. “I tend to think about them as stories, whether they're written or comics or whatever. I just bank them... So, he's been inspiring me from pretty much day one.”
One strip in particular touches upon the first time her son said the word “Mama.” In the strip, the mother is hard at work when she hears her child say, “Mama.” She scoops up the child in her arms and, overjoyed, hugs him, only to have the dream dissolve.
The strip is based loosely on real life, says Cassandre. She found it funny because at first, he would say “Mommy” or ask for her when she wasn’t around; for example, during ABA therapy. He said “Mama” for the first time in March 2021. “It was the first time that he actually said it in context with me. He was looking for me; it was amazing.”
Cassandre and her husband Mado suspected their son might have autism; they grew tired of waiting for public access to a diagnosis, which possibly deprived him of critical early intervention. They decided to pay for a private assessment, which led to a diagnosis of autism for their child in October 2020. It was expensive, she says, but the sacrifice was worth it. “I was getting concerned at how quickly he was regressing. And it just didn't seem like the right thing to do, to wait. We were fortunate enough to be able to go private; you know, not every family can.”
Turning her real-life experiences into storytelling though comic strips came almost naturally to Cassandre, who is an occasional teacher with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and acted with the Black Theatre Workshop in Montreal. “I grew up drawing all the time. I always had a pencil in hand, pen and paper, whatever, I was always drawing. And I went to a high school where I specialized in visual arts. And that was awesome.”
But now, as she picks up pen and paper again to tell the story of her son, life seems to have come full circle. “He's my main source of inspiration,” says Cassandre, proudly.