A mum whose son was diagnosed with autism tried to help him learn about the condition, only to discover there were no age-appropriate books to share with him.
So, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
Nikki Saunders began putting pen to paper to create stories her son could relate to and has since become a published author stamping out stigma for kids on the spectrum.
With a background in special education, Nikki felt empowered to share her knowledge as an educator and a parent, which is when The Eddie Series was born.
Her debut book, My Awesome Autism, is a beautiful, bright and sensory adventure.
It tells the tale of a little boy named Eddie who is autistic and teaches readers in a cheerful playful way about his diagnosis and how we are all different.
The book acts as a fantastic communication opener between the child and parent or carer as it helps to broach the subject in a gentle and nurturing way.
Speaking exclusively to Uspire, Nikki spoke about her journey and what led her to stock the bookshelves with inclusive material for everyone, so no one feels left out.
Nikki said: “My son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. I remember searching the shelves for happy, bright and colourful books on autism for children, I found nothing.
“The sales assistant said that they didn’t stock that sort of book, but I could see she wasn’t aware of what I specifically needed, or possibly even why.”
She continued: “While up against many challenges of awareness along the way, my son began asking questions about his diagnosis in more detail. He was always aware of his diagnosis but as he grew older, he, of course, wanted to know more.
“Having worked in a SEN [special educational needs] school and previously I worked with adults with different learning abilities, I wrote, My Awesome Autism.”
Autism spectrum disorder [ASD] refers to a range of conditions characterised by some degree of impaired social behaviour, communication and language, and a narrow range of interests and activities that are unique to the individual and carried out repetitively.
The World Health Organisation [WHO] state 1 in every 160 children is on the spectrum.
Nikki makes it her mission to paint autism in a positive light and celebrate the brilliant and quirky traits of individuals who live with the condition.
She said: “I called my first book My Awesome Autism as my son is awesome and so is everything that is a part of him, like his interests and humour.
“Nothing changes when you have a diagnosis other than additional awareness and understanding, which is why it is so important to not minimise any struggles and access support. Equally, you are you and that’s wonderful.”
Nikki says that her aim is to not only raise awareness but also improve understanding by supporting and empowering families to express themselves through a variety of communication strategies that work best for them; whether verbally, through signing, using PECS [picture exchange communication system] or eye contact.
Chatting about the writing process, Nikki said it also proved a valuable bonding moment with her son.
She explained: “He laughed at my stick men and corrected my grammar.
“It can be daunting delivering all this information to your child, and for them to relate to it personally too is a big ask. This is another reason why the book is not overwhelming in a wordy kind of way, with busy images too.
“It was such a success, my son felt relief, happiness and so proud. We decided to help other children and their parents.
“I started social media platforms such as The Eddie Series Books on Facebook and over time the book has reached so many. I self-published while hoping to find a publisher and we were luckily successful and I became an author falling into the best job for me.”
The response has been incredibly positive with parents sending Nikki their personal stories to thank her, as well as teachers, carers and therapists turning to them too.
Nikki said: “I had a beautiful email from a parent thanking me for writing my book and how it’s helped them as a family, he high-fives his mum a lot now as that’s what Eddie does in a particular book. I am extremely grateful, humbled and lucky to help others.
“Going forward, I plan to continue with the series, releasing more of my social stories and resources. I have so many I can’t ever imagine stopping, it’s my absolute passion.
“I’m grateful to my children for giving me the best job ever as their mum and secondly a passion with the best little tour guides I could ask for.”
One of the reasons children with autism can struggle with learning is due to issues around focus, attention, organisation, memory, emotional control and frustration.
Nikki’s books are designed to combat these difficulties with colourful, eye-catching illustrations carefully designed in simple 2D characters, sensory colours with simple contrast and clear short sentences allowing space to process in the child’s own time.
Other titles in the series include; Welcome Back Eddie After Lockdown, Mistakes Are Cool, and Eddie’s Colourful Feelings.
To grab your copy, click here: My Awesome Autism.