Kate E. Reynolds

  • End of an Era

    This week I attended my autistic 11 year-old son’s ‘graduation’ from mainstream/typical primary school. Competition is usually high for seats for any occasion at school, so I arrived early with my daughter, so early that we bagged the centre of the front row. That’s never happened before. Just as well my son’s leaving this school – maybe I’d have resorted to camping out before any school event, if he’d stayed much longer!

    Of course, managing Jude’s behaviour can be a little tricky. The problem usually is his lack of interest in whatever production the children are involved in, leading to general fiddling, interfering with other kids by tapping their backs or making noise, and lobbing items around. Because of a history of such behaviour, my son tends to be planted towards the back of any seating, where his helper can intervene with various entertainments, or simply can tap him on the shoulder to stop him doing whatever is disruptive.

    On this occasion the rows of seating were only two-deep, so we could easily see Jude on the back row of benches. He spotted me and his sister immediately, smiled and waved. During some previous performances, my presence has caused Jude to wilt and burst into tears, resulting in his being brought to sit by me and not participate at all. I mentally urge the staff to keep him on stage. Defying my concerns, Jude continued to sit, unconcerned at my presence. Verbal children took to the stage, reading poetry or recalling special memories of their time at school. My son peeped over the heads of the seated row in front of him; nothing else.

    As the entire class rose to clamber onto the stage to give a rendition of ‘He Ain’t Heavy’ my son remained seated until a boy alongside him yanked him to his feet. Jude isn’t terribly tall, so I was only able to see the top of his head swaying to the music, guided in any actions by a helpful girl to his side. Suddenly he seemed discontented with poking his head above the boy in front to see us. To the distress of his female ‘minder’ Jude broke free and elbowed his way to the front where he took up a central position, an immense smile on his face. Instead of pushing him back where he’d emerged from, the other front row children simply accommodated him and tried their best to draw him into the actions they were all doing to the music. I can’t say I saw him joining in, but he certainly played to the audience, smiling and looking around the hall.

    Jude’s performance didn’t stop there. The child, whose autism had caused him to lie on floors in emotional outbursts and hide behind me when we met new people or in any new situations, was wooing an audience. At one point he remained standing while the others on stage fell to the ground in a move that Jude clearly anticipated due to rehearsals. He stood, arms spread out and face beaming, the last man standing.

    This week Jude will attend his school leaver’s party and final church assembly. This end of an era will usher in his secondary school experience starting in September. That will be Jude’s first time with solely special needs children. I still believe that, had he been more actively included with mainstream/typical children in his school career, he could have been at a different secondary school. The past year, with his school’s management being forced to include him, my son’s verbal language has improved significantly, as has his general understanding of the social world. Although he will be going to an excellent school, I will be watching for opportunities for him to be included in mainstream/typical society, which I wholeheartedly believe accelerates our children’s development, if managed and carefully planned.

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Kate E Reynolds - blogging

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