Having a child with special needs enables parents to understand and appreciate the important things in life, says actress and writer Sally Phillips. The well-known British comic was speaking at FestABLE, a festival celebrating specialist learning staged at National Star College in Cheltenham.
It is the first time a festival dedicated to specialist learning has been staged in the UK.
“We are sitting on a treasure chest in the SEN (Special Educational Needs) world. Not only do we have freedom from some of the standards that the world operates with which are completely bogus but there’s a lot of living in the moment,” said Sally, who has a son with Down’s Syndrome.
“All the things that mindfulness is bringing to the forefront we already know. We already know about colouring a page very, very slowly and the conversations you can have while that’s happening. It doesn’t appear to have a value but it has a deep value and brings health to the soul.
“We already know if you walk slowly through a field you see more than if you drive through.”
Hundreds of parents, young people and professionals participated in discussions and workshops at the festival. The event included all the usual festival activities - live music, games and chill-out rooms - with the difference that it was all fully accessible.
Speakers included parents, young people and professionals including Nigel Ellis, Chief Executive of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and Nigel Evans, who recently retired as the national lead for learners with high needs at Ofsted.
Sally is well-known for her roles in Smack the Pony, Miranda and Bridget Jones. She also fronted a BBC documentary titled, A World Without Down’s Syndrome?, in which Sally wades into the emotionally charge debate about a new screening test that is said to detect Down’s Syndrome in 99% of pregnancies and explores what effect the test could have on society.
Sally’s latest film, The More You Ignore Me, is out in July. Based on a novel by Jo Brand, the cast includes Sheridan Smith, Sheila Hancock, Ricky Tomlinson, Lisa Stansfield, Tom Davis and Jo Brand. The movie explores a family dealing with schizophrenia and features "Mental illness, Morrissey and guinea pigs".