I was about four when I started to notice I was different to other kids. Seeing that I was my mum’s first child, she too wasn’t aware that I was anything other than a healthy baby. It was a health visitor who, when I was nine months old, first noticed I wasn’t hitting my development targets. The older I got the more obvious my disabilities became. Only at the age of seven, after years of pleading by my mother for my condition to be taken seriously, did the doctors finally diagnose me as having cerebral palsy. Having a diagnosis wasn’t going to change anything, but it was a relief for my mum – at least she now knew the root cause of my problems.
'I don't want to be given allowances for my disability - being treated as an equal is more important.'
My mum knew that, like her, I had a strong character. She believed that if I was given opportunities it would only be my attitude to life that would hold me back. That’s why, regardless of what I couldn’t do at the time, my mum still sent me to preschool. It was her wish for me to lead as near normal a life as possible, and she knew without the same educational opportunities as other children I’d never reach my full potential. That is why, with her support and strong belief in me, I’ve developed such a positive outlook on life.
By the time I started mainstream primary school I wasn’t fully able to walk. Although I tried, it took a lot of effort as I lacked the physical strength needed, so I relied on either a walking frame or wheelchair. Being different often means you’re a target for bullies – I was no different. It was my mistake not to mention it sooner, but I didn’t want to cause any problems at school – I thought it best to fight my own battles. But after many months things got too much for me; I told my mum and she quickly got things resolved.
Being bullied can have a strange effect on you. I wasn’t going to let the bullies win, so instead of shying away from things I did the opposite – I took on more challenges and pushed myself even harder! I know my own limits, but I still believe it’s better to have a go and possibly fail than never try at all.
Outwardly, I’m not that different to anyone else – two arms and two legs – it’s just that my limbs sometimes have a mind of their own. This affects my movement and co-ordination which, at times, when coupled with my iffy balance, sends me veering off in a different direction. But on the inside I’m not that different from any other person. I don’t tend to class myself as having a disability, that would just stop me from doing things.
Even ‘Miss’, the lady who looks after me at secondary school, now sees beyond my disability. According to her, I’m a happy-go-lucky young lady with a positive attitude that makes her job easy – but in truth I’m just being myself. We’ve been working together since my first day at secondary school. When we first met I was using an electric wheelchair. After a while, instead of relying on the wheelchair, she encouraged me to walk to my different lessons around the school. The more I walked, the stronger I became. Now, apart from using a frame occasionally, I don’t use the wheelchair that my mum fought so hard to get for me! That came as a relief to the school caretakers; I wasn’t the best driver and the doorframes took a bashing. Miss and I make a good team – she gives me space when I need it and encourages the fact that I want to become more independent.
Because my body moves all the time (even when I’m asleep) I use up a lot of energy, so by the end of a school day I’m exhausted. Overall it makes studying more of a challenge when, as Miss says, I’m busting out some dance moves in class. But I don’t use that as an excuse and so far my grades are on track. I get homework like everyone else; and if isn’t handed in on time I get the same consequences as any student. And that’s how it should be, I don’t want to be given allowances for my disability – being treated as an equal is more important. My outlook on life is one of being positive and happy. Therefore, I smile… a lot. Even if other students don’t know me by name they’ll recognise me by my smile.
'So many people have complications in their lives; it's up to you whether you let problems hold you back.'
I enjoy the fact that I’m at such an inclusive school. I’m also grateful for the support I receive from teachers and students. They give me encouragement (especially during sports day) and make allowances for me when and if I need it.
I’ve got a lifetime of dreams and ambitions ahead of me. And those around me, especially my mum, want me to achieve them. Am I normal? No, but what’s normal? So many people have complications in their lives; it’s up to you whether you let problems hold you back.