Orla’s wise words will improve your mindset- and even your day!
“The study found that children with upper limb differences have better peer relationships and more positive emotional health compared to other kids.” Orla Duncan
We spoke to Psychosocial Nurse Practitioner Orla Duncan about the effects of the Covid-19 lockdowns on mental health, dealing with negativity towards difference and how to help overcome feelings of isolation.
Why do you think being a part of Reach is important for children and parents, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Family organisations such as Reach are a hugely important source of emotional support and information. Connecting and sharing experiences with others in a similar situation can help with feelings of isolation and can bring a dimension to support that health professionals, simply cannot.
As the end of lockdown approaches, do you think the pandemic will have a lasting effect on people?
The pandemic has stopped us from seeing friends and family and may have increased existing feelings of isolation. And this is for everyone; adults, children, and young people, not just those with an upper limb difference. Many of us have felt “safe” at home and may now feel unsure about larger gatherings or apprehensive when lockdown does eventually end. In sharing these feelings, we can begin to explore solutions and we can support those who are struggling.
What advice would you give to parents and children to overcome negativity towards limb difference?
It’s important to remember that a child’s self-image comes from what they perceive about themselves and how they think others perceive them. When you give your child positive reflections, they learn to think well of themselves.
Positive responses | Responding to a child’s questions about their limb difference in a matter of fact and positive manner from an early age will help them to confidently answer questions they may receive from their peers. This will give them a sense of control over social interactions that involve questions about the limb difference and avoid a lingering sense of discomfort that results from not knowing how to answer questions.
Finding a language that works for you | Parents can model good responses to questions by managing reactions from others in a positive way. Part of my role is to help parents to find a language or way to share specific and accurate information that fits their values and purpose. I help parents to understand why strangers might ask questions, and that people, both adults and children, will ask about what they don’t understand.
Ask for help | Remember that it’s okay to ask for help with something that is new to us. Many parents may need some help finding a language that works for them initially. Most hospital teams have access to psychological and or psycho social services and reaching out to Reach to speak with another parent might be beneficial.
Communication | Encouraging children to tell their parents when they’ve been asked about their limb difference can help to build a communication channel between parent and child which is safe, calm, honest and developmentally appropriate, this will be beneficial in sharing thoughts and feelings as the child develops.
A great example of this came up recently, a Mum shared with me that her child (5 years old) was being “helped” by a clearly well-meaning classroom assistant. The child was frustrated because they felt that they did not need any help. The Mum asked the child what they wanted to do to address the situation. A meeting was organised between the child, the classroom assistant, and the class teacher, with the child leading the meeting. This gave the child the opportunity to explain clearly how they felt, giving them control over the situation. The child felt pleased with the outcome as they were heard, with the classroom assistant learning that no help was needed.
What would you say to parents or a young person navigating feelings of difference or isolation?
Explore the reasons why | It’s important to explore possible reasons behind the feelings of isolation and being different. Was there a situation where you might have felt uncomfortable about being asked? Are you worried about being asked again? Do you have the right help and support to be able to answer questions about your upper limb difference?
Recognize the negative feelings & associate positive feelings | Acknowledging and naming these feelings is important i.e., frustration, sadness, and then thinking about positive characteristics is important too. Placing value and emphasis on positive attributes such as determination and kindness, for example, can help you to focus on positive aspects of your personality.
Remember, your upper limb difference is part of you, but it does not define who you are as a person. Think about what your values and priorities in life are and how you might start to achieve them.
Yes, something really positive to leave parents and children with was a study I read about from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center. The study found that children with upper limb differences have better peer relationships and more positive emotional health compared to other kids.
“Remember, your upper limb difference is part of you, but it doesn’t define who you are as a person.” Orla Duncan
Find out more about Orla and watch her Webinar: https://reach.org.uk/reach-insights-nolimits-webinar-recordings/
Read the entire Within Reach magazine here: https://reach.org.uk/within-reach-download/
Take a look at the Charity Changing Faces- long supported by Orla: https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/
Watch Orlas story here: