09 June 2021

Eileen Whitemore is an 81-year-old carer in Bedfordshire to her adult granddaughter, Carla, who has autism. Below, she talks about how it took a while for her to be recognised as a carer for her granddaughter, why she thinks people with mental health issues are not always listened to and how dance and movement have played a part in keeping them both fit and on top of life. And why Strictly Come Dancing professional dancer, Anton du Beke, should watch out!

"I have been looking after my granddaughter all her life.  She is 27 years old. I could see something was not quite right or what is thought of as normal development. But if you have never had children before, how do you know what is normal development and what is not? I spotted something but could get no one to listen because I was the grandma.

"With this fast pace of life and the fragmentation of many close families, there lies a problem. I would like there to be more training in observational skills for all new parents. I have learnt that people with mental health issues are crying out to be heard. They are who they are, the same as everyone else. The difference lies in the arrangement of their understanding of the world around them, the same as everyone else.

"My granddaughter has many skills and intelligence. She has led a most happy and useful life far better than many would have believed possible. All it would take for many like her is for their voices to be heard first. For my part, I believe in music and movement coupled with laughter and appreciation of the natural world. I have taught Carla that. I am naturally multi-talented: I can sing, dance, paint pictures (limited edition prints raising money for charities), short stories, poetry and endless gardening!

"I devised Celtic belly dancing, dancing which encompasses all I believe in. I am the same weight I was at 18 years old now at 81! I have had few medical problems. People who meet my granddaughter have no idea she is autistic. I am in the background giving constant support and Carla is aware of that. Celtic belly dancing is for everyone because anyone can do. It is what the ELFT motto states, Caring, Respecting and all-inclusive. I would love to do Strictly Come Dancing. I think Anton du Beke would meet his match!"