Natty and Mia are both sisters. Mia is 11 and Natty is eight. They both love netball, horse riding and singing and baking cakes and watching films. Both of them have Blue Peter badges. Natty also has Down's syndrome, which means she has an extra chromosome in every building block of her body to Mia. Mia says they look like 'wonkey Twiglets.'
Down's syndrome is a type of learning disability. As Mia says "that's what they call it when you are born with something that makes it harder to learn." I've worked hard to make people aware of learning disability and what it means to families, however one of the stories that rarely gets told is what it is like for brothers or sisters of people with a learning disability. So I wanted Mia to share her experience of living with Natty and growing up with Down's syndrome in the family.
Mia knew that when Natty was younger she was quite ill and had problems with her heart when she was two years old. She seemed concerned at the time but didn't quite know what the problem was or whether it was serious or not. We thought that was best for her.
For Mia, she really doesn't see the disability at all. They share so many of the same experiences that any form of disability is not an issue - if only this was true for the rest of society.
Mia is aware that Natty is a bit smaller than she was at her age and needs extra help to learn to do things in her own way. This can often take a significant amount of time and practice which Mia needs to help with and be patient with too. Natty had difficulty learning to do things but was lucky enough to get Physiotherapy and Portage which helped her crawl and she can now even pedal her tricycle.
Mia was always involved in helping Natty learn new things. She knew it would take longer than her to learn new skills so it's helped her develop a tolerance and patience of character that's rare for many 11-year-olds. Mia would help with the extra speech exercises and used Makaton signs with her so they could understand each other whilst growing up together. Mia always seems to be impressed with the new words or phrases Natty uses to express herself. Like 'sleep thinking' for dream - Mia thinks that's particularly clever.
What's amazing is to see the total understanding Mia has for the extra support Natty needs. As Mia says herself "We all need extra help sometimes. I get Mum to help with my homework, Mum sometimes can't open jars, and Dad isn't very good at reaching the back of his head by himself when he shaves his hair."
I think it also helps that as a family we have lots of friends who have a learning disability. Mia, unlike many 11 year olds her age and has been exposed to learning disability in an immensely positive way from such an early age. I think this is crucial to changing attitudes. Mia has lunch with the same people from Natty's nursery and plays cricket with them too. She counts many people with a learning disability as her friends, and does so for the same reasons as anyone else; they make her laugh, are friendly and probably most importantly have nice biscuits to share!
For many people that haven't met people with a learning disability it's all too easy to feel awkward and uncomfortable. For Mia this will never be a problem, and she's a shining example of how educating children early on about disability can change how future generations treat those who are all too often marginalised by society.
I know that research from Mencap revealed that 40% of the population are in contact with someone who has a learning disability. So during Learning Disability Week I hope we can open our minds a bit, interact with people with a learning disability more, and appreciate the wonderful and unique differences they bring to our world.
From the 15th June - 28th June the learning disability charity Mencap is asking people to celebrate Learning Disability Week 2015 with them. Mencap want to reach out to the general public, newly elected politicians and people in a powerful position to tackle the myths and conceptions about learning disability. If you want more information or to get involved in Learning Disability Week 2015, head here.