Explaining disability to children

disability

So recently I got a message on Instagram from a mother with young children. She asked me how do I explain disability to my kids? As one of her children’s class mates had a disability.

From our conversation this gave me the idea to write a blog post answering this question too.

Don’t Avoid It

My disability is invisible however if I use my wheelchair when I’m out and about I do get those sideways glances and I have had parents go in a different direction with their children so I’m out of their eye-line. The funny thing is you won’t be able to take your child in a different direction if you see a person with a disability when your out in public every time . This is because you’ve probably walked past or even engaged with someone with a disability and you didn’t even know because their disability is hidden/ invisible.

When I’m out and about in public but don’t use my wheelchair I get a totally different reaction. Less staring, parents walk past me with their children with no fuss, more people communicate with me and just treat me like a ‘normal’ person.

I know maybe thinking your avoiding a situation but in actual fact without even knowing you are creating one. As you are making non verbal judgments and statements without even knowing. For example an indirect message could be sending the statement “ don’t go near them” creating a sense of fear of the unknown.

Staring

So when I’m out and about or even when I was at school or college. I found a lot of my peers just staring at me in wonder and it was a bit awkward. At school I wore a splint and would get mean comments and looks. Teach your children it’s ok to ask a question but in a polite way. I would rather someone asked me “ why do you wear that on your leg” rather than just staring at me making me feel awkward.A lot of the time when I saw people looking I would just mention oh that’s a splint and it helps me too…

Acknowledging

I remember I was at the shops once and I heard a child say “mummy she’s in a wheelchair”. The mum looked at me and smiled and said “yes that’s a wheelchair she needs it to help her do what she wants to do”. The child said “ ok that’s cool. And they carried on shopping. Hearing the child’s response put a smile on my face and made me feel that slowly people from a young age can start to accept people with differences.

It’s Not Just About What You Say

Children are really good at not just listening to what you might be saying but also observing your body language when saying something. If you are nervous of a situation chances are the children will start to feel nervous too. But if you try and normalise it through your body language children will be able to pick up signs that everything is ok and normal and not something to be scared off.

Learn About Disability

There are so many ways now to learn about disability. Here are some examples and places you could use to help learn about disability.

Websites

Articles & Magazines

Other Sources

You can also find information about disability through reading blog, watching YouTubers and also finding pages dedicated to explaining disability on Instagram.

Honest

Children love to ask questions so if your child is interested and wants to find out more that’s fab! However what I would say is don’t make up a story to tell. If you’re not sure be honest there are so many disabilities out there. It’s impossible to know the details to everyone. As well as this two people might have the same disability written down on paper but it effects them both different ways.

Disability Is Not A Bad Word

And finally the reason I think people may not know what to say around disability is because it can be associated with “bad”, “challenging “, “difficult” or “worse suffering”.

However I know people who are disabled and their disability makes them feel proud. I can’t speak for everyone as each of us have different experiences. But for me, my disability is a part of me it doesn’t define me. Like if someone said tell me something I wouldn’t say I’m disabled as my first fact. Instead I would say I’m an actor, I love animals and I’m starting a mini zoo at home, I enjoy seeing friends and then later I’d say oh by the way I have a disability. But if someone needs to know I have a disability for a health reasons then I would tell them but day to day life you’d find out a lot of things about me before my disability would come in.

Like I said before for me my disability is part of me but doesn’t define me!

5 things I did differently at Primary school as a disabled child

disability

When I look back on my time at Primary school even though I got bullied they were happy times. Primary school was also the time in which my family and I found out that I was disabled and had cerebral palsy right hemiplegia and learning difficulties so this time was also very confusing too. I have done all my education in the mainstream learning environment

1. Having SEN Reviews

An SEN review is a “special educational needs” meetings discussing a child’s progress throughout school. I remember at primary school finding it confusing as I didn’t get why their was a meeting with my teachers and parents all about me. I also found it awkward I still do. I just find it strange how a meeting is just all about you. At primary school I was definitely less bothered about having a disability. When I went into secondary school I started to understand more what having a disability meant and how I could find things challenging compared to my peers. I was also getting more heavily bullied at secondary school due to being disabled amongst other things so I was more aware about what made me different to everyone else. At primary school I was more confident in telling class mates where I had gone for a meeting or physio however when I was at secondary school I tried to keep as much as I could to myself as my peers made fun of me.

For me personally I don’t like the term “special needs” because to me everyone is special in their own ways. When really what has happened is something is being adapted something in order for someone to do the same thing as everyone else. In reviews we discuss all different topics for example we’d discuss my adaptations and support I needed in class to help me keep up and be like everyone else.

2. Having Adapted Equipment

In primary school I was given equipment to help me in class. I remember finding underlining my writing really hard or just using a ruler in general. I could never keep it still. So to help me with using a ruler the occupational therapist got me to use a crocodile ruler instead. This ruler helped as I had a handle to hold helping me to grip the ruler into place without it doing a dance around the page making my work have wonky lines all over it.

My hands would get tired and I found it hard to use pens and pencils. So the occupational therapist and I did work together with how to hold a pencil to help me write. I was then given pencil grips this helped me to have more control of my writing when trying to form the letters.

I also had a slopping board to help me with writing as it helped me to keep good posture and when I used to write I couldn’t write in a straight line all my sentences would slop of the page.

In primary school I was also given a foot block. A foot block is quite simply a block that you put under your feet when sitting. I had one of these to help me have the correct posture at the table and my feet didn’t actually touch the ground so without the block my feet would be lifted in mid air.

3. Sitting At The Front In Class

In primary and secondary school I would sit at the front or near the front in every single one of my lessons. This was for a number of different reasons:

  • So I could see the board better
  • So the teacher could keep an eye on me as I was the slowest at copying from the board so they would normally check that I had the right stuff written down
  • So I could concentrate more and not get so distracted
  • I also sat at the front so my LSA could sit next to me so that they could help me when needed.

4. Occupational Therapy, Physio Therapy & Conductive Education

At Primary School when I was in year 2 I started Conductive education. I would do afternoon sessions and after school sessions too. We would work on stretches, balance and writing to name a few. We also had lunch club where we would learn how to use a knife and fork to help with my posture I put my elbows on the table to help me sit up. We even went swimming and did some baking.

At Primary and Secondary school I did both occupational Therapy also known as OT and Physio Therapy. I would work on improving my writing and creating the shape of each letter and not going off the page. I did stretches and core exercises as well as learning how to read the time and do dressing tasks.

5. PE Lessons

At Primary School I did do PE lessons however I was put into a different group. Everyone in the group had a disability. Before doing an physical activities we would go through our starches with an LSA, we would then maybe play a bit of tennis which I was really bad at, I still am.

Then for some reason I remember during PE lessons we stopped doing PE and started to clean at the classrooms fish tank each week.

They are just a few things I can remember now. I’ll probably think of lots more later so don’t be surprised if you see a part 2!

My Top Tips: Going Back To School After Lockdown

mental health

After months of doing studying online due to Lockdown. The thought of returning to education which isn’t on a screen may feel a little daunting. Here are some of my top tips on how to make this transitioning a little bit smoother .

A New Routine

Many students all over the country will have to start doing COVID tests in school and colleges. As someone with anxiety I know that timetable changes to my day can set me off to feel extremely anxious and I may have panic attacks. To help you overcome this you could maybe write out your time table in a more visual way using lots of different colours and pictures. Or you could have a little notebook full of little affirmations you can look at whilst your waiting to do your test. Many schools and colleges have created videos to show students what the new process will be like. If they haven’t shown you don’t be afraid to ask your teacher as they may have other resources available for you to you which you might find useful.

Eating Breakfast

This next tip might seem a bit silly but when you get up ready for the day make sure you have breakfast this could be some toast, a fruit smoothie or some cereal. If your stuck on what to have I recommend looking at Pinterest they have some really yummy, healthy, breakfast ideas to help kick start your day.

Did you know:

1. Eating breakfast can help you with your memory for the day and your attention span will be a lot better compared to days we’re you don’t have breakfast

2. Eating breakfast can help you have a more positive outlook on your day.

3. People who eat breakfast regularly are less likely to become obese. Their is still a lot of research going into why this may be. One idea is that eating breakfast helps to prevent large fluctuations in your blood glucose levels, helping you control your appetite.

Things To Have In Your Bag

Recently I was talking to one of my friends about returning to education and how they felt about it. They were feeling very worried and scared because their OCD has worsened through the pandemic and they are becoming more and more scared to touch anything or go out.

To help with returning to education they suggested always make sure you have a little bottle of hand sanitiser with you. As well as this they also have stress balls and fidget spinners with them to help them to control intrusive thoughts.

Talk, Talk,Talk

Another tip I have that may seem obvious is talk to someone. You never know you could be helping them too. They might feel the same and it’s nice to feel your not alone. You could speak to a family member, friend, teacher anymore who makes you feel safe.

Be Kind To Yourself

My final tip is remember to be kind to yourself. The transitioning from working from home on our screens to being back having to get ready to the day ahead , catching the bus so your not late for school. Our whole routine is changing. Make sure you do little things just for yourself and give yourself the attention you give to others. This could be watching your favourite TV show, reading a book, having a nice bubble bath. Give yourself breaks enjoy the outside. You could sit in the garden or go on a short walk with your dog. Ground yourself be in the moment. It doesn’t matter what you’re meant to do or shouldn’t have done. Just enjoy the here and now nothing else matters.

I hope some of this helped and I wish you all the very best of luck with going back to school. Sending all positive vibes. If you need any more support I have listed a couple of websites that you may find helpful.

Youn Minds: https://youngminds.org.uk

Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk

Headroom: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/YfRzhXDKSZQxFVn30TlXBj/your-mental-health-toolkit

Bryony 💜

My Top 5 Back To School Tips For Beating That New School Year Anxiety

mental health

It’s that time again after the summer break we’re we are buying new equipment and stationery ready for our new year of school, Sixth Form, College or maybe even University. I don’t know about you but living with anxiety can be hard to cope with when new chapters are starting. So I thought I would share with you some of my tips with coping with the new academic year when you’re feeling anxious.

Pre Nerves

If you are doing higher education at college or university chances are you probably had to go and have an interview with a tutor who teaches on the course you want to do to see if you have got a place on your wanted course. When you get an offer this can be very exciting however the day before you start you might have those ever so helpful doubting thoughts wizzing around your head like crazy. To help me to deal with these unhelpful thoughts I like to write down statements of what I am looking forward to doing or learning on the course for example going on trips or having guest speakers come in. By doing this it helps me to focus on the positives, you might want to write them on your phone or write them down in a notebook that you keep beside your bed or maybe on post it notes and put them around your house.

I would also go into your school, college or university before you start to talk about your concerns for example about your anxiety. I have found that if they know before hand they can support you in making sure you are alright and feel comfortable. I also found this useful as I was told about different departments that I could go to if I felt I wanted to go somewhere more quite or to get additional support for example I could talk to a student development officer.

When you start to pack your school bag make sure you’ve got all that you need. But to help with my anxiety I also like to add to my bag things like a stress ball or maybe even an emergency paper bag that I can use if I feel a panic attack coming on. I do this because it helps me to feel more prepared if something was to happened.

On The Day

When you arrive at your school, college or university for the first day it can sometimes hit you when you reach the entrance. This can make me feel very uncomfortable and worried. I think everyone is looking at me and talking about me. To help me with this I like to pick a letter at random and then try and find as many things as I can beginning with that letter.

My last tip would be don’t put pressure on yourself to talk to everyone or to get to know other students. What I like to do because I find it hard to talk to lots of people is give myself a target of talking to one of the other students and if I talk to more that’s great . I feel that if I put too much pressure on myself then my anxiety gets worse. So go at your own pace theirs no right or wrong answer.

I hope some of these will help you too, I would love to know some of your top tips!

The Theatre Shed Takes CapeAbility To Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019

disability

Can you see our poster?

I had an amazing time with my Shed family performing CapeAbility for the last time on this years Shed Tour. It’s been a crazy adventure full of fun and laughter. We have performed the show at local venues, Brighton Open Air Theatre and finally at this years Edinburgh Fringe.

It feels really strange knowing now that we are not performing CapeAbility again. I really enjoyed playing my character Flint who’s superpower is all about encouraging others. I loved exploring the themes of friendship throughout the production and being able to use my own experiences throughout the production as well as being able to express my feelings.

I loved performing the songs in the production. I loved the messages we were trying to show throughout the production by using lyrics, facial expressions and sign language.

I really enjoyed making the audience feel more involved in the show compared to other shows I have done with different companies.

All in all it has been incredible and I can’t wait until our next Tour in 2021!

If you would like to find out more about this amazing inclusive theatre charity please visit https://thetheatreshed.co.uk

Dear Younger Me: The Night Before Results Day

mental health

The night before results day I still remember like it was yesterday. My thoughts in my head racing around at a hundred miles an hour.

Did I put my name on the paper? Did I do the right level paper? Did I answer the right questions? Did I read the questions correctly? What if I don’t get the grades?

With all these thoughts and emotions running wild whilst I was lying in my bed. My heart began to race and I knew I was going into a panic attack. So I tried to do my visualisation techniques I had learnt in therapy.

Throughout my time at school I had never been one of the high achieving students in my year. I found writing hard not only because I found spelling tricky but also making sure my writing was going in a straight line. I did a lot of practicing with writing in my OT sessions. It took me longer to write things down than my peers. I found maths extremely difficult I saw it in a way that not many other people did, I found it so confusing.

Looking back now doing all that revision, opening the first pages of that exam paper, then thinking after the exam if I would pass or not and just hoping I would. This time in my life was so stressful I was with CAMHS and being diagnosed with anxiety and depression let alone the fact I was getting bullied at school the minute got in through the school gates.

That night lying awake in my bed just wanting to know my grades the following day. Counting down the time when I would go to school for the last time pick up an envelope and see these grades staring back at me. I believed that my results had the power to not only change my whole life but dictate it too!

However my family and close friends reminded me that I was more than just some letters on a piece of paper. All those things exams don’t test like the fact I want to help others or that my strengths were outside the school grounds like horse riding. My mum said to me we don’t just need doctors or lawyers everyone has a special skill they can offer to the world however big or small they may seem.

I know it’s terrifying and scary and you may feel like these grades will plan out your whole life. Doing all those practice tests then having to mark them to see if you would have passed an old exam paper. Your grades do not own you and do not have the power to stop you being who you are!

You’re going to be OK . Follow your heart and follow your dreams show the world who you really are because we are all worth more than some letters and numbers on a piece of paper and all have special skills to offer the world!

You’re going to be OK!

How Music Helped Me Through Bullying

mental health

For many years during my time at primary and secondary school I was bullied by lots of different groups of people. The bullying however got a lot worse when I entered second school. At secondary school it didn’t even start on the first day but on my induction day. I was so upset and scared I didn’t want to go to that school in September, I remember coming home in floods of tears just crying on the sofa.

For a while in my first couple of years at secondary school I thought the people in the group I hangout out with were my friends. Turned out I was only in their group so they could pick on me. To begin with I didn’t see it as bullying I just wanted to fit in but then it got a lot worse. They would bully me for many reasons for example being disabled, not wearing fashionable clothes and having curly hair they would throw drinks at me and in my hair at break and at at lunch.

The bullying started to escalate with older and young years bullying me too hitting and punching me. Other people in my year would laugh at me during class I got told several times to kill myself.

The bullying I was experiencing made me feel very sducidal I just wanted the pain to stop. When I tried to tell teachers what was going on they would dismiss it telling me to except it or to feel sorry for the people bullying me.

Over time I started to retreat into myself not wanting to be with anyone or socialise I spent a lot of time in my room as I felt safe in my bedroom when I went out I thought everyone was looking, talking and laughing at me.

I found it extremely difficult to express how I was feeling and what was going on to my parents. And that’s when I found out that when I listened to my music the lyrics would just speak to me and I felt that I wasn’t alone in how I felt. I found that music could express how I was feeling to the outside world as I found it super difficult to try and express my thoughts and feelings to the outside world. I found that music also helped me to keep going as a lot of the time when I came back from school I would be crying sometimes I cried myself to sleep wishing I wouldn’t wake up.

I liked listening to music as it helped me to try and make sense of all the thoughts in my head that would race around in my head at 100 miles an hour. I found it extremely difficult and confusing to try and think why people treated me the way I did for along time at school. Because I had been bullied for a long time before I started secondary school I thought of it as a new start so when I was getting bullied more and more at secondary school I started to think their was something wrong with me. And that I deserved to be treated the way I did because I started to believe I was a bad person and that everyone’s lives would be better if I wasn’t here.

Listening to music helped me a lot in not feeling alone and that maybe others felt similar to me as lots of people made me feel like I was a freak. I also found that music helped me to face the upcoming days going to school as sometimes a certain lyric made me feel empowered and that maybe I could get through the day a little bit better.

I remember at the time my favourite band JLS helped me massively, I felt I could relate to them as I found out that one of them had experienced bullying and another member of the group was a young career helping to look after his mum during his childhood. As my sister was a young career for me.

I still love listening to music now but throughout my difficult time at school music played a big part in trying to just get through one day at a time feeling that others interpreted the songs lyrics in a similar way to me! The bullying still affects me to this day as I was diagnosed with PTSD because of the bullying that happened to me.

Exams & Self Care

mental health

It’s that time again for many students exam season . As we all know exams can be very stressful and challenging and this can have a negative impact on our mental health. Sometimes we feel we have a lot of pressure to do well from outsiders. You may feel that if you don’t reach your targets or your not the best in your class you will have a higher chance of failing your exams. This can be hard as we are always told in school your grades affect what jobs you will be able to do in the future and what kind of career you will be able to have.

I feel that during this very stressful period a lot of us forget about giving ourselves a break and actually remember to be kind not just to others but also to ourselves. We are told a lot about taking breaks during our revision time but I sometimes find this hard as I’m not sure when to use it.

So looking back on doing my exams from doing my GCSE’s to BTECS I thought I would share with you some self care ideas you could do in between revision and your exams.

During my revision time I can get very distracted and find it hard to remember information.

To help me with getting less distracted and help me to ground myself I like to think of a letter from the alphabet and then come up with as many objects I can see beginning with that letter in the room I am in.

Or I like to do the 5,4,3,2,1 activity. This is were you think of:

5 things you can see

4 things you can touch

3 things you can hear

2 things you can smell

1 say one of your greatest achievements out loud

Sometimes you might just want to forget about the revision and just relax. I love to listen to my favourite music or maybe watch a video by one of my favourite YouTubers or a TV program.

If I have a longer break I enjoy taking my dog out for a walk in the fresh air and grounding myself in the here and now with nature.

You could maybe do some easy baking like a chocolate fridge cake. You could get creative and do some drawing or painting. You could make yourself a board with nice things others have said to you to help boost your confidence when revising for a tricky subject.

Another thing I like to do in between revision is go on websites such as Pinterest and look at lovely inspiring quotes and funny pictures of animals .

Make sure you drink plenty of water and eat regular meals. Listen to your body it is not a race everyone has different energy levels and study levels. If you are struggling with anything tell a family member, friend or someone you trust they can support you.

Please remember all that matters is that you try your best, we are not defined by our grades, you are worth so much more never forget that!