Learning Disability Week – Friendships

22nd June 2016

It’s Learning Disability Week. This year, its celebrating friendships and relationships. When you hear the statistic that 33.7% of people with a learning disability are worried about being bullied, it’s clear that strong bonds and good relationships are invaluable.

Here, Charlotte Birch, the inspirational speaker at our Transition Event and her best friend Nathan, talk about what their friendship means to them.

Charlotte and NathanPicture1Picture this. It’s 1995. Children are running free in the school playground. In the centre, there’s a boy, with the brightest ginger hair you’ve ever seen, happily tucking in to a packet of Pom Bears. Suddenly, he’s joined by a smaller (much smaller) girl, with a questionable haircut, trying to share his packet of Pom Bears. He reluctantly obliges, and unbeknownst to them, a friendship that would last 21 years (and counting) was born.

This is the story of how Charlotte and Nathan met (or at least how they remember it). Charlotte was born with cerebral palsy and Nathan has been her partner in crime ever since that fateful playground meeting. Here they discuss growing up with disability, their friendship and why Nathan still hasn’t forgiven her for the seesaw incident when they were 7.

C: Nathan is like the brother I never had – I can say that because I don’t have any brothers! Ever since Reception we’ve been the best of friends. We’re quite similar, we tend to like a lot of the same things and during our school years we even studied the same subjects! We make fun of each other – especially the size of my big toes – cause mischief and occasionally bicker, but we’re always there for each other.

N: Like she said, Charlotte was always my partner in crime throughout school. We were in the same tutor group for most of first and middle school, and as somewhat of a troublemaker, I was very grateful that her parents accepted me as her best friend! All joking aside, we do have very similar interests, and it was our shared love for Pom Bears that brought us together.

C: Nathan’s always been protective of me, but never in an overbearing way. He understands how cerebral palsy affects me but he treats that as completely normal. I think he plays a large part in why I was fortunate enough never to be taunted at school. He’s always been very aware that I wouldn’t be able to do some things that other children could. He was always on hand to make sure I never felt alone and that other children wouldn’t laugh at me.

N: Despite several trips, slips and falls, I’ve never seen cerebral palsy affect Charlotte in a negative way. My protecting her came naturally with her being my best friend. I always felt it necessary to make sure she was okay. I just saw that as me being a good friend, rather than something she needed. Moving up through school, I soon realised that Charlotte wouldn’t allow cerebral palsy to stop her from achieving what she wanted.

C: I remember there was one occasion in high school when I tripped over in the middle of the playground. Some children started to laugh at me. Nathan told them to stop laughing and explained that I couldn’t help falling over. It’s just been acts like that over the years that have been so important to me.

N: I think my protective nature came from wanting to be a good friend. Naturally, I didn’t like the fact that anyone would laugh at Charlotte. Despite that, I think I’ve probably laughed at Charlotte more times than anyone else over the years, especially when she fell through a plastic greenhouse at her birthday party!

C: I think the less said about that the better…I think for me, a key part of our friendship is that he’s never treated me differently, regardless of who we’re with. In fact, I’m going to mention the seesaw incident.

N: Uh-oh…

C: Nathan used to have one of those plastic seesaws in the back garden. One day we discovered that we could make it go vertical whilst playing on it. We got a little over-confident and on one particularly over-enthusiastic go, the seesaw went vertical. I was at the top. It was as though time stood still before I fell off the top and elbowed him in the face. Naturally I started crying, Nathan’s Mum came to the rescue, very concerned about my elbow, but as Nathan was not crying, we considered him to be fine. He still hasn’t forgiven me for that. The point of this story being, he’s doesn’t give me special treatment because I have a disability, he’s always treated me as an equal.

N: The seesaw incident is just one incident where Charlotte has injured me. Throwing a juggling ball in my face and giving me a black eye is another that stands out! She is definitely someone who doesn’t need special treatment. She is more than able to pick herself up (literally and metaphorically). I think that resilience is a huge part of why we’ve been friends for so many years as I’m someone who believes in doing the same.

Charlotte and NathanPicture2C: Now we’re getting older, into fully-fledged adulthood, our friendship has (mostly) matured with us. We now go for dinner or meet for coffees. We’re like two little old ladies who like to gossip about everyone. He’s absolutely flying in his career and in life (he’s getting married!). I’m very proud of him. It’s brilliant to still have as strong a friendship as we did when we were 5. I don’t want to give him a bigger ego than he’s already got, but for me it’s been rather lovely to grow up with someone always looking out for me.

Charlotte has been a huge part of my journey into adulthood. I consider her friendship as a massive factor in where I am today. On more than one occasion she has supported me, kept me on the straight and narrow! I’m incredibly proud of where Charlotte is today. Seeing her career in media grow is amazing as it truly is something that she has dreamed of doing.

In three words: What has your friendship bought to your lives?

C: Fun, happiness and factor 50 sun cream.

N: Smiling, laughing and food.

Useful Links


Find out more information about their campaign and how you can get involved if you want to.
Web: www.mencap.org.uk


National charity supporting and campaigning for people who are deafblind and have sensory impairments.
Web: www.sense.org.uk

We want to hear your stories about what your relationships mean to you. Tweet us at @weareMFON and don’t forget to use the hashtag #LDWeek16. Or email us if it’s a long one!

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