Mallinson, 16, is deafblind and spent years in school unable to communicate fully with the people around him.
“It was hard,” he says in an email interview with the NOW. “I got really tired of being treated like I didn’t know what was going on. I just stopped trying.”
A Bee’s Journey
That all changed a little before Christmas 2019 after some tapping around he had been doing on an iPad suddenly clicked.
“I was typing little sentences for a couple of months before that, but I started to really type well around Christmas. It was awesome. I sent Christmas cards to so many people,” Mallinson says.
Just a few months later, the COVID-19 pandemic cut him off from friends and extended family, but in some ways global crisis has only multiplied the connections he is making with others through the written word.
He started a blog in April, and, just before Christmas (about a year after his typing really took off), he published a children’s book.
“I started missing my cousin lots because of social distancing,” Mallinson says of the book’s genesis. “I wanted to do something to let him know I was thinking of him. So I wrote him a story.”
That tale – about a bee who sets out on a journey to smell all the flowers in the world – was a big hit with his six-year-old cousin, so Mallinson sent it to a friend for her kids to enjoy too.
But they wanted pictures, he says, so he enlisted the help of a longtime family friend, Burnaby Mountain Secondary Grade 11 student Rachel Gsponer to illustrate it.
“Her illustrations are exactly what I pictured in my mind,” Mallinson says.
When he saw how good they were, he says he wanted to turn his story into an actual book.
That book, A Bee’s Journey, is now on shelves at the Burnaby Public Library and available for purchase on his blog.
Spoiler alert: In the book, Felix the Bee gets blown off course by a storm and takes refuge in a flower shop. He chooses to stay and smell all of the world’s flowers in the shop instead of continuing his journey.
When asked to comment on the story’s message, Mallinson first talks about smell – and the role that sense has played in his life.
“We don’t spend much time learning about smell,” he says. “But it can be so comforting. I know it can be gross too. But it can speak to us about what is around us.”
In his blog, Mallinson explains that he uses smell to identify people.
“I know my mom is near just by the smell in the air. I don’t have to see her,” he says.
So it’s no accident smell features prominently in A Bee’s Journey – as does travel.
“Travelling around the world is something I want to do,” Mallinson says, “but I can’t right now; we can’t travel anywhere right now. I’m also happy at home with friends and family. I wanted to say you can go see the world or stay home. Whatever makes you happy, do that.”
Mallinson’s mom, Shelley Mallinson, however, interprets her son’s book a little differently.
“That book represents him,” she said in a recent post about A Bee’s Journey on the Burnaby school district’s website. “His world may not be as big as others’ – when he goes into a room, he doesn’t see the whole room and can’t hear what’s going on in the room. The bee finding the safety in the last location in the book shows that it’s ok to have a smaller setting in your life. You can bring the world to you.”
‘The most wonderful thing’
Mallinson was born prematurely, at a little over one pound, and lost his hearing and most of his vision in his first year, according to a blog by his dad, Chris Mallinson.
His son’s early arrival also caused some mild cerebral palsy, he writes.
Mallinson’s parents never doubted his intelligence, says his dad, but he wasn’t able to fully express himself, so it was hard to know how much he was learning.
It turns out he was learning plenty.
“He had been soaking up everything he saw through the sliver of vision available to him and everything he had heard through his cochlear implants,” writes his dad. “Then he started beating us at trivia, showing us he had been overhearing and understanding the news, and pretty much everything else that was happening around him.”
Mallinson says his parents knew he had a better way of communicating inside him “trying to come out” and just kept trying to help him find it with American Sign Language, pictures, printing, typing and anything else they could find.
For him, being able to communicate with them now is “the most wonderful thing,” he says.
“I possibly could not plan on a better day than just talking to my parents about everything we could not before,” he says.
‘Just part of me’
While speaking to them might be wonderful, though, Mallinson doesn’t want his parents speaking for him – or his deafblindness – and they get that, he says.
“They understand I can be happy and smart, with my deafblind just part of me like my curly hair,” he wrote in his first blog post. “You know I’m not afraid to stand up for me; I can do it with the right tools.”
One thing he’s eager to share with the world, both in his blog and in his interview with the NOW, is an inside look into what it’s like to be deafblind and what is needed to make the world more accessible to people with disabilities.
“I was lucky my world became more accessible,” he says. “It helped me develop and made me feel included in the world. Please make accessibility a priority in what you do. If you don’t know how, ask.”