Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog, author Elizabeth Jade, who has written a piece to share with us to mark April as Autism Awareness Month.
I was born in North Yorkshire in 1998 and moved to Somerset when I was very young. I started school in 2002 and by the time I was 7, the kids were already 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 teach me at home.
I started writing when I was 14, around the time I started struggling with depression and anxiety. The ideas began flowing faster than I could get them onto paper, and I have boxes of ideas and bits of stories to prove it. I found myself so absorbed in writing that I had to be reminded to eat and sleep.
The inspiration for my stories could come from anywhere – a conversation, a photograph or even a YouTube clip. As a visual thinker, I like to work with a photograph of my character in front of me. It’s as if I can see their personality shining through. On one occasion, I was searching for an image of a dalmatian with a husky for a dalmatian story I was working on. But when I found an image I liked, it felt like the husky was telling me her story, so I wrote that instead, and my first husky/wolf story was born.
For a while, writing kept my mental health in check, but by my late teens I was struggling again 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, around the time my first book was published. 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.
Initially, I think I was relieved to know there was a reason for the struggles I had experienced in my life. I had spent a long time trying to fit in and measure up to what behaviour was expected by society. I had spent years wondering what was the matter with me, why everything I did always seemed to be wrong, and if I would ever achieve anything with my life. While I was relieved that I wasn’t alone in experiencing these struggles, 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.
When I published the first book in my Akea series, I decided to take a gamble and 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, and one man stopped to thank me for mentioning it in a recent article in the local paper. 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 an effective 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. People do seem to be a lot more understanding and supportive than they were while I was growing up.
An example of a new level of acceptance in schools can be seen in Oldfield Park Junior School in Bath. Last September, they 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, she would have two autistic children in her class, two who were currently in the diagnosis phase, and one child with severe hearing loss. And 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. I never imagined my books could be used as a basis for classroom discussions like that, but then I hadn’t realised my stories contained such important lessons until some of my readers pointed this out to me.
In ‘Akea – The Power of Destiny,’ Akea always felt different, even though she didn’t know why, and when she sees a lone wolf by the name of Kazakh, she understands that her true destiny lies beyond the relative safety of her sled dog family. Kazakh’s role is to help her discover her place in the world but doing so goes against the rules and norms of wolf society. Each obstacle that Akea overcomes makes her stronger and brings her closer to her goal, until she finally ends up fitting in where she physically stands out the most and is accepted by both the wolves and the family she left behind.
The themes of belonging, acceptance and overcoming obstacles were not something I had consciously included, it seems my own desire to be accepted and understood had indeed been woven into the story. Discovering this made me look more closely at the second Akea story I had written, and I discovered I had woven similar themes into this one too.
In ‘Akea – His Mother’s Son,’ Akea’s wolf-dog son, Salvador, is captured by humans and taken to a wildlife park where he is shunned as a ‘mongrel’ by the first wolf he meets there. On learning of a threat to his family (I won’t tell you how – that would spoil it) he must convince her and the other wolves to accept his leadership, escape with him, and return in time to save his pack. So, you have the same issues of acceptance and overcoming obstacles. But, of course, it’s not just Salvador that has to adjust to being separated from his family. Akea and the rest of the wolf pack must come to terms with the loss of Salvador. So, this second book has the addition of a dual narrative which allows the reader to see both sides of this experience of loss and change too.
While I liked the idea that learning about me and my books could be a source of encouragement to the children in EJ Class, I wanted to go a little further than that. So, I wrote to the class to personally encourage them to look for what makes each of them different, to celebrate that as a good thing, and to look for ways in which they could encourage and support one another. I was delighted to receive nearly thirty letters and pictures in reply. Sadly, the children have spent more time away from school than in it since September, and as things move forward, they may well need support with their own mental health. Hopefully, those previous words of wisdom will encourage them to look out for each other and speak up when they need support themselves.
April may be autism awareness month, but autism isn’t the only challenge, and awareness is not enough. There is a need for people not only to be aware of the unique individuals that make up this world, and not just to accept the things that make each of us different. We need to move beyond that and celebrate those differences. This applies to all forms of autism, disability, special needs, and so on – Everybody matters!
What an inspiring and heartfelt piece of writing, I am so grateful to have been able to share that with you all. My huge thanks to Elizabeth Jade for writing that for me.
Elizabeth is the author of two books in the Akea Wolf Stories series.
(Book 1) Akea – The Power of Destiny
Akea is born into a family of sled dogs and a life that follows a predictable path, but from the day she first sees the lone wolf, Kazakh, Akea knows her future lies beyond the safety of her home. Kazakh is well aware of Akea’s destiny and the pack laws he will break to help her reach it. Regardless of the challenges ahead, he must make sure this young husky will be ready, even if it means his life.
You can buy a copy of Akea: The Power of Destiny here.
(Book 2) Akea – His Mother’s Son
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 husky mother’s rise to Wolf Queen. And when the Great Wolf sends him warning dreams, Salvador discovers his true purpose for being there.
You can buy a copy of Akea: His Mother’s Son here.
About the Author
Elizabeth Jade was born in 1998 in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, England, but moved with her family to Wellington in Somerset when she was very young. Her early schooling did not go smoothly, and as a result, she was home-schooled from the age of seven. Her parents soon learned she had a unique slant on life and quickly abandoned attempts to follow the national curriculum in favour of child-led learning.
Elizabeth stumbled into writing at the age of fourteen when she began to suffer from anxiety and depression and quickly found her story ideas pouring out faster than she could get them onto paper. It wasn’t until the age of eighteen that she realised her struggles in school had been due to Aspergers Syndrome (an autistic spectrum disorder).
As an enthusiastic animal lover, Elizabeth volunteered first at the Conquest Riding Centre for the Disabled and then at St Giles Animal Rescue before moving on to the Cats Protection Homing and Information Centre. Her gifted way with the cats quickly earned her the title of ‘Cat Whisperer’ from the staff. Since she had always possessed such a way with animals, it was only natural for her story ideas to revolve around them.
Elizabeth’s personal experience as a young author with the challenges of autism, depression and anxiety, along with her writing theme of acceptance and overcoming obstacles, have led to her having a junior school class named after her.
Connect with Elizabeth:
Facebook: Akea Wolf Stories
Pinterest: Akea Wolf Stories
YouTube: Elizabeth Jade