My name is Amy Sheldon and I’m 20 years old. I went to Vista Nova School for 15 years! When I was 11 months old, I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. As far as I know, the medically accepted definition is spastic diaplegia (which I’m currently trying to understand better). Anyway, when people ask me what Cerebral Palsy is, I tell them that it’s the part of the brain that controls movement that was damaged at birth. My muscles are also prone to become tight and when anything is done on effort they also become tight (spastic).
The brain damage occurred when my mother went into labour and she lost a lot of blood. She had only been carrying me for 26 weeks at the time. The nursing staff told her to prepare herself for the worst, because I was too young to survive and that this could only result in a miscarriage. So nature took its course and I was born. I was rushed to the incubator and then ICU. I stayed there for a few months.
When I was diagnosed, my parents were shocked but they made the best of a difficult situation. I started attending Red Cross Children’s Hospital on a regular basis for physio as well as occupational therapy. Then, at the age of 3 and a half, I became a pupil at Vista Nova School.
I had many operations which always made me feel that nothing worked anymore. The more I tried, the more it seemed that things went wrong – that was the hardest part of having Cerebral Palsy. I really hated myself.
In the early years of my time at Vista Nova School, It was also hard for me to adjust to being in a group because I grew up alone at home and spent most of my time with my mother. I enjoyed being in Mary Bowley’s class at Vista Nova School because she allowed me to take as much time as I wanted with my colouring in – she knew that I was a bit of a ‘perfectionist’.
I learnt to use my walker properly. It was my main mode of mobility until my physiotherapist Louise Athiros at Vista Nova School introduced me to tricycles; essentially big bikes that had a customised seat because the normal seats were too uncomfortable + 3 wheels. It gave me an enormous sense of freedom when riding down the walkway and foyers at school.
In grade 3 I started noticing that I really enjoyed writing stories and between grade 4 and 5, I achieved some Principal’s Awards for some of my creative writing pieces. I felt extremely proud of myself then.
When I was in grade 10 at Vista Nova School, I became involved in sports as an extra-mural activity. The physiotherapists, occupational therapists and the overseas volunteer students were really helpful and they made me want to participate in sports. Shot-put and discus were my favourite, (I was scared of javelin throwing). Unfortunately I could never be classified to compete for religious reasons. In that same year, I went on the television show Hectic Nine 9 as one of the school’s representatives to help create awareness around disability month. I was scared to go because I’m shy, but I managed to get a few words out on live television!
By this time, it was clear to me that Vista Nova School, my school, was like a second home to me. I looked up to my teachers; some were my mentors and were there for me when I had things that were bothering me. High school wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be; I had just been scared of the unknown.
At school, I had learned to function independently, after I started using a motorised wheelchair at the age of 11. Walking long distances at school, tired me out. I made use of the school’s bus service as they had wheelchair busses to transport me to school and home again. Even the bus drivers cared. At Vista Nova, you can be yourself because the educators, therapists and support genuinely care and they want you to succeed.
I even performed in concerts! I remember having to narrate an entire concert for 3 nights in a row in front of all the parents. I was nervous, but it was so much fun. The highlight of my school career was when I was awarded The Michael Fig Trophy. Michael Fig was an active member of the Western Cape Cerebral Palsy Assoc. for many years and was involved in the development of Vista Nova School as a member of its management Committee. He sadly passed away 2/3 years ago. This trophy that bears his name is awarded to a senior pupil, usually who is in Grade 12, who consistently upholds and displays the goals and values of Vista Nova School. Amongst these characteristics are integrity, caring, respect, trustworthiness, responsibility, fairness, citizenship, perseverance and personal excellence.
Before Matric, I was scared to leave, because school had become another comfort zone for me… What would I study? Where will I study and will I cope? Will I even pass Matric?
At the end of my Matric year in 2014, I did pass with an entrance into University. I was accepted into UCT and have been studying for almost 2 years now. I am studying towards a BA degree in English Language and Literature Studies as well as Film and Television Studies. If everything goes according to plan, I will graduate next year. I am not quite sure which career to pursue but there are many options and I have a willingness to work and succeed.
My first year at university was a huge adjustment for me; because I had to learn to ask for help more. I also had to deal with traumatic instances of being stuck in lifts, no teachers to assist me during fire drills (on campus). Being at university has made me stronger and I enjoy being in academia because there are rewards in everything that one does. I have also learned that it’s ok not to get things right the first time and that criticism isn’t a personal attack on your character or what you’ve said. There are many perceptions to every story. I even thought I was going to fail first year because I thought that I wasn’t ‘as clever as everyone else’. I didn’t fail and I won’t fail. Oh yes, and I’ve made friends that I know will support me through anything.
Living with a disability isn’t a death sentence because we are people like everyone else in this world. We also have hopes, dreams and fears. Too often we let what society thinks of us get in the way of who we are and how we see ourselves. How we see ourselves is important because we are all unique. For a long time I struggled with who I am and how I see myself. I was so concerned about what other people thought that I forgot to breathe. The struggles I have endured, made me realise that. Through early intervention and support at Vista Nova School, I am realising my dreams! I am making a difference in this world! Don’t give up and don’t compare yourselves to others. Go and follow your dreams and surround yourself with people that have your best interests at heart. Love, laugh and pray.