Inclusive ice skating helping 11 year old express herself

An 11-year-old girl, who is autistic and has ADHD, has said she struggled to express herself until she discovered ice skating.

Teddy Weston is a British and World champion in inclusive ice skating and is one of the first to represent NI. 

Inclusive ice skating provides a safe space for people with additional needs and their families to enjoy the sport.

Teddy's mum, Claire, is hoping more children, like her daughter, can get involved in ice skating.

She believes every child should have the opportunity to enjoy sport in an environment where they feel safe and comfortable.

Inclusive skating will take into account any additional needs a competitor may have and will facilitate their practice sessions or when they perform in competition to suit this.

This could include - but is not limited to - no music being played during a skating routine; a skating aid or a skating guide being provided to someone while they perform or even performing virtually.

"I just love being out on the ice, I like it because it helps me, I can express myself when I am out there," Teddy told BBC News NI.

"I like learning all the tricks and being able to take part in something with my friends."

"Teddy was diagnosed as autistic at age six and with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) at aged nine," her mum said.

"She loved to climb things at an early age so I started taking her to the climbing wall at Dundonald Ice Bowl to try to channel her compulsion to climb, but on our second trip there she asked to try ice skating. 

"Teddy experienced a lot of practical challenges the first few times she attended, but gradually got to know the building and staff, who were all so accommodating, and it soon became one of her safe places. 

"She was able to practise life skills like going in and talking to reception, showing her membership card or paying for her ice time, or even placing her own order at the café.

"It's been amazing for increasing her confidence. She says that she feels like she's flying when she's out on the ice and says the skating helps her brain quiet down. 

"Teddy's able to express herself in a way that she can't on solid ground, I can't really explain it," she said.

Ms Weston said after years of practising, Teddy wanted to start attending ice skating competitions, but said that sadly it wasn't a practical option for her. 

"There were issues like her anxiety, difficulty traveling, struggling with transitions - even sensory issues with costumes and competition dresses to consider," she said. 

"That's before we even face issues like learning and remembering a routine, making eye contact with judges and smiling."

Ms Weston then said she discovered Inclusive Skating competitions and signed Teddy up as a skater and herself as a volunteer. 

Teddy entered the World championships at the end of 2021, and won two gold medals and a bronze. 

Teddy and her mum are travelling to Sweden next week to represent Northern Ireland in a week-long inclusive skating training camp with other skaters from around the world. 

"Inclusive skating is a space that accepts everybody, regardless of needs. It gives children, who sometimes can be often overlooked, an opportunity to shine and be celebrated," Ms Weston said. 

"Every child should have that opportunity to really enjoy success and celebrate their achievements in a place where they are able to."

Teddy's ice skating coach Amy Irwin has said the 11-year-old's progression since becoming involved in inclusive skating, both as a skater and as a person, has been "nothing short of phenomenal".

"Inclusive skating is such an amazing opportunity, not only for Teddy, but to so many other children who may have thought that ice skating or even competition wasn't something they could be involved in. 

"What most people would know as traditional ice skating competitions need to remember that it is not only a sport but it's also a performing art. 

"Some competition rules and structures in it mean that it may not be best suited for a child with additional needs. 

"But inclusive skating will give every child that opportunity to go out and compete with allowances so that they are given an equal opportunity to perform on a level playing field and show what they can do."