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Additional Needs and Disabilities Education News SEND Surveys

ATLAS Consultation: SEND and Alternative Provision Green Paper

On Wednesday 29th June, ATLAS is taking part in consultation about the SEND and Alternative Provision Green Paper alongside the Council for Disabled Children. All young people who take part will receive a £15 voucher for their time and expertise!

If you are a young person with additional needs and disabilities living in Surrey (UK) and want to be involved, get in touch with us through social media or email us: ATLAS@surreycc.gov.uk

What is the SEND and Alternative Provision Green Paper?

The SEND and Alternative Provision Green Paper is a Review into the SEND system that the Department for Education made in 2019, they did this to understand why the system was struggling, despite the potential and vision of the Children and Families Act 2014 as it was becoming financially unsustainable and wasn’t always resulting in positive outcomes. In March 2022 the Review was published as a Green Paper paving the way for change.

Green Papers are consultation documents produced by the Government that looks at several key areas in the system that need change and make proposals for that change. These include national standards, role of schools, education, health and care plans, accountability, and support. The aim of the Green Paper is to allow people both inside and outside Parliament to give the department feedback on its policy or legislative proposals.

What is the SEND Review?

The SEND Review looks at ways to make sure that the SEND system is reliable, high quality and united across education, health, and care. It also makes sure that money is being spent fairly, efficiently, and effectively as well as making sure that the support available to children and young people is sustainable in the future. This is being led by the Department for Education, working closely with other government departments / partners in education, health, and social care.

What is their next step?

A consultation phase will be taking place where a group of stakeholders will have an opportunity to review and reflect on the proposals, giving families frustrated by the existing, complicated, and bureaucratic system of support the opportunity to shape how a new system will work in the future and give them confidence that their local school will meet their children’s needs so they can achieve their full potential.

3 key challenges facing the SEND and alternative provision system.

  • Navigating the SEND system and alternative systems is not a positive experience for too many children, young people and their families.
  • Outcomes for children and young people with SEND systems or in alternative ones are consistently worse.
  • Despite the continuing investment, the system is not financially sustainable.

Detailed proposals in the SEND and alternative provision green paper include:

The consultation will be looking at the following proposals:

  • Setting new national standards across education, health and care to build on the foundations created through the Children and Families Act 2014, for a higher performing SEND system.
  •  A simplified EHCP through plans to make them more flexible, supporting parents to make informed choices with a list of appropriate placements tailored to their child’s needs meaning less time spent researching for the right school.
  • Councils to introduce ‘local inclusion plans’ that bring together early years, schools and post-16 education with health and care services, improving oversight and transparency through the publication of new ‘local inclusion dashboards’ to make roles and responsibilities of all partners within the system clearer for parents and young people, helping to make better outcomes.
  • A new national framework for councils to match national standards and offer clarity on the level of support expected and put the system on financial stability in the future, changing the culture and practice in mainstream education to be more inclusive and better at identifying and supporting needs, including earlier intervention and improved support.
  • Improving workforce training through the introduction of a new SENCo NPQ for school SENCos and increasing the number of staff with an accredited level 3 qualification in early years settings.
  • A reformed and integrated role for alternative provision (AP), with a new delivery model in every local area focused on early intervention. AP will form an integral part of local SEND systems with improvements to settings and more funding stability.

More Information

For more information see the Council for Disabled Children’s Website and find a summary of the SEND review on the Department for Education’s gov.uk webiste.

Categories
Celebrities Inspirational People Media

Tourette’s Awareness: Billie Eilish’s Story

Who is Billie Eilish?

Billie Eilish with blonde shoulder length hair wearing a black top smiling.

Billie Eilish is a well-known international pop icon and lives in America, she has released two albums and an EP, she is also a seven-time Grammy Award winner, and she lives every day with Tourette Syndrome.

What is Tourette’s Syndrome?

Tourette’s is a nervous system disorder that presents with repetitive and uncontrolled movements (liking blinking or shoulder shrugging) or sounds. These are called “tics”. The condition is often present from childhood, but can be diagnosed later in life.

Billie shared that she’s had Tourette’s her “whole life”.

Billie Eilish and Tourette’s

While Billie has spoken openly about her experience with Tourette Syndrome, she hasn’t gone into too much detail.

Billie also hasn’t spoken about what her tics are, only that “certain things” can increase the intensity or trigger episodes.

Unfortunately, fans made YouTube videos of her tics which include her shrugging her shoulders, blinking rapidly, and looking upward. As a result, Billie shared her diagnosis through Instagram:

“I would love to get this straight so everyone can stop acting goofy… I have diagnosed Tourette’s … My Tourette’s makes easy things a lot harder. Certain things increase and/or trigger the intensity of the tics. But it’s something I grew up with and am used to suppressing them only makes things worse after the moment is over

Extract from Billie’s post on Instagram revealing her Tourette’s diagnosis
Billie Eilish with green and black shoulder length hair in a cream coat smiling.

Billie has talked more about living with Tourette Syndrome in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres in 2019. She said on Ellen that she hadn’t spoken publicly about her condition before because she didn’t want her condition to define her. However, she now feels more positively about sharing her diagnosis:

“I think I also really learned that a lot of my fans have it, which made me feel kind of more at home with saying it, and also I felt like there was a connection there”.

You can watch the interview on: Billie Eilish Gets Candid About Tourette Syndrome – YouTube

That’s not the only interview Billie has done about Tourette’s. She gave fans insight into what her episodes are like while speaking in another interview one month prior:

“The internet hasn’t really seen the bad ones [tics], because I’m really good at suppressing them. The thing is, the longer you suppress them, the worse they get afterwards.”

Billie at the o2 in London on her Happier Than Ever World Tour

Billie also talked a bit about her Tourette’s in a much recent interview this year with David Letterman on his Netflix show: My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. She shared how people react to her tics and how certain things sets the tics off, such as the lights.

“The most common way people react is they laugh. Because they think I’m trying to be funny. They think I’m doing a funny move. And so they go, like, “Ha!” And I’m always left incredibly offended by that, or they go “What?” and then I go, “I have Tourettes”

She also talks about how other artists have shared with her that they also have Tourette’s:

“So many people have it that you would never know, a couple artists came forward and said, “I’ve always had Tourettes.” I’m not gonna out them, they don’t wanna talk about it. But that was actually really interesting to me, because I was like “You do?” Like, “What?”

You can watch learn more by watching the full interview Billie Eilish Opens Up About Her Tourettes Syndrome | My Next Guest Needs No Introduction | Netflix – YouTube.

Billie Eilish is currently on tour!

Billie Eilish stands on stage at the O2 arena, a close up of her face is shown on the screen behind her.
Picture taken of Billie on stage in the 02 by Joshua Buxton

On Saturday 11th June, one of our apprentices, Joshua Buxton, went to see Billie Eilish at the O2 in London, here is what he had to say about his experience:

“Billie’s concert on Saturday was the best concert I have ever been to, it was amazing seeing Billie in real life for the first time and singing along to all of my favourite songs as well. She also interacted with everyone in the audience as well as making sure that everyone was safe and enjoying themselves during the show, I had a great time and I cannot wait for the next concert!”

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Additional Needs and Disabilities Autism epilepsy Neurodiversity Question Card seizures

Is there a link between epilepsy and autism?

What is epilepsy and seizures?

Epilepsy is a condition that causes seizures this is due to an imbalance in brain chemistry so messages that travel between nerve cells or neurons become scrambled. A seizure is a burst of uncontrolled electrical brain activity between the brain cells common symptoms of this are stiffening or jerking of muscles, confusion, loss of consciousness, unusual thoughts or sensations.

Here are the most common types of seizures in individuals with autism:

  • Generalised tonic-clonic seizures sometimes called generalised onset motor seizures– it affects both halves of the brain and causes both stiffening of muscles and twitching or jerking.
  • Focal Onset Aware Seizures- they start in one area of the brain and may cause loss of awareness, or the person remain fully aware during the episode. This is the most common type of seizure for those who have epilepsy.
  • Febrile seizures- this type of seizure happens to children aged 3 months to 6 years and they occur when the child has a high fever. This may be either a general or focal seizure. Sometimes this may lead up to the development of epilepsy.

Is there a link between autism and epilepsy?

Yes

20-40% of people with autism have epilepsy. Autistic people are more likely to develop epilepsy compared to those who are neurotypical and people with epilepsy are more likely to be autistic than those without. The risk of developing seizures increases as person gets older in life.

One theory suggests that the overlap in conditions may be because they share common biological mechanisms such as too much excitation brain which may stem from too little inhibition (an imbalance of the two). However, many experts remain sceptical about this theory despite the data to support this claim from a study published in 2003.

Other disorders related to involve seizures also involve seizures these include Landau-Kleffner Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, Angelman Syndrome and Tuberous sclerosis complex and Fragile X and many other syndromes.

Potential signs to look out for

It can be difficult to recognize seizure activity when the person is autistic this may be because of communication barriers and the overlap in symptoms of the two. Cognitive delay, impaired social interaction, aggression and irritable behaviour can be seen in children with epilepsy but also if in those who are autistic as well which makes it confusing to find the cause.

However, there are some red flags to note for seizure which may be useful:

  • Staring episodes (could be a sign of absence or atypical absence seizures)
  • Stiffening (could be a sign of tonic seizures)
  • Rhythmic shaking or twitching (could be a sign of focal aware/simple partial seizures)
  • Loss of attention (could be assign of absence or focal impaired awareness/complex seizures)

Atypical absence seizure– Starts in both sides of the brain and is unusual or different compared to typical absence seizures.

Absence seizures– Starts in both sides of the brain and causes a short period of “blanking out” or staring into spaces.

Focal onset impaired awareness seizure– Begins in one side of the brain and the person has a change in their level of awareness during some or all of the seizure.

Tips for managing epilepsy.
  • Know that it could happen– making sure friends, family and carers are aware the possibility of epilepsy developing in someone with autism.
  • Get a personalised plan– creating a plan with doctors can help family and healthcare professionals to manage the seizures.
  • Regular medication– it’s important to medication as instructed if prescribed.

Identify triggers-not everyone has triggers before a seizure but common signs to look out for is being overtired, missing meals and forgetting to take epilepsy medication. Keeping a diary of seizures can help to see if there are any triggers.

  • Avoid heavy drinking– heavy drinking can cause seizures and make medication less effective.
  • Regular reviews– this is important as it can see if your treatment plan is going well. If you find doctors appointment there are many adaptions in place to make this experience less stressful like asking if there is a quiet room or asking to book the first or last appointment of the day, so you don’t have to wait too long for example.
  • Safety checks– a safety check can help to identify and lower the risks before someone with epilepsy does an activity.

Side effects of anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs)

AEDs are the most common used treatment for epilepsy and can be quite effective as they can help to control seizures in around 7 out of 10 people. However, side effects are common when starting the treatment and may pass in a few days or weeks or may not appear for a few weeks.

Some common side effects of AEDs include:

  • A lack of energy
  • Agitation
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Uncontrollable shaking (tremors)
  • Unwanted hair growth or hair loss
  • Swollen gums
  • Rashes – this could a sign of a serious reaction so you should contact your GP or specialist.

Disclaimer- The medical information presented here is just information, not medical advice and should be used for educational purposes. If medical advice is needed you should consult your GP or any other appropriate medical professional.

Sources

Autism and epilepsy: Is there a relationship?

The link between autism and epilepsy explained

Epilepsy and autism

Autism and seizures

A guide to managing epilepsy in autism

Treatment for epilepsy

By Reneé

Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities Personal Story SEND Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Processing Disorder

What is a sensory processing disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is an additional need and disability that affects how your brain processes your senses. It can affect all of the senses, sometimes all at once or sometimes individually.

How does SPD affect me?

It takes a while to process information and the things I do in day-to-day life. It can take me longer to do things because I am thinking about it constantly.

Some examples of things that are difficult:

  • Sound
    • It’s a struggle to find things that are not too loud.
    • Fire alarms are a very fast and loud sound that really hurts my ears. Ear defenders can help block out the sound – they are not for listening to music!
  • Touch
    • Some textures can be overwhelming.
    • I don’t like people to touch me without asking me beforehand unless it is an emergency.
  • Sight
    • Sunlight can be too bright!
    • Flashing lights can make it difficult for me to see and I can find that they are sensory overloading.
    • Smoke (Fire) – can’t see where you are going/irritates the eyes and makes them itchy.
  • Taste
    • I don’t like lumpy mash! How food feels in my mouth is really important. It can change over time what textures I like and those I don’t: I used to not like nuts but now I do!
    • I don’t drink squash at all now, I try to cut it out. Water on its own is good.
  • Smell
    • Nail varnish, petrol, and cigarettes are smells that are too strong. If they come close to me, I need to get away.
  • Other
    • Crowds can be claustrophobic as there is not much room: there is so many people around that you can’t move around properly.
    • New places and new people because there is lots of new information I have to process!

Even though I find some sensory experiences difficult, I also use sensory experiences to help myself and keep myself calm. Some things that I enjoy:

  • Sound
    • Classical Disney music, normally piano music because I find it a quiet, mindful sort of sound.
    • Nature sounds, especially quiet song birds.
  • Touch
    • Squishy Fidget toys and cuddly soft toys are very comforting, ground me, and help me to feel secure. Cuddly toys are really helpful when you need to go to sleep.
    • Blankets are really useful too. I like blankets to be smooth and soft to touch, dark blue in colour. I like blue when I am trying to sleep.
    • I like it when people I trust and know tuck me into bed, link arms with me, or sometimes give me a hug!
    • Petting my dog, Honey, can help me calm down quickly. Lots of people find pets helpful!
  • Sight
    • I like looking up at the stars in the sky at night. Which also helps me go to sleep because it is dark.
  • Taste
    • Soft and smooth textures – like when you are eating yoghurt.
  • Smell
    • The smell of homemade food, for example cauliflower cheese as well as chips. It is really comforting!
  • Temperature
    • I prefer cold temperatures, for example in sensory rooms where they are often normal to cold temperatures with a heater if you need it.

How you can support someone with SPD?

If they are struggling, you can:

  • Take them to a quiet room.
  • Help them find their fidget toys, or provide them with some.
  • Play some music that they enjoy.
  • Offer them a glass of water.
  • If they need you to, repeat information.
  • Do not judge them.
  • Do not stare at them.
  • Be patient and understanding.
  • Call their support person if they become non-verbal or give them something to write on.
Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities Celebration Celebrities Inspirational People Learning Difficulties Media SEND

MENCAP Myth Busters and ATLAS

What is Mencap?

Mencap is a charity in the UK that works with people who have a learning disability.

What is their goal?

Mencap want a world where people with a learning disability are valued equally, listened too and included.

This is what some of their objectives are:

  • We want to have made a significant and measurable improvement to people’s attitudes towards people with a learning disability.
  • We want to have contributed to improving the quality of life for people with a learning disability.
  • We want more people with a learning disability to have stronger friendships and relationships, and be better connected to their communities

If you want to read their other objectives, as well as other information about Mencap, go on to this link:

About us – What we do | Mencap

Who are the Mythbusters?

Mythbusters are a group of eighteen ambassadors who are using their platforms to tackle the stigma and lack of awareness around learning disabilities.

One of the ambassadors Jessica Jane who is a Paralympic champion and campaigner wants more people to know that just because a person does not look like they have a disability, does not mean that they don’t.

ATLAS Logo

Who is ATLAS and what do they do?

ATLAS (Accept, Teach, Listen, Access, Support) is a participation group run by the User Voice and Participation team also does similar work as Mencap, by empowering children and young people (Their parents and carers involved too) with additional needs and disabilities to share their opinions about the services they use.

This is what some of their objectives are:

  • To raise our voices on important topics from the perspective of young people with additional needs and disabilities, living in Surrey (UK)
  • To provide feedback on and co-produce Surrey services for young people with additional needs and disabilities
  • To create a safe space for young people with additional needs and disabilities to share their experiences confidentially  

If you want to read their other objectives, as well as other information about ATLAS, go on to this link:

ATLAS Aims, Priority Areas and Action Cards – ATLAS Surrey (surreyatlas.uk)

ATLAS sessions take place (Virtual and in person) on the first and third Wednesdays of each month, the location of the sessions is in Epsom and Woking.

Atlas Ambassadors

ATLAS also has ambassadors, these ambassadors help by raising the voices of all the ATLAS members and supporting with how the groups are run.

If you want to know more information about the groups, then go on to this link:

ATLAS Groups – ATLAS Surrey (surreyatlas.uk)

In order to achieve their objects, ATLAS have made selected a couple of areas that need to be prioritised, these are some of the areas that they have made a priority:

Ableism, Stigma and Discrimination

  • ‘Able-Bodied’ should not be the goal
  • Power of language and attitudes
  • Media Representation
  • Need for co-production and professionals with lived experience
  • Self-description

Autism

  • Acceptance
  • Awareness
  • Emergency services
  • Helping professionals to understand how to work with autistic people -Co-morbidity with mental health

If you want to read about other areas that ATLAS have made a priority, then go on to this link:

ATLAS Aims, Priority Areas and Action Cards – ATLAS Surrey (surreyatlas.uk)

Action cards and their importance

Action cards are themes and topics that young people raise as important issues that need immediate action.

An action card is raised when four or more young people share similar feedback or think that it should be raised on a specific topic.

The UVP team then step in and share what the young people have said to the relevant services, and in return receive a response from them within two months.

Action cards can only be closed with the consent of children and young people.

If you would like further information about Mencap and ATLAS, then you can follow them on social media, their social media will be listed down below.

Mencap

Website:

Learning Disability – Down’s Syndrome – Williams syndrome | Mencap

Facebook: Mencap – Home | Facebook

Twitter: Mencap (@mencap_charity) / Twitter

Youtube: Mencap – YouTube

Linkedin: Mencap | LinkedIn

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mencap

ATLAS

Website:

About User Voice and Participation – Surrey County Council (surreycc.gov.uk) (Undergoing change)

Facebook: Surrey ATLAS – Home | Facebook

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/surreyatlas/

Youtube: User Voice & Participation – YouTube

Twitter: ATLAS Youth Advisors (@SurreyAtlas) / Twitter

Categories
Achievement Additional Needs and Disabilities Celebrities Inspirational People Uncategorized

Stephen Hawking and his life with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Who is Stephen Hawking?

Stephen Hawking (Pictured Above)

Stephen Hawking was an English theoretical physicist (a scientist who uses maths, calculations, chemistry, and biology), cosmologist (a scientist who studies the universe) and author. He was also the director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology and the Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge.

His life work includes the origins and structure of the universe, the discovery that black holes emits radiation as well as being an energetic supporter of quantum mechanics. Also, Stephen achieved profitable success with discussing his theories and cosmology in general.

Over the years, he wrote/co-wrote a total of 15 books. A few of the most noteworthy books that he wrote are A Brief History of Time, The Universe in a Nutshell, A Briefer History of Time, and The Grand Design.

What was his disability?

Stephen in front of a blackboard.

Even though he was born with no disabilities, in 1963, Stephen was diagnosed with an early-onset slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease which is known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) however, in the USA it is referred as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He had a life expectancy of 2 years, but he lived with the disease until he passed away in 2018.

The disease gradually paralysed him over the decades due to the nerves that controlled his muscles shutting down that led him to lose his mobility and had to use a wheelchair. After the loss of his speech, he communicated through a speech-generating device originally through use of a handheld switch and eventually by using a single cheek muscle.

How did the media accurately portray his life and disability?

Stephen Hawking in The Big Bang Theory (Left), The Simpsons (Middle) and Little Britain (Right)

Stephen had guest appearances on TV shows such as The Simpsons, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Futurama, and The Big Bang Theory. In 1992, a documentary about his life was released which was called A Brief History of Time.

He also hosted and narrated Genius, a six-part television series which tackled scientific questions that have been asked throughout history. Stephen was also featured in another biographical documentary film called Hawking in 2013.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Hawking in Hawking (2004)

He had two autobiographical movies about his life, the first one was called Hawking which premiered in the UK in April 2004 on BBC1, it had Benedict Cumberbatch playing him and focused on his early life as a PhD student at Cambridge University and the onset of motor neuron disease.

It was nominated for Best Single Drama in the BAFTA TV Awards in 2005. Benedict’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking was the first portrayal of the physicist on screen, and he won the Golden Nymph for Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Film / miniseries and received his first nomination for a BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor.

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything (2015)

The second autobiographical movie about Stephen Hawking’s life was called The Theory of Everything which was released on January 1st, 2015 in the UK. This time Eddie Redmayne was cast to play Stephen Hawking. The film focused on his early life and school days, his marriage to Jane Wilde, the progression of his ALS and his scientific triumphs.

The film received a lot of praise and positive reviews as well as receiving multiple awards and nominations. Most of the praise went to Eddie’s portrayal of Stephen as he spent months researching all of Stephen’s interviews as well as his accent and speech patterns to accurately portray him.

Was he an inspiration to the disabled community?

Stephan’s quote about disability.

Even though it took him a while to accept his disability, he started to accept the mantle of role model for people with additional needs and disabilities in the 1990s by lecturing and participating in various fundraising activities. He also signed the Charter for the Third Millennium on Disability with eleven other humanitarians.

In August 2012, Stephen narrated the “Enlightenment” segment of the 2012 Summer Paralympics opening ceremony in London. In 2014 he accepted the Ice Bucket Challenge to promote ALS/MND awareness and raise contributions for research. His children volunteered to accept the challenge on his behalf as he was advised not to have ice poured over him.

Categories
accessibility Additional Needs and Disabilities Autism Care Education GCSE Learning Difficulties Mental Health Self-Care Uncategorized

Autism and GCSEs 

As an autistic student who is about to sit their GCSEs, I find it an incredibly daunting time for many reasons- the workload, fear of failure and finding ways to revise. That’s why I’m going to share with you some tips that will make your life a bit easier. 

Self care

Your mental health should always be your top priority. Period. Although it may not seem like it now, school is actually such a small part of our lives. Yes, it’s important to try your best in school to get the grades you need and deserve. However, in order to fully function and do that, we need to prioritise ourselves. Especially for people with autism, we need a sensory break from the senses around us. Have a nap. Do some skincare. Watch a TV series. Whatever it is, you deserve a break! 

Revising little and often 

There often is a misconception that you need to revise for hours and hours on end to get those desired grades. Actually, it has been proven that your brain can absorb information more efficiently if you revise in small consistent increments. Try out the pomodoro method- a video is linked below that explains it in more detail: 

Find revision methods that work for YOU 

We are always told that specific revision methods are supposed to be the holy grail for exam success- but do they work for everyone? Some people prefer to revise in a more hands on way and others prefer to make flashcards. Find methods that engage you and get the information to sink in. Some good revision strategies are using Quizlet or Anki flashcards and blurting. A video for blurting is here: https://youtu.be/GPRj1ZhG2Uw  Both of these methods consist of active recall where you retrieve information from your brain. You can adapt these methods to be quizzes which you can test yourself with which can motivate you more to revise! 

These exams don’t define you as a person!! 

This time can be so pressuring for so many of us and we can sometimes think that these grades will determine our whole lives ahead of us and that we won’t make it into our chosen paths. The number or letter that we get on a piece of paper doesn’t determine our worth as a person, it’s actually far from it. It doesn’t show how kind or thoughtful we are. Whether you don’t get the grades you hope for or get better than you expect, you’re still an extraordinary human being. Remember that. 

Know that whatever you’re feeling is valid 

I’m here to let you know that however you may be feeling is completely valid. It’s completely okay to be feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. In fact, it shows that you’re willing to do well and succeed. Use those feelings and channel them as power and motivation to get yourself to where you want to be. Your hard work will pay off and your future self will seriously thank you for it when you open that exam paper in the summer 🙂 

Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities Book Review Film Media SEND

Wonder: is Auggie’s disability portrayed to a high standard?

What is Wonder about?

on the left the book cover of Wonder is shown which has the outline of a face with short black hair and Wonder written over a blue eye. And on the right it is an image of the film cover, a boy stood wearing a motorcycle helmet with the visor up, wonder is written over the top
Picture of the book Wonder (left) and Poster of the movie adaptation (right)

Wonder was published in 2012 and it was written by R.J. Palacio. Wonder tells the story of 10-year-old Auggie Pullman, a boy with facial differences and his experiences dealing with the condition as he adapts to regular school life. It comes with ups and downs that involves different forms of bullying.

However, there are also brighter aspects as the book also explores other themes such as friendship and compassion as well as Auggie’s journey and self-confidence throughout the book.

The book was popular enough with readers to receive three additional books that relates to the story called Auggie and Me, 365 of Wonder and We’re all Wonders.  The novel also gained a film adaptation that was produced by Lionsgate.

The film adaptation of Wonder was released on November 17th, 2017. It received positive reviews from critics and audiences, with many praising the actor’s portrayal of the characters that were in the book including Jacob Tremblay who played Auggie in the movie.

How was Auggie’s disability presented in the novel / movie?

Screenshot of the film wonder, close-up of Auggie's face. Prosthetics have been used to give the actor a facial difference.
Auggie (played by Jacob Tremblay) in the film.

The disability that Auggie has in the novel and movie is called Treacher Collins syndrome. This is a rare genetic condition that affects the way a child’s face develops, especially the cheekbones, jaws, ears, and eyelids.

The book was inspired by a real-life encounter that the author’s son had with a child who had a similar disability to the one that Auggie has in the novel. This encounter as well as a song called “Wonder” inspired the author to write the book hoping that it could illustrate a valuable lesson.

Even though the movie was received well by viewers, there were heavy criticisms mainly from the disabled community about casting a non-disabled actor to play Auggie in the movie. He was made to look disfigured with extensive makeup and had to fake a speech impediment.

Jacob Tremblay did reach out to children with craniofacial differences to accurately portray their experiences, however the critics condemned the director for not trying hard enough to find an actual disabled actor to play Auggie.

How were certain topics tackled throughout the novel and movie?

From L to R: Jacob Tremblay as "Auggie," Elle McKinnon as "Charlotte" and Noah Jupe as "Jack Will" in WONDER.
From Left to Right: Jacob Tremblay as “Auggie,” Elle McKinnon as “Charlotte” and Noah Jupe as “Jack Will” in Wonder.

A major aspect that is presented in the novel and movie is that even though Wonder begins from Auggie’s point of view. However it soon switches to the perspectives of his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, his best friend, and others.

The author did this as she wanted the reader to see how all the character’s voices converge to portray a community as it struggles with differences, as well as showing the true nature of empathy, compassion, acceptance, friendship, and kindness.

My final thoughts on Wonder

Even though the film is criticised for not trying to cast an actual disabled actor to play the role of Auggie which indirectly made the film less realistic, the story itself was really well written and won the hearts of everyone who has read the book and watched the film.

Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities Celebrities Deafness Inspirational People Media

Rose Alying Ellis: the first deaf Eastenders character and Strictly Come Dancing contestant

Who is Rose Alying Ellis?

Close up of Rose Ayling Ellis laughing during an interview
Picture of Rose in an interview

Rose Alying Ellis is a British actress who was born deaf and mostly relies on sign language, however she often performs using Sign-supported English to reflect her own communication style and make it clear for audiences to understand her. She first gained an interest in acting after taking part in a filming weekend that was run by the National Deaf Children’s Society. It was on that weekend that she met a deaf film director that would kickstart her entire acting career.

Rose first acting role in a 25-minute movie called “The End” that was an award-winning short movie. She took part in several stage productions and in a music video by the Vamps as well as being a part of other short films. Rose also had minor roles in certain TV shows such as Casualty before finally landing her big role in EastEnders as Frankie Bridge in 2020 and becoming the first deaf celebrity to be on Strictly Come Dancing and becoming the winner in 2021.

Her time on EastEnders

Rose Ayling Ellis in character as Frankie Bridges on Eastenders
Rose as Frankie Bridge

EastEnders announced that Rose would be joining the cast as Frankie Bridge back in February 2020 and she wouldn’t make her on screen debut until a few months later. On the 18th of May, she was introduced as Ben Mitchell’s friend after he was diagnosed with deafness after the “Boat Crash” Storyline. She became a series regular while taking part in a few storylines in EastEnders over the past 2 years as well as getting a job at the Prince Albert Bar. She recently took a break from the show to focus on Strictly, however it was announced that she will return in the beginning of 2022.

The producers and writers of EastEnders were proud to create the soap’s first deaf character. They wanted to see more representation of deafness in the media and the use of sign language in scenes marks the first time it was used in any Soap Operas by an actual deaf actress. EastEnders also received a lot of praise with featuring a story on hearing loss and introducing a new deaf character. Rose also talked about her excitement with joining the cast and having her character being portrayed as a positive, upbeat person who embraces the deaf community and raises awareness for the deaf people in the UK and British Sign Language as well as being the first deaf character on the soap.

Her time on Strictly Come Dancing

Rose Ayling Ellis and Giovanni Pernice holding the strictly come dancing trophy together
Rose and Giovanni after winning Strictly Come Dancing 2021

On the 19th series of Strictly Come Dancing, Rose was one of the 15 celebrities that was confirmed to be taking part this year. This marked the first time that a Deaf Celebrity was on Strictly or on any other major shows such as I’m a Celebrity or Britain’s Got Talent. Rose won the hearts of the entire world and eventually went on to become the champions alongside her partner Giovanni Pernice. In an interview that she did before the show began, she said “I have a hearing aid, so I pick up some of the music and I can hear the beat. I can hear someone singing, but I can’t identify exact words. I also feel the vibrations” which made people believe that she will do well on the show.

During Rose’s time on Strictly Come Dancing, she rose more awareness to the deaf community as well as having some memorable moments such as scoring 40 points for their tango in week 6 which was the earliest “perfect score” in the show’s history. But in week 8, their Couple’s Choice dance featured a period of silence, this was included as a tribute to the deaf community, that same dance also won the TV Moment of the Year at the Heats Unmissable Awards.

How did she bring more awareness to the deaf community?

Since Rose won Strictly, she has raised more awareness of the deaf community helped to increase the number of people wanting to learn sign language: google searches for BSL have gone up by 448%. This would be beneficial as even learning a little bit of sign language can allow a hearing person to make a difference to the deaf community and help them understand one another. As well as that, she also shown how deaf people can do anything that they wanted to do.

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ADHD SEND Uncategorized

Current Action Cards for Surrey – January 2022

What is an Action Card:

Action Cards are themes and topics that you as young people raise as important issues that need action!

When 4 or more young people raise similar feedback or decide that an action card should be raised on a particular topic, an Action Card is raised.

The User Voice and Participation (UVP) Team then have 2 months to raise the voices of the young people and get a response from the relevant services to feedback for review.

Action Cards are only closed with the consent of children and young people.

This year, we are dividing Action Cards into National and Local Action Cards. We have done this so that we can categorise each action card and know which Action Cards relate to services specifically in Surrey and those that relate to the whole of the UK.

What is a Local Action Card?

A local action card relate to topics young people would like to stop, start or change in Surrey specifically.

What is a National Action Card?

A national action card is similar to the local action cards however it can relate to various different services around the UK.

What will we be doing this Year?

Going into 2022 we have a total:

  • 3 Local Action Cards
  • 6 National & Local Action Cards
  • 4 Local Question Cards
  • 1 National Question Card.

Local Action Cards:

Action Card 176:

  • As young people with additional needs and disabilities, ATLAS would like Special Schools to be renamed Specialist Schools, because Special is a euphemism for disability.
  • “Euphemisms are put on terms that are regarded badly by society.”
  • “I tend to use the term specialist when talking about schools instead of special. They are targeted for a specific thing, so they are specialist, not special.”
  • ATLAS Call for Action is: “Surrey Special Schools” to be renamed “Surrey Specialist Schools.”

Action Card 180:

  • As young people with additional needs and disabilities, we would like more information pre-and-post-16 transition including mental health support and what accommodation provision is available in Surrey for all young people with additional needs and disabilities, so that we know what options are available to us when we make decisions about our accommodation.
  • ATLAS Call for Action is: A booklet to be created for all young people in Surrey going through post 16 transition. The booklet will include post 16 information including mental health support and accommodation options.

Action Card 181:

  • As young people with additional needs and disabilities, we would like more information on what transport provision is available in Surrey for all young people with additional needs and disabilities trying to access education, work, and social activities, so that we can plan our routes and make sure that the choices we make during post-16 transition are accessible to us.
  • ATLAS Call for Action is: A webpage to be created to provide all travel options available for young people in Surrey.

Question Cards:

Question Card 18:

  • As young people in Surrey with Additional Needs and Disabilities, we want to know if there are any ‘Buddy Schemes’ during post 16 transition, so that we feel supported by peers and are able to build positive relationships.

Question Card 26:

  • As young people in Surrey with additional needs and disabilities, we would like to know whether there are protections in place to prevent letters containing private information from not sent to our parental homes, where there are safeguarding concerns. So that we feel comfortable knowing our thoughts and feelings are being contained.

Question Card 30:

  • As young people with Additional Needs and Disabilities in Surrey, we would like to know if there is a link between Additional Needs and Disabilities with dental hygiene/problems, and if so, what support is there?

Question Card 37:

  • Is there a Crisis Text Line for young people with selective mutism/non-verbal?

The User Voice and Participation Team are really looking forward to supporting ATLAS’ action and question cards. We are also looking forward for what new action and question cards 2022 will bring!

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Uncategorized

Friendships

One of our ATLAS members has shared their experiences about building friendships.

how ATLAS has helped me to build my confidence to make new friends.

I have struggled with friendships since I was 3 years old, this is due to my autism, anxiety learning difficulties and sensory issues to name a few. I found it very lonely and found it hard to fit in and make the right friends and to keep healthy relationships.

Going to ATLAS has made me trust and gain more confidence for myself.  I have learned to make new friends and learned how to keep them.

I now have a lot of good friends to hang out with, we sometimes break up but then we make up again if we can and want to

I can make friends independently now.  I used to have support to help me make new friends and to keep them. I remember that break ups and friendships get better, they get better for everyone.

From an ATLAS member

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Uncategorized

Bullying

One of our ATLAS members shared their experience with bullying

I got badly bullied through secondary school, which led to all of my frustration to do lots of bad behaviour to other people and myself. The bullying would not stop because the staff were rubbish about it. The bullying made me very anxious, it made my anxiety really bad. I found it very hard to trust people even my friends because I did not want them to start bullying me as well as other people.

Bullying does improve if you tell the right people who you trust. I trust my therapist and so I told her about the bullying, she was very helpful to me. Always remember to stand up to the bullies.

The bullies picked on me because I was different and had my own struggles. What I say to the bullies is that if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all. I also say can you please give me my own space and then I walk away from them and ignore the bullies.

Remember that you are much stronger than the bullies, don’t listen to them, they are just jealous of you and what you have. The bullies want to get a reaction so don’t give them one.

From an ATLAS member

Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities Autism Neurodiversity Personal Story Safety Self-Care

My Meltdowns and Shutdowns

Definitions

Meltdown – a response to an overwhelming situation that includes signs of distress.

Shutdown – where a person may withdraw from the people and environment around them. They may need their own space and time to process.

My Meltdowns

I don’t like meltdowns because when I used to have really big, long and bad meltdowns I used to say a lot of mean things, tell lies, say horrible things to others and myself.

Meltdowns make me look like I am refusing to do something or am reluctant to do something when I’m not – I’m in a meltdown.

I used to run off and hide, but I don’t do that anymore unless it is for a fun activity where people aren’t going to get worried. I used to also climb up trees and bushes to hide from people when I was having a meltdown, or hide underneath something, but I don’t do this anymore. I now cover my face with my hands, people understand I’m not hiding to be rude, I just need some alone time.

I don’t like to make people worried.

I like to walk, jog or run-in safe areas when I am having a meltdown to feel safe – I still do this.

Recently I have been having less meltdowns than I used to, which are also smaller than they used to be. I have been having a lot of shutdowns recently.

My Shutdowns

I have had a lot of shutdowns in the evenings since I finished college for summer holidays. In the last 7 weeks I have had a shutdown almost everyday.

During the summer holidays I have been going to a lot of clubs, and I have been having a lot of 10 to 40 minutes shutdowns at the clubs that I have been attending in the mornings and the afternoons. Sometimes I feel sorry for the staff who try to help me, but I also worry that they may call someone over and make it an incident.

A lot of people ask me if I am okay when I am having a shutdown, but I am not always able to answer, especially when I am really anxious. There have been a lot of transitions lately that are really busy and loud, which have not helped my anxiety. Some mornings I am too anxious to go into clubs and the staff I have good relationships with have to help me enter the site.

Some days I cry a lot when I am really anxious. People might worry because I might not seem like myself and then ask me a lot of questions at once about how I am and how I have been. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to talk about these things; sometimes I’m not ready to talk about it. When this happens, they might get into my personal space. I worry if people who don’t get tested regularly for Covid-19, get into my personal space.

Sometimes the behaviours of other children and young people at clubs and activities can cause me to be really anxious. Especially bad or violent behaviour.

When I am tired, I find things harder to do and possibly more overwhelming. This can make me cry and I don’t always immediately know what it is that has led to the problem.

How I manage overwhelming situations

Some of the ways I notice that I am becoming overwhelmed is when:

  • There are loud noises
  • There is a difficult situation
  • I see someone breaking the law or doing something dangerous
  • I get too hot
  • I am stressed

Some of the ways I look after myself when I am overwhelmed:

  • Weighted blankets/jackets
  • Fidget toys and chew toys
  • Sitting with my dog, she puts her paws on my lap
  • Going for walk
  • Writing stories
Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities Anxiety Health Mental Health Self-Care Social

Tips and Tricks: Supporting Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing with Additional Needs and Disabilities

Introduction

We found sharing our self-care tips and tricks with each other really helpful, especially during Covid. During the pandemic it has been even more important to think about how we are spending our time, as we’ve not been able to do our everyday ‘normal’ stuff, like socialising.

We hope that others find our thoughts and discussions around maintaining your mental health and wellbeing helpful!

The Importance of Self-Care

It has and continues to be important that you keep yourself active (however YOU define active), your mind active, and do things that you enjoy whilst staying safe. This can include any hobbies that you have like reading, drawing, listening to or making music, going out for a walk: anything at all that you think will help you.

It is also important to make sure that you are eating and drinking enough water every day as that has a massive benefit to improving your mental health and wellbeing.

Tips and Tricks

We’re all different for what we find helpful. Here are some of the activities ATLAS members use for self-care:

  • Keep in touch with your friends because you don’t do much [during a pandemic].
  • Call someone everyday – video call not just phone call or texting. Because if I don’t socialise for a while, I will forget how to socialise.
  • Meditation and listening to music.
  • Click and collect libraries.
  • Making time for your hobbies
  • Weighted blankets help a lot. Weight toys, weighted lap pad and weighted jacket.
  • Baths and Showering.
  • I have been trying to explore working with my senses. A lot of time with myself, music really helps because it is hard not hearing people’s voices. Without sound I will get tinnitus or hallucinate.
  • White noises are also really good, especially with Autism I find big changes in volume different, so having noise all the time helps when people call me.
  • Keeping bin by the bed.
  • Using a bed desk if you can’t get out of bed so you are changing your work environment and home environment.
  • I try and make sure I have a main event every day. I think it is an ADHD thing – I can’t do something when I am waiting for something planned.
  • Routines!

Routines

We find that routines help to structure out our day-to-day life and activities. Here are some of the areas we use routines to help us with:

  • Eat healthy meals.
  • Meal plans.
  • Have a timetable.
  • Have a sleep routine.
  • Similar sleep / wake up times.
  • Light exercise.
  • Having alarms / reminders.
  • Post-it notes.
  • Put reminders on phone.
  • Write in a diary.
  • Try and have different places in the house for different activities.
  • Everyday, do something that you enjoy.
  • Have structure in school / work.
  • Have a time in the day where you step away from screens.
  • Make exercise fun – put on music and dance or play a game that includes exercise like a virtual reality game (e.g. Wii Fit).
  • Writing plans.
  • Listen to music.

We find that routines are really helpful; they give us the information on what we want or need to be doing and when, as well as helping us to manage our time.

Importantly, routines help us to be more independent, reduce anxiety, and some of us have found it has also helped us build more confidence in ourselves!

Self-Care During Self-Care!

When developing routines, we feel it is important that you:

  • Don’t pressure yourself.
  • Take little breaks.
  • Tell people close to you what you need, or how you feel.

Do you have any tips and tricks you would like to share? Please comment below!

Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities Autism Film Inspirational People Media Neurodiversity

Film Review: The Reason I Jump

This film is about non-verbal autism and is based on the book The Reason I Jump written by Naoki Higashida when he was 13 years old. Naoki is now 28 years old and will be 29 in exactly 28 days. Naoki is a non-verbal autistic person from Japan. The book was published in Japan in 2007. The English translation was published in 2013 by Keiko Yoshida and her husband, English author David Mitchell who have a son who is autistic and non-verbal. Keiko and David were very passionate about this book because they felt this is the only book which helped them to understand their son. Naoki’s book is invaluable to help understand severely autistic children and young people because it is the only book about autism written by an someone who is autistic and non-verbal.

This film is part documentary, part dramatisation and has an actor playing Naoki Higashida when he was a boy. The film shows Naoki walking along the beach and countryside explaining lots of feelings, emotions and sensory input from his surroundings. While this is being shown there is a narrator speaking the words of Naoki from his book, where he expresses his thoughts and feelings around his autism and non-verbal autism in general. Naoki’s account being read out in the film is incredibly powerful, extremely insightful and very thought-provoking. In my opinion the most powerful quote of Noaki’s is, “To live my life as a human being there is nothing more important than being able to express myself”.

Screenshot from the film the reason I jump. Young boy is looking up towards the sky. He is wearing a red raincoat. In the background there are pylons.
Screenshot from the film

The idea of turning the book in to a film came from the parents of a teenager I’ll mention later on. His parents Stevie Lee and Jeremy Dear, were the producers of the film. They had read the book and it had transformed their understanding of their son. Without the parents of servery autistic children and adults this film would of not been made. The documentary part shows non-verbal autistic people from all over the world. From England they film Joss Dear a teenager who is severely autistic and can speak but speaks mainly by one word responses or repeating worlds from a long time ago that people have said, mainly his parents. Joss is very sensory, he enjoys blowing bubbles, bouncing on his trampoline and swinging very high on a swing. Joss is unable to explain why he does what he does and like what he likes. He just knows what he likes and people can see he likes it because he is showing experiences of pure joy. One of the reasons that makes the film so immersive and fascinating, is when the film shows autistic people from around the world doing what they enjoy. The words from Naoki that are in his book were said by the voice of the book Jordan O’Donegan. Where Naoki’s insight is invaluable because he describes the reason autistic people do what they do. His words describe Joss perfectly. When he is jumping, Naoki’s words are voiced over, while the footage of Joss being shown is a very good way of showing what incredible insight Naoki has given Joss’ parents and everyone else.

I really enjoyed the film and it taught me a lot, even as an autistic young person myself, about non-verbal autism, because I am fully verbal and only know a few people who are non-verbal. The cinematography is very good, shows some stunning views around the world and captures all of the people videoed in the film exactly. I feel one of the most important parts for people to take away from the film is about Naoki and two autistic friends from America who are non-verbal. These three young people have non-verbal autism however they are all very articulate and all use the letter board to communicate. They all have a very high level of understanding of themselves and the world around them. This makes the powerful point that non-verbal autism is not talked about much and still very much misunderstood. It is still very much the belief, that non-verbal servery autistic people with have a limited understanding and severe learning difficulties, which is not always the case. As these three in individuals show very powerfully. Another part I really liked was when Joss was looking over a fence at a mental green box with lots of cables in. He wanted to climb in but his dad told him not to because of course it’s too dangerous to climb in. It is incredible that Joss can hear the green box, without seeing it, from quite a distance. Listening and finding the green boxes has become a fascination for Joss and he can sit with his head to one of them for a long time.

A screenshot from the film the reason I jump. Everything is in tones of blue. You can see a young man in the forefront looking to the right. A behind him another man looking the same way.
A screenshot from the film.

I would recommend anyone with an interest in autism or additional needs to watch this film. It is a very unique film which is very thought provoking to all that see it. I would give this film a 5 out of 5 star rating because the director Jerry Rothwell did exactly what he set out to do. “As a film maker”, he said, that making a film about Naoki’s book would “offer a great opportunity to use the full potential of cinema to evoke intense sensory worlds in which meaning is made through sounds, pictures and associations as well as words.” He said by creating this film, “My hope is that the reason I Jump can encourage an audience into thinking about autism from the inside, recognising other ways of seeing the world, both beautiful and disorientating.” He also said, “I hope the film takes audiences on a journey through different experiences of autism, leaving a strong sense of how the world needs to change to be more inclusive.”

As seeing the film myself, I would say that’s definitely what I got out of the film and I think many others will too. This film will probably send you on a roller coaster of emotions from felling happy, stunned, sad, surprised and cross. At times the film is funny, sad, enlightening, inspiring, powerful and most of all, gives you a small insight of what it can be like for people who are autistic and nonverbal.

Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities Health SEND

Dental and Oral Health with Additional Needs and Disabilities

Introduction

Recently in ATLAS, members were discussing their experiences with dentists and realised that many of the members had dental and/or oral health problems.

Members raised a Question Card for the User Voice and Participation Team staff to find out whether there was a connection between dental and oral health problems with additional needs and disabilities. If so, young people wanted to know what support there was for them and how to access it in Surrey!

As young people with Additional Needs and Disabilities in Surrey, we would like to know if there is a link between Additional Needs and Disabilities with dental hygiene/problems, and if so, what support is there?

Question Card from ATLAS members

The link between dental and oral health and learning disabilities

Good oral health is an important part in people’s general health and quality of life. There is evidence to show that people with additional needs and disabilities have poorer oral health and more problems in accessing dental services than people in the general population.

However, national, and international research, consistently shows that people with learning disabilities have:

  • higher levels of gum disease
  • greater gingival inflammation
  • higher numbers of missing teeth
  • increased rates of tooth lessness
  • higher plaque levels
  • greater unmet oral health needs
  • poorer access to dental services and less preventative dentistry

People with learning disabilities may often be unaware of dental problems and may be reliant on their carers/paid supporters for oral care and initiating dental visits. There may also be a need for additional help with their oral care and support to get good dental treatment because of difficulties with mental and physical health.

Available Support

All this information and more can be found on the Gov website linked here: Oral care and people with learning disabilities – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

The website includes information on who could be entitled to free dental care and a list of useful links for young people and carers. You can also find information on your rights and the law around accessibility.

Conclusion

ATLAS will be reviewing this information soon! We will update this blog with their response!

If you would like to join ATLAS, find out more on our ‘Get Involved!‘ page.

Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities ADHD Autism Dyslexia Dyspraxia LGBT+ Neurodiversity Personal Story Self-Description SEND Social Stigma

Neurodiversity: Gender and Sexuality

Introduction and defintions

It is well noted through observation and research that there is more gender diversity in neurodiverse people than neurotypical people. As gender and sexuality are social constructs, there is speculation that this relationship is due to the fact that being neurodiverse means you are less likely to adhere to cultural and social norms.

You may be wondering what all these terms mean:

  • Neurodiverse/Neurodiversity/Neurodivergent – variation in in the human brain. This term is used by people to express that their brains are wired differently due to having neurological conditions and/or disorders: ADHD Autism, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, etc.
  • Neurotypical – this is a relatively new term that is used to describe people whose brain develops and functions in ways that are considered ‘normal’. It is the opposite of Neurodivergent.
  • Gender Diversity – is a measure of how much people’s gender differs from cultural or social norms due to their sex at birth.
  • Sexuality – is all about how someone identifies themselves in relation to the gender or genders that they are attracted to.
  • Social Construct – something that only exists as a result of humans agreeing that it exists.
  • Cultural and Social Norms – rules or expectations based on the shared beliefs of different groups of people that guide behaviour and thoughts.

Talking about experiences and difficulties of the LGBT+ community is extremely important to ATLAS members. This is not only because ATLAS want to be strong allies and raise the voices of minorities, but because a number of members are also part of the LGBT+ community themselves.

“When somebody refers to me as female, I think ‘oooh not really but close enough’. It took me a long time to realise that I don’t experience femininity and being female in the same way [as the people around me] because I am not really female.”

ATLAS member
Close up of a palm with the LGBT+ rainbow flag painted on it with a heart drawn in black biro on top of it.
Image by Sharon McCutcheon

Autism and Gender

ATLAS members reflected on how they weren’t told about the relationship between Autism and gender diversity when they were diagnosed:

“When you are autistic you experience gender in a very different way … no one mentioned this to me when I was diagnosed”

ATLAS member

I am nonbinary, I don’t talk about it much because it doesn’t come up that much. It’s very common with Autism but no one told me!

ATLAS member

How masking impacts self-discovery

Masking is a survival technique that is used by people with Autism to hide behaviours that may not be accepted by the people around them. This is often achieved by learning to display neurotypical behaviours. Ultimately, masking results in having to hide the true self to be protected from negative consequences.

“Masking is a trauma response and trauma screws with everything. Trauma affects people with autism a lot more. I don’t know where the mask ends and where I begin.”

ATLAS member

ATLAS members raised that as a result of masking, it can be difficult to work out who they are:

“When I was younger I would take behaviours I would see and mask using them. A lot of people I was around were heteronormative. It makes it hard for me to understand, I can’t always get my head around what I am or what I like because I have masked for so long.

ATLAS member

As a result some members felt unable identify with labels, which could help them find support from peers and communities:

I went to a university LGBT+ society event and someone came up to me and asked: Well what are you? Why are you here? I don’t know what I am because I find it really hard to process.

ATLAS Member

Labels

“Some people find labels helpful and some people don’t.”

ATLAS member

“For me it was empowering to have my labels, it helps me to break everything down to feel like I have control. But labels are limited in how they explain me. Something I found hard to understand was ‘comphet’: How much is me wanting to be loved? How much is me wanting men to validate me? and how much of it is attraction?”

ATLAS member

Comphet stands for compulsory heterosexuality. This is where heterosexuality is assumed and enforced by society.

“On a call I do at uni they put their pronouns in their Zoom names.”

ATLAS member

ATLAS members and staff loved this idea: members and staff are now invited to put their pronouns in their Zoom names if they want to!

A white board being held up that reads in rainbow coloured letters: Hello, my pronouns are ...
Image by Sharon McCutcheon

Family Stigma

“People in my family are really against it [LGBT+].”

ATLAS member

Whilst family relationships can be extremely important for the wellbeing of children, young people and young adults, unfortunately stigma can lead to bullying, rejection and internalised stigma.

“My dad was very girls belong in the kitchen, seen and not heard. He wanted me to be his little girl and when I didn’t he came to disown me for it. It makes it hard for me to accept who I am. I have never felt comfortable with who I am or how I am. So when I hear people who are able to find themselves, I just don’t understand how they can make those decisions. I was told I couldn’t be gay or bisexual because I was just masking.”

ATLAS member

“Fortunately, I know how some people have a good accepting family, really only my mum accepts. My dad and my sisters think I am going through some sort of phase and that I’m probably stupid.”

ATLAS member

Final thoughts

“I think it is interesting how people have such different experiences.”

ATLAS member

Neurodiverse people, people with Autism, people with disabilities are just as different and individual as neurotypical people, people without an additional need or disability. Talk to us, listen to our experiences and ideas: we are experts in our perspective and have a lot to say!

To make sure that the voices of children, young people and young adults with additional needs and disabilities in the LGBT+ community are heard ATLAS will be starting drop-in sessions to provide a safe space and a platform for voices to be raised.

Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities Autism Personal Story

Advocating for Change: Autism Awareness and Acceptance

At the age of 22 my life changed. I got what most would describe as a label, but I don’t.

If I did describe it as a label, I wear mine with pride.

I dislike the term ‘disability’ as it makes me feel like I’m lacking something or I’m less able than a ‘normal’ functioning person, so I call them my difficulties and additional needs. Because with hard work, help and support they can be over-come, and everyone is different any way.

Photopgraph of Dr. Seuss with the illustrations of some of his characters from his books drawn around his head. He is wearing large square glass a grey blazer and a bow tie.
Dr. Seuss pictured with some of his famous characters.

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out”

Dr. Seuss

I have Autism and I’m never afraid to admit it as it makes me who I am, so does my difficult past. No one should ever make you feel less of a person because you see the world differently or have difficulties fitting in.

One of my favourite quotes is “Another person’s craziness is another person’s reality” said by my favourite directors Tim Burton. This is my favourite quote because it’s so true and relatable to me. I now have this quote tattooed on me as a constant reminder that it’s ok to be who you are, whether you fit in or not.

Photograph of Tim Burton with some of his characters pictured around his head and shoulders. Tim is wearing sunglasses and a black blazer.
Tim Burton pictured with some of his famous characters.

I have made it a passion of mine to help and teach others by sharing my past and present life experiences and I take pride in where I have come from and where I’m going. My Autism has its challenges that some people don’t understand but I’m always working hard to help change their views and the stigmatism around additional needs and disabilities.

Over the years I have seen more acceptance of Autism and the challenges we face but there still is a lot of misunderstanding and judgement, its something I’m willing to help change and I will always challenge things as there is always more to be done.

Awareness and Acceptance.

Categories
accessibility Achievement Additional Needs and Disabilities ADHD Celebrities Inspirational People SEND Stigma

In at the Deep End: How ADHD Shaped the Success of Michael Phelps

Michael Fred Phelps is famous throughout the world for his legendary abilities whilst swimming. Phelps is, by far, the most successful Olympian of all time with 28 Olympic medals of which 23 are Gold. Phelps also has several world records relating to swimming and is the fastest human being alive in the water. Phelps has achieved this success for many reasons, not least being his own hard work and dedication, as well as having a body especially suited for high water mobility. But another factor that may have allowed Phelps to reach such success, much to the surprise of many, may be his ADHD. Phelps was diagnosed with the condition when he was a child, and some believe that this diagnosis played a role in making him such a world class athlete. In examining how ADHD has affected Phelps, we may learn to see Disability in a rather different light.

“I simply couldn’t sit still, because it was difficult for me to focus on one thing at a time”

– Michael Phelps, from his book Beneath the Surface

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a condition that causes many behaviours that are unusual in the rest of the population. Commonly observed behaviours include restlessness, short attention span, and difficulty focusing. Many people consider ADHD to be purely negative, but many people with the condition themselves see it quite differently. For instance, ADDA, an self-advocacy group run by people with the condition, argue that ADHD is worthy of being celebrated. Whilst living with ADHD may present challenges, ADDA argues that the condition can in fact have its advantages and should be better thought of as simply a different way of having a mind. This might sound strange at first, but in Michael Phelps there may be an incredible example of this idea in action.

Historically, ADHD was understood as an inability to focus but more modern research suggests that it may in fact be a lack of control on what the brain focuses on. This is why ADHD people often exhibit a trait called ‘Hyperfocus’, where they focus intensely and singly on one thing, often for hours at a time. The theory goes that ADHD people often have a far stronger ability to focus than so called ‘Neurotypicals’ (those without ADHD) do. The problems come when an ADHD person has to focus on one thing when around them are ten or twenty distractions to drag their attention from. Most people have the ability to forcefully draw themselves back to the object of their focus and resist distractions, but without this many ADHD people struggle to stick to one thing long enough to make meaningful progress. With that said, picture child Michael Phelps in a swimming pool. Whilst in a classroom he might struggle to sit and do his work because of all the distractions, in the pool, with nothing to focus on but the water, his mind can intensely focus for hours on end. This allows Phelps to practice far longer and maintain focus far longer than his neurotypical coevals. Becoming a world star athlete requires spending many hours of each day practicing, but it also requires being able to remain attentive to technique even after hours of practice. Its possible that it is because and not in spite of, Phelps’ Disability that he has been able to take on the entire world in his chosen sport, and definitively triumph.

Michael Phelps Video: ADHD and What I would tell my Younger Self

Video Description: Michael Phelps talks to the camera about what he would tell his younger self and what it was like growing up with ADHD. Video has closed captions.

About Theo!

“Hi! My name’s Theo Greiner and I work in the Web and Digital Services Team at Surrey County Council. I’m also on the Autism spectrum and use that experience to write articles on accessibility on behalf of the Council to get people thinking about Accessibility and Disability. I write in hopes of shifting people’s ideas about Disability towards ones that treat Disabled people with the respect and agency they deserve. I hope you enjoy them.”

Categories
accessibility Achievement Additional Needs and Disabilities Celebrities Inspirational People mobility aids News Spina Bifida

“There’s wheels stuck to my butt, how can that not be fun?”

Spina Bifida is a birth defect of the spinal cord; this is what Aaron has and is why he is on a wheelchair and has very limited use of his legs.

Aaron ‘Wheelz’ Fotheringham has never let being on a wheelchair limit what he wants to do. When he was a small boy, he did anything anyone else his age could do, he just had to figure out how to make it work for him.

“When you say you are ‘in’ a wheelchair it’s like saying that you are confined to it. I’m ‘on’ my wheelchair, I ride it like a skater ‘on’ his skateboard.”

A young Aaron Fotheringham sitting in his wheelchair smiling with his arms crossed. He is wearing a navy blue, red and white stripped polo shirt with blue denim jeans.
In the background behind him is a large rock and some trees.

When he first ever received his first walker, he was off and running. Following on from the walker came crutches, which he got the hang of quickly. He would put on a Superman cape and blast down the hall on crutches believing, as any other 4-year-old, that he could fly. At age 8 Aaron go his first wheelchair which change his life for the better and opened new adventures for Aaron.

The age of 8 was when Aaron started riding at skateparks. One of his older brothers Brian is a BMXer. Before Aaron started having a go, he had been going to the park with Brian and their dad for weeks, but Aaron would just watch. Like any other child Aaron found the first time scary and he fell hard, but he was never one to give up just because it wasn’t easy. So, he tried again and from then on, he was hooked.

Aaron wants to change the world’s view of people on wheelchairs and to help everyone see their own challenges in a new way. You do not have to be on a wheelchair or handicapped to be inspired by what he is able to do and has achieved.

“I was able to go further than I could’ve ever dreamed of – all because of my wheelchair”

Over the years, Aaron has challenged himself to discover even more difficult stunts. In 2005, he achieved a mid-air 180-degree turn. On July 13th, 2006, he landed the first wheelchair backflip. Four years later August 26, 2010 he landed the first ever double backflip. As if this isn’t enough, on February 9th, 2011, he landed his very first front flip in New Zealand, and on August 25, 2012, he stunned Brazilians by jumping and successfully landing a 50-ft gap off the Mega Ramp in his chair. He is a 4-time winner of the Wheelchair Motocross (WCMX) World Championships and has also performed the first Wheelchair Flair/backflip 180, which he posted online.

Aaron Fotheringham in his wheelchair on one back wheel doing a wheelie, smiling and his arm to the side and his hand with his pointing finger pointing up. He is wearing black denim jeans, a black vest top with decorative imaging on it, dirty white trainers and a black cap on his head.
The background is red.

After posting that first ever backflip on the Internet, life has changed for Aaron; he has travelled globally, both performing and speaking. He has attended summer camps for disabled children as a coach/mentor, and he has been featured in magazines, newspapers, and sports television. Aaron enjoys showing young kids with disabilities that a wheelchair can be a tool, not a restriction. He loves helping younger children learn how to handle their chairs in new and different ways and teaching them a trick or two. Someday he hopes to design and build the most wicked chair in the world.

Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham – The Story

Video description:

A youtube video documentary about Aaron’s life and rise to fame. There are a sequence of clips of Aaron talking to the camera, learning and landing a number of different wheel chair stunts, attending movie premiere’s and enjoying his life.

Video Transcript:

“I wanna be be cool! I wanna be cool!” A few people can be heard cheering and then the sound of the wheelchair crashing into the ramp. “Dude I’m alive”, people cheer. More crashing sounds.

“I’m Aaron Fotheringham, most people call me Wheelz. I was born with Spina Bifida. The doctors didn’t think I’d really be independent at all or be able to sit up or do anything on my own: need to be assisted my whole life.

“But I didn’t let that stop me from keeping up. When all my friends would be riding their bikes around, I would hop on my wheelchair and chase them all around the streets.”

“Since those days my life has changed so much. Somehow I have been able to travel the world from country to country. I’ve been able to meet my idols and people who inspire me, perform in live shows in front of thousands of people and basically go further than I ever could have dreamed, all because of my wheelchair”. People cheering.

“Um, ok, well I was adopted when I was born to an awesome family in Los Vegas. They’re not my biological parents, but pretty much they’re everything, you know, they took care of me since birth and given me everything I have. Had to be a big trial on them and a big risk ’cause adopting a kid with Spina Bifida is, you know, like buying a car that’s got a lot of problems, a lot of work. Just also having to go in, either having a kidney problem or problem with my spine.”

“Well when I first started going to school, and like, they would always ask if I wanted to be put into adaptive PE with other kids on wheelchairs and I was always against that, because I though well I’m just like every other kid, I’m just on a wheelchair. So I would always fight and make them put me in regular PE. The coaches were always pumped because I would always be there and just want to do whatever the other kids were doing. So I think that was an important part was just having, you know, no one treat me any different. And my parents would always, if I would ask for help or something, they would say: your legs aren’t in pain at all, you can do it yourself. So they would just treat me like they would treat any of my other brothers.”

“You know, I think your disability is mostly in your head. You’re only as disabled as you feel. Just always having fun with it and never seeing it as a true disability. Like I don’t wake up in the morning and think: oh crap I’ve got to ride a wheelchair today. It’s just, like you get up and put your shoes on, I’m hopping onto an awesome wheelchair.”

“It’s pretty sweet to be able to help people look at their wheelchair as something just besides a medical device and it can actually be something really fun. Like, honestly there’s just wheels stuck to my butt, how can that not be fun?”

“We’re just here at one of the nitro circuit premiere’s getting ready to see the movie for the first time. Never been on the red carpet before, I feel like I should wipe my wheels before I got on the red carpet.”

Singing.

“Wheelz is fun, he’s really cool. He’s got the most dry sense of humour you could ever imagine. First time I saw him, he hit the ground and he’s laying there like: I’ll never walk again! and I was like so, I didn’t know whether to laugh, I didn’t know. He’s just always being awesome, I can’t be awesome all the time, I can’t even walk but that’s kinda what we got in common so we’re good.”

Background music and cheering.

“Not too long ago I went to my first x games and I’d watch Travis and I saw him up close for the first time and I was star struck. And I waved at him and he waved back at me. Saw Travis’s double back flip and I was like I wanna do a double back. And then a couple of years later they call me up and I’m doing shows with them and then I’m landing a double back flip. It’s just, you know, it’s crazy, I’m scarred to dream too insane because everything seems to be coming true.”

Background music.

“Those are always the best moments of my life.”

Cheering.

Dude, my teeth are missing again! You lost your teeth? Again! I had so much fun knocking my teeth out the first time that I can’t help it!.

Categories
accessibility Additional Needs and Disabilities Blind IT SEND

Subtitles for the Blind: Unexpected Outcomes of Accessibility

Did you know that Blind people sometimes need subtitles on videos?

Strange and nonsensical as it may seem, like a ‘how to speak French’ book being translated into French, this is a very real and very necessary accessibility requirement. This is because Blind users who watch online videos need any written words on screen, such as title cards or diagrams, to be transcribed so that their screen readers can read them as a transcript. Once explained this seems pretty clear, but why would a sighted person ever guess that this was a requirement? Not knowing this, someone writing subtitles might assume that just because the text was already on screen there is no need to write it out again in the subtitles. This is one of the many challenges to overcome when making online spaces accessible: not all accessibility requirements make sense to an able-bodied reader on first blush.

Another example is tables. If a table is laid out with labelled columns and labelled rows, the top corner of a table is often left blank. However, this is also a problem because often a screenreader reads across the rows one at a time, and the Blind person is creating a mental picture of where the different pieces go. If there is a section left blank, it can cause the columns to become out of step with the rows making the entire table impossible for the Blind person to properly parse. The solution to this is to mark the blank space with some alt text that the sighted user never needs to see but which allows a screen reader user to understand how the columns and rows fit together. Once again, a relatively simple fix that nevertheless may not have seemed necessary to many sighted people.

There are many other such examples, of things that may be vitally important for some Disabled users but are unfortunately often completely mystifying for able bodied content producers to understand. To face this problem, the key weapons in our arsenal have to be curiosity and open mindedness. Being curious about the reasons behind accessibility guidelines can help us gain a greater understanding of them. Meanwhile, being open minded to new information, even if it may seem strange or nonsensical to us at first, can allow us to avoid the pitfalls that can keep our online spaces from being accessible to all.

About Theo!

“Hi! My name’s Theo Greiner and I work in the Web and Digital Services Team at Surrey County Council. I’m also on the Autism spectrum and use that experience to write articles on accessibility on behalf of the Council to get people thinking about Accessibility and Disability. I write in hopes of shifting people’s ideas about Disability towards ones that treat Disabled people with the respect and agency they deserve. I hope you enjoy them.”

Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities Celebrities Dyspraxia Inspirational People

Daniel Radcliffe: “I don’t want anyone to ever say that I don’t belong where I am”

Harry Potter, the famous young wizarding student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry took the world by storm and continues to be an important part of many people’s childhoods and lives. Some trivia for you:

Did you know that the actor who plays Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe, has Dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia is a developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) that impacts the way the brain processes information, resulting in movement and co-ordination difficulties. A person’s organisation, memory, concentration and speech can also be affected. Up to 10% of the population are thought to have Dyspraxia, despite this, it is a relatively unknown condition.

From a young age, Daniel knew he struggled with certain things in life and had difficulties with school and his self esteem. As a result, his mother enrolled him in acting classes and from there his dream to be an actor was born.

“I was having a hard time at school, in terms of being crap at everything, with no discernible talent.”

At the age of nine, he made his first big break in the BBC’s David Copperfield, followed by a role in The Tailor of Panama. Then between 2001 and 2011 he captured the imagination of children, young people and adults across the globe with his portrayal of Harry Potter.

Image of Daniel Radcliffe in a navy jacket. The picture includes a quote which says; “Do not let it stop you. It has never held me back, and some of the smartest people I know are people who have learning disabilities. The fact that some things are more of a struggle will only make you more determined, harder working and more imaginative in the solutions you find to problems.”

Daniel Radcliffe uses his fame to raise awareness of Dyspraxia, how it impacts individuals, and tackles the stigma that having an illness or disability means you cannot achieve your dreams.

It has been difficult for Daniel to shake off his portrayal of Harry Potter, the boy who lived, when looking for other roles as an actor. However, he has gone on to win numerous awards. He doesn’t act for the money, fame, or to be the best, he is living his dream.

“I’m lucky enough to have a job that I love, and a relatively down-to-earth lifestyle.”

Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities Autism Personal Story SEND

My ASD

What is ASD?

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience the world differently. They have different strengths and weakness and they may behave differently to the people around them. Everyone with ASD is different!

My diagnosis

My mum and me were receiving support from White Lodge because I was finding it very hard to communicate and I was having ‘moments’. For me, moments are when I struggle with a lot of things and I get frustrated. The staff at White Lodge recommended that we see a doctor that they knew, who diagnosed me with ASD when I was 3 and half years old, which was very helpful.

Girls with ASD are underdiagnosed because they don’t meet people’s expectations due to stereotypes. My mum did not anticipate my diagnosis with ASD.

My life has changed quite a bit since I was diagnosed. Obviously not everyone has ASD, I am aware that I am quite different to other people. In my experience there are both positive and negative impacts of having ASD.

Positive impacts

  • I am different to other people
    • It would be boring if we were all the same!
  • I think about problems differently and come up with different solutions.
  • I express myself differently to others
    • Some people with ASD communicate differently. For example, some people can’t use their voice.
    • I speak three languages to help me communicate: spoken English, sign language (Makaton/British Sign Language), using feelings boards/bracelets/cards.
  • Due to my experiences in life and my participation in ATLAS, I am able to appreciate other people’s perspectives.
  • When I speak to people that I know well, I have a lot to share about my interests and experiences
    • I know a lot about sensory toys!

Negative impacts

  • I find it hard to make eye-contact
    • People might not think I am talking to them or that I am talking to somebody else if I don’t make eye contact.
  • I find it hard to keep a conversation, for example to keep focus and keep on subject.
  • I find it hard to manage my feelings, emotions and thoughts.
  • Loud noises, crowds, small spaces, lock rooms, flashing lights and the dark are difficult for me to cope with.
    • Flashing lights can include discos lights and even emergency vehicles!
  • I am very sensitive to touch.
    • I don’t tend to like people touching me, it feels uncomfortable. I don’t always know if people are going to be gentle and nice when they touch me and that makes me anxious.
  • Transport can be difficult because I don’t like long journeys.
    • All the sounds and people can be overwhelming.
    • Sometimes people come too close when I am travelling.
  • It can be difficult to speak to people that I don’t know.

Final thoughts

When you meet someone with additional needs, such as ASD, you shouldn’t make assumptions because you don’t know that person.

Categories
Achievement Additional Needs and Disabilities Autism Personal Story SEND

The power of participation: getting your voice heard

“Before I came to participation groups, I didn’t talk.”

“Like this [conversation] was a no go … and then I went to my first session and then like, you couldn’t stop me talking, because I realised I was allowed to speak and I was allowed to know things.”

“Professionals don’t know that we don’t know we’re allowed [to speak and know things]. They make us feel like we can’t have knowledge of ourselves, which is what we’re meant to have anyway!”

“That’s been my biggest part in this [participation], is knowing myself, instead of knowing what they want me to know. Without this, I wouldn’t have been able to spread my voice. I would not have a say in terms of what I struggle with.”

Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities Personal Story Self-Description SEND

ATLAS: The Big Picture

Recently ATLAS members have been discussing what new starters to the group might want to know before their first session!

In a discussion about what could be included in a new starter pack, the group decided it should include information about the impact of ATLAS: “The Big Picture”.

Together, members made a mind map to express what they thought “The Big Picture of ATLAS” was. Below, some of the young people agreed to share their lived experiences in relation to the impacts mentioned.

The mind map

A screenshot of a mind map on "The Big Picture". The text in the image is written below as it is hard to read due to the low resolution.
A screenshot of the mind map made by ATLAS members

The mind map reads:

  • Challenging assumptions
  • Activism
  • Personal empowerment
  • Job opportunities
  • Improving services
  • Opens the discussion
  • Helping professionals understand the experience of the young people
  • Promoting the right of people with additional needs and disabilities
  • Making Surrey more accessible
  • Surprise professionals with our points of views
  • Better understanding
  • Helps young people be seen
  • Brought about massive change in services brought about us
  • Share our expertise on our additional needs and disabilities
  • Empower young people
  • Empower community
  • Meet and speak with other people with additional needs and disabilities

Quotes from young people

When working with the UVP Team:

“When you introduce yourself to professionals, they’re like “Oh, I didn’t realize you had an opinion on this”. They seem to be surprised that people who have additional needs and disabilities care about it and know a bit about it.”

The impact of participation on professionals:

“I think people really underestimate the impact that lived experience can have because it’s literally something you have to think about every day. If it is a doctor diagnosing you … they did a couple of lectures. You have it every day so you have to learn about it and they just seem surprised that you could have the motivation to want to know what it going on with you.”

Young person with Autism at university:

“Right now I am learning clinical psychology and I cannot function in my module because it’s like I’m reading about all these kind of typical things they expect to someone on the autistic spectrum to have and I’m like, this is a load of like absolute rubbish.”

Closing statement:

“Don’t assume and if you are going to make assumptions assume ability”


If you would like to read some of the feedback and consultation work that member’s of ATLAS work on, you can find out more on our ‘Monthly News‘ page!

Please check out our ‘Get Involved‘ page if you are interested in joining ATLAS.

Image button encouraging you to get involved. In the middle there is the ATLAS logo and surrounding it, It reads: Get Involved! "No Decision About Us Without Us!
Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities Personal Story Self-Description SEND

A week in the life of an ATLAS member

Recently ATLAS members have been discussing what new starters to the group might want to know before their first session!

A member of the group who joined recently suggested that having some information about what the group could be like or what was involved would have been really helpful.

Together, members made a mind map to express what they thought a week as a member may include!

A screenshot of a mind map on "Week in the life of an ATLAS member". The text in the image is written below as it is hard to read due to the low resolution.
A screenshot of the mind map made by ATLAS members

The mind map reads:

  • Really enjoyable
  • Trips
  • Talk about our wellbeing
  • Action Cards
  • Surveys
  • Awards
  • Meeting new people/friends
  • Weekly groups
  • Social media posts
  • Raising awareness
  • Reducing stigma
  • Sharing your experiences
  • Makaton/learning new skills
  • Quizzes
  • Writing blogs
  • Interview panels
  • Parties/social events
  • Routine
  • Support if we need
  • Gaining confidence
  • Learn about other opportunities

If you would like to read some of the feedback and consultation work that member’s of ATLAS work on, you can find out more on our ‘Monthly News‘ page!

Please check out our ‘Get Involved‘ page if you are interested in joining ATLAS.

Image button encouraging you to get involved. In the middle there is the ATLAS logo and surrounding it, It reads: Get Involved! "No Decision About Us Without Us!
Categories
Celebrities chronic illness Disability History Month Inspirational People SEND

Lady Gaga and her Fibromyalgia

Who is Lady Gaga?

Lady Gaga is an American singer-songwriter, record producer, actress, and businesswoman. As well as publishing multiple hit singles and albums, she also owns her own cosmetics brand (Haus Cosmetics) and founded a non-profit organization, the Born This Way Foundation. It focuses on the empowerment of young people, improving mental health, and preventing bullying.

She also has mental health difficulties, and fibromyalgia.

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic pain condition. It usually presents with widespread pain and chronic fatigue, but you can experience a wide variety of symptoms. Something a lot of people with fibromyalgia experience is cognitive and memory problems, which is referred to as ‘fibro fog’. At this time, there is no cure for fibromyalgia, although some medications and other therapies can help improve its symptoms.

Lady Gaga’s experience

She shows how this affects her in her documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two. She has needed to cancel tours and shows because of her health conditions. Shown below is an image of her receiving medical treatment for her chronic pain. It is taken from her documentary.

Lady Gaga is shown lying under a plastic sheet, wincing in pain. There are medically gloved hands - one holding an ultrasound machine and two administering a needle into her shoulder.

She speaks about her chronic pain a lot, to raise awareness about it. She manages her condition well, and something that contributes greatly to this is her access to the latest procedures and top-quality doctors. Even with this, she still experiences debilitating pain.

Lady Gag is shown from the hips up on stage. She is wearing all black. Her outfit is sleeveless so you can see her tattoos. One hand is holding a microphone to her moth and the other is outstretched.

Lady Gaga talks about her chronic pain:

“I get so irritated with people who don’t believe fibromyalgia is real. For me, and I think for many others, it’s really a cyclone of anxiety, depression, PTSD, trauma, and panic disorder, all of which sends the nervous system into overdrive, and then you have nerve pain as a result.”

“People need to be more compassionate. Chronic pain is no joke. And it’s every day waking up not knowing how you’re going to feel.”

“You will hear the pain in my voice and in some of the lyrics, but it always celebrates.”

“I’m a fighter. I use the word ‘suffer’ not only because trauma and chronic pain have changed my life, but because they are keeping me from living a normal life.”

“I hope that people watching it that do struggle with chronic pain know that they are not alone. […] see me dance and sing, to know I struggle with things like them and that I work through it and that it can be done.”

Categories
Disability History Month Education SEND

The History of Mobility Aids

Introduction

The evolution of personal mobility aids is very linked into the way society viewed, or was aware of, people with reduced mobility. If we look back to the Middle Ages, for example, society didn’t feel responsible for people with reduced mobility or other disabilities. Many disabled people lived as outcasts in a society full of superstition.

One of the very first wheelchairs we know about is from the 5th century B.C. and is this blog’s featured image.

Depicted in this ‘wheelchair’ is Confucius, a famous ancient philosopher and teacher. It was a very rudimentary version of a wheelchair, but was a wheeled device used with the intent of helping people with reduced mobility, so is presented here as an example.

Walking sticks have probably been used for thousands of years. Ultimately, in a rudimentary form you can just pick up a branch and use it to help you walk. However, the time at which these were used more as mobility aids rather than like hiking sticks is unclear.

1500s-1900s

Mobility aids started to develop much more around the 15th century.

The oldest known use of a walking frame in England is depicted on a piece of clothing from the 14th century. It depicts either the young Virgin Mary, or Jesus, learning to walk using a three-wheeled frame.

In the 15th century, Queen Elizabeth of Spain set up a hospital where soldiers were provided with prosthetic and therapeutic devices, and they would also receive a pension. During her time as queen, institutions for children, blind, deaf and disabled people were also created. Her husband, King Felipe II, used a wheelchair which was quite elaborate for its time. It had arm and foot rests.

A drawing from the 15th Century of a man in a whellchair. The chair is large with small wheels. The person is slightly reclined due to the design of the chair

But it was only in about the 18th century that wheelchairs were invented that look like the ones we use today. This wheelchair had two large front wheels and a small rear wheel one on each side.

A drawing of an 18th century wheelchair. The two front wheels are large, with two back small wheels. There is a large handle at the back for the person pushing the wheelchair to use. There is also a lap tray and foot rest

In the 19th century, wheelchairs were made mostly out of wood and wicker. They became popular in the USA, especially amongst veterans of the Civil War (and later on, WWI).

A drawing of an 19th century wooden wheelchair. The two front wheels are large, with one small back wheel. There is also a foot rest

1900-1960s

The first folding wheelchair was designed by a pair of engineers in 1932, after one of them had an accident with a landmine during WWI.

Though the first electrically driven wheelchair was created in 1924, the first electric wheelchair was invented after WWII. Lots more soldiers who suffered spinal cord damage in the war had survived, due to advances in technology and medical knowledge, which meant there was a greater demand for wheelchairs.

There had been many improvements to manual wheelchairs, but if you were quadriplegic, you were unable to use a manual wheelchair without the assistance of another person. So, thanks to support from the Canadian Government and other scientists, George Klein invented the electric wheelchair. This enabled people who did not have the energy or mobility to use a self-propelled wheelchair to have more independence.

1960s-1980s

In the 60s and 70s, mobility scooters and rollators appeared, and walkers similar to the ones used today came into development.

Mobility scooters

These came about for the first time in the late 60s. They were quite successful, and seen as alternatives to the electric wheelchair. They were designed for people who could walk, but who couldn’t travel long distances on foot because of problems in their knees or arthritis.

A photograph of a mobility scooter from the late 60s. The scooter has a minimal design that is mostly metal. There is a brown plastic, cushion chair with arm rests on top of a metal plate. In front there are handlebars for steering. It has three small wheels, two at the back and one at the front.

Walkers

A walker is the most stable walking aid. It is made of a frame which you place in front of you and hold onto during movement. These have been used for a long time, but were usually wheeled. In the 70s, walkers more like the Zimmer frames we see used today were created. They were usually made of metal.

A technical drawing of a mobility aid walker. It shows a metal frame with 3 sides and handles at the top in two main designs and from different angles.

Rollators

A rollator is a type of walker that has three or four wheels on it. It also usually has a built in seat, which allows the person using it to stop and rest when needed. Rollators often have a shopping basket attached.

It was invented by Swedish inventor and polio survivor, Aina Wifalk, in 1978.

A picture of a blue framed rollator with a black basket. It has four white wheels and a seat above and behind the basket.
Categories
Bullying Education Mental Health SEND Social

How Language Impacts Lives: Stigma and Ableism

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. What is stigma?
  3. Bullying
  4. Our role in ableism
  5. Self-description
  6. The power of participation

Please note that this post has since been edited to update the blog the group’s new name: ATLAS (previously SYAS).

Introduction

Recently I have been facilitating some of the virtual group meetings with the ATLAS members. As this week is anti-bullying week, the young people have been sharing their experiences with stigma and bullying as well as discussing ableist language and how they self-describe.

Overall, it is felt and experienced that stigma and bullying are still prevalent. ATLAS are telling us that we all need to be doing more to increase the visibility of additional needs and disabilities, as well as mental health (find out more on comorbid mental health with additional needs and disabilities), throughout society.

One of the repeating themes of discussion has been the importance of language in their experience as young people with additional needs and disabilities; how the language used to define and describe them has a direct impact on their lives.

What is stigma?

In this context, stigma is used to refer to the negative stereotypes and associations that society or individuals hold against a group of people. This results in prejudice and discrimination against the stigmatised group at social and/or structural levels.

In some cases, individuals from the stigmatised group can internalise this stigma, which affects how they view themselves and the expectations they have of themselves. This is known as self-stigma. An example of this which I have heard frequently and struggled with myself can be seen with dyslexia.

Due to the stigma around dyslexia, unfortunately you often hear people with dyslexia calling themselves words like stupid, or setting low expectations for themselves. They may be used to similar treatment from the people around them since diagnosis or had heard of the stigma before realising they were dyslexic themselves. Our member Ryan touches on this in his blog on dyslexia.

Stigma can lead to people being stereotyped, isolated and discriminated against. Ultimately this can have a variety of impacts on the targeted individuals, including avoiding diagnosis or treatment, and becoming the target of bullying.

Bullying

People “make fun of disability in my school.”

There are many different types of bullying and many reasons why someone may be bullied. When it comes to young people being bullied for their additional needs and disabilities, ATLAS felt like this was predominantly because of two factors: being different and the stigma surrounding their additional needs and disabilities.

“If you are different you are going to get bullied”

There is “not much understanding about how to stop [bullying and stigma]… people are still ignorant”

Stigma-based bullying is especially complex because it not only requires localised anti-bullying action but also a society-level approach to reduce stereotypes and prejudice on a larger scale.

An important part of tackling bullying aimed at people with additional needs and disabilities will be to address the widespread ableism and lack of disability awareness in our society.

“I don’t want to be made out to be ‘special’ because I have needs.”

Our role in ableism

What I can do and achieve is “underestimated by the college and my peers” because of my diagnosis

An ableist society is defined by its assumption that people without additional needs or disabilities are the norm. The way that society, physical structures and policies are designed is inherently exclusionary and inaccessible. This results in the limitation and undervaluing of people with additional needs and/or disabilities.

The way ableism presents is complex and can impact people on a variety of fronts. This ranges from the texture of a pavement surface or the lack of braille on building signs, all the way up to public attitudes and the very language used to define us.

“[Ableist] language is used on all official forms from the government. Ableist language is used as the basis of everything.”

People who do not experience and/or are not knowledgeable about additional needs and disabilities may find it hard to see how others can be disadvantaged by design or realise the existence or extent of stigma.

“Sometimes it’s not the words themselves, but the attitudes … You can use the word disabled in a derogatory fashion.”

I would like to recommend that if you are ever in doubt about the language you are or will be using, please ask the people described or impacted by that language.

Self-description

The way in which words are used to describe people shows how society sees them and acts as a perceived measure of both their worth and overall contribution to that society. How we define ourselves reveals our internal existence and true lived experience.

“Everyone around me assumes that I am not able to do things. Whereas I can’t do some things some days, but I can other days … They had only read the language on my report and not met me. Then I spoke to them on the phone and they realised their mistake, encouraged me to go to university.”

When public speaker and anti-bullying activist Lizzie Velasquez was 17 years old, she discovered that she had been titled “The World’s Ugliest Women” due to her disability: a rare congenital disease called Marfanoid–progeroid–lipodystrophy syndrome that prevents her from developing body fat.

In this powerful TED Talk she talks about the importance of self-description for everyone and asks: “what defines you?” (closed captions are available for this video).

You can find out more about Lizzie on her Youtube channel.

The power of participation

The User Voice and Participation (UVP) Team believe that the voice of the service user should inform our practice. Our aim is not only to make sure that the voices of young people are heard but also to facilitate participation groups that embody the meaning of participation, as defined by the young people that we work alongside.

This process is ongoing and always will be. Through this process we hope to help young people grow as individuals. We should not just take feedback from young people, but also give back in ways defined by the young people themselves. Examples of this include helping them develop confidence, providing Makaton training or interview skills advice.

“ATLAS has helped me build friends but not just in ATLAS, outside too, as it has given me confidence.”

Previously, ATLAS was called SYAS (SEND Youth Advisors Surrey). Members worked to rename and rebrand the participation group so that it aligns more closely with how they self-describe.

As a group, not only will ATLAS be redefining itself, but the young people will also be creating a report of preferred terminology, due in the summer.

“My disability is fluid.”

Due to recognition of the fact that people identify with different words in different ways, ATLAS have decided to use a traffic light system to indicate whether words should never be used (red), that some people may be okay with some words (amber) and words that are more widely accepted (green).

“I would rather say I have additional needs than say that I’m disabled.”

“Everyone identifies with the word ‘disability’ differently. Some Deaf and Blind people don’t consider being deaf and blind a disability. But for me I am chronically ill so it doesn’t matter where you put me, I’m still in pain all the time. Some disability you might have a better experience, but with my chronic illness I am not gaining, I am only losing.”

Watch this space for more news about ATLAS and how their participation will be changing to be more accessible! In the meantime I will leave you with one last thought from our young people about the language around additional needs and disabilities:

“Honestly a lot of time it’s about asking. It is about how someone self-describes.”

Categories
accessibility Additional Needs and Disabilities Dyslexia Personal Story SEND

Dyslexia

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is an Additional Need and Disability (AN&D).

5% to 10% of the population have it. It is the most common specific learning difficulty. It is something that runs in families and is a lifelong disability. It is something you learn strategies to help you cope with, so people think you outgrow it, but you just learn to live with it.

Dyslexia is not just about muddling letters: it is when you struggle with spelling, confuse your letters (for example b and d), or may have difficulties reading, as you are not able to recognise sounds. Sometimes dyslexics come across as lazy or slow, as some struggle with following instructions.

Dyslexics find problem solving more easily than others – they think out of the box. Many dyslexics have high IQs and are incredibly clever people.
A myth is that dyslexics see letters moving around when black print is on white paper. That is visual stress. Although a lot of people with dyslexia have it, you can have visual stress without dyslexia.

Coloured overlays are not a cure for dyslexia, they help people with visual stress.

How to learn spellings

Depending on how your brain works, there are various spelling strategies, I found. Rainbow writing works the best for me. You learn each syllable in a different colour and then put it to one word.

An example list of words written using the rainbow writing technique for learning how to spell.
Example of Rainbow Writing

If you begin to remember spellings this way, try look, cover, write, check – you literally do as it says.

Staying on track with written work.

I find it hard to plan my work in my head and get it written down. I can talk all about a project, what I am going to do. However, when it comes to getting it on paper, I just can’t do it. A tool I have learnt is to ‘Mind map’ my ideas.

Example of a Mind Map. The central topic is in the middle with lines leading to subtopics and then lines from those to related ideas.
An example of a mind map

Start with the topic in the middle, then ideas coming off for each chapter and ideas off of each of those until I have the base details down, you can do each area in different colours if it helps. Then number them so you know what order to write it in.

General Day to Day Challenges

Because my brain has to work so hard, I can find it hard to concentrate for long periods of time and then when I get a break, I do tend to go a little crazy – just to unwind and relax.

My friends sometimes get angry with me, as I can take things very personally and then I get upset – it’s just how my brain works.

I’m not very organised, so I need help packing my school bag (amongst other things), otherwise I will forget things I need. Don’t give me a list of instructions, my brain can only cope with 2 instructions at a time, otherwise I will forget almost everything you have asked me to do – write it down, so I can do it and tick it off.

People used to call me stupid, thick, lazy or idiot – I now know that’s not true!

Things I Am Good At

I am a really good problem solver, I come up with solutions that many people wouldn’t have considered, I think out of the box – this is a skill that many businesses are looking for, so I am hopeful this will help me be successful when I am older.

Maths is an area that I do really well with, I think it’s my problem solving that helps me out.

Many people comment that I am kind and caring, I believe this is because, how I see the world and others, I know how I get treated, so ensure that I don’t treat people that way.

I have a higher than average IQ, many of the world’s most successful people are dyslexic – Richard Branson, Albert Einstein, our Health Minister – Matt Hancock, Tom Cruise and many more.

Before I found the SYAS team, I wouldn’t take part in a class assembly, however since I have been a member, it has boosted my confidence and I am more than happy to speak up and speak my mind, without worrying about how others see me.

The positives and negatives of Dyslexia

The word Dyslexia is draw out
Drawing of the word Dyslexia

Negatives:

  • My brain works much harder than most people’s
  • I’m not lazy, I just need more time to process what you are asking
  • I take things really personally
  • You need to give my instructions in small steps

Positives:

  • I think outside the box
  • I’m really good at maths
  • I’m a good problem solver
  • I have a higher than average IQ
  • I tend to do the right thing
  • I’m creative
  • Some of the world’s most successful people are Dyslexic
  • Thanks to ATLAS – I’m happy to do public speaking!