To celebrate Autism Acceptance Week, we spoke to children’s author Julie McDonald about her new book ‘Say Hello to Hedgy’ that she has written with input from our Family and Specialist Support team.

The book for young children aims to raise awareness and encourage readers to open their minds to different ways of thinking, feeling and behaving, with the key message that we must accept everyone for who we are. The book can be used as a springboard for encouraging discussions between children and their parents, carers or teachers.

Julie, who lives in Sussex, has an autistic son and is currently receiving support from Aspens. She received input for the book from the Family and Specialist staff and young people from the service who provided her with feedback and suggestions through an autistic lens.

Lucy Russell, Behaviour Specialist at Aspens said, “It’s been an absolute pleasure to collaborate with Julie on creating the wider message for the book and Hedgy the Hedgehog’s story, and as we celebrate Autism Acceptance Week this month, it’s very timely.  ‘Say Hello to Hedgy’ is an excellent resource and our team is looking forward to exploring Hedgy’s experiences with the children and families we support to encourage acceptance and understanding. Children (and adults!) are going to really enjoy it. It is a book about celebrating difference and increase understanding about Autism in a fun, positive way.”

Interview with Julie McDonald:

What is ‘Say Hello to Hedgy’ about and what is the key message?

‘Say Hello to Hedgy’ is a book which has a theme about being different. Its objective is to educate children, of all ages (and possibly adults too), about how Hedgy sees the world in a different way than some of his friends. Hedgy explains throughout the pages of this book how he feels and thinks. The pictures illustrate examples of some of the daily challenges that Hedgy encounters and he describes what his friends can do to make things easier for him.

The key message to the reader is to take the time to get to know their friends, be supportive and understand that we are all different which is okay. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. As long as we take the time to understand each other and show empathy towards each other, the world will be a much kinder place.

How is your book relevant to Autism Acceptance Week?

'Say Hello to Hedgy' is a book with hidden messages. I hope that readers will see that Hedgy is unique and the way he sees the world is different to another hedgehog because he is autistic. Many people will notice things that apply to them in this book and perhaps recognise these traits in others they know. It is a book about opening our minds to different ways of thinking, feeling and behaving and ultimately accepting everyone for who they are which I feel really captures the essence of Autism Acceptance Week.

I am hoping the book will act as a springboard for starting conversations between parents and children who have been recently diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Each page gives a situation to spark discussion and leads to greater understanding about difference and inclusion.

Hedgy gives the child a character that may have some similarities to them. I am hoping that the book will give readers a greater understanding about autism. It has been fantastic to collaborate with the Aspens Family and Specialist Support Team on the main ideas and key messaging surrounding Hedgy and now I just can’t wait for readers to enjoy the story!

What wider changes do you feel need to be made around autism acceptance?

I think there needs to be much more education about autism at a younger age. There are very few books aimed at young children on the subject of autism and that is what led me to write ‘Say Hello to Hedgy’. I attended a meeting for mums of newly diagnosed children and we were all trying to find suitable books to read with our children about the subject. It became clear there were very few books available and most of the books out there were aimed at older children and adults. It would be great for schools to have greater access to resources so they are able to recognise autistic traits sooner. I would love to see autism acceptance included as a topic that appears as part of ‘Learning About Life’ in our education system. I am writing some resource notes to accompany ‘Say Hello to Hedgy’ that could be used by teachers, along with the books and colourful pictures to understand the various concepts.

When children are young, they are like little sponges and take everything in and sadly I feel that children receive may misconceptions about autism at an early age which comes from wider society. As a parent to an autistic son I understand autism as just a different style of communication, thinking, feeling and behaving. It would be great to see this view adopted in wider society and I think Autism Acceptance Week is an excellent way to help raise this awareness so this can happen!

How have you been supported by Aspens and what difference has this made to your family?

Aspens specialist support service are supporting my autistic son and we have just started a series of family sessions. The team has been very helpful and the suggestions they have given to us has made a positive difference to our family life already. I feel positive that at last we are going to have some proper help!

‘Say Hello to Hedgy’ by Julie McDonald is published on 2 April and can be purchased
at or