Hove, man with autism defies expectations, publishes children’s book

A YOUNG man with autism, who was once unable to communicate, has published a children’s book.

Oliver Pendlington, 26, of Hove, was diagnosed with severe autism at a young age and his parents were told he could be non-verbal his entire life.

In 1999, when he was four, Lorraine and Matthew Pendlington, Oliver’s parents, spoke to The Argus about the family’s struggles to get the help Oliver needed in Brighton and Hove.

At the time, Brighton and Hove council was receiving criticism over the lack of support for children with learning difficulties and special needs, especially with a diagnosis.

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Lorraine, 64, said: “It was very rare at the time that children with these needs were labeled and recognized.

“So my husband pretty much forced the board to recognize that there was a requirement.

“This meant that Oliver was able to go to a regular preschool and then to an elementary school, but with one-on-one support.”

At the time, special elementary schools were very scarce and generally charged tuition fees, which the Pendlington thought was unfair.

The purpose of Argus’ interview was to discuss with his parents the successes they had had and the advice they had for others.

When Oliver was four he started to speak, but his mother said that was the ability of an 18 month old.

He began his university career at Royal Spa Kindergarten before moving on to Brunswick Elementary School.

For his high school education, Oliver chose to attend a special school that has since closed called Patcham House.

He then finished three years of college to get his A-Level, at the age of 20 he started college – now diagnosed with high-level autism.

Lorraine said: “One of the things that touched me a lot was that he didn’t just have a solid education.

“He’s now got an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree – we never thought it would be possible. It’s amazing.”

Both of Oliver’s degrees were film-based, involving many research and theoretical units, as well as creative writing and screenwriting.

During his bachelor’s degree at the University of Brighton, Oliver wrote a 500-word short story titled The Long Mile.

As an avid runner who has participated in several races and has always loved the sport, the story is an autobiographical tale.

While having Covid in January 2021, Oliver decided to expand the story and made it into a children’s book.

At first, the protagonist battles a “creepy invisible bug” and is forced to stay home, looking like Covid-19. She remembers doing her first mini-mile a few years ago.

Oliver said: “This is about a little girl named Ella getting ready to run her first mini mile. The story was quite autobiographical as I wrote it because Ella’s anxiety over her big challenge was very similar to my own racing experiences.

“Running has been one of my favorite recreational activities for at least a decade.

“I love meeting all my friends at the Hove Hornets Running Club and love all the routes we take.

“I especially love watching the kids’ races at the Fun Runs we run and one of my friend’s daughters was the inspiration for Ella in my story.

“Like her, I found the wait to start a race – any race – nerve-racking, even after the first time.

“Even after driving some roads so many times, I find them long and difficult, especially the ones with big hills and really muddy roads after heavy rains.

“But that’s why I love running so much; these routes are difficult and yet i feel a great sense of accomplishment completing them.

“Certainly the children feel that too, which is why I chose to have a child as a protagonist.”

This year Oliver and his mother published the story, with illustrations by professional artist and family friend Sharon James-Alderton.

Publishing initially was a challenge, they struggled to find a company to take a risk on a first-time writer.

Oliver said: “Sharon had a friend who specializes in printing and suggested that we could send her the story.

“We did and he agreed to print at least 50 copies for us to self-publish and sell. With mom’s help, we settled the payments and he printed the books for us.

“Now Sharon and I could start promoting our book. I arranged to sell several copies at the Hove Fitness Center, where the Hove Hornets are based.

“Sharon and I also gave some copies to friends who worked in schools. And I’ve even donated a few to Books for Amnesty, where I volunteer once a week.

“Self-publishing was the best option for my first book.”

Lorraine says she lobbied for the book to be released as well because she wanted to highlight how far her son has come since he was first diagnosed.

She said: “I also wanted it to be published. It doesn’t just make it real to him, it means a wider audience can read it.

“We have family and friends who know Oliver, and for them to see what he has accomplished is just amazing.

“My sister-in-law lives in Australia and was around a lot when he was little, she said to me ‘Lorraine, I can’t believe it’ – everyone is so proud of him.”

Oliver is hoping to be able to publish more books and sell them to publicize his work – they jokingly describe it as a “financial failure” as it sells for £ 7 but costs £ 9 to make.

“We’re not here for the money, it’s to show what he’s done and what he’s capable of,” said Lorraine.

Anyone wishing to get a copy of The Long Mile can email Oliver at [email protected]

About Leslie Schwartz

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