Name: Sheena Edwards
Age: “35, sheesh.”
Ethnic background: American Black
Hometown: West Philadelphia
Businesses/hustles: IAmSheenaE. LLC: autism advocacy and book publishing company; Be Inspired INC.
IG: @iamsheena_e; @booksbysheenae
Facebook/Twitter: facebook.com/iamsheenaellc; @sheena709
Autism: Some of you may know someone with this disorder; you may have a cousin with an autistic son, or maybe you’ve seen your neighbors with their autistic daughter at the park, or sitting two pews ahead of you in church on Sunday. But until you’ve given birth to and/or raised someone with autism, you will never know the hardships, pain, depression or desolation that dealing with this disorder can bring.
Many of us know these feelings all too well. But after experiencing the lows that this condition creates, one courageous mom found the strength to tell her story and lift her head high. Her name is Ms. Sheena Edwards.
Now an accomplished author and autism advocate, Sheena has dedicated her life to educating, inspiring and empowering–all because of a little angel named Monroe.
In this exclusive interview with Miss CM, the multi-talented entrepreneur shares her story of trial and triumph and dishes out everything from her recent years of success to her love life, future plans, and what sparked the fire that guides her on her mission to this very day.
CM: As someone who also loves and raises someone with autism, I would like to thank you for making your journey public to not only educate people on what autism is, but to spread awareness and show that there’s beauty in it. Give us the backstory on your daughter Monroe and why you decided to publicize your journey through your two novels Along Came Autism and Get to Know Monroe.
SE: I really like being a voice for families like ours; it means a lot to me. When Monroe was born, I pretty much had preplanned her life. There were so many things I wanted her to be, and things I wanted her to do. I would dress her up and post pictures on social media and people would comment— it was perfect. When autism came into our lives, I was scared and I didn’t know how I was going to deal with it.
One day I decided to open up about her diagnosis on my Instagram, and it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. It was therapy for me at the time. I was battling severe depression; I felt so alone. So being able to be vocal about what I was going through helped me a lot. It just felt like it was the right thing to do. I knew that most people didn’t know what autism was—I didn’t even know what it was. I somehow felt like I had a responsibility to inform people and be a voice for my child (she was nonverbal then).
The more I shared, the better I felt, and people started to embrace us and pray for us. It just felt good. My first book Along Came Autism came at a time when I thought people needed to know our story. I didn’t want to hold the reality I was living in. I started writing letters to Monroe and they turned into a book. I wanted to tell a story that people like me —young, black, single parents—could relate to.
Get to know Monroe—I feel like that book was necessary. I noticed that ‘typical’ kids didn’t play with Monroe. (She still doesn’t have friends, really.) So I wanted to teach kids about autism in a kid-friendly way; pretty much, I wanted them to get to know Monroe and others like her.
You and Monroe are rising stars on the Gram. Is she at a stage where she can comprehend her success on social media and being a published author? How does she feel about everything?
Monroe knows she has a book, and she loves it. She likes to read it to other children. She loves telling people about ‘her book.’ (Laughs.) It’s so cute. She doesn’t really know about Instagram. She’s a snap chat girl (smiles), but when we do book events, she steals the show. It’s helped her socially a lot.
You also have another child, a son. How old is he and how does he feel about everything that’s going on with you and his little sis?
My son Emir, he’s my heart. Really, he is. Emir is 15. He thinks I’m a reality TV star. He hypes me up when I’m about to do photo shoots and events. He tells me he is proud of me all the time. Monroe loves her older brother. She drives him crazy. I think my books have also helped him deal with our new life.
Do you ever run into any of your followers in public who come up to you with questions or just wanting to meet you and Monroe?
Monroe has friends all over the world (laughs). People come up to us sometimes, like in the mall and stuff. One lady cried when she heard Monroe talking; she had been following me from the beginning when Monroe was nonverbal. It’s beautiful to feel the love and support from strangers— well my social media family, because that’s what I call them.
What about other autism moms? Do you meet a lot of other mothers, or parents in general, who thank you or just want to share their experiences with autism?
Autism moms stick together. I have a gang of autism moms that I talk to on a daily basis, rather its just on social media or even some that I’ve formed really good relationships with, and we all get together and hang out cry, laugh, and have drink. It’s always a good time sitting around with other moms that just get it. There’s no judgement. We just love each other and our kids. I get DM’s [direct messages on Instagram] a lot. I read them all. I try my best to help give advice, or just be there to listen; we all need somebody.
[Continues on next page.]