Born To Be Different on Channel 4 tonight

Born to Be Different, Thu 9th June, 2011, 9pm, Channel 4

For the last decade, Channel 4 has been following the lives of six children, each born with a disability. Now in its fifth series, Born to Be Different returns with three films, documenting the children’s lives over the last two years, as they turn nine and 10.

As well as following the children over some major decisions and life-changing operations, this series stands back and surveys just how much each family’s life has changed over the last 10 years. And the series hears from the children themselves, who are articulating, more than ever, just what it means to be them.

At the end of the last series Zoe had just come through pioneering surgery to transplant one of her chest muscles into her arm. The hope was that she would be able to use this muscle to bend her arm for the first time ever, and gain the independence she demands. The programme follows her over months of physiotherapy to see whether the operation has worked. Then she faces a choice. Does she have another five-hour operation to transplant a muscle into her right arm, before she starts in the grown-up world of secondary school?

Emily has already made a major choice. All through primary school she has been happy to wear pull-up nappies. Born with spina bifida, she has nerve damage that means she cannot control when she goes to the toilet. Now Emily has decided to go ahead with the major surgery that doctors have told her is the only way to gain some control. The major surgery will reconstruct her bladder and allow her to regulate when she goes to the toilet. But for her parents it means seeing their daughter undergo massive surgery and months of rehabilitation.

Nathan’s parents are debating what next steps to take with his education. After his primary years spent in mainstream schools, they must decide whether inclusion really is best for their son, who has Down’s Syndrome.

William’s parents were told that he may never reach his tenth birthday. He has Tuberous Sclerosis, which has resulted in tumours growing on his brain. These tumours have to be monitored to make sure they are not developing. As William’s behaviour begins to deteriorate, Paula and Nick must find out whether this could be down to his tumours, and whether he needs major surgery to remove them.

Last year Hamish’s parents moved to the South Island of New Zealand. Hamish had to leave the friends he had grown up with and adapt to a new school where his achondroplasia (or dwarfism) would not be so familiar. At school he became the centre of attention for a few weeks. But with one of New Zealand’s great skiing fields on his doorstep, and with Hamish’s developing indefatigability, he finds a new pursuit that makes him feel at home.

Shelbie has spent her life in and out of hospital. When she was last on the programme she had just recovered from emergency surgery to her bowel that helped keep her alive. In this series Shelbie enjoys a period of good health, before a scare leads to further tests and further treatment. Her mum Vicky has always maintained that she will keep fighting for Shelbie as long as Shelbie keeps fighting.