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Lauren Bradley

If someone told 21-year-old Lauren Bradley that anything worth having in life is worth fighting for - she’d tell them she already knows that. 

Her battles have been both significant and tough, but in spite of her often difficult journey, Lauren’s steely determination, along with the support of her mum Mandy, has helped her grow into a confident young woman with dreams and ambition in abundance. 

Lauren was attending a mainstream primary school when it first became apparent that she had a learning disability. She remembers that by the time she reached P3, things were becoming increasingly difficult for her and when her parents requested that she was given a formal assessment, the school refused. 

“I was getting a lot of homework that just didn’t ‘fit’ with me. I also had different books from my classmates and even although I was only little, I remember that it all felt very hectic and stressful. 

“The head teacher wasn’t helpful. She basically said that she would ‘worry about it if I couldn’t read by P7’. My parents weren’t satisfied with that and they transferred me to another school the following day.”

The inclusive education environment at Lauren’s new school worked well for her and she began to thrive. Although she still had difficulties with her learning, she responded well to the support she was given, enjoying school and mixing well with her peers. 

During this time, Lauren was also an enthusiastic swimmer and in the summer before she started P6, she was asked to try out for the special gymnastics team at Bellahouston. Within a year of joining, she had been selected to compete in the Special Olympics in Glasgow, something which she characteristically took in her stride. 

“I loved swimming but I wasn’t too fussed about competing. I think this is when I first realised that my mum was always around somewhere, waiting to step in and encourage me to do the things she believed I could. I’m glad she did because I won gold, two silvers and a bronze. It was a brilliant feeling!”

Although Lauren had been progressing well at primary school, the transition to high school  brought about an unfortunate new set of issues which would see her go through what she describes as the ‘hardest time of my life’. 

Despite the move being carefully planned between Lauren’s family and her psychological services, a breakdown in communication over staff changes meant that she did not know her support team when she started her new school.

This, together with the overwhelming experience of being amongst more than 1000 other pupils, having to navigate her way around the building’s confusing one-way system and the school’s insistence that she would study French despite knowing that she was barely able to read English meant that Lauren was once again struggling with communication and her peers. 

“If I couldn’t do something my classmates thought I was stupid. They also resented me when I was given a pass to get out of lessons five minutes early so that I could get round the one-way system. I found the system difficult because I would forget the numbers and where I should be, but the other pupils thought I was getting special treatment and I became even more isolated from them. 

“They didn’t understand that I had additional needs and the school didn’t make an effort to explain it to them. They just didn’t know how to support someone like me. I felt like everything was crumbling around me and I became really stressed. I tried to hide it from my mum, but in the end my body gave up on me and I had a complete meltdown.” 

By the Easter of S1, Lauren was admitted to hospital with the physical symptoms of a psychological breakdown, prompting her mum Mandy to evoke the parental right for staged intervention - against the wishes of the school and education authorities.  

At the beginning of S2 Lauren was successfully transferred to Merkland, a local special school, where she slowly but surely began to recuperate and once again feel as though she was fulfilling her capabilities. 

“I learned to read by the time I was fourteen and I went on to gain three standard grades and an Intermediate 1 Maths qualification.  I was so proud of that. I had become much more confident and even played the lead in the school drama show, which was amazing!

“It’s now been suggested that if I had received the right support, I would have been able to manage in a mainstream school, but I think the most important thing is that I felt secure at Merkland and their support was much better suited to my needs.”

It was while Lauren was at Merkland that she first became involved with the ENABLE Link project, which supports the formation of natural friendships in young people both with and without learning disabilities. 

The support that Lauren received from the group was so successful that, after initially joining as a participant, she went on to become a voluntary peer supporter to other members and she has now progressed to become a paid sessional worker in the group’s summer projects. 

“It was my mum who encouraged me to get into that as well! Before I joined the group I was pretty much glued to her side. I always felt that I needed to stay around the people I knew because I felt that mainstream people didn’t understand me, but she knew that I needed to get out there and live my life.

“I became so much more confident when I started to make friends and socialise more and it wasn’t long before I began to feel that I wanted to support other people. I love the work that I do, especially when I can see myself in them and relate to what they are going through because I know the difference that support can make.”

Lauren has also contributed to making sure that an impact is made on a wider scale by speaking publicly to raise awareness of issues for young people who have learning disabilities. 

She has delivered speeches at both the Scottish Parliament’s Holyrood Hustings and at the launch of the government’s Learning Disability Strategy Bill - where she took to the stage in front of 700 people to represent ENABLE Scotland as an ‘Inspirational Role Model’. 

“I can’t lie, I was nervous! But once I got up there and started to speak I felt fine. I mainly discussed my experience of making the move from primary to high school and explained what I felt needed to be done to make that transition smoother and safer for people with additional needs.”  

Lauren’s commitment to helping others is also evident in her future plans. She aims to work with young people who have behavioural problems and it is clear that her positive nature and determination have allowed her to let her negative experiences inspire her, rather than hold her back in life.

“There were five boys in my class at Merkland who had ADHD. Things could get out of hand at times but I was quite chilled out about it and I liked to help to keep them calm. One day my teacher pointed out that I coped well with them, and that’s when I first thought about that line of work as a potential career.”

After six years in a special support unit and the stress of exams, Lauren felt that she needed a change and decided to study an NC in Art when she first left school. But after a well-earned break, she is well and truly back on track with what she wants to do. She completed an Introduction to Care course in 2013 and is now studying an NC in Health and Social Care at North Glasgow College.

“My long term aim is to work with kids in a behavioural support unit and for the first time in my life, I’m looking at the future and really believing that I can achieve my goals.

“I’m lucky enough to have my mum never taking no for an answer, pushing me and believing in me. Her support has helped me to believe in myself and I can’t think of anything better than to be able to be the person who does that for other people.”

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