Gregory Finnegan first appeared on our TV screens last January when Hollyoaks introduced his character James Nightingale. Ever since then, we've seen the scheming lawyer manipulate Scott Drinkwell for personal gain and begin an affair with his boyfriend John Paul McQueen. He's also feuded with Ste Hay and blackmailed his boyfriend Harry Thompson into sleeping with him. His character has never been short of drama since the day he arrived in the Hollyoaks village.
Nevertheless of James Nightingale, but in the real word, I exclusively chat to the actor himself as he speaks out about his young niece's autism and how it affects him and the rest of his family.
Hi Gregory! When was your niece diagnosed with Autism and how has it affected you and the rest of your family?
My Niece, Tess, was officially diagnosed with Autism when she was around 6, though my sister and her husband were fairly sure some time before, from around 3. I believe as far as classification goes, which I know is hard to define, I believe she has Classic Autism – so mid ranging I guess. She displays typical Autistic tendencies. There have been some very tough moments for my Sister and the family, as I am sure it is fall all families at one time or another. Trying to understand what she needs and how best to provide it so she can have a normal upbringing as possible which has been hard.
How has the education needs been for Tess and your family?
They have had some real battles with her Educational needs and the lack of support from the Council and other government bodies which has been disappointing. There is a clear funding gap and councils are clearly being squeezed, so getting the help your child needs can be tremendously difficult. There needs to be a big shift in the way funding is applied to children with special needs as I believe schools currently need to commit to paying the first £6k of a child's care before the council will step in and top that up and schools are clearly reluctant to do that in these Austere times we live in.
What are your her main interests and hobbies?
She loves Nature and Animals and has always been a dab-hand at computer games such as Minecraft. She’s a good little artist too.
Do you feel you have enough knowledge and understanding about autism?
I definitely don’t. My sister on the other hand is amazing and has been home schooling Tess now for some time and the leaps forward Tess has made have been enormous because of her dedication. I think people are very quick to judge the decisions of parents dealing with children that have Autism but I’m a firm believer that we should trust the parents and take their lead. My sister has come in for criticism for home schooling but she was really left with no choice and it has proven to be the best thing for Tess.
What have you learnt the most about your niece's autism?
She is very communicative. In fact she will tell you her life story the moment you meet her! Some years ago she was very much in her own world and having personal interaction with her was difficult but it's fantastic now, and she is increasingly engaged with the world around her which is lovely to see.
How is your niece's communication skills?
Yeah she definitely likes things a certain way – whether that be an insistence that her bed is never made or keeping food groups apart. She is staying with us at the moment and I am learning all her idiosyncrasies daily! She is also extremely literal, in that you have to be very specific about what you are asking of her or else she doesn’t understand.
Does your niece have any behavioural traits?
I guess for me I really want to help and am not always sure how to do that. We live a long way apart so we don’t see each other as much as I would like. Supporting my sister in the decisions she makes is important I think and also I am hoping I can try to raise awareness of the needs of families dealing with Autism. My friend Tim Downie recently walked around the Isle of White is support of The Blue Sky Autism Project (twitter.com/EarlyASD) who support families dealing with Autism in Scotland and I hope to do something in the same spirit soon.
What is your relationship towards each other like?
She is such a wonderfully loving little girl and will plonk herself on your lap as soon as you've sat down. I’m really proud of the leaps she is making and know she’s got a great future ahead of her.
Lastly, what are your thought on my blog?
Love the blog – It's great what you are doing so keep it up! I wish you every success for the future.