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.

To the child at the awards ceremony who knows their name will never be called.

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Ah, end of term.

Sports days, shows, school trips, report cards and of course the all important end of year award ceremony. Proud parents just as excited as their children, relieved teachers glad to show that someone really loved their teaching and halls full of eager little ones hoping and praying their name will be called.

You already know social media and family gatherings will be all about little Jane who had a distinction in maths, or young Brian who scored the most goals for the school football team this year…but what about all those children sitting through the ceremony year after year longing for their name to be called yet never hearing it?

What about the children who have found the school year exhausting, who have struggled to master ten new spelling words a month and who have needed support every single term? What about the child whose parents have separated this year meaning she has had huge difficulty focussing and has slipped down the ability chart as a result? What about the child for whom just getting through a single day with the noise, bright lights and confusing smells is a huge achievement? What about the child whose health issues mean that getting to school is an achievement in itself?

What about the children like mine?

Each year they become more and more disappointed. Each year their self worth and excitement gets less. They will never be top of the class, or excel at sports or get the starring role in the school play.

More and more children with special needs are being educated in mainstream schools. It has huge advantages but at this time of year of competition and recognising achievement it can be so demoralising for a child who has tried their best day in and day out and still never hears their name at the award ceremony.

I wish I could speak to every one of those children. I wish could hug everyone of their parents. I know the heartache of seeing your child feel left out. I know how hard it can be to clap and cheer every achievement announced knowing your child can never compete or be in for a chance of winning something.

Stay strong children. Stay strong parents. In cheering on others and noting their success you are developing character and if that was ever measured you would both win without a doubt.
If there were awards for perseverance, for strength, tenacity and determination YOU would be the winner. If there were awards for fighting spirit, purity and trying they would be calling out your name loudly.

One day the world will realise stars are much more that the best achievers.

Until that day, if your name is never called at that award ceremony: stay strong. Your self worth is not measured by certificates. Your importance is not measured by how many people cheer.

You are important. You are worthy and you are special. You are the best at being you and that is better than any award that any school can offer.

I’m not sure if you can hear it little one but I am cheering you on! Keep up the great work!

This piece originally appeared here