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  • Writer's picturePeta

"Peta will never be able to write her name"

"It is unlikely that Peta will ever write her name". That sentence said in 1993 followed and shaped me for the rest of my life. Constantly put in front of medical professionals telling my parents what my future potential was when I was still just a toddler. How would you overcome that lack of belief in your abilities from the time you were 3? For me, it has everything to do with learning to draw hearts and an occupational therapist named Jenny.


Episode transcript:

Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast, the podcast, answering your questions about what it's like to live with a disability. My name is Peta and I'm your host.

[00:00:14] If you'd like to ask me a question. There are three ways you can do so. One by my Instagram @icantstandpodcast. Two by email at Or three, via my website at OK, let's get into it.

[00:00:44] This week, I got a question from Angela. Angela asked me what the best gesture I have ever had that didn't make me feel like I have a disability. The best gesture I've ever been given is the reflection of someone's belief in me and therefore my belief in myself. No, it wasn't for a doctor or a psychologist or a self-help book, it came from a lady named Jenny who happened to be my OT or occupational therapist from the time that I was about five.

[00:01:22] When you're five everybody sort of looks the same, but I have a distinct memory of Jenny. She was a bit like a character out of a children's book in some way. A lady who wore cardigans, who always wore the colour blue and who always carried a massive stripey bag. Jenny was so different to all the other support systems I had in and around me. Doctors meant scary operations that I didn't really understand why I was having, but I just knew I had to have them. Physiotherapists, I understood intellectually I needed to go, that I needed to practise, to walk and stretch my muscles, but with Jenny, my OT, it didn't feel that way. It didn't feel like work.

three year old girl in a K walker
Me at "special needs" kinder 1993

[00:02:19] I'm not really sure how my parents found Jenny, but I have a pretty clear reason why Jenny came into my life when she did. During the transition between the time I went to primary school and kindergarten, something happened. My parents were sat down. I'm not sure whether it was by a doctor or a physiotherapist. But they basically looked my parents right in the eye while I was sitting on my mother's lap and said

medical professional [00:02:49] "I'm sorry, I don't think Peta will ever have the ability to write her name".

Peta [00:02:56] I mean, obviously, my parents knew that I would probably never walk. So the possibility that I might not have the ability to write, was a real concern. Enter Jenny. When I say Jenny taught me how to write, I mean, like from the very beginning, I didn't have the dexterity to hold a pencil. I can remember she bought special pen holders, like little attachments that went on the pen that was made with rubber. We tried so many of those. I can remember feeling frustrated that they didn't feel right or that I couldn't quite get my grip. So from going to how do you hold a pencil to how do you form certain letters? I don't know whether this is just a Peta thing or a cerebral palsy thing, but the best way I could visualise something was when Jenny drew it on my back. And then I was able to sort of understand from a spatial point of view how to form the letter. Super interesting.

poor children's handwriting
children's handwriting photo by Lindsey Biel

[00:04:07] I had trouble knowing when to put a space between the end of a word and a new word so I wouldn't leave enough space, so it just looked like a collection of letters across the page. To overcome that, she would place a pencil and then I would know to leave a gap. Those sort of techniques really helped me because I knew I could implement, you know, if my integration aide was sitting next to me and I've forgotten how to properly form an S. My integration aide, I would draw the S on my back with their finger and I would then be able to form that s while I was in class. Those sort of techniques also allowed me to advocate for myself and know when I needed help. Using techniques that I could use while she wasn't there was really important in empowering me in my own education.

[00:05:03] Apart from the very important need to write your name, form letters and construct sentences. What does a little girl want to learn how to draw? A heart. I have been a romantic since day one, it seems. Jenny taught me how to draw a heart. Here comes what felt like hundreds of hours learning how to draw a heart. For some reason, I could do, [I'm left handed] the first half of the heart, but being able to do the other side mirrored I found really difficult. All those hours of her drawing on my back with her fingertip trying to draw this heart. Hearts sort of became a symbol of our relationship. When I, quote-unquote, graduated primary school to go on to year seven in high school, she gave me a fluffy purple mirror. If that doesn't say the early 2000s, I don't know what does. And the mirror is in the shape of a heart. I still have that mirror.

Children's painting of hearts
The symbol of my self confidence

[00:06:18] After the hearts. Things got a little bit more serious, I started to have to learn, life skills. So she would bring in the bluntest butter knife into the school because obviously, knives in schools don't really match. A big, big, big tub of margarine. It was the 90s, no such thing as butter back then. And together we would figure out which side was appropriate for me to put the margarine on the knife and then what action do I go away for myself or go towards myself when buttering a piece of toast? How do you teach a kid that can't reach their own shoes, how to tie shoelaces? Jenny had the faith in me that eventually, I would need that skill. She taught me by bringing out this book. It was called Loose Lace. It was a picture book for kids on how to tie their own shoes and the back of the book after I read the story was a pop up of a shoe with an undone shoelace. I can't think of how many times she sat with me while I was learning how to make the bunny ears and then wrapping around the shoelace and then pulling through, learning how to lace a shoe. All those fine dexterity things took me so long.

[00:07:46] I will never forget this random day in the bag she pulled out. Half a dozen eggs, a piping bag and some paprika. For some reason, she taught me how to make deviled eggs that day. I sort of understand, like, the importance of knowing how to peel off the eggshell, it's very fine dexterity and then having to cut the egg in half and scoop out the yolk and then mash the yolk and then put mayonnaise, which you also had in a piping bag with the yolk and then pipe in the yolk back into the white, make deviled eggs. But to this day, I cannot stand the smell of cold egg. It just makes my stomach flip. I don't know whether Jenny thought that I would end up having fabulous parties and need to serve it hors-d'oeuvres in my adult life, but as a girl who was obsessed with Sex and the City, I didn't really see Carrie, Samantha, Miranda or even Charlotte. Let's face it, she would have got it catered, make deviled eggs. So I wasn't really into that. But, hey, it was memorable.

devilled eggs
To this day I hate cold egg

[00:09:11] At the end of high school. To mark this special occasion, Jenny gave me one of the most beautiful gifts I've ever been given in my life. It was a scrapbook. She gave me a scrapbook full of the hearts of all my attempts of drawing a heart from my very first heart to my very last. And trust me, this was a long time after I was drawing hearts and I was five with her in the office with the heater on. She kept every shitty, scrappy little bit of paper made drawing hearts. And an entire scrapbook is dedicated to my progression in perfecting the perfect heart.

[00:10:02] So it's probably not a surprise to you that the best gesture I've been given has been from Jenny, my OT. Jenny's unwavering support and belief that I could do something really fostered my internal belief that I could actually do it and within a practice, it would happen. Because of Jenny. I not only can draw a hear. I can butter my toast if you really forced me to it, I can make deviled eggs. I can put a space between words. I can write my name, but most importantly. I have a belief in myself because of Jenny.

[00:10:59] If you haven't already, can I encourage you to subscribe to the podcast. That way I just pop up in your feed every week. You don't have to remember to listen. I'm just there ready to say hello and be that friend in your ears every week. Until next week, bye.


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