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My Transgender Daughter, Nicki: A Story of Suffering and Survival

Sharon has a teenage daughter who is transgender. She describes how Nicki was born in a male body but felt from a very young age that she should have been a girl.

“When my child Nick was about two, I realised that he wasn’t playing with toys that I expected a boy to play with. He was interested in dolls and girly dressing-up clothes. At that age, it doesn’t really matter. You just think they’re trying lots of different things, so I never made a fuss about it.

My-transgender-daughter“But when he was four years old, Nick told me that God had made a mistake, and he should have been a girl.

“I asked my GP what I should do. He told me to wait and see, and that it might just be a phase and go away. But it didn’t. It got stronger.

“One day when Nick was six, we were in the car, and he asked me when he could have the operation to cut off his ‘willy’ and give him a ‘fanny’ (*vagina). His older cousin had told him about these things.

“I spoke to a friend who’s a psychiatrist. He said I should contact the Tavistock Clinic [now The Tavistock and Portman service for children and young people with gender identity issues].

“He also told me that the medical term is ‘gender dysphoria’. When I looked it up online, I found Mermaids, a charity that helps children with gender identity issues and their families.

“I also spoke to my GP again, who referred us to the local mental health unit. The person at the unit had worked at the Tavistock and knew about gender identity issues.

“He was brilliant. It was such a relief to talk to somebody who understood what was going on. I’d blamed myself, but he reassured me that it wasn’t my fault. We were then referred to the Tavistock Clinic.

“The team from the Tavistock came to Nick’s school and talked to the teachers. They helped the teachers to understand that Nick wasn’t being difficult, and that this may or may not be a phase. When a child is this young, you just don’t know.”

From Nick to Nicki

“Nicki desperately wanted to be female all the time. When she was 10, we feminised her name from Nick to Nicki at home. The following year, Nicki started secondary school as a girl.

“The school was very supportive, but because she moved up to secondary school with her peer group, everybody knew.

“In the first week, she was called a ‘tranny’ and a ‘man-beast’. She was spat on and attacked in the corridors. Within her first six months of being at that school, she took four overdoses.

“We then pulled her out of school, but after a few months she decided to go back.

“Each year, the bullying and isolation got worse, and Nicki started harming herself. At the beginning of year nine, I transferred her to another secondary school, but unfortunately the kids there found out.

“At that point, I withdrew her from school completely, and the education welfare office found her a place at a Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre, which is a unit for children who can’t cope with mainstream schooling for various health reasons.”

Going Through Puberty

“When Nicki started puberty, I wanted her to get the type of treatment that’s offered in the Netherlands, where puberty is blocked before major physical changes take place.

“I felt that if she was going to change her mind about being a girl, she would have done so by now.

“The Tavistock Clinic wouldn’t give her hormone blockers. [The Tavistock and Portman follows British guidelines, which at the time suggested not introducing hormone blockers until the latter stages of puberty. Since January 2011, the age at which hormonal treatment may be offered has been lowered from 16 to 12, under a research study that is being carried out by the Tavistock and Portman into the effects of hormone blockers earlier in puberty.]

“In the end, we went to a doctor in the US. I found him through the WPATH network (The World Professional Association for Transgender Health). Nicki was 13 when she started taking hormone blockers. It’s put her male puberty on hold, and given her time to think.

“If she hadn’t been given blockers, she would have suffered the psychological agony of going through male puberty. She told me she would have killed herself. Nowadays, you’d never guess that she was born male.

“If at any point Nicki were to tell me that she wasn’t sure that this was the right thing for her, we’d simply stop the injections and male puberty would go ahead.

“For Nicki, the next step is starting hormones and surgery as soon as she can.

“During the first few years of secondary school, I was constantly in fear for Nicki’s life. It was so distressing to watch her go through all of this.

“Now it’s a million times better. She’s a typical teenage girl, and it’s a blessing. She leaves a mess, she borrows my clothes, my make-up and my perfume. I never thought she’d reach this stage. She still has to face many more hurdles but she’s looking forward to adulthood.”

*The names in this article have been changed.

Where to Get Help

Sharon, who tells her story above, says that the most helpful thing was speaking to other families who’ve been through the same thing. The charity Mermaids provides family support for children and teenagers with gender identity issues, and can put you in touch with other parents with similar experiences.

Further Information

The story above reflects one mother’s experience. Because gender identity issues are complex and each case is different, Sharon’s story shouldn’t be seen as typical.

For more information on gender identity issues in children and young people, see: Teenagers and gender identity, and Worried about a child with gender identity issues?

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.





Child Health & Safety News 5/22: Child Drowning Myths vs. Reality

twitter thumbIn this week’s Child Safety News: Senators Seek Improved In-Flight Child Safety – critical care gap you may not know about 

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use social media to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we overlook something, but overall we think we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed.  Still, quite a bit happens every day – so to make sure you don’t miss anything, we offer you a recap of this week’s top 20 events & stories.

PedSafe Child Health & Safety News Headline of the Week:
Child Drowning myths vs. reality  https://t.co/PlT2cqx6h0

Kids Can Fidget in a Vidget: Seats that Inspire Natural Movement

Healthy movement. Healthy learning. Healthy minds. Healthy spaces.

As I explored many different topics for my MFA Thesis in Industrial Design at RIT back in 2009, my mind and soul kept taking me back to my childhood experiences and how connected I was to the mystery of nature. Living in a rental property in an urban area, I didn’t grow up around fields of green grass but what I did have, I treasured. My backyard was cement but in the front of our house, there was a narrow bed of dirt with bushes, probably about 3 feet wide. This narrow bed of dirt became my haven for exploration and inspiration. As I explored my feelings of nature, I was directed by one of my advisors to read the book, Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv.

While in nature, Louv points out that children will “use more fantasy play, and their social standing became based less on physical abilities and more on language skills, creativity, and inventiveness” (Louv, 2008, p. 88). As I thought about this, I thought what better place to impact children than the classroom environment.

Do you remember sitting in chairs like this as a child?  When you look at this picture does it bring back memories of cold, hard and uncomfortable chairs that were too small or too large?

As a student, I remember feeling confined, trapped and limited. I had so many ideas, questions, and my imagination was wild, yet I was told to “sit down, be quiet and not to move.” I remember being very distracted, frustrated and, what teachers called back then, a “satisfactory & fidgety” student. Who wants to be “satisfactory? I wanted to be great, express myself and share my ideas and imagination; I instinctively needed to be creative, but the classroom demands took precedence over mine. I felt like I was different because my body needed to naturally move.

Not much has changed from this picture in today’s classrooms until recently. Reflecting on this time of my life, I remember wondering… could the classroom objects take on a “life” – that inspired natural movement we find in nature?

As part of my user research, I started observing classrooms from kindergarten – 6th. I found the teachers inviting and interested in my thesis topic, especially how to provide children with a way to move without too much disruption in class, finding that balance between control and natural movement.  I observed classrooms using all traditional type chairs and alternative chairs that move like the exercise ball.  While the ball provides proven benefits such as core muscle strengthening and better posture control, it is dangerous, disruptive and difficult for classroom management.  Teachers were very reluctant to bring the ball into classrooms but at this time, it was the only “dynamic” seating device on the market.

Research proves that sitting for more than 10 minutes at a stretch reduces our awareness of physical and emotional sensations and increases fatigue. Playing, running, jumping and feeling a sense of freedom is not only a desire but a human need.

When children are locked indoors all day within a controlled environment, stress and tension build, and learning suffers.

I wanted to provide a seating device that allowed kids to move but in a discreet way so that it didn’t stigmatize the child with special needs.  ALL children need to move, but some kids with ADHD, Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder need more movement.  I needed to design something for the inclusive classroom or environment as a way to allow for more integration.

In July 2010, the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a research report, The association between school based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance, to better understand the changing needs of students and teachers. Children’s’ bodies are meant to move, even if it is just standing.

As the ideas for the Vidget® started to take shape, I decided on the following design elements:

  • children feel safe to be free & explore (both physically and cognitively safe)
  • modular system that inspires natural movement.
  • fun yet functional with many possibilities
  • reduce feeling of confinement
  • inspire children & teachers to build their own environment based on individual and group changing needs
  • simple, inviting, flexible, and intuitive
  • organic, flowing

I used clay as a way to start building the form of the Vidget®.

As I played with the shape, I had the “aha” moment that if the bottom surface could be shaped like an arc, it would rock side-to-side, similar to the stability ball.  I turned it over and realized the cut-out for the feet could be used as a stool and turned the other way, the child could use it as a desk! Now I was on to something very special and it met my design elements – safety as the first goal!

After several more full scale models and user testing – taking about 3 years and additional design expertise – we finalized the dimensions of the 5 sizes (toddler – teen/adult).  We took our prototypes and started sharing with local school districts and parents for feedback and more user testing, especially parents with special needs children like ADHD and Autism who had a much higher sensory need.  During this process, we learned that Special Education Teachers and Occupational Therapists put Velcro underneath tables and chairs for kids who have more sensory needs.  We thought, how can we add this type of feature into the Vidget®?  Another “aha” moment was to add recessed handles in the sides with sensory bumps on the top surface – kids fidgety fingers naturally find the bumps which provide a temporary sensory input some children need to promote calmness and focus.

I also wanted children to embrace the idea that a chair doesn’t have to be just a chair and inspire them to use their imagination. Parents and teachers are focused today on how to create “innovative thinkers” but they are still using the same old chairs and desks that are more of an obstacle vs. adding a benefit to the learning process.

In 2012, we were fortunate to meet the Chairman of our Board, Dick Kaplan, who invested in our company allowing the manufacturing of the Vidget® to begin. Since launching the design in 4th quarter 2015, we’ve sold more than 2,000 to parents, educators, health care providers and many more users across the country.  We’ve attended 10 conferences in education and healthcare and received a number of positive reviews about how it is helping students in so many ways:

  • “My oldest son is on the spectrum (ASD, high functioning) and has ADHD. The rocking feature helps him stay seated but allows him to rock & move when needed. His OT even ordered two for her office!  Great product!”
    Trisha, ​Mom
  • “Since incorporating the Vidget in our classroom, I have noticed an improvement in attention span, participation, and regulation in my students. They are happy and engaging in classroom routines and activities. The Vidget’s bright colors make it fun and attractive to use, and the kids love the versatility of the seat.”
    Tara, PreK Teacher & Occupational Therapist
  • “After only having the Vidget chairs in my room for less than a week, I have observed a noticeable increase in on-task behavior from students who use them. Students who sit in the chairs participate more and demonstrate greater self-management. I am extremely excited and grateful to have these “tools” as part of my classroom.”
    Dan, 6th Grade Teacher (integrated classroom)

Fidgeting improves focus, releases energy, and promotes calmness. Vidgets create a healthier environment by providing a safe and quiet way to release some of the endless energy kids, teens, and adults have. Teachers who have incorporated flexible seating in their classrooms have noticed positive results such as longer attention spans, less disruptive behavior, and higher quality work. And for special needs, fidgeting and movement helps children with ADHD focus and problem solve. So rather than tell students to sit still, teachers are encouraging quiet fidgeting to help students learn.

With the Vidget®, we are not just moving our bodies, we are changing the way we look at the learning environment.  Creating healthy and flexible spaces that inspire collaboration, creative and critical thinking, is what builds innovative spirits and ideas. The Vidget® is just one tool that helps in the process.

HEALTHFUL HINTS:

  • If you are looking at seating devices that move for your special needs child, consider your child’s typical movement needs and ask the following questions: (Note: there are several seating options that provide movement, some with a lot of movement and others with less; Wobble Seat, Stability Ball, ergoErgo, and Vidget). 
    • Does my child require sensory input
    • Does my child have issues with tipping back in their chair
    • Does my child benefit from being allowed to move naturally
    • Does my child have balance or mobility challenges
  • If you are purchasing a seating device for a school environment:
    • Consider getting a couple different models to try. For schools, we encourage a universal design approach by offering several options to let the student decide based on needs.
    • When having students choose their seats, be sure that legs are 90 degrees when seated and feet are flat on the ground.  It’s estimated that 83% of students are sitting in chairs that are not the correct height leading to increased fatigue, poor posture, and loss of attention.
    • When possible, have different sizes in the classroom to accommodate all students as they grow throughout the year.

Child Health & Safety News 5/15: Cotton Swabs Can Hurt Ears

twitter thumbIn this week’s Child Safety News: Grandparents’ old-school parenting putting kids at risk, study finds https://t.co/3X5whfCBnZ

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use social media to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we miss something, but overall we think we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed.  Still, quite a bit happens every day – so to make sure you don’t miss anything, we offer you a recap of this week’s top 20 events & stories.

PedSafe Child Health & Safety News Headline of the Week:
Cotton swabs are a danger to your child’s ears  https://t.co/qZ9AU1NZ9i

Condoms: Knowing these Facts Could Keep Your Teen Safe

There are a lot of myths about condoms, so make sure that you are aware of the facts before you have sex.

MYTH: It’s safer if you use two condoms.
TRUTH: No it isn’t. Using two condoms at once is a really bad idea, whether it’s two male condoms or a male and female condom. It increases the chances of them ripping. Only use one at a time.

condom factsMYTH: Condoms break easily.
TRUTH: No they don’t. To avoid a condom breaking, you need to put it on carefully, ensuring there’s no airbubble at the end. Be careful of sharp nails, jewelry or teeth. If the condom won’t roll down, it’s the wrong way round. Throw this condom away and start again with a new one as there could be semen on the tip of the previous condom.

If a condom breaks and you’re not using any other contraception, go to a clinic, pharmacist or doctor as soon as possible and ask about emergency contraception. You’ll also need to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

MYTH: Condoms are the only type of contraception I need to think about.
TRUTH: No they’re not. Condoms can provide protection from STIs and unintended pregnancy. But to ensure the best protection, it is recommended that you and your partner use a condom and another form of contraception. There are many different types of contraception that can be used, including the implant, injection, coil or the pill. It’s worth exploring all options.

MYTH: You need extra lube. Vaseline is good.
TRUTH: No it’s not. A bit of extra lubrication is good but don’t use anything with oil in it as it can dissolve the condom – that includes baby oil, Vaseline and hand cream. Lipstick has oil in it too. Use a water-based lubricant, such as KY jelly or Durex Play from a pharmacy.

MYTH: Condoms make him less sensitive.
TRUTH: Using a condom doesn’t have to spoil the moment. They can make some men last longer before they come, which is good news for both of you. There are many different sizes, shapes, colours, textures and flavours of condoms, so enjoy finding the one that suits you both best.

MYTH: Condoms cut off his circulation.
TRUTH: No they don’t. A condom can stretch to 18 inches round. He’ll be fine. There are many different shapes and sizes available to try.

MYTH: I’m on the pill, so we don’t need condoms.
TRUTH: Yes you do. The pill does not protect you or your partner from STIs. Also, if you’ve forgotten to take a pill, been sick or you’ve been using antibiotics, the effectiveness of the pill is reduced and you could still get pregnant.

MYTH: If I ask to use a condom, my partner will think less of me.
TRUTH: Insisting that you use a condom suggests that you know how to take care of yourself and shows that you know what you want, which can be very sexy.

MYTH: You don’t need a condom if you’re having oral sex.
TRUTH: Yes you do. You should use a condom for oral sex because gonorrhoea, chlamydia and herpes can be passed to each other this way.

MYTH: You have to be 18 to buy condoms.
TRUTH: No you don’t, you can buy condoms at any age. You can also get them free at any age, as well as confidential advice, from community contraception clinics (formerly family planning clinics), Brook centres, sexual health (GUM) clinics, Further Education colleges and young people’s clinics.

MYTH: I don’t need a condom – I only sleep with nice people.
TRUTH: STIs don’t know or care if you’re nice or not. The way someone looks is no indicator of whether they have an STI. Many STIs don’t show any symptoms, so you could infect each other without even knowing it.

MYTH: If it’s a condom, it’s safe.
TRUTH: Not necessarily – novelty condoms aren’t safe. Always choose condoms that carry the European CE or Kite mark, which is a recognised safety standard. Also check the date on the packet as condoms don’t last forever.

 





Child Health & Safety News 5/08: Racism Impacts Children’s Health

twitter thumbIn this week’s Child Health News: 16 children hospitalized with gunshot wounds each day http://bit.ly/2pf2ujt

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use social media to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we miss something, but overall we think we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for friends and colleagues not on Twitter or FB (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of this past week’s top 15 events & stories.

PedSafe Child Health & Safety News Headline of the Week:
Study: Racism impacts children’s health with higher incidences of anxiety, depression and ADHD http://bit.ly/2pWgei5 

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