Hello! I’m Carol-ann. I thought for my first post, I’d share a (festive) story with you all.
Last week, having gone to my local supermarket to pick up dinner, and seduced by the Christmas aisle, I bought two Thomas the Tank Engine toys. Festively cheerful, the cashier asked if I was Christmas shopping and told me how much her son loved Thomas the Tank Engine. I was sure the dreaded, “Who are these for, then?” was coming, and I felt uncomfortable.
“Aaw, how old are they?”
For, you see, my (twin) brothers have a learning disability. And this means they get as much joy from Thomas and Friends, now, as they did when they were 3. There is no shame in this, of course, but how do you explain it to a supermarket cashier you’re having a brief and fleeting interaction with, who may never have met somebody with a learning disability? And is it worth it?
In the short time it took her to scan Thomas, Toby, the ingredients for my meal that evening, and an advent calendar (for my 31-year-old self), I had fought a painful, internal conflict, for which a resolution I am never able to decide on. Do I lie and tell her they’re for my nephews (she’d assume they were children)? Or do I tell her the truth, and risk her feeling terribly awkward, or worse still – not understanding. Not understanding what it means to have a learning disability, and not understanding my brothers.
I needn’t have worried – she didn’t ask. But it got me thinking.
I am very lucky that my job means I spend my days surrounded by people who either have a learning disability, or people who have a profound understanding of learning disability. It means that when a colleague asked me today if I’d started my Christmas shopping and then asked what I had bought my brothers, I comfortably and proudly replied, “a fence”.
A fence? Yes, a fence from a builders merchants. A plastic, red and white, concertina fence, that’ll blow all previous attempts at recreating a “construction site” in Mum and Dad’s living room, out of the water!
Just the thought of their faces on Christmas morning, means I’m grinning as I write this.
I realised as I told my colleague about my Christmas present purchases, how wonderful it was to share something about my brothers - about my family - that was slightly off the wall. And with someone who didn’t bat an eyelid at it. It is precisely why I am so excited about the launch of this online community. I hope other siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles - anyone who loves and cares for a person with a learning disability, will feel comfortable enough to share their stories with me, and with others in this community, without fear of ridicule or persecution.
Years ago, I worked as a teaching assistant at a special needs school and I will never forget the mother who burst into my classroom one January and announced it had been her family’s most joyous and successful Christmas yet, because they had given their nonverbal, teenage son - who had autism and a severe learning disability - the Yellow Pages and a plastic, grass effect doormat for Christmas. He had spent the holidays shredding the Yellow pages and kneading his bare feet into the doormat, so his sensory needs were well catered to, and his meltdowns minimised.
It still gives me a giggle now. But only because, I “get it”.
So, I ask you. Have you ever given the person with a learning disability in your life an unconventional gift, and what was it? And what are you giving them this Christmas?