Three Reasons to vote for Naomi Gwynne in the National Diversity Awards

Have you heard about the National Diversity Awards? (http://www.nationaldiversityawards.co.uk/)

For those that haven’t heard they are a prestigious award ceremony for individuals, charities and organisations within the UK who are promoting and making the world a more diverse and inclusive society. They were launched in 2012 and have huge sponsors including Microsoft and endorsed by many celebrities.

I was aware of them through social media when both a charity I support and a friend I know where both nominated last year and I had the honour of seeing both get through to the finals and attend the awards night. It looked amazing!

Imagine my utter surprise then when a few weeks ago an email appeared in my inbox from the National Diversity Awards informing me that my 9 year old daughter had been nominated for this incredible award this year! In fact I was so shocked I had to call them up as I was sure someone had made a mistake! Besides I had never seen a child nominated before so was sure something had gone wrong. I cried on the phone when I was told that, yes, my 9 year old daughter had really been nominated and yes, of course, children could and would be accepted providing they met the criteria.

I am absolutely delighted and honoured to tell you that Naomi meets the criteria…at 9!

Now it is all about votes. When voting you will be asked your email address and the reason why you are voting for Naomi. So I want to give you THREE reasons why I feel you should vote for my daughter. Of course I am biased but let’s stick to the facts:

1. She single handedly forced the local council to make a children’s play park more inclusive for children with disabilities.

How did she do this? Well Naomi has a twin brother who has complex medical and developmental needs. When her local play park was redeveloped at a cost of £160,000 Naomi was so excited to go and play with her brother. However on returning home she announced she was ‘sad’ because she noticed right away that while she was able to use the new swings her disabled brother wasn’t. She watched as all he could do was place his cuddly toys in the baby swing and push them because he was too big for the younger swings but developmentally unable to use the traditional flat swings for older children. Of her own doing at just 8 years old she put pen to paper and wrote this letter to the ‘park builders’.

As her mum I was so touched I knew something had to be done. Her voice needed heard. All I did was photograph her letter and tweet the council. It was all Naomi’s thoughts, ideas and writing. Neither she nor I had any idea how a child’s letter would catch the attention of the media.

Naomi went on to appear in all the national and local newspapers. She was featured on ITV news, magazines and even as far away as RTN in Germany! None of this phased Naomi who was much more delighted to be able to push her brother on a suitable swing when one was finally installed five days after writing her letter.

This alone deserves her to win! That swing is now used by thousands of children, not only children with disabilities but children of all ages and abilities who are now able to enjoy the park better as a result of the action of one child’s compassion and determination.

2. She overcame her own anxiety to appear on BBC breakfast to help fight for children with autism to be allowed sensory aids when schools were banning them.

When fidget spinners were suddenly all the craze I happened to write an article about how lovely it was for children like mine ,who both have autism and sensory needs, to be included more. As schools began banning the aids because they had suddenly become the latest craze Naomi became quite angry. She was indignant that children with sensory needs should be punished just because a sensory aid had become a popular toy for everyone. So when I was contacted by the BBC and invited onto their flagship BBC breakfast show and asked if my children would like to come too Naomi was determined to not only come, but to show personally how sensory aids were useful for children like her and her brother.

This involved a long train journey, a stay in a hotel overnight and a very very early rise as we had to be in the studio at 6am for the live show. All of this would be a challenge for any 8 year old, but for Naomi who has autism, severe anxiety and selective mutism all of this change was massive.

She did it! She may not have been able to speak but she showed the presenters her sensory aids and was determined to be there to fight for the right of others like her to have aids they need. I was so proud of her.

She overcame her own fears and anxieties to help others. That’s incredible for anyone let alone a child.

3. She showed immense bravery and courage to open up and write about her own struggles with food in order to try and help others.

Naomi knew I wrote about her and her brother. She was always asked her permission before I published anything about her and she would read over and change anything she wished. When one day a friend asked if Naomi would like to write something herself and suggested she may like to talk about her struggles with food Naomi decided she was ready. She dictated her thoughts to me and made sure I was recording them exactly as she said. When she had read through what she has said and amended anything she wanted I then asked her if she wanted to keep it for herself or share with others. Her immediate answer was to share it because others may be worried about the same things and she didn’t want them feeling alone! So her first blog was published via my own blog and it went viral very quickly. To date it has been read by over 250 thousand people all around the world and helped so many to understand and empathise and therefore hopefully become more tolerant and inclusive of those who struggle with food and eating.

Have a read at her words here: https://faithmummy.wordpress.com/2017/08/07/the-reason-i-dont-like-to-eat/

I am sure you will agree that showing that level of courage and bravely to make the world more inclusive and understanding of eating disorders deserves recognition alone.

So there are my three reasons to vote for Naomi. Naomi has a comprehensive diagnosis of autism, selective mutism, anxiety and an eating disorder. She has a twin brother who has severe needs and is unable to talk. She lives with his challenging and unpredictable behaviour and his ever changing medical needs. Recently she has had to watch him taking seizures in front of her yet she remains calm, loving and gentle at all times towards him. From aged 5 when she started school she has stood out as a child with huge compassion and empathy using the skills she gained from living with her brother to help others. (https://faithmummy.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/the-day-my-five-year-old-changed-her-class-without-saying-a-word/)

She has achieved more in 9 years than many of us achieve in a lifetime.

I should not really have been shocked she was nominated for such a prestigious award but in my eyes she deserves to be honoured at any level.

If you agree and you would like to vote for her you can do so here: https://nominate.nationaldiversityawards.co.uk/nominate/endorse/31936

Thank you.

Even if she does not progress any further it is so good for her to know that her efforts are worthy of recognition and that people see that she really is making the world a more diverse and inclusive place to be..even at 9.

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When you watch your child struggling

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It’s the end of term here in Scotland which traditionally means schools and nurseries relax the rules a little bit, organise sports days and school trips and have end of year awards ceremonies and graduations. Parents love them, teachers spend more time decorating rooms, organising teams and taking photographs of children than they do teaching, and social media fills up with post after post of proud parents posting of their child’s achievements. But for some children, my own two included, all these changes bring stress, anxiety and confusion.

My children don’t excel in sports, or academics. School trips makes their anxiety levels soar. And the relaxing of the rules is so confusing for them both.

So while parent after parent takes pride in their child winning races, telling them all the details of their school trip or enjoying all the wonders of this years school fair, I rejoice in the simple fact of my child taking part.

Isaac had his first ever sports day at his special needs school last week. I knew he had been preparing for it when his legs had even more bruises than normal on them and he came home upset. They sent me home a photograph of his assistant helping him bend down to pick up something in a race. I have no idea what else when on that day. But I do know he took part in some of it. And that makes me incredibly proud. He has no concept of sport, or competing, or what he was supposed to do. He would have been much happier running around the hall flapping in circles. But with constant support he took part. It was a struggle for him and his teacher. But they tried. And that was worth getting a gold medal in my book!

He had his first ever school trip this week. His class of five children went to the safari park. But his taxi arrived that morning and it was a different colour, and his beloved food catalogue wasn’t there as it was in the other car. No catalogue, wrong car and the added confusion of a ‘different’ day were all too much and it took thee adults to carry him into the taxi kicking and screaming. I should have stood outside the school gates waving him away on a bus like every other parent of a child in mainstream school. Instead I was still hearing his crying as the taxi pulled away from our street. My heart was broken seeing him struggle so much. And knowing he can not come home and share with me the joys and excitement of his day because he can not speak. He came home with three photographs in his bag. The tears of pride I had when he chose to sit on my knee and point to those pictures. That was worth the struggle to get him into that taxi.

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Naomi had her first sports day at nursery last week too. As all the other children independently came out of the class and down the three stairs into the garden she had to be supported by a member of staff. As all the others formed a line and filed into rows of seats she just stood there. She had no idea of the social ‘rules’ going on so could not follow them. She had to be seated on the last seat away from her friends. As the races began her face went paler and paler. As she watched children run across a small section of garden, she looked so lost and was huddled into the rows in front by staff and pupils alike like a little lost sheep just following the crowd. When it came to her race she never moved until the word ‘go’ was said and she ran as fact her little legs could go, which isn’t very fast at all. The others finished and the next group were all lined up but she wasn’t even at the finish line yet. The tears in my eyes were a mixture of sadness, pride and overwhelming love all rolled into one. The staff and parents cheered her on like she was one of their own. And finally she made it. The others full of energy while she was exhausted from just one short race. With difficulty and support she completed every race in a similar manner! Last by a long way every time. Thankfully there was no sack race or hurdles as she still can’t jump. As all the children received medals and had pictures taken there was a massive round of applause for my daughter as she stepped forward to get hers. We had all watched her struggle. And we all celebrated her victory.

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This week she struggled again. This time it was the nursery graduation. The hat and coat annoyed her so much. The noise of all the children and adults was so loud for her. The heat in the room made her feel sick. But she sang, she watched videos of everyone’s time in nursery, and she clapped for the other children receiving their certificates and school ties. All the while her face was getting paler and her hands were moving more in front of her showing her anxiety. As all the others jumped excitedly onto the made up stage she needed two members of staff to support her up. She stood at the top terrified. But she did it. I can not begin to tell you how proud I was of her. At that moment it didn’t matter one bit that she doesn’t speak there, or that she is still wearing a nappy, or that she has autism. At that moment in time I was so proud of her for getting to that point, for overcoming her struggles and taking part.

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Tomorrow we have Isaac’s end of term celebration at his school. I know he will struggle. But I know with support he will get through it.

It is hard to watch your child struggle. But it is even harder for them. Sometimes courage can be found in children who are trying hard to take part despite everything.

They say it is the taking part that counts. And even though Naomi has had nose bleeds, fainted,and cried with it all this week and Isaac has bit himself, screamed and gone deeper into his own world as a result of struggling with the changes end of term has entailed, they have both made me so proud.

I watched my children struggle. But I watched them overcome too. It’s been a year of struggles but also a year of breakthrough.
Life really is about taking part. Because for many children, like mine, that is an achievement all on it’s own.