Penguins Don’t Eat Ice-cream!

O.J, my PA Deborah and I spent the morning in
Rosses Community School
in Dungloe at a book launch. It was an unusual way to spend a Monday, but it was a nice change. It was also a fundraiser, with half of the proceeds being donated to Irish guide dogs.

First year and leaving cert applied students wrote stories about their pets, which were compiled into a book called ‘Penguins Don’t Eat Ice-cream!’ The title was inspired by a school visit to the zoo last year, when one of the students, Jack Gray, decided to feed one of the penguins some of his ice-cream. This got him into a bit of trouble, but made for a funny story which he recounts brilliantly in the book. Other students wrote about their pets, as well as writing letters to some celebrities, asking them about their own pets. They received some great replies, including lots of information about the queen’s corgies!
I also wrote a piece about working with O.J for the book. His photo features in it a few times, so it’s a lovely keepsake for him to be part of during his last year as a working guide dog.

I have worked in Rosses Community School a couple of times now, and ms. Brennan is one of the most enthusiastic teachers I’ve ever met. The students have really grown in confidence since I first met them, and that was obvious when they read stories from the book and helped out during the launch this morning. Guest speaker was Angela Dromgoole, past pupil of the school, and more recently, Dublin creative business person of the year. In her speech, she encouraged students to work hard, do their best and follow their dreams. I didn’t speak long, but just thanked the students for choosing guide dogs to benefit from the sales of their book. O.J was very relaxed, which is always good when you are representing the organisation at these types of things. The students all signed a copy of the book for me, and I bought one for a friend. Hopefully sales will go well, because they’ve put in a lot of effort, and it’s a good quality book for only é10.
The teacher appologised that she hadn’t produced a braille copy for me, so I suggested that maybe with all this new confidence, the students could consider making an audio copy soon!

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I’m inspired!

I’m just home from the first book launch I’ve ever attended. It took place in our local library, to celebrate the fact that a local mother has just published a book about her life since her son Cian was born.
Here’s an article from the inishowen Independent newspaper to explain:

Buncrana mum writes autism memoir 26.02.09‘A World of our Own’ out next week
by Damian Dowds, Inishowen Independent
AILEEN McCallan, a Buncrana-based mother whose ten year-old son Cian attends the special needs unit at Scoil Íosagáin, will launchher first book, ‘A World of our Own’ in Buncrana Library on Thursday 12 March. Published by the Poolbeg Press, the book is a searingly honest account about a family affected by autism. It’s about a hundred small kindnesses from friends, family and strangers in contrast to the often cold indifference from the health and social services. It’s about a mother’s search for treatment that will help her son and the progress he has made, despite being written off many times. The seed for the book was planted when Aileen joined a writing group in her native Tyrone four years ago, and having first floated the idea with publishers Poolbeg of writing a fictionalised account, she decided to bare her soul and tell it as it was. Writing about the subject was a difficult experience, she says. “Reliving that time was very emotional and looking back on it made me angry. It brought back to me who desperate and low I was, and how so many families have to go through the same thing every day.” “But it was therapeutic to write it. It’s out of me now. Even though the story isn’t over, I think I can have a new beginning.” “Things have improved for Cian and our family, but while this book has been written the story hasn’t ended,” she says. “Our voicestill isn’t heard and the powers that be still aren’t listening. Scoil Íosagáin recently lost five special needs assistants and the autism classes have been affected.” Having taught him at home using the Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) technique, she had tremendous difficulty in finding a school in which to educate him. She heard about Scoil Íosagáin and having checked it out, moved lock stock and barrel from Tyrone to Buncrana so that Cian could attend. Having slaved over the manuscript throughout the summer of 2008, this first time author now can only watch as the published booktakes on a life of its own. She has hopes for what it might achieve, not in terms of sales or fame, but in changing attitudes. “Over everything else, I hope that the powers that be will listen and try to get to know autism,” she says. “The book explains the stresses that autism puts on parents and how desperate they are for support – some parents get no respite and can’t even leavethe house to go to the shop because they can’t take their autistic child with them. I hope that the authorities read it and realise how they’ve failed our children and come to recognise that there are therapies and interventions that can help. Cian is proof of that.” “A World of our Own” will be published on 2 March and available locally from, among other places, Mac’s Bookshop in Buncrana andFarren’s Newsagents in Moville. The book will be officially launched in Buncrana Library on 12 March from 7pm, while Boyzone starKeith Duffy, who has done sterling work for autism charities, will attend a book signing in Eason’s, Letterkenny at the end of March. Proceeds from the book will go into a trust fund for Cian.

I hope to pass this book on to as many people as possible. People still need to be made aware of what autism is and how it affects a huge number of individuals and their families. Not having time to read is a rubbish excuse not to read a book like this. The author, who is busy caring for a family and the challenges of a child with autism, managed to find time to write about her experiences.
Aileen sold and signed copies of the book at the launch, and that money will be donated to Scoil Iosagain. There were a few acknowledgements and words of congradulations before Aileen read some extracts from the book. She is an excellent reader, and I wished she could have read the whole book. She is a lovely writer, and the talent was passed down to her oldest son Christopher who read a beautiful poem he wrote about his younger brother Cian.
OJ was in the middle of all the action, loving the attention as usual. Thankfully he was very quiet when he needed to be. Cian has seen him a couple of times in the school and absolutely loves him, but he wasn’t there tonight. Aileen pointed out how difficult it can be for an entire family to attend functions when you have a child with autism, and sometimes a parent is left at home to babysit. Those of us not in this situation take so much for granted.
I spoke to Aileen after the launch, and she seemed genuinely delighted with the response so far. I have only met her a couple of times in the radio station, as she volunteers there regularly. We talked about getting her to narrate an audio book of her own story, as I don’t think anybody else could do it justice. A braille copy could be produced, but I know it will be a while before I get my hands or my ears on an accessible copy. I know that when I eventually do, i won’t be able to put it down.