Mum's book helps kids to understand kids that are 'wired differently'

She went the extra mile to make sure her son - and all other kids like him - have a better shot at an inclusive school environment.

For every parent, our child's first day of school can fill us with nerves and trepidation. Will they fit in, will they be accepted, will they make friends?

But for some kids and their parents, the first-day nerves are even tougher.

Míša Alexander, a mum-of-three from Bangalow was worried about how her seven-year-old son, Hugo would go starting at a new community school.

Hugo is on the autism spectrum and has a learning disability. Míša wasn't worried so much about how Hugo would react to the new situation, more about how the other kids might react to him.

"Children can have a hard time with things they don't understand," Míša told Kidspot.

So to help Hugo's new classmates understand him and some of his needs and challenges, Míša created a flyer to hand out to the other families in his class.

"It was a little picture of him and it was written in a very whimsical manner as if Hugo was speaking about himself," she said.

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The flyers were a huge success and helped Hugo and his family to create bonds with the other families in his class. Míša stresses that she wasn't trying to make apologies for her son, simply to create an inclusive environment for him.

"I really believe inclusion in mainstream is paramount for any child or person with any disability, because I think it’s important for our communities to be more compassionate towards others,” Míša said.

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Stepping things up

As Hugo finished preschool and moved on to primary school Míša realised she needed to do the same thing, but on a bigger scale, this time as the school had many more students to reach with their message.

That's when the idea for the book was born, a way for her to reach out to lots of kids at the same time. Míša, an experienced illustrator and designer, teamed up with a business partner Erin Knutt and with a lot of hard work and a grant for funding, Fergus and Delilah was born.

The book was available to kids not just at Hugo's school, but at schools all over the country.

Fergus and Delilah tells the story of a little girl on her first day of school meeting new children and playing and making friends. One little boy, Fergus, won't speak with her all day, despite her best efforts. Eventually, Delilah comes to understand Fergus and the fact that he is 'wired a little differently' and accepts him as he is.

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“The message behind the book is that it’s not just about autism, it’s about all disabilities and it’s about connecting to people who are different to you. Because it’s targeted at a young audience, I hope that it will change a generation’s view on disability,” Míša said.

Hugo settled well into school and Míša said along with her own efforts, she is grateful for the support of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Hugo joined the Scheme in February and receives support from speech therapists, occupational therapists and carers who help Míša at home and take Hugo to soccer and the skate park. Míša said these activities have allowed Hugo to better engage with his community.

“Hugo can be included, be seen, be heard and be around people that know him and there’s that recognition. That to me is the most paramount thing, that he’s out there and people see him and know him.

“I was really nervous to join the NDIS but a friend (who has a son with cerebral palsy) and I were texting each other champagne glasses because we both got some amazing funding, it fulfilled what we wanted and what we needed."

A big year ahead

Míša and her team aren't resting on their laurels after one successful book, last year they established Fergus & Delilah as a Not For Profit Organisation. They want to deliver innovative, engaging, and age-appropriate resources that promote diversity and encourage children to explore the value of that diversity and difference in their schools and communities.

Make warm memories. Your children will probably not remember anything that you say to them, but they will recall the family rituals - like bedtimes and game night - that you do together.

Their book is in school all around the country and they've developed a plush toy called a ‘Fergus Figure’ that kids can take home and write stories about.

You can learn more on the Fergus & Delilah website.