A Wirral teenager who illustrated and published his first book earlier this year to raise greater awareness of autism has been picked to feature in a brand new project aimed at speeding up social change.
Will Hawkes, illustrator of the best-selling ‘Hal and the End Street’, is named in the first ever Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List.
The ‘Leaders’ List’ is a collection of stories from people who have learning disabilities and/or autism who are making a difference in either their community, at a national level, in sports, art or entertainment or in jobs and education.
Will, who is 17 and lives in Little Sutton and attends Cheshire College South and West in Chester, has been recognised by project leaders for his artistic contributions and his story has been selected as one of the top 15 in the sports, arts and entertainment category.
Led by Dimensions in association with Learning Disability England, VODG and the Guardian Newspaper, the aim of the Leaders’ List is to help the media find spokespeople for future stories to help speed up social change.
Will, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of six, has featured widely in the media this year after publishing Amazon bestselling ‘Hal and the End Street’ in partnership with Liverpool-based author Jude Lennon.
Set in the 1970s the story follows the adventures of 13-year-old Hal, who has autism, and the difficulties he faces on a day to day basis.
The character Hal has become a mascot for other children and young people with autism and Will and Jude are currently in the process of writing and illustrating a follow-up book which will be published in April next year to coincide with World Autism Awareness Week.
Will’s journey to becoming a published illustrator has seen him overcome a series of challenges and his own unique story has, and is continuing to inspire others with autism.
His mum Jane Hawkes said: “I’m absolutely delighted Will has been selected to feature in this project. Over the last 12 months he has worked incredibly hard and faced many of his fears. He’s done things he never thought he would have the confidence to do and as a family we are extremely proud of him.
“When Will first started out on his journey to illustrate and publish a book, he never really wanted it to be a big deal and the very idea of him having his picture taken for publicity purposes was very much a no- starter.
“However slowly he has gained confidence and has spoken publicly about his book, appeared in several newspapers, has given radio interviews and has also featured on high profile social media channels. Through his work he is helping to spread positive and inspirational messages to other young people with autism that it is possible to achieve your dreams.”
In the UK alone there are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum and although nowadays autism is a familiar term to most people, Jane says there is still a need for better understanding of the difficulties individuals and families face.
She said: “The aim with Will and Jude’s book is to increase awareness and understanding of autism.
“Things have improved over the years but there is still a long way to go. ‘Hal and the End Street’ highlights some of the daily challenges, experiences and emotions that those with autism go through.
“It is helping to generate a better understanding of autistic people and their families without which they are at risk of becoming isolated and developing mental health problems.”
Will, who has now decided to pursue a career in illustration, said he was delighted to have been handpicked to feature in the Leaders’ List.
He said: “It’s pretty amazing but quite unexpected. I’m really pleased my work is being recognised and I hope what I’m doing will continue to make a difference to others living with autism.”
The full Leaders’ List is available to view on the Dimensions website where Will’s story is available to read along with other selected winners.
Sarah Clarke, Campaigns Manager at not-for-profit Dimensions, who is spearheading the Leaders List, said: “We’re thrilled to have Will as a winner of Dimensions’ first Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List Awards. Will has used his experiences, imagination and talents to produce a wonderful book that is not only tackling public perceptions and entrenched social biases, but also giving people with autism a role model.
“When I spoke with Will it’s clear he’s a humble young man with a quiet determination to make a difference. He loves to draw and it’s brilliant to see how this project has helped build his confidence in himself and his very clear talents.
“We’re extremely proud to have Will as one of our winners, and we’re looking forward to hearing more about Hal and reading his next adventures.”
For more information about Will’s books visit https://halsbooks.co.uk/.