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Llinos Edwards, 24, from Wrexham is currently studying for a Master’s in Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) after achieving a First Class Early Childhood Studies degree and a Postgraduate Certificate in Autism, all at the University of Chester.

Llinos started her University journey while undergoing complex surgery related to Achondroplasia, a common form of dwarfism. Due to her determination and academic ability she balanced medical appointments alongside her work which has proved at such a high standard she was asked to contribute to the latest book by Senior Lecturer, Dr Chandrika Devarakonda.

Llinos focussed on taking one day at a time during her studies while making the most of every opportunity. After achieving a first in both her first and second year she felt confident that she could achieve this goal. She said: “Although this process was becoming 'normal' to me at the time, I realised the heavy pressures of weekly hospital appointments and physical therapy, complications and complex surgeries alongside full-time education were an intense combination to balance as I didn't live a typical 'student life'. I was in and out of the hospital, working unconventional hours and putting every bit of spare time into my studies, recovery and physiotherapy. Despite the multiple long-term operations and procedures, I did not have to take time out of any education and even if I had to miss some lectures due to hospital stays, I would be doing the work there or staying up late to ensure I was giving my absolute all and putting absolutely everything I could into my studies. I managed to fulfil every placement opportunity, even when I was restricted to a wheelchair during recovery or onto crutches. 

“To achieve a First Class degree felt amazing, it felt like a real light at the end of the tunnel and made all of the hard work and pushing myself each time to do my absolute best worth it. It felt like my potential was truly recognised and it gave me the confidence to really recognise my own abilities. It's my biggest and proudest achievement yet. 

“Since 2011 when studying for my GCSEs, I have been undergoing limb-lengthening and correction surgeries to my legs and arms and have so far undergone 14 operations. This involves breaking the bone and applying an external fixator which is pinned to the bone. It is an intensive process and with the support of the frame and following a strict program, I manually lengthened the leg by 1mm per day, allowing new bone to form over time. It is highly intensive and due to its sensitive nature, much of the procedure restricts one to a wheelchair, greatly limiting one’s mobility, muscle strength and independence. Once the bone got stronger, I had to adjust to a new height, length, regain muscle strength and learn to walk again, repeating this process for each set of leg lengthening. 

“Similar to my ambitious work ethic, I wanted to be able to achieve as much length as safely possible. I was incredibly fortunate to achieve a near maximum length of 10cm on my thighs, after wearing the frames for 10 months in 2012 and then achieved over seven cm in height and straightening of bowed legs in the lower legs in 2013-2015, while I was at University.

“Having to undergo this intensive surgery, my passion for my studies provided a focus, keeping me going through the milestone achievements, setbacks, hospital stays, emergency appointments and when sadly in 2016, I faced a complication in recovery, whereby my right lower leg failed to heal, and I underwent urgent corrective and realignment surgery of my lower leg and ankle with another external frame for the length of my final year. With the wonderful support of my family, I continually pushed to be the best I could be, recognising that although I was undergoing these operations, I didn’t want my operations to intervene, negatively influence or be at fault at my opportunities to succeed, develop and learn. I believe this attitude and strong perseverance enabled me to recognise my absolute potential and ensure I put absolutely everything that I had into my studies.”

Having previously worked as a Special Educational Needs Teaching Assistant with young children with autism and carrying out a Work Based Learning placement in special education and autism in a specialist provision within a primary school, Llinos knew she wanted to work in special education to positively impact the lives of children and young people and “to be the best I can be to help children of all backgrounds and needs to not feel limited by their differences but to recognise their strengths to achieve their potential”.

Llinos also credits her success to the supportive atmosphere at the University and its “motivating and encouraging learning environment and lecturers, particularly my Personal Academic Tutor Jane Bulkeley during my undergraduate studies who was so kind and so incredibly supportive in ensuring I had been supported throughout my operations and studies”. Here she was able to pursue her areas of interest and even share her views in academic literature.

She added: “I was honoured to have been asked to contribute Chandrika's new book, Promoting Inclusion and Diversity in Early Years Settings. I contributed to Chapter Five on Intersectionality with a case study on my own experience as an individual with a physical difference. It was so lovely to have been asked to share that and to help with raising awareness of inclusion, discrimination and equality in education and society, giving attention to how the perspectives, thoughts and actions of others influence one's self-identity and self-esteem. To have this published felt so important, giving a voice to something that could influence the development and understanding of inclusion in practice.

“Last summer, I was kindly offered the opportunity to write an academic journal article on the perspectives of practitioners on the influence of music on young children with Autism Spectrum Condition, for Amity University in India which will be published this spring. In the future, I hope to be able to complete my limb-lengthening process, complete my Master’s in SEND this year and pursue my love for inclusion, diversity and special education and enter the primary education sector to complete a Primary PGCE, or to pursue in a more specific field of SEN, autism and inclusion in the early years.” 

Senior Lecturer, Dr Chandrika Devarakonda, said: “Llinos is a bright, conscientious student who is hardworking and determined to achieve. She is always cheerful, enthusiastic, and passionate about her aspirations. I wish Llinos more success in all her endeavours and hope she will inspire to others to follow their dreams and reach the best of their potential.”       

 

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