Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Who is your real-life Superhero?


Learning Disability Week is an annual awareness-raising campaign organised by Mencap. This year it is taking place from 19-25 August 2013 and will celebrate people with a learning disability, their families and supporters by asking the question; who is your real-life superhero?

Earlier this year I wrote a blog entitled “Who wants to be a superhero anyway?” about how we parents shouldn’t feel like we have to change the world – we just need to be there for our family, do what we can and not feel guilty about what doesn’t get done. Now those lovely people at Mencap ask me to write a piece about our family superhero……..hmmm (scratches head) – how do I do this without appearing to contradict myself? (image of broken egg and shell dripping down face).

Well, it’s simple.

Superheroes are recognised as such by others. They themselves think what they’re doing is normal, nothing extraordinary, no super powers - just getting on with life and being themselves. Superheroes don’t have to try to be superheroes just like chickens don’t have to try to be chickens* – they just are! (*insert your own animal if chickens are not to your fancy but at least I’m sticking with the egg theme!)

Our family superhero is my wife Sheron.

Sheron is amazing; she gave up work to be a full time mum and by the time our son was born we had three children aged 4 and under - one of whom had a learning disability. Here we are 20 years later and I can honestly say our family would be nothing without our superhero.

Would she recognise herself as a superhero? – No

Would she think she was anything other than any other wife and mum – No

Does she dress up in a catsuit or shiny boots like Wonder Woman?....... (ahem)

Our daughter Emily has Down’s syndrome. She turned 21 last week. She’s fantastic, loves life and lives it with confidence and a freedom which many others could only dream of. Emily is living proof that people with learning disabilities contribute more to our world than they receive back. She has taught me so much about acceptance, tolerance, humility and love and I am so thankful my eyes have been opened. Yet when Emily was born we knew nothing about Down’s syndrome and very little about parenting! Sheron was the one who wanted to learn as much as she could about the condition and do all she could to help Emily develop her potential. She was the one who learned Makaton, arranged Portage sessions, took Emily to the Down’s group at our local hospital to meet other families. She was the one who sought out other local families who’d been through the same, who visited them to see what experiences they had (no internet back in 1992 remember).

Yet Sheron was the one who wanted to make life better for others by leaving her name and contact details with the hospital, making herself available to visit new parents who needed encouragement and inspiration. Not only was she a great mum but also a great advocate for people with Down’s syndrome and a great source of hope for strangers who became friends.

Sheron was the one who helped pioneer our local Down’s syndrome support group and has been a Trustee and Secretary for the past 16 years; everyone knows if a job needs doing Sheron will get it done. She was the one who fought to get the schooling Emily needed despite the oft repeated refrain “but we’ve never done it like that before”. Sheron’s typical response was “well there’s a first time for everything”.

Sheron had to cope with the sudden and untimely death of her Dad when Emily was just 3 months old and then lost her Mum to cancer aged just 58. Since then there has been little family help, little respite and little support but Sheron has helped Emily to thrive and flourish.

And in all this Sheron would say that her life has been enriched by Emily’s presence and she’d be right. But Emily simply could not have achieved so much in her life without Sheron’s determination, generosity and unconditional superhuman love.

And as her name shows she’s definitely got a hero inside her - SUPER sHEROn!
With love,


Me, Emily & Sheron at Emily's 21st party