We have two” firsts” for our Author Interview Series. An awesome interview with D.S. Walker, our first author living in Honolulu, Hawaii and the review of my first novel, Delightfully Different about a girl with Asperger’s. Ms. Walker’s book is an award winning young adult (YA) novel. It received Regional Youth/West Pacific and Regional Teen/YA West Pacific Bronze Award along with a Blue Seal of Approval in the Spiritual/Inspirational Category from Young Voices Foundation.
D.S. Walker found a delightfully different approach to portray the struggles of a young girl and those of her family arising from raising a child with special needs. Mia, the daughter, is finally diagnosed with sensory sensitivity with Asperger’s traits. What prepared D.S. Walker to write this novel? Let’s see what she has to say.
Lorna: I read on your site that you are a registered nurse for over twenty-five years. Tell us what else prepared you to write so knowledgeably about a girl with Asperger’s syndrome and Sensory Processing Disorder.
D.S. Walker >> My daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome with sensory sensitivity six years ago, shortly after her tenth birthday. This started me on a journey to learn all I could to help her. The neuropsychologist loaned me Temple Grandin’s book, Thinking in Pictures, but this did not seem to fit my daughter. A short time later I found Tony Attwood’s, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s and everything started making sense. I spent a small fortune on other books since then including, all of the books listed as resources in the back of Delightfully Different and many others. I also Googled and TiVoed Asperger’s, autism, sensory sensitivity and bullying.
Lorna: I was so pleased to see how you included the serious topic of bullying in your book. Unfortunately those who have a child with special needs know only too well that bullying happens every day in all our schools. Explain your interest and involvement with bullying.
D.S. Walker >> My interest started out after my daughter was bullied. She was in fifth grade at the time and had just received a diagnosis of Asperger’s with sensory traits the year before the bullying occured. The girls who targeted my daughter had parents who were reading Queen Bees and Wannabes and one mother told me she was okay with her daughter’s behavior.
Not exactly the answer I was looking for when I called her, yet it did open my eyes to the root of the problem. That was when my focus shifted to bullying. I have spent as much or more time on the topic than on Asperger’s and autism. Bullying caused more problems for my daughter than her diagnosis.
Lack of understanding of the long-term effects of bullying by a teacher caused even more problems. There needs to be greater understanding about how bullying wounds the soul. The bullies need help to change their behavior just as much as the victims need to build up their self-esteem. I believe we should focus on helping the bullies to change instead of punishing them.
Anytime we allow counselors to focus on changing the victim of bullying and not the perpetrator, we are sending a message that the victim deserved to be mistreated. This is offensive and not helpful. I fail to understand why school counselors and administration do not get this. I worry about this generation if we do not do a better job of teaching them kindness and respect for differences.
Lorna: Delightfully Different is a novel in the YA (Young Adult) category. As an author, how did you decide who you wanted to reach with your book and what made you decide to write a fiction instead of a nonfiction book?
D.S. Walker >> The year my daughter was bullied I went to the bookstore to buy her a book she wanted and I was shocked to realize how many book series for the girls were about girls being mean. I thought if I wrote a book to teach kindness and understanding of differences I could make a difference. I had a goal of getting it into schools as required reading hoping teachers would open a dialogue with their students to help change the climate in our schools. I knew both of my children’s school read books like Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter. I hoped Delightfully Different would be used the same way and that it would be used in bully prevention programs too. I have managed to get it in some of Hawaii’s school libraries and one elementary school is using it in their character education program. A teachers’ reading club at another school also used it.
Initially I planned to write our true story, but I changed my mind because the girls who targeted my daughter also targeted another girl with a known diagnosis, and I did not want to put her at risk. I also used the name D. S. Walker for the same reason. My daughter did not want me to use the name her friends and their families know me by when I published the novel. Later she told her friends about her diagnosis and the book and gave me permission to use my current legal name, Sue Kam. My full maiden name is Doris Sue Walker so using D. S. Walker seemed to be a natural choice. I have never been called Doris because it was my mother’s name so it was not a name others would know. It was also a way for me to honour my mother who died in 2005.
Lorna: Your book ends with wonderful examples of the importance of forgiveness. Without telling too much to ruin a reader’s enjoyment of the book, share your wise advice on forgiving to help others overcome anger about the past so they can move on with life.
D.S. Walker >> Fortunately, I read Immaculee Ilibagiza’s book Left to Tell a few months before my daughter was bullied and I went to hear her when she did a speaking tour that included Honolulu during the time frame when my daughter was bullied. She is my inspiration for forgiveness. She found compassion, hope, and redemption through forgiveness. She teaches that forgiveness is not about forgetting rather it is about remembering and learning so the awful events are not repeated. This resonates with me.
I know anger consumes the person who is angry; it does not consume the person with whom that person is angry. That is why forgiveness is so important. I also wanted to set a good example for my daughter so she would not become a bully. I am trying to turn her bad experience into something good by helping to educate others and hopefully helping to change the world.
Lorna: Tell us if readers will get to read a sequel about Mia and her brother, Cal?
D.S. Walker >> Yes, there will be a sequel, but it will only be written from Cal’s point of view. Traditional publishers hate books with two points of view. Still, I believe including the family history and the mother’s point of view explains more about how Mia was misdiagnosed initially and why it takes longer for girls to be diagnosed so I will not apologize for writing Delightfully Different the way I did.
Cal’s story will pick up during Mia’s bullying and explain how he is affected by it too. The story will also address cyber bullying, something my daughter thankfully did not directly experience. Cal will become an active bystander instead of a passive one. A lesson he gains from Mia’s experience.
Lorna: Your blog, Delightfully Different Life, is about bullying, girls on the autism spectrum, gratitude and forgiveness. Besides writing about those issues do you do presentations/speaking engagements/workshops on those topics?
D.S. Walker >> I am working towards doing this. I hope to do a presentation for a local private school parent organization and I am talking to my daughter’s former school about helping them. I am also talking to someone in about doing a presentation for the public school counsellors.
Lorna: What is on D.S. Walker’s typical “To-Do” list these days? What awaits you in 2012?
D.S. Walker >> I made a promise to myself that I will do a better job of balancing my health and my family with my Internet use this year. Therefore, I am taking long walks with my dogs and dabbling in amateur photography three to four days a week. After my walks I try to spend time working on my next novel while alternating responding to e-mails, tweets, Facebook messages, and blog comments. Therefore, I welcome guest posts on my blog, Delightfully Different Life if any of your readers are interested.
I will be a guest on Bobbi Sheahan’s internationally-broadcast Autism As They Grow radio show, on March 21, 2012 at 9:30 Eastern.
I am also available to speak to your seminar, school, group or book club for those of you in Hawaii or via Skype if you live elsewhere.
I am also getting ready to exhibit at the Pacific Rim International Conference on Disability & Diversity that will take place in Honolulu on March 26 & 27, 2012.
Lorna: Thank you so much for answering my questions. All the best with your books and other endeavours! Please give us all your links so our readers can follow you. Also where they can buy Delightfully Different.
D.S. Walker >> I would love to hear from your readers. My website is: authordswalker.com, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also connect with my author page on FB : Delightfully Different and follow me on Twitter: @dswalkerauthor
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