Living with a facial difference is something you can’t hide. It is a social disability that creates barriers to communication, socialization, education, employment and aspirations. It can be a very lonely and devastating experience. Affected individuals often face public ridicule, bullying, stares and unwanted attention, peer rejection, and social isolation. Unsupported these actions can affect the mental and emotional well-being of a person resulting in depression, withdrawal, anxiety disorders, addictions and in some cases, suicide.
Our Mission is to promote and enhance positive mental and emotional well-being of individuals with facial differences and their families through peer and social support, information, educational programs, and public awareness. AboutFace provides interactive learning, support and social networks with peers who understand and teaches skills to help them manage and overcome the challenges so that they can live full productive lives.
It is estimated that more than 100,000 children and youth are living with facial differences; over 80% struggle with mental health issues as a result of daily taunting, staring, bullying, and social/peer rejection. The reality is we live in a society where people are all too often judged based on their physical appearance. Starting at a very young age, we are taught through fairy tales, comic books, television and films, to be wary of those who look different. For affected children and youth, this daily negative reinforcement can have an impact on self-esteem, impede confidence in social settings, and diminish the enjoyment of making new friends.
More and more research is becoming available on the impact loneliness and isolation has on a person’s mental health and self-esteem. We are learning more about the importance of socialization and peer networks to help keep individuals grounded; and how bullying, taunting and negative messaging can have long term, damaging effect on a person. AboutFace is working with affected individuals, parents and professionals to understand the impact, so that we can enhance, improve or create programs and services to address the various psycho-social aspects of living with a facial difference.
About 40 percent of children with facial deformities also have significant social problems. These children have few friends, are reluctant to join organized activities, and are teased almost daily. They don't establish normal relationships with classmates, going to school is very difficult. They don't want to go out at recess. (Kapp-Simon, 1998).
AboutFace has been hosting an experiential, residential program for the past 10 years called Camp Trailblazers. This program is the most tangible and impactful program we offer to help change the negative downward spiral affecting this unique group of Canadian youth. It is an incredible opportunity for children with facial disfigurements because they are so often marginalized and assaulted for various reasons. Research has shown that residential recreational programs like Camp Trailblazer works to improve the lives of children and youth with chronic health issues, physical and visible differences. It offers these children and youth the opportunity to challenge themselves, talk openly, discover abilities, and develop skills in a safe and supportive environment.
Camp allows children and youth with facial differences to:
-Challenge themselves, take risks, and learn from both successes and failures which is key in developing resilience, an essential life skill.
-Meet and share their experiences with others like them without judgment or explanation. Campers leave camp feeling more comfortable with their appearance. This often demonstrated by the simple practice of girls styling their hair to cover their facial difference (e.g. Eye, ears) yet at camp they are happy to pull their hair back.
-Maintain the friendships beyond camp and as they grow into young adults. This creates a positive network to support them through new life experiences such as living independently, post-secondary school, and surgeries.
Our goal is to work with children and youth with facial differences to teach behavior and coping skills, to improve their self-esteem, and to promote positive social network for friendship and support. This self-development will positively impact their interactions at school, with family, in the larger community, and ultimately improve their quality of life. Affected individuals grow up with the message that they are valued as less than others and negatively, because of their facial disfigurement. AboutFace creates awareness about the negative social construct towards physical differences and helps empower affected individuals to take back their self-confidence. We offer a safe space to discuss the impact that living with a facial difference; ultimately we work to help encourage and empower individuals with facial differences so that they can be productive, contributing members of society, and thus reducing and/or eliminating the burden of illness on society.
Founded in 1985, AboutFace promotes and enhances mental and emotional well-being of individuals with facial differences and their families through peer and social support, information, educational and experiential programs, and public awareness. We serve children, adults and families affected by facial differences both congenital and acquired; health care, social service, and dental professionals; and educators across Canada and around the world. We invite you to join our community of support!
Key AboutFace Programs and Services Include:
-Newborn CARES Program for parents of newborn babies - Facing It Together
-Camp Trailblazers for Youth ages 10 to 18
-Adult and Parent Monthly Support Telephone Workshop Series
-Adult Retreat for affected individuals 24 years old and older
-Elementary School Programs to help educators teach about differences, acceptance with openness and respect
-Leadership & Life Skills Retreat for young adults ages 19 to 24