I have three grandchildren. My eldest granddaughter is sixteen and keeps me up to date with the latest trends in books and music, who’s hot and who’s not. My eldest grandson is thirteen and a whizz with technology, my littlest grandson is six, autistic and non-verbal.
He is the inspiration behind my latest Victorian novel, The Guardian Angel.
He goes to a school for children with Special Educational Needs. They are helping improve his communication skills. Many of the children there have severe and complex learning difficulties. They work towards helping them lead independent lives.
If my grandson had been born a hundred years ago his life would be very different. That’s what inspired me to write The Guardian Angel about a boy who can’t speak and a girl from the workhouse who cares for him.
The boy in the book is largely based on my grandson. I have used my experience of his development to bring my character to life. My grandson was born at 34 weeks weighing only four and half pounds. He was a fighter even then. He was the most placid baby and hardly ever cried. Even when he awoke in his cot he never cried; he’d lie there gazing around until you went to pick him up, then he’d greet you with the most magical smile.
Just seeing him made my heart sing.
When he was eighteen months old I went with my daughter to take him to a speech and therapy drop-in as he had no words. They said to bring him back if he didn’t have ten words by the time he was two. At two he still had no words. He also had a strange habit of walking up and down the room and wouldn’t play or join in with the other children.
I clearly remember the day we took him back. The doctor there said he was suffering from Global Delayed Development and referred him to a Paediatrician.
That walk home pushing him in his pushchair sticks in my mind as though it were yesterday. Obviously my daughter was devastated at being told her son had developmental problems. At that stage we didn’t know the extent or seriousness of the delayed development. All I could see was the happy, giggly, chuckling boy in the pushchair who hadn’t changed, but the way the world would treat him had.
Nathan May 2013
We were neither of us surprised when, several months later, the Paediatrician diagnosed him as being on the Autistic Spectrum.
He’s now six and still has no words, but he has learned to use Makaton signs and a Pecs Book to let us know what he want, sees or feels. He’s amazingly fast on his iPad completing puzzles and games in the blink of an eye; I can’t keep up with him. He picks things up really quickly too. You only have to show him once and he’s got it.
He’s learning to spell out words on a magnetic board. He loves books, although you have to read the same story, in the same way, over and over again. He has a mind of his own and a determination to do things his way. He’s the only child I know who can let you know what he’s thinking without words. His facial expressions say it all for him.
And yes, he’s still the happiest, giggliest, cheekiest most amazing child and I love him to bits. Whenever I see him he fills my heart with joy and he’s always smiling. If he can cope with his disability and remain cheerful and positive, then so should we.
In writing the book I wanted to show that, just because a child can’t speak, it doesn’t mean they can’t do other things. The theme of the book is; disability doesn’t preclude achievement. Just because children have disabilities it doesn’t mean they should be written-off as being unworthy of consideration.
Thankfully we live in more enlightened times than the Victorians and a great deal more is known about both physical and mental health, but there is still a stigma attached to mental illness. I hope that by writing a compelling story I can raise awareness of the amazing things people with disabilities, if given a chance, can do and how they are able to overcome obstacles to lead fulfilling and productive lives.
EDITOR The Guardian Angel will be on Kindle promotion from 21st - 26th December.
Lead photo was taken on Nathan's third birthday.