Jon Roberts, a web developer from Wales, never envisioned himself as an author. That changed after his daughter, Kya, was diagnosed with autism at age 4.
“When we found out Kya had autism, I wanted to write something down that answered children's questions,” Roberts, 47, told BBC this month.
The result was Through the Eyes of Me, a children’s book whose main character is based on Kya (who is now seven). While Roberts initially gave the book to Kya’s school to be read out at their assembly, the positive reception prompted him to approach the publishing house Graffeg.
“I wasn't going to be published and out there, I gave it to the school and people said it was a lovely book to get published so I approached Graffeg,” he explained.
Since then, Roberts, who still works full-time as a web developer, has published a second children’s book on autism, and is working on a third. Roberts says that autism was underrepresented in children’s literature when Through the Eyes of Me was first published in 2017, but added that this has changed, with more characters with autism appearing on television shows as well (a notable example being the Muppet Julia on Sesame Street).
In August, Roberts released his second book, Through the Eyes of Us. The book introduces Martha, a 9-year-old with autism based on Roberts’ friend’s daughter. Through the Eyes of Us portrays Martha and Kya as best friends, though they are only acquaintances in real life. Roberts says Kya has become “a bit of a celebrity” at school thanks to the books she inspired.
“Primary school is the best age to educate about it because they haven't made their minds up yet, it's easy to learn about why somebody does something differently,” Roberts says about autism education. "The children in her class look after her, say hello to her, and it's lovely to see."