Ah, the school nativity play.
That time where parents struggle politely for the best vantage point to watch their sweet child parade onto the stage with all the others. The tinsel, and cobbled together costumes. The angel so busy looking out for her parents that she carries on walking and nearly trips over a shepherd. The child who says their words so quietly that no-one can hear. Another who shouts down the microphone making everyone jump. Teachers scurrying around organising everything yet trying to stay unobtrusive as this is the chance for the children to shine. It’s guaranteed to set off the happy tears in all but the grumpiest of Scrooges.
I so wanted this to be a positive post. I was looking forward to the nativity and watching Pudding join in with his peers in his own fashion. I pictured him smiling and waving, going in the wrong direction and making us laugh.
He had been cast as one of the stars and we’d agreed beforehand that his special chair would be brought in to the hall. This meant that he could be strapped in safely when waiting rather than having the danger of falling off the stage. I knew this would make it very obvious how different he is from the others but decided it was for the best. His difference was highlighted even more when he wouldn’t allow his star costume anywhere near him, so was the only one in school uniform.
It was clear from the off that he wasn’t happy. Bribery with food worked for a while as it usually does. He did enjoy ringing bells at the end, and joined in the dancing very briefly. But as I watched him pulling another star’s costume and hitting the TA behind him, I was crying and it wasn’t the happy tears. I don’t like being hit by him myself and I love him. While I sat up there in the audience powerless to do anything about it I felt worse and worse. How long would others put up with that treatment before they say ‘enough is enough’ and ask politely whether this is the right place for him?
Having a child with additional needs is full of ups and downs of course. And those moments when it is hit home to you quite how different they are from other children their age are definitely responsible for many of the down times.
Thank heavens for others who understand. Later I bumped into someone else who has a child on the school’s SEN register. I told her that I had cried at the nativity and not in a good way, and she instantly knew what I meant. Though our children’s diagnoses are not the same, we share many aspects of experiencing difference in a ‘normal’ world. It was definitely a silver lining in that cloudy day and helped me put things back in perspective.
Pudding’s TA told me the next week that it hadn’t worked out as well for him as the team had planned and how bad they had all felt. But I didn’t blame them at all. They’ve done a fantastic job at making him included – including using Makaton during the performance to wish everyone a Happy Christmas. If anyone I blame myself. He had been off school the previous two days because of a cold, but I thought he was ok that morning. Now of course I have to ask myself whether I really thought that, or whether it was just because I wanted him to be. If he’d been feeling more himself he’d probably have revelled at the chance to perform and show off to an audience, but as it was he just didn’t want to be there.
When Pudding first started school I insisted that I wasn’t sacrificing him on the altar of inclusivity. If mainstream wasn’t right for him then we’d look at other options. What I need to remember is that this applies to the little things too. Inclusion isn’t always the right thing. Not if it makes him unhappy. I have my own hopes and dreams for him, but ultimately I want him to be happy. And if he is, then I will be too.