Granddaughter inspires author to write about autism


La Jolla realtor Marilia Cathcart hopes to raise funds for autism research, a cause close to her heart, with the sales of her children’s book titled “I Wish I Could Fly.”

The story is told from the point of view of a little girl, who, while swinging in a playground, imagines all the different places she could go if she could fly. The illustrations were drawn by a client of Cathcart’s teenaged daughter.

The inspiration of the book was Cathcart’s 9-year-old granddaughter, Chelsea, who has Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. The condition is characterized by impairments in non-verbal communication and social interaction.

“Reading with her taught me a lot, because it is sometimes not easy to get her attention, so I had to use different ways to get her attention. So that’s how it all started, reading with her,” Cathcart said.

Cathcart, who also has a background in teaching, decided to write the book during her long recovery from a fall she took in September of 2005 down a staircase in a bank. The fall resulted in her neck being broken in two places. She was initially put in a device called a halo, which was supposed to heal her fracture while avoiding the need for surgery. But instead of getting better, Cathcart’s fracture increased from 3 millimeters to 7 millimiters in the two months she was in the device.

Because the injury affected her spinal cord, she was also impaired on her right side so badly that it took her two hours to eat a meal. After a friend strongly urged her to seek a second opinion, a second doctor removed her from the halo and arranged for her to have surgery.

The road to recovery has been a difficult one. While in the hospital, she required three hours of physical therapy a day. Seven and a half months after her fall, it was also discovered that she had a torn rotator cuff in addition to her other injuries. Following her surgery she was in a neck brace for eight months and had to have nursing care around the clock. Today, she is able to drive and has returned to her job at Prudential Realty, although she said she is still in a considerable amount of pain and has limited range of motion.

During her recovery and rehabilitation, Cathcart said she had time to think about how she could contribute to make the world a better place. Because it took her so long to eat a meal after her injury, at first she thought she might volunteer in hospitals to help feed patients who had experienced similar injuries. But she still, to this day, remains somewhat impaired on her right side despite her extensive recovery, so instead she came up with the idea of writing a children’s book that would raise funds to research the condition her granddaughter suffers from.

“I kept thinking, what else can I do that will matter?” said Cathcart. “And then one day I came up with the idea of the book.”

Cathcart published with Author House, the largest self-publishing company in the world. After writing the book, which took approximately a month, she researched different autism organizations to join forces with. All the proceeds from her book sales will go to the National Foundation for Autism Research, a non-profit based here in San Diego that funds studies and treatment and educational programs. The foundation was founded by Juan and Sharon Leon, whose son was diagnosed with autism in 1996. According to the organization, the incidence of autism in children is growing rapidly, with one out of every 150 children being diagnosed and the number of cases doubling every 4 1/2 years.

“I have over a $1,000 that I can give to the foundation, and that’s just the beginning,” Cathcart said of the money she has raised so far. “I’m hoping there will be more and more coming.”

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Cathcart’s book, contact her at (619) 300-5008. The book can also be purchased at For more information on the National Foundation for Autism Research, visit