Seeing that April is Autism Awareness Month, I thought it’d be appropriate to talk about it from an author’s perspective. Autism is a neurological disorder that affects millions of children around the world. In 2014, one in 68 children in the United States were diagnosed with some form of autism.
When I began writing “The Dark Tides”, I never expected to use autism as part of the storyline; but it had occurred to me that disorders like this were never diagnosed or even suspected in medieval times. That made me wonder how a world of magical fantasy would be able to treat something like autism.
Here is an excerpt from “The Dark Tides” where Sarafina, Ashley and Stephanie discuss the strange behavior of Sarafina’s son, Thomas. I hope that by showing autism in my novel, it will help bring some awareness to it and give hope to those who deal with it every day .
As they made their way down the pier, a familiar face was waiting for them. The last time Ashley saw Sarafina, she was a proud Shield Maiden of Avalon, a warrior equal to any knight. Now, a different woman stood before her. Almost nine months pregnant, Sarafina looked more matronly than knightly. She traded her armor for a flowing dress, one that was barely able to contain her pronounced belly. Her long blonde hair, normally braided and worn up for battle, now flowed over her shoulders. Her face, beautiful as ever, was glowing. Motherhood
agreed with her.
Standing next to her was her husband Nevan, Captain of the Guard for the Gil-Gamesh. His blonde hair and good looks fooled some, but most knew he was a fierce warrior and talented swordsman, worthy of his position. His love for Sarafina grew over their years of service
together with the Gil-Gamesh. Once married, Sarafina was forced to give up her life as a Shield Maiden.
Between them stood a small boy, no more than fi ve-years-old and the spitting image of his father. Thomas was as handsome as he was impatient. He fidgeted relentlessly, wanting to run and give his grandparents a welcome home hug, but he knew better and waited
Bryan saw his grandson fidgeting and opened his arms to greet him. Thomas couldn’t wait anymore and ran out, jumping into them. Th ough not his grandson by blood, he treated Thomas as if he were his own. He watched both Sarafina and Nevan grow up since he arrived on Avalon. So to him, they were family.
Bryan kissed Th omas on the cheek and set him down to give Stephanie a chance to adore him with affection. In the meantime, Ashley reached out to Sarafina. “Oh my God, Sarafina, it is so good to see you!” Ashley began to cry at the sight of her half-sister. “You look absolutely beautiful.”
“Oh Ashley, if only that were true …” Sarafina groaned, one hand on her lower back as if to brace herself. “I’d rather be fighting a horde of goblins than carry this child one more day. I swear this baby will be the death of me.”
“Now darling, remember what the doctor said … You need to stay calm,” Nevan cautioned as he tried to reassure his wife.
“Nevan dear, I love you but please stop telling me to calm down or I swear I will cut off your …”
“Now Sarafina, you know we’re only looking out for you and the baby,” Stephanie interjected.
Sarafina listened to Lady Stephanie, took a deep breath and calmed down. “Yes mother, I know …” she complained. Just then, Sarafina spied Andrew for the fi rst time. “And who is this handsome young knight?”
Ashley took Andy by the arm and escorted him over. “This is my husband, Andrew St. Johns. Andy, this is Sarafina and her husband Nevan.”
Andy gave a slight bow to Sarafina and Nevan, thinking it was the proper protocol. Sarafina, however, ignored protocol and gave Andy a heartfelt hug.
“It’s so good to finally meet you Andrew … You look exactly like Ashley described you.”
Nevan reached out to shake his hand. “Welcome brother. I promise to help you make your transition to Avalon as easy as possible. Although anyone who can wield Róta and Myst is already making great strides,” Nevan added.
“Ah, I barely recognized them …” Sarafina exclaimed. “It’s been awhile since the twins have been out of the weapon’s rack on the Morning Star. Th ey don’t accept just any man to wield them. My, my Andrew … There is more to you than meets the eye.”
Andrew blushed, not knowing what to say. This was the first compliment he received since his arrival on Avalon. Just then, Thomas scooted between them and hid behind his mother’s skirt next to his father.
“Now Thomas, that’s very rude,” Sarafina admonished her son, pushing him out in front. “Say hello to your Aunt Ashley and your Uncle Andrew.”
Thomas turned around and quickly hid behind Sarafina’s skirt again. He peeked around to look at Ashley and Andrew. “It’s alright, don’t be shy … They’re family,” Sarafina assured him.
The little boy just waved hello to them, sheepishly. Ashley bent down and reached out to Thomas, who pulled back behind his mother’s skirt even more.
“It’s very nice to meet you Thomas,” she said. The little boy hesitated at first but then, quite gingerly, took her hand before moving behind his father this time. Nevan picked him up and carried him toward the waiting carriage. Ashley walked with Sarafina and her mother, curious about Thomas’ behavior.
“He’s a shy guy and not very talkative, is he?” Ashley noticed a sudden sadness fall over Sarafina and Stephanie.
“He doesn’t talk at all,” Sarafina explained. “We don’t know why, he just won’t say a word.”
“Is he mute? Is there some medical condition preventing it?” Ashley asked.
“No, nothing …” Stephanie replied. “The best doctors on Avalon have looked at him and can find nothing wrong with him. He cries when he’s hurt or upset, but he just won’t speak.”
Ashley thought about things for a moment. “He may be autistic …”
“What is that?” Sarafina worried. “Some kind of disease?”
“No, no …” Ashley assured her. “It’s a developmental disorder. It usually appears when a child is about Thomas’ age. It affects their social and communication skills.”
“Is there a cure for it?” Sarafina begged, looking for some hope for her son.
“There’s no cure Sarafina, but there therapy we could use to try and help him. I was studying special education at the university as part of my teaching degree. I can try …”
Before she could finish, Sarafina hugged her sister tightly, a tear rolling down her cheek as a sigh of relief. She wanted to try anything to help her son and Ashley gave her the first glimmer of hope.
“Oh thank you Ashley,” she cried. “I had given up all hope of hearing my son call me mother.”
A tear welled up in Ashley’s eyes too. She felt a sense of pride in the thought that she could do something to help Thomas, something no sorcerer or alchemist could do.