Well what a difference a year makes. This time last year Tom was attending mainstream school and due to his many difficulties there was not involved in the Christmas production. This was no fault of the school's; it was just the wrong environment for Tom. So the whole Christmas themed activities for him at school were tinged with sadness as he was not part of the festivities.
However this year is very much different. This year Christmas at school is a happy occasion. Tom is taking part in the Christmas festivities at school, he attends Hillside Specialist School for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in Longridge Preston and he is a different little boy to a year ago all because of this wonderful school.
Today was the day I had been looking forward to since September, if not longer if I'm honest, the day of the Christmas production.
Many questions ran through my head, how will Tom cope in a hall full of people? Will he become upset? Will he want to sit with me or try and run away? I honestly did not know how he would react. One thing I did not worry about though was the reactions of other parents and family members in the audience. We were all supporting our autistic children, within the room there was a hidden understanding, I was amongst friends.
Once again Tom surprised me. He was one of the Victorian Carol singers in the production of Scrooge. All of the older children had speaking parts while the younger children sang or danced in within a group. The whole production was assisted by members of staff. Halfway through in walked children and teachers wearing Victorian attire and towards the end of the line in walked Tom holding on to a teacher's hand. He then sat down on the edge of the stage with a huge grin on his face, my heart broke. I was stunned. This little boy who struggles so much with social and unfamiliar situations sat in front of a large audience of complete strangers and was happy. The world stopped for a few seconds.
My little boy was part of Christmas and more importantly enjoying the whole experience. He did not wear all of his costume, only his waistcoat over his polo shirt but that did not matter, he was there and included.
I have to say that it was a very relaxed and enjoyable experience. I also found it very refreshing in that children would stop and wave to their patents and shout hello, one little boy asked a lady in the audience her name and there were lots of impromptu comments and comedy moments entwined in the show.
Thank goodness for this school. I look back to last year and not in my wildest thoughts did I think that Tom taking part happily in a Christmas production like this would be possible. Here is what I posted last year.
"Tom is not involved with the Christmas play due to many factors, all of which I totally understand. However the impact of this did not fully hit me until this morning.
I wait for Tom in the main corridor outside the resource area where all of the Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 classrooms are based. While waiting for Tom this morning I could see that all of the children where in the hall having a dress rehearsal. They were singing one of Stephen's favourite songs which he has been practicing at home. It was at this point that reality hit me and I got a huge lump in my throat. Every child was in that hall apart from my little boy and it was at this point that I saw him walking out of his classroom with his TA. I understand totally why he is not involved, he would not be able to cope, it would all be too overwhelming for him and he would want to run and shout. I took him with the preschool last year to watch a dress rehearsal and it was a disaster. He lasted five minutes before he wanted to jump on the stage and started shouting 'help, help, I'm stuck', when I tried to restrain him. Not much has changed behaviour wise since then so I know and understand why he cannot be included. I think that what upsets me more though is the fact that he is totally oblivious to the fact that there is a Christmas play taking place at all.
What I am though is very hopeful for the future. Hopefully this time next year he will be involved in all the Christmas activities at his new school and be part of the whole school experience. This I am very much looking forward to. In the meantime I can go and watch this year's performance; Stephen is one of the King's helpers, a role that he is very proud of. So to all you patents out there, enjoy your child's Christmas play, they should be treasured."
Reading this once again last year's memories come flooding back but surprisingly I am not sad, instead I am filled with hope. That was then and this is now, look how much has been accomplished within a year. I feel that I have learnt a very important lesson. With the correct support, interventions and environment anything is possible for our children. Never ever give up. They may not follow the path you had originally chosen but they will forge their own with the help and assistance given to them and that is all that matters.