Baroness Sheila Hollins

Baroness Sheila Hollins

Interviewed by Ros Capper on Nourishing her Values

‘Life somehow doesn’t turn out the way we expect. That’s not surprising really – is it?’ said Baroness Hollins asked to reflect on nourishing her values.

Her son was diagnosed as having an intellectual disability at two years old. This came after a confusing two years of noticing delayed milestones, receiving a severe diagnosis initially and not knowing anyone in the same situation. All the while she was training to be a child and family psychiatrist.

Actions Baroness Hollins and her husband took included joining with friends in their Christian community to offer an annual holiday week for families with a disabled child. ‘They were inspiring weeks for us. We all learned a lot from each other, children and adults alike’. They became strong advocates for their son when necessary, for example when he was assaulted or his care and support had been withdrawn without notice or when discovering some opportunities were closed to him. She and her husband had a focus on balance in daily life with prayer, work and play all having a place.

Baroness Hollins’ assumptions that because her son had special needs he would get special attention were challenged. She was surprised to discover it was the other way around. ‘Our aspirations are sometimes seen as unrealistic by others, although it has always seemed perfectly reasonable to want him to live an ‘ordinary life’ similar to his siblings. There have been times when the challenges have felt overwhelming and I have wondered whether this time it would all be too much to cope with. I am so lucky to have the support of my husband. Although we don’t always agree at first on what we need to do, we are good at thinking together and working things out.’

Importantly, Baroness Hollins turned her experience acquired as a parent into a professional interest. Noting her child with very little expressive language found pictures easier to understand than words, she and her husband began to  use pictures to explain things that were about to happen. ‘We made them up ourselves with simple drawings or cutting pictures out of books, and it worked. With the help of an artist friend, I turned my ideas into a series of nearly 40 picture books’. The books are for carers, parents and teachers, to help them communicate with children and adults with a learning disability.

‘My son has now turned 40, and he advises on new picture books. He helps to run training workshops with me and to set up book clubs in libraries, where people who find pictures easier than words can enjoy reading our books together in a group.’

‘Life is what it is. Being Nigel’s Mum is much more about  joy,  than sadness about what might have been’.

Beyond Words picture books website:

Census 2006 noted that 420,000 carers in New Zealand support someone in their family. (A carer is someone who supports a person with ill health, a disability, mental illness, or addiction, or someone in their old age.) provides a comprehensive information service.