Ashley Carter, 19, was born with a rare genetic disorder called Treacher Collins syndrome, which leaves sufferers with facial disfigurement and saw him the subject of cruel bullying. Following the video that showed nine-year-old Australian Quaden Bayles admitting to suicidal thoughts after being a victim of bullying due to his dwarfism, Ashley wants to speak out and raise awareness about the effects bullying can have on someone.
When Ashley, from the UK, was growing up he experienced constant torment from his fellow classmates and was left with severe mental health issues. Treacher Collins syndrome is a genetic disorder characterised by deformities of the ears, eyes, cheekbones, and chin. The severity depends on the individual person and can be hereditary. Ashley was born with undeveloped ears, a receding jaw and no cheekbones, meaning he had to undergo over 30 different operations such as jaw distractions, a tracheotomy and bone anchored hearing aids. Ashley struggled when he was growing up, and has since gone on to campaign against bullying.
“I went to two different primary schools but the second one was very difficult for me. I was bullied everyday for having a ‘facial disfigurement’. I was bullied emotionally, mentally and physically and it effected me badly. I was called a troll and ugly and pinned up against the wall – they would trip me up in the corridors and playground. They made my life hell,” says Ashley, who admits that the support he had from his family was amazing. “The support I had from my family has been great. My parents would always comfort me when I was having a bad day and were always there for me to talk to. My mom and dad both mean the world to me, as well as my late grandfather, who was like a second dad to me. If it wasn’t for my family and friends, I don’t think I would be here today.”
When Ashley was born, he was rushed straight through to surgery and his parents, Louise and Michael, were told about their son’s condition. “It had a big impact, trying to protect him from the stares and comments which were so hurtful,” says his mother, Louise. “We never wrapped him in cotton wool, we took the comments and just explained his condition to him rather than let it get to us.”
When Ashley went to primary school, he began experiencing the cruel impact of bullying.
“The school didn’t help as much as we wanted them to,” he says. “My mom said to the headmaster at one point: ‘If you don’t sort this out, I will go and see the bullies myself and speak to their parents.’ So the headmasters thought it was best to move me out of the class and put me into another.” Ashley adds, “We all thought, why should I be moved and not the bullies? In all honesty, I felt like I was being punished.” Ashley was exposed to bullying every day whilst he was at school, and still finds the memories painful.
“I once cycled to my friend’s house who only lived five minutes away from me, and as soon as I turned onto her street, two boys saw me and chased me so I automatically turned and and cycled home quickly. I believe that if I was any slower, I might not be here today. I was in a state, and when I got home I cried my eyes out to my mom – it was Awful.”
So Ashley decided to become an anti-bullying campaigner and live each day to its full. He’s an ambassador for ‘#IWILL’ and ‘Jeans for Genes’ which is a campaign aimed at fundraising for children who are suffering from life-altering genetic disorders. He has also received a Points Of Light Award from the government for making a change in his community and inspiring others. “Raising this awareness means a lot to me because I know that I have helped so many people by sharing my story … If I can change one person’s life, I know I’ve made a difference.”
Story credit: Caters News Agency/MAGAZINEFEATURES.CO.ZA