Why I am proud my daughter won’t be in this year’s Christmas play


Maybe I am getting old but it does seem talk of Christmas seems to start earlier every year! We are only just over Halloween and already the shops have festive music, selection boxes and wrapping paper in prominent places!

 
As a trained teacher though there is one place I totally understand preparing early for Christmas and that is schools.There is a presumption that schools and churches will put on an annual nativity play or concert of some sort and the organisation involved in these is tremendous. It takes months of preparation to teach children songs, practice words and prepare costumes. For many children and parents it is the highlight of their year.

 
This year my just turned 8 year old daughter has asked not to be in the Christmas play. 
At first I was bitterly disappointed as Christmas is one of my favourite times of year and both my church and her school put on wonderful shows. But when she told me why she didn’t want to be included I actually cried.

 
I don’t enjoy it at all“, was what she told me.

 
It is my duty as a parent to listen to my children and support them. She has a right to choose. My daughter has selective mutism, anxiety and autism. Being on a stage in front of others, remembering stage directions, song words and wearing itchy costumes is something she finds so stressful. She finds the change of routine difficult and the nose frightening. The thought that everyone is looking at her makes her feel physically sick.

 
I realised I wanted her to be part of it all for all the wrong reasons. I wanted it for me, not for her. I didn’t want her feeling excluded or feeling like she was missing out. In actual fact I was putting her in a situation that made her so uncomfortable and stressed.

 
This year I will watch the church play and her school play and no doubt I will still cry at ‘away in a manger’and beam with pride at little children remembering lines. Instead of watching my little girl perform I will have the beauty of holding her hand as she sits next to me and cheers for her friends. She will sing the songs happily and for the first time I will manage to hear every word as her beautiful voice is right next to my ears. We will laugh together at the fun parts and share the experience in a way she finds relaxing and enjoyable. It will be magical but in a very different way than I imagined. 

 
It took courage for her to be able to tell me something she knew I would find difficult to hear. She knows how much I love watching her do things and she knows how proud I am of her. This year she knows I am extra proud though at the fact she felt she could tell me she doesn’t enjoy being part of the Christmas play.

 
I will never forget her smile and the sparkle in her eyes the night I told her how proud I am of her for not being in the Christmas play this year.

 
It is ok to be different. It is ok to say no sometimes too.

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The day my five year old changed her class without saying a word

imageLike every mum I was terrified when my baby started full time school. Even as I dressed her in her shirt and tie I wondered yet again if mainstream was going to be the right place for her.

I had more reason than most to worry as she left that day still unable to dress herself and not yet potty trained, diagnosed with autism and selective mutism, and despite having had an extra year at nursery already, she was still one of the smallest children.

On top of all that she carries a heavy burden wherever she goes even at the tender age of five.

I often wonder if professionals realise the daily weight that siblings carry on their shoulders every day?

As well as her own diagnosis my beautiful blue eyed girl is the twin sister of a boy with even more complex needs. He has tumours, severe autism, challenging behaviour, global delay and is non verbal. She has to live with that at the fragile age of five.

How would she manage without him as his school placement was 14 miles away from hers? How would anyone know to meet her personal needs if she was unable to talk? Would her anxiety, vulnerability and tiny size make her an easy target for bullies? Would her home life stress cause issues with her learning?

I worried. And wondered.

But something changed that first week she started school. And one day her classroom assistant told me that my special, fragile, silent girl had actually changed that whole class of new starts without even saying a word.

It turns out there were two other children in her class who were also silent, but for a very different reason: they were unable to speak English. For ease of teaching my daughter was sat next to these children so the one assistant could help them all. But none of the teachers spoke Russian and everyone was still trying to work out the best way to help this group of children who due to inclusion had all been placed in the same mainstream class.

The teacher taught a lesson and the children sat on the floor. My baby girl sat and listened intently and returned to her seat. The class had been asked to draw a picture and write their names at the top of the sheet. As all the eager children started to pick up pencils and pens Naomi just sat there. She watched as the classroom assistant struggled to help the two others who had no understanding of what had been asked of them.

As another child momentarily distracted the assistant Naomi got up from her seat and walked over to the two children. She took the water holder from the middle of the desk and pulled it beside them. And silently she took each child by the hand and pointed to their own name and then pointed to the top of their paper. She then picked up a crayon and began to mark their paper every so slightly and pointed to what the others were doing.

She waited while they took in her attempts to communicate without language and slowly they began to copy down their name and begin drawing. She looked at them and smiled. And only then did she return to her own chair to try and write her own name.

The classroom assistant cried. The teacher watched.

The most unlikely child in the class had taught them all a lesson that day. The child diagnosed with a communication disorder actually showed them all how to communicate.

She still does not know one word of Russian. But living with a non verbal brother with complex needs taught her something that changed her entire class of children without her saying a word: it doesn’t need words to help people.

I still worry. But I know that in all she lives with she is somehow managing to turn ashes to beauty. And I could not be more proud of her.

This article was originally published on firefly and can be seen here: http://www.fireflyfriends.com/special-needs-blog/specific/raising-kids-with-special-needs-without-saying-a-word

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The power of a friend

To have a friend. To share laughter, smiles, dreams, moments in time. To have someone to hug. Someone who understands. Someone who wants to be with you. Someone who looks out for you, seeks out your company. Talks about you. To see a smile on someone’s face when your name is mentioned. To know someone cares and loves you.

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This.

Well what can I say? My daughter has found the magic that we know as a friend.

I have spent hours reading her a social story written by her speech therapist. To the point both Naomi and myself have it memorised. “I can say ‘hi’ to someone and take their hand. We can have fun playing together.” How simple does that sound? But when you can’t get that little word ‘hi’ out because you are so frightened, so anxious and overwhelmed. When you see so many faces of children that you can’t work out who the ‘someone’ could be. When you don’t have the courage to touch another child let alone take their hand. So we read the social story, we talked about it and we even tried to act it out. But we still had a child coming home from nursery with hands on her hips complaining ‘mummy, they want me to talk to other children. Why would I want to do that?’.

How do you explain the beauty of friendship to a child who loves their own company more than anything else? Friendship has to be experienced to see the true wonder of it. The healing that can come through having someone want to be with you. The joy that comes from sharing life with someone else.

And then Sarita started nursery.

Naomi couldn’t say ‘hi’ like her story said she should. So she smiled instead. And Sarita smiled back. That was 9 weeks ago. Now one three year old child has changed my daughters life. She started talking to Sarita on the bus. And then began to talk to her in the nursery room. And one day her nursery teacher asked Naomi a question. And because she had broken her silence by talking to her friend, with Sarita right by her side, my daughter found the strength to answer the teacher in a voice that could be heard.

With Sarita sitting beside her, Naomi has started taking part in snack time. Her little voice can now be heard at singing time mingled beside the sweetest voice of her friend. Naomi is choosing to play beside her friend rather than hiding in a corner looking at books. Where before Naomi would watch on while others participated, she is now following the lead of her friend and joining activities she has never touched in almost two years in the nursery room.

The girls have photos of each other in their homes. I can’t begin to explain just how much Sarita and her siblings and parents mean to me in the short time I have known them. I can not even explain the amount we all have in common. The girls could not have found a more perfect friend in each other.

And my heart rejoices. My 5 year old is experiencing the power of friendship. And in doing so she is linking two families, helping two mothers walk together and help each other, encouraging many and bringing healing.

The power of a friend.

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