New school, new kids, new challenges – moving onto the next stage of school is a scary time for limb-different and non limb-different children alike.
In primary school (or elementary depending on where in the world you're reading this), the people around you have known about you and your condition for so long that it's natural and rarely are any problems caused. You're between three to five-years-old and as kids are, you just get on with it.
Then, when high school rolls around, things change. The amount of kids in school doubles exponentially, such as in my own case. I went to St. Brigid's Primary School in Beswick, Manchester which had around three-hundred children altogether. Everybody knew about me and my hand. I had a few problems now and then with older children but most of the time I managed to get past it on my own.
By the time I left St. Brigid's in 2006, I was ready to move on to high school. What I didn't anticipate was the sheer growth in numbers. From a school of three-hundred to a high school of over one thousand teenagers at Wright Robinson high school, life began to seem shook up and all of a sudden I didn't feel as confident nor as outgoing. If you've read my 'Summertime' story, you'll know about my sense of invisibility in long-sleeve.
Yep, I kept my school blazer on as often as I could, but it didn't stop people referring to me as the “kid with the bad hand.” Once again I wasn't comfortable with the new eyeballs and the constant stares. It took me some time to find my place and comfort in the schooling system and P.E. was one of those times. See, I used to wear a splint on my right hand. It covered my hand to protect it should I ever take a knock or a hazardous fall. I had gone through numerous styles of splints and this one happened to include wearing bandage underneath it.
In doing so, this meant that if I was to do P.E, I'd have to change the bandage around so it wouldn't smell of sweat all day and in a small, cramped changing rooms that the old building presented, I knew it would have to be a fast change to spare the looks from classmates. I was always open to talk about it, but showing it was another thing. If I was ever asked to show somebody my hand, I'd feel like some sort of special attraction. Looking back I'm sure I could've sold tickets on the side over the five years!
If you're a parent with a limb-different child, ensure you check in and let them know you're open to discussion. It sounds millennial but kids need to know there's positive reinforcement. It'll only help build a stronger character and will a long, long way with helping their daily strides. My parents were great in assisting me and making sure I could open up to them, but I also got lucky with the leaders of our year group as well as knowing people two years above me through my brother.
I had a great deputy & head of year in Miss Carr & Mr Hunt who helped me settle in much more. I remember well on my first day, Mr. Hunt found my class and had me step outside for a second. At first I was scared you-know-what! However, he politely informed me that if anything was said or if I ever needed a word, he had ears that would listen and I greatly appreciated that. I'd seen Mr. Hunt dispose of a couple of children for bullying peers over, so I knew it was legitimate and being the only one out of over one thousand kids, sometimes you need all the help you can get.
Over the span of high school I settled in my own time. I found my friends and eventually, I felt the aura surrounding my hand quickly die down. My own experiences provided very little bullying, but that's not to say I didn't have my share of confrontations.
Might I add, to parents and limb-different children alike, just because it's always been accepted doesn't mean there aren't times of trouble and bullying and just because they're not telling you, it doesn't mean it's not happening. There will be times where their condition is brought up in a joke or bullying and due to it not ever being a problem beforehand, the child may not know how to react.
They need to know that it's not ratting someone out should they be picked on. You may be dragged into deep waters and have to face physical altercations, but always do your best to avoid it. There is nothing wrong with standing up for who you are and learning to be comfortable in your own way.