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!