My cousin Ciara has barrelled through a lot of nasty stuff - I wouldn't have been able to do it. But one of the things I’ve learnt about her is how courageous she is. I know at times she’s challenged but, as an advocate for other people with a learning disability, she has the balls to walk up to a politician and tell them how it is.

Ciara has a learning disability. As a young teen, she was deeply affected by what people thought about her. I was always concerned that, because she was so trusting and outgoing, she was wide open to the cruelty of others. Before Ciara went to a special needs school, she went to a regular school, and it was only recently that she told me about the terrible bullying she’d suffered there. It makes me so angry knowing how much pain she went through.

If anyone is uncertain about the value of what Mencap do as learning disability charity, just look at what’s happened with Ciara and how she has developed since working with them. They utilised the things she always had and now she’s much more confident, much more able. And that’s about her being in a place where she and her skillset are valued. The effect has been profound.

She’s a really great communicator. She’s amazing at connecting with people in an unselfconscious and direct way. 

She has barrelled through a lot of nasty stuff by sheer strength of personality – I wouldn’t have been able to do it. In fact, one of the things I’ve learnt about her is how courageous she is. I know at times she’s challenged but, as an advocate for other people with a learning disability, she has the balls to walk up to a politician and tell them how it is.

I used to be quite protective of Ciara, making sure she got looked after, and was understood. But at a certain point, I realised I didn’t have to do that anymore. It was a great realisation. To embrace your own failings and know that they’re just as important as your strengths takes a certain wisdom and perspective. To be a person who can shrug off the crass judgements of the world can be difficult. I’m really proud that Ciara has made that jump.

I am proud to support Ciara’s work, as both her cousin and an ambassador for Mencap. 8 in 10 children with a learning disability are bullied and it breaks my heart to know that Ciara was one of these children.

I hope that by talking openly about the bullying she experienced, others will feel inspired by how Ciara overcame such dreadful bullying and people will now do something about it if they see it happening.

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