Disability, Schools and Children’s Fiction

The picture above was taken on June 6 2018. A few hours later, our then 11-year-old, Jordi, was in an operating theatre at the UCW hospital in Cardiff, having both thigh bones severed and reset. Due to his cerebral palsy, Jordi had been walking with his right foot inturned at almost ninety degrees, so the operation was deemed necessary to prevent his condition worsening to the point when he would be wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life.

What should have been a four-hour operation took over six, and Jordi lost so much blood he needed a transfusion after his return to the ward. He remained in hospital for several weeks, often in harrowing pain, and his recuperation was to take the best part of two years, way longer than the surgeons predicted. So this is a poignant photo for me, seeing again the bravery and cheery optimism with which he faced his upcoming ordeal.

We are used to the emotions and effort involved in dealing with Jordi’s disability. But thanks to that enthusiastic, open nature, I could not imagine having a better son. His phenomenal gifts as a writer – and I should add, reader, given the speed with which he reads and amazing retentive ability – is a gift to me as an author, as is his sophisticated sense of humour, interest in history, politics, sport and drama. It was only natural that I should base a character on him, and thankfully Jams in the Thimble monkey series has been widely praised as a positive depiction of a disabled boy, in stories dominated by his relationship with his beloved monkey rather than his disability.

Many have commented that Thimble is an ideal way to introduce the subject of disability into the classroom. But I’m afraid my experience over the past five years is that this is a low priority for most schools. This needs to change. We need at the least a disability awareness day in all schools, preferably one which they voluntarily enter into, but if not, through legislation. Do get in touch with me if you agree, or if you are a teacher wanting to organise something in your school. I will charge nothing for assisting with this.