Being the headteacher of Limspfield Grange School is a brilliant and sometimes slightly scary job. Why? Because I get to work with 72 amazing and feisty teenage girls with communication and interaction difficulties (including autism). Sure there are times when things at school are bumpy or tricky, but it is always worth it because we believe that 'together we make a difference'. And when students started to hassle me about the lack of literature available for teenage girls with autism, I told them that they should do something about it. And that is exactly what they did.
The students from Limpsfield Grange sometimes go out and speak at public events about their experiences of autism. They are a force of nature. At one event last summer two of my students door-stepped a prominent member of the National Autistic Society and explained how frustrated they were at the lack of representation of girls and women with autism in the media. They suggested that the students at Limpsfield Grange should write a book, and he should fund it. To my endless surprise he agreed on the spot. That day M was born.
The girls worked with writer Vicky Martin in workshops to lay the foundations of the story. What were the main things they wanted to say through a novel? Who were they writing for? It was very clear they felt lucky to have so many friends who were just like them - kind, compassionate, curious teenage girls with autism. They felt they were accepted and belonged to a cool, quirky community. But that not everyone on the autistic spectrum shared this experience, that some were isolated, and not everyone thought being autistic was a good thing. So they wanted to write a story that would reach out and support others.
The result was our amazing story M is for Autism, which charts the journey to find "normal" for teenager M. We are so proud of our story it's hard to put into words. When it was published the girls gathered in my office and looked through the book saying things like "Oh that's my bit" or "I drew that!" I'm not sure as a headteacher you get many days in your career that are better than that.
So, the brilliant feisty girls of the Grange have written a novel, and have been in a TV documentary (Girls With Autism, ITV Wednesday 15 July). And now they are restless again. One asked me recently when Michelle Obama would visit our school... And my advice was if you want her to come then you'd best ask her. I am sure it is only a matter of time before they persuade her to visit us.