The latest experiment from The Secret Life of Five Year Olds brings in the incredible Daisy Mason – the first child in a wheelchair to be featured.
The Norfolk youngster was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, so she can’t control her muscles, she can’t walk or sit up unaided, but that doesn’t stop her from taking part in the Channel 4 series which follows five year olds as they play and interact.
Her mother Lucy vowed that she wouldn’t let anything hold her daughter back, encouraging her daughter to appear: ‘I do hope it will raise awareness for disabled children and it will also raise awareness for parents not to hold their children back for anything.
Daisy, 5, was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy which means she can’t control her muscles, she can’t walk or sit up unaided
Daisy with her mother Lucy and dad Adam – they wanted their daughter to take part to raise awareness of children with disabilities
Daisy was conceived via IVF and was born 12 weeks early, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
‘That it doesn’t matter what your child looks like or how tall they are or whether they have a disability or not they have a right to be a child and that’s that. Don’t hold them back.’
Lucy and her husband Adam, who had Daisy via IVF, wanted to see where their daughter fit in with her peers and how they would react to seeing someone in a wheelchair.
Daisy joins the other youngsters in the classroom and in the playground as they manoeuvre their new setting and the challenges it can bring being a disabled youngster.
Even though the children immediately notice Daisy is different to them, because of her wheelchair, their learning curve in the episode is eye-opening.
Some of the children are unsure of Daisy’s age, assuming she is still a baby because she can’t walk but eventually when the teachers encouraged the other children to include Daisy in their play they soon overcame any stalling points.
‘We know how she is with her family and with her friends, she is treated exactly the same as any other child and her friends treat her the same,’ Lucy explains.
While the children realised something was different about Daisy at first they soon were able to engage with her and include her in their play.
‘We have noticed that children who haven’t come into contact with other children with disabilities do treat her differently and she can be left out, they don’t kind of realise that she can’t move herself. When they’re all playing in one area and then run off to play in another she’ll just be left behind.
‘It was an experiment more than anything just to see where she was within her peer group and to see how they treated her and also how the adults would treat her.’
The five-year-old has wears a Lycra body suit for extra support and leg splints while she is in her wheelchair.
‘I think it is harder for her to become part of a group and to be accepted than it would, say for a child, without the wheelchair and disability.
‘I just want to highlight how difficult it is for our children and they have so many other things that they have to put up with that other children don’t. Just the equipment they have to use, to go to the loo, to the shower, to stand up and to sit down, and she wears splints on her legs and a Lycra suit to give her extra support so life is tough for her anyway.’
Daisy gets frustrated when she tries to communicate the games she wants to play with the other children but for her mum she wasn’t worried about the outcome and explains how her daughter doesn’t want her life to change.
‘She is so okay with her disability, she always says “I’ve got cerebral palsy” and that kind of thing.
‘I asked her if she would change anything about you and she said “No I don’t think so”. I thought she would say I would like to walk or be able to dress myself or something. She thought about and it and said “No I am quite happy as I am”. I think that speaks volumes really.’
Lucy explained how Channel 4 fitted the classroom and playground with specialist equipment including ramps and a wheelchair accessible playground just for Daisy to take part.
‘Daisy shows it’s the setting as well, some of the places we take Daisy we can’t get her in because of her electric wheelchair because it’s so heavy. Accessibility is the problem more than anything else.
Lucy explained how her daughter doesn’t want to change who she is and says she is ‘quite happy as I am’
The youngster at first struggles to communicate with her fellow Secret Life of Five Year Olds children, but she soon gets involved in play in her fancy pink wheels adorned with her name.
‘The channel and programme made sure everything was accessible to Daisy and a disabled toilet and an accessible roundabout and made sure there were ramps every where.
‘It was good for us because I felt Daisy was safe and we could leave her there, the place had been set up for a wheelchair user. That was really great that I could leave her there and be on my own.
‘She really was in safe hands. They made sure that she was okay and she had an extra one-on-one chaperone from Norfolk. They supplied all that, it was a big expense for them to have Daisy it was nice that they could really see where we were coming from and it will be really interesting to see where Daisy’s place was and they were prepared to risk it if you like… And put all the financial backing into it as well, we were really pleased.’
Daisy with her dad in a specially adapted bike where she can sit in the back and steer the wheels, complete with her own little basket
Lucy says of her daughter: ‘She is special, but she’s not special because she is disabled, she is special because she’s lovely’.
Daisy attends mainstream school and although her disability affects her movement and ability to join in physically she is very bright and her cognitive ability means she is able to keep up with her friends and peers.
‘You want to think that when she is with her peers and in a social setting that she is accepted and that she is able to get on with it without being fussed all the time, and I think that is the one thing that will highlighted beautifully by the programme itself,’ Lucy says.
‘I think it shows we need to give these people a bit more of a break and we wanted for it to highlight to our friends and family just to treat her the same as everybody else. She is special, but she’s not special because she is disabled, she is special because she’s lovely.
‘I think the programme is fantastic at highlighting that and I have obviously got quite a lot of friends with children who are disabled and I’m just hoping it will make their friends and family think that they’re just children at the end of the day. They need to have a good time really.’
The Secret Life of 5 Year Olds airs on Tuesdays on Channel 4 at 8pm.