Ronald McGill | Giving a voice to my low-functioning autistic boy

I started writing by the beach at the Indian Ocean, just north of Dar es Salaam, in September 1998. I had been working since 1974 but was now reduced to an itinerant freelance role, for the sake of my little boy Roddy; he was diagnosed originally as being hearing impaired. We returned to UK to secure Western-standard medical care for him after three years in Tanzania. The lapping of the water was the start of an effort to get the first 2,000 words written. In truth, the writing was initially, an attempt to understand myself.


I was sent to a pioneering special needs school in rural Perthshire; Naemoor, then from 1962, Lendrick-Muir.



It saved me but more specifically, it was the care and insight of one, Maurice Bridgeland, who was the instrument of my salvation. The classification of its special needs was ‘emotional maladjustment’. That was the underlying or hidden aspect; that which Maurice tried to deal with (he himself, becoming a pioneer and author on such education). The more obvious manifestation was a crushing speech impediment. I was born in Berlin, British Army of the Rhine (BAOR). My mother was German, my father, Scottish. I ran away from what purported to be home at 17 and (almost inevitably) joined the army at the second attempt. Divine intervention got me in, literally (read the book). The army experience (including Aden), leaving “to get an education” (university), work (Scotland, England, Malawi, Tanzania), marriage, four children (all born in Scotland) and working for the UN in New York, took their course in life. My first UN assignment was in Eritrea (second left).



My writing moved to my hearing impaired but subsequently diagnosed as “low-functioning autistic” son, Roddy. In fact, it was when watching the film The Accountant and seeing the central character as a young boy, descending into uncontrollable tantrums because something was not quite right (the loss of a jigsaw piece), that triggered the idea of writing a book through his eyes. I wanted to try and enter his almost silent world; his language being limited to the most rudimentary responses only: “yes”, “no” and very little else. In essence, I wanted to give him “a voice”. I also wanted to show to others how such a diagnosis, resulting in life and institutional care (or lack of it), affects the family.  So, I combined my early life with his. The bitterest irony was that that the Edinburgh Sick Children’s Hospital clinic where he was diagnosed as autistic was the very same address that I attended as an eight-year-old, being asked to play with toys in a sandpit on a table, while a pipe-smoking Austrian asked me questions – 3 Rillbank Terrace. In short, my autistic son inspired the book (Roddy is in the middle, at Christmas 2018).



It took over three years and over thirty submissions, whether to agents or direct to publishing houses, before a positive decision came from Olympia. Every rejection hurt but then, a fundamental characteristic returned; determination, laced with a basic belief that what I had written was a story worth telling. Once the decision to accept the manuscript was confirmed, the editing and production itself ran smoothly. These are the controllable dimensions. What is uncontrollable is the general reading public’s response to the marketing initiatives now unfolding. We shall see what transpires.


Get yourself a copy of Ron’s book here! 

14 Nov 2019