Vicky Tuck Travel Award - Mimi Prickett

Mimi Prickett (2014, Glengar) was awarded a Vicky Tuck Travel Award in its inaugural year, 2012. Shortly after she left College, she travelled to Northern Sweden to volunteer with, and research into, the care and support systems for adults and children with complex and severe learning disabilities. Today, she reflects on that experience.

“I had a particular interest in this topic as my sister Issy has such disabilities, and from a young age I have experienced the trials and tribulations faced by people like Issy. I also have family and friends in Sweden which was a good starting point for my planning. 

I went on this trip quite naively thinking that I could take the positives from the Swedish system, and bring them back to the UK. I thought that I could enforce change, improve equality, and essentially solve all the problems. This, however, is not what I achieved, or learned; quite the contrary. What I did realise was that the social, health and educational injustices faced by those with learning disabilities and autism in this country are not easy problems to solve. Whilst in Sweden I witnessed a much more streamlined, inclusive, and functional system, that had far fewer individuals ‘falling through gaps’ and being left behind.  I also saw how it would be impossible to simply apply these strategies to the UK in one go.  Sweden had many more resources, and a lot more money to spend at the individual level. In addition, Sweden had a philosophy that children with complex needs, although equal to their neurotypical counterparts, were different to their peers. On reflection over the years, I think this was where I can see a striking difference compared to the UK, where I feel we try to get those with more complex needs to ‘fit in’ to what we deem as normal society and try to get individuals to conform. This is the key point I think I learnt from my trip. We should celebrate difference, and not be afraid to trial different techniques for different children and adults. If there isn’t a good fit for a school, for a residential placement, for care in the community of an individual with complex needs, we need to come up with a solution that fits them, not fit them into a solution.

I think I find this realisation quite daunting, not on an individual level, but for the UK.  I personally think an improvement to the care, welfare, and education of those with complex needs requires a total paradigm shift away from the way it has been done before. I am not sure how this can be achieved, nor am I sure it can be achieved by me. But what I am sure of is that I will keep fighting for Issy, and those like her to be heard, loved, and valued in society, as individuals, and as the assets that they are.

The Vicky Tuck Travel Award allowed me to really understand how an arguably more socially advanced, and liberal nation look after their most vulnerable, and I am hugely grateful for that opportunity.”