Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Akea: His Mother’s Son, organised by Rachel’s Random Resources.
Today I have a guest post from the author, Elizabeth Jade…
Autism Awareness, Acceptance and Me
I started school in 2002, and by the time I was 7, the kids were bullying me; the teachers said I needed to pay more attention; and I would go home and relate what everyone had been doing in detail, but hadn’t a clue what the lessons were about. I waited a term and a half for the teaching assistant I was told I needed, but never received it. By this stage, the stress from being at school was making me physically unwell and my parents decided to keep me at home.
I struggled with depression and anxiety in my teens and was referred to the children’s mental health team. While I found this an unpleasant experience, it was here the possibility of Aspergers was suggested, leading to my diagnosis when I was 18. As anxiety and depression are often found alongside Aspergers, it’s difficult to say if they are related to my autism or the result of my struggles in school; perhaps it’s a little of both.
I was relieved to know there was a reason for the struggles I had experienced in my life, but I resented the fact that the school’s Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator hadn’t spotted my Aspergers. My school life could have been much easier, and I may not have struggled so much with my mental health if I had received an earlier diagnosis and the support that goes with it. But I guess people weren’t really aware of the signs of this type of autism in girls when I was at school, compared to the level of awareness around the time I was diagnosed.
People have been campaigning about autism awareness for some time now, and ‘autism awareness’ as a phrase is now falling out of use in favour of ‘autism acceptance’, which is important because it doesn’t really matter how aware people are if it doesn’t change the way they behave.
When I published the first book in my Akea series, I decided to include my autism and mental health diagnosis in both the author’s bio section and any newspaper articles about me. The reaction was better than I could have hoped for. Some people were encouraged because I had spoken about the struggle with my mental health, while others were keen to accept that I had Aspergers and wanted to actively support me. I ended up supplying A5 display stands entitled ‘The Aspie Author’, to be placed next to my books in local bookshops. This turned out to be a really good way to be noticed as people often go into a book shop with a specific purchase in mind, and as a new author it’s easy to be overlooked. But people were drawn to the displays, read the information on them, and then picked up the book to read the blurb.
An example of a new level of awareness and acceptance in schools can be seen in Oldfield Park Junior School in Bath. This year they have named their classes after literary figures. Some famous names like AA Milne and Dr Seuss were chosen. While other authors, such as Benjamin Zephaniah, were chosen because they had overcome challenges like dyslexia and would be positive examples for the children. As it happens, they also named a class after me. This came as a bit of a shock, and I still don’t know how they even heard about me.
According to the teacher of ‘Elizabeth Jade’ class, I was chosen to be an inspiration to those in the class with additional challenges. They will also be reading my books and using them as a basis for classroom discussion on acceptance and overcoming obstacles. I never imagined my books could be used like that, but then I hadn’t realised my stories contained such important lessons until some of my earlier readers pointed this out to me.
While my early experiences have left their mark, outlook for children on the spectrum today seems far more positive, and the success of the ‘Sign Along With Us Choir’ on this years Britain’s Got Talent raises the hope of acceptance for all those with unique challenges in life, whatever they may be.
About the Book
Akea is no ordinary husky and taking her place as Wolf Queen was just the first step in the journey set out for her by the Great Wolf. Akea’s world turns upside down when humans raid their home, scattering the pack and capturing her hybrid son. Salvador struggles to adjust to a life in captivity quickly realising not everyone approves of his mother’s rise to Wolf Queen. When the Great Wolf sends him warning dreams, Salvador discovers his true purpose for being there.
“Ms Jade perfectly captures the atmosphere of life as part of the wolfpack and its many challenges. Her stories remind me of Jack London’s Call of the Wild, and with ‘His Mother’s Son’ she proves she not only has a knack for creating realistic and powerful characters, but a talent for describing the wild settings they inhabit with a natural confidence that is quite charming.” Colin Garrow (author)