A Kingston University psychologist is embarking on research that could help children with facial disfigurements cope with the difficulties associated with their condition. Senior lecturer Dr Jess Prior is working with Dr Lindsay O’Dell from the University of Luton to examine the experiences of such children and the involvement of their families and school teachers. More than 400,000 people in the United Kingdom have severe disfigurements on their faces.Birthmarks, cleft lips, scarring, burns, paralysis and skin conditions like eczema are among the conditions that can affect appearance.
Dr Prior and Dr O’Dell have interviewed children and families involved in the Changing Faces charity, set up in 1992 to assist youngsters with facial disfigurements. While the majority of families contact the charity for advice in instances such as bullying, the research team focused on cases where families and schools were said to be coping well. The researchers hope to find out more about the ways the youngsters make friends and overcome issues such as staring and name calling. “All the children we spoke to were aged between 11 and 13, the time when they are starting out at secondary school,” Dr Prior said. “We wanted to find out how the children felt their peers and teachers treated them in a new social environment and how they coped with any problems they encountered.”
Dr Prior and Dr O’Dell presented their initial findings at the British Psychology Society’s Division of Education and Child Psychology annual conference in Paris last month. “One of the biggest problems these children encounter is being constantly asked what is wrong with their face,” Dr Prior said. “At Changing Faces they are taught how to answer the initial probing question and then move the conversation on. We found that having such specialist support on hand was a vital element of how they dealt with potentially hurtful situations.”
Teachers could also play their part in supporting disfigured pupils in learning and practising ways of responding to other people’s reactions, Dr Prior added. “The more people know about the condition, the less curious they are, so they can get on with responding positively to the person behind the face without having to ask any more questions,” she said.