Today’s story is about the power – the superpower! – of positivity.
Little Hero Emily has Spastic Diplegia, a type of Cerebral Palsy. Her parents were told when she was four weeks old (after being born at 29 weeks gestation) that she might not live, might not walk, and might not ever talk.
But ten years later, this vibrant, determined little girl will tell you very clearly:
“I can do anything if I put my mind to it.”
And she’s right. After spending much of her life in a walker and then crutches, at around nine years of age Emily started walking independently. It went against all the medical literature and evidence – at her age, it just shouldn’t happen. One day she just handed her crutches to her aide at school to hold while she did something. And she never came back for them!
Cerebral Palsy affects the movement in Emily’s legs, and she has to wear ankle-foot orthoses (AFOs, a type of brace to support her ankles, feet and lower legs). She spends a lot of time at PMH for medical appointments and doing therapy, and she finds herself with more injuries than most kids her age – black eyes, bruised knees and even stitches are not uncommon for Emily! But she never complains about any of it, and never says “I can’t.” She is as determined as she is positive, and that’s what’s behind her incredible progress.
But perhaps the most inspiring thing about Emily and her Mum Jenny is their determination to change the way the community sees disability.
One in five people have a disability. One baby is born every 15 hours with cerebral palsy.
So, when an eight-year-old Emily asked her mum why there wasn’t anyone like her in any of the catalogues they looked at, Jenny agreed it was a good question.
“Emily recognized the exclusionary message being sent by the lack of people with disabilities in media and advertising. It clearly had an impact on her developing self-esteem and her sense of belonging in the world. The influence of the media is not always used to benefit society, especially in relation to disability. It can add to the discrimination by reinforcing stereotypes, or by not including disability at all.
We need advertising to reflect the world in which we live. We need to see more people with disability being represented so that we can change the stereotypes and change the way society thinks about disability. We need brands to incorporate positive images of disability, so that Emily and other children like her feel like they belong in this world.”
So Emily decided to do something about it, and started modelling. She has worked for brands like Target, Designer Kidz, Pride Socks, Shop for Tweens, Miss by Jessica Bratich and Betts Kids (just to mention a few!). These brands have made a conscious decision to be inclusive in their advertising and Emily is proud to be a role model for other children.
When she’s not being a Covergirl or going to school (which she loves), Emily is hanging out with her family. She has a twin sister, Reese, who also has CP (Left Hemiplegia). They have an older brother Justin and a younger brother Jack, plus Finn the Staffy and Holly the Cat. She loves playing in the pool and the sandpit, riding her bike, drawing, playing with her friends, singing and movies.
“Emily can be really girly, but then not! I love that she fits no stereotypes and is her own unique self. She can’t be pigeonholed. She wants to try everything!
I love her affection, her cuddles and her heartfelt ‘I love yous;’ her determination, her perseverance, and the way she enjoys and participates in all of her therapy”.
While this family has such a positive outlook on life, it has been a journey. Jenny spent the first few years coming to terms with and learning what having Cerebral Palsy meant for Emily and of course worrying about all the things they couldn’t control.
“There were so many things that we had to just ‘wait and see’ about… whether she would live, if she would ever walk, or talk…
My biggest worry was that I wasn’t going to be the advocate she needed me to be. But she has given me that strength. Proudly now, she advocates for herself.
As her mother, I want to raise her to be a strong woman, I want to empower her and I never want her to use her disability as an excuse not to participate, even if society is telling her otherwise. Most importantly, I hope that she is always immensely proud of her disability and who she is… Because she is amazing!
Emily set herself a goal. She wanted to challenge and change the way that disability is represented and she is doing that. She is achieving her goal and changing how disability is seen and represented in the media. For that I am so very proud of her”.
In Emily’s own words, it’s important to represent people with a disability in advertising because
“It’s who we are. We all need to be included.”
*Shared with the permission of Emily*
Stay inspired by the amazing Emily by following her on Instagram and Twitter @littlemissyem_
You can purchase her artwork here.