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Julian finds support works both ways when engaging with the Aussie Hands community

Julian finds support  works both ways when engaging with the Aussie Hands Community

Fiona Passmore

Life can sometimes feel like a ride on the swings & roundabouts, but they aren’t necessarily the place you’d expect a coincidence like this to happen.  Early last year, Julian was enjoying time with his children at a local playground and noticed a young girl with a very similar arm difference to his  She was equally amazed to meet someone who looked like her and ran over to tell her parents about this discovery.  That’s how Julian met Aussie Hands Becky and became part of our growing community.

Becky suggested that Julian have a look at the Aussie Hands website where he was drawn to what is his favourite page, ‘I want to help others with a hand difference’.  This led him to chatting with our founder Elizabeth and asking how he could contribute.  Even though Julian has only been a member since early 2020, his proactive engagement with the Aussie Hands community through our social media pages has already been acknowledged as really valuable.  His practical tips have shown us ways to strip cable, hammer a nail into wood with his clothes peg trick or adapt a mountain bike handle just to name a few.

For Julian, joining Aussie Hands was purely with a view to supporting others, but he’s found the benefits to be two-way by connecting with people who truly understand each other’s situations.  It’s rewarding when he receives positive feedback to his videos and knows that sharing his thoughts and experiences will give other families some welcome reassurance.  He has come across people with similar hand differences who haven’t coped as well, possibly because appropriate support and encouragement wasn’t easily accessible to them.

‘Growing up with a hand difference, in my mind I was the same as everyone else, but as I grew older and saw someone else with a difference, I realised they do stand out in a crowd.  But remember, people are watching you because they’re impressed with how you’re adapting and getting on with life, not with a negative intention,’ said Julian.

But when you’re a teenager it’s a difficult stage because you’re more self-conscious of what others think.  When he was younger, Julian remembers hiding his arm in his sleeve and turning his right side away from the camera so his hand difference wasn’t obvious, but eventually he grew out of that.

‘I want to tell teenagers the things I wish someone had told me at that age – don’t be afraid to get some help, realise when you need it and find a solution.’

Drawing straight lines with a ruler at school was an issue for Julian, and still is, but it didn’t occur to him to ask his Mum if there was anything that might help, so he just did his best with a standard ruler and a few wobbly lines.  These days, children are taught to use ‘spider fingers’ to hold down a ruler, which still isn’t possible when you have 1 hand.  For a more recent project, Julian looked into alternatives and found a safety ruler online which was made in Adelaide.  This has foam underneath that provides better grip and a raised, flat, wide handle to push down on.

When it comes to accessing resources, be mindful that some children may not want to draw attention to the fact that they need something extra or different and would prefer to make-do with what everyone else is using. If you’ve found any other useful devices which you think would help others in the same boat, please tell us about it.

Looking back, Julian realises he avoided doing some things because of the difficulty involved, yet he wasn’t fazed about considering a career as an electrician.  Even though others tried to put him off, he was determined to prove them wrong and has successfully adapted with one hand on the tools. There are plenty of electricians out there who wish they had 3 hands to deal with tricky tasks, let alone one.

Like many others, going through the process of an NDIS application has been a big learning curve for Julian, with no previous experience and no-one to chat to who’s been down the same path.  Sharing his journey on our private Facebook page will give members some valuable insights and in turn they could offer advice of their own.  ‘Answering NDIS questions about what tasks I struggle with has changed my mind-set about my limb difference, acknowledging the problems this can create and how best to solve them,’ reflected Julian.

Without making excuses to get out of the washing-up, Julian leans over the sink to clean the dishes which in turn causes back ache.  Pushing a pram loaded up with 2 children and all their stuff and then navigating uneven pavements is enough of a challenge for most parents.  To keep things on the right track, Julian used his other elbow on the pram handle, but now realises that a prosthesis would have made the whole exercise a lot easier in terms of balance and strength.  Different attachments to a prosthetic arm can also assist with things like yoga, mountain bike riding and doing weights.

Julian doesn’t want to be labelled an inspiration and just aims to engage and connect with our community by sharing his own experiences.  His advice on how to celebrate your difference is to ‘own it’.

‘This is me, this is what I look like.  It’s not for someone else to point out your difference, you should put it out there first and be proud of it.  If other people can’t stop staring, they are the ones who look silly, not you.’

We look forward to more handy hints from Julian and thank him and his family for giving up bedtime stories to chat with Aussie Hands at the end of a busy week.

You can help Aussie Hands continue to support people like Julian by making a donation.