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Breaking Free: Three kids with Down's syndrome tell their stories

Emma Tracey Emma Tracey | 12:00 UK time, Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Ruben, who narrated and stars in My Life: Breaking Free

"My body needs to get more stronger than not getting fat." That's Ruben's take on what he must do to reach his goal. Ruben is 12 and has Down's syndrome. He's been training hard for the chance to swim for Team GB, one of three stories told in new CBBC documentary My Life: Breaking Free.

Chatty, confident Ruben also narrates the film, something director Kate Monaghan believes is a first. She says: "We don't think that there has ever been a documentary narrated by a child with Down's syndrome before."

"I liked the equipment," Ruben told us when speaking of his time narrating Breaking Free. "The microphones and the earphones and the ladies in the crew."

Kate worked hard with Ruben to get his voice over right.

"One of the biggest challenges," she says, "was that Ruben's Down's syndrome affects the bit of his brain that helps memory. So he found it difficult to remember more than one or two words at a time. We had a lot of work to do editing it all together but he was absolutely brilliant."

Ruben's cheery voice sets a fun and fast moving tone to the film. Soon he introduces viewers to his friend Nicole who is out with her mum and buddy Charlotte.

Nicole is embarrassed by her mum's clothes choices in front of Charlotte and is keen to give her protective parent the slip. "You go and get a drink and me and Charlotte are going to shop," she urges.

We then follow Nicole at a week-long drama camp where she's the only one with Down's. While her mum frets at home, she has fun learning to dance and act: "I made new friends," she says after performing in her first live show. "We always hug, high five and a secret handshake."

The new-found freedom gives Nicole confidence to ask permission from her mum to go on a date with boyfriend James alone together. A big step for the young couple, both of whom have learning difficulties.

Harley is the third person with Down's syndrome taking part in the film and while Ruben and Nicole are happy and confident, his situation is a bit more challenging.

"I never really liked it. The people that came to me, and they punched my face." This was Harley's description of his experiences in year seven at school. He once got so upset about the situation that he ran away from his tormentors and in to his teacher's office, where he dialled 999 for help. The teacher explained to him afterwards that other steps should be taken first before ringing the police.

Ruben has also been bullied in the past and gives Harley some good advice: "If you tell the teacher, they will give a detention to the boy."

Harley now struggles to trust anyone. But he loves surfing and is banking on a week long course with his favourite instructor to boost his confidence.

Director Kate believes that My Life: Breaking Free, shows that "Down's Syndrome isn't scary, it's not something to be afraid of. The kids are the same as everyone else, with the same interests, hobbies and even love lives".

Ruben hopes that after seeing the film, other kids "won't bully us and will be more friendly."

• Watch My Life: Breaking Free on the CBBC channel, Tuesday 19 February, 17:45 GMT. Or catch it afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

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