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Monday, 15 December 2014

Christmas Special Needs

Whenever you go to the theatre, you have to be willing to suspend disbelief. Perhaps we have to believe that the action takes place in a forest because there are some trees drawn onto a sheet on the back wall, or perhaps we are asked to believe that the actor who is on stilts is actually a horse.  For a school nativity play, audiences are asked to suspend their disbelief still further – we are asked to believe that a six year old with a towel on his head is a shepherd, and that the young girl who fluffs her lines is the pregnant mother of the son of God.

For a nativity play at a special school, we are asked to suspend disbelief even further still.  We are asked not to question the fact that one of the three wise men is holding a teacher’s hand, or that one of the angels is in a wheelchair – and of course, nobody does. Nativity plays and carol concerts at these schools are even more laid-back than ordinary school nativity plays.  They are joyful things.

A few years ago, Jamie was the star of his special school's Christmas play and concert; he was dressed as Santa Claus and, at the right part of the song, had to pop out of the “chimney” and go “ho ho ho”. The following year he was “first snowflake” and had to do a dance, spinning round in circles while all the other snowflakes span away, or melted, or something, until he was the only one left.  He did very well at these roles, even staying in character when a little girl with autism ran up to him in the middle of the performance and demanded to know what the hell he was doing.  As the years went by though, as Jamie got bigger and stronger and more difficult to handle, his roles became smaller.  Last year, he did not have a part at all; he was led into the school hall by two teachers, each holding one of his hands, clearly in an effort to restrain him.  It seemed to me that they might as well have wheeled him in Hannibal Lector style, in a straight jacket and mask.  Perhaps they feared he was going to eat somebody's liver with some fava beans a nice Chianti.

Then it was pointed out to me though, that Jamie was thirteen years old, and teenagers do not usually get leading roles in nativity plays, not even in special schools.  Some adorable disabled six year old is now getting all of Jamie's parts.  Damn those adorable disabled six year olds!

The funniest thing I ever saw at a school carol concert was when one class decided to do a rendition of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” from Frozen (yes, I know it’s not a carol – and it was probably also a copyright infringement).  As a finale to the song, the children dressed one of the young boys up as a snowman, putting on him a white T-shirt, hat, scarf, and an orange cardboard cone on an elastic band as a carrot nose.  Unfortunately, the children dressing the boy decided to put the nose, scarf and hat on before the T-shirt, meaning that they had to pull the T shirt down over the other items, squashing the hat and crushing  the nose in the process.

It seemed to take forever for them to do it; after a minute or two I looked over to see if their teacher was going to intervene, but no, she appeared to be helpless with laughter.  Eventually though, long after the song had finished, they succeeded in "building" the snowman, even though the nose was a little bent and the scarf was under the T shirt.  Another teacher then bounded to the front of the stage to spin the young snowman around, revealing that the T shirt was actually on back to front, as big black buttons visible, drawn on his back.

Actually though, now that I come to think of it, that was not at Jamie’s school at all, it was my daughter Jemima’s (mainstream) school.  They do not have special needs at all there, unless you count needing to have rehearsed more as a special need.


Thanks for reading this post.  I am currently working on a follow-up to my book Don’t Let It Get You Down Syndrome, which will be a collection of stories about having children with special needs in the family at Christmas time.  If anybody reading this has any stories they would like to share with me, for possible inclusion in the book, please leave them (or a link to a blog post or similar) in the comments below.   I have not decided yet whether the book will be fiction or non-fiction, but either way, I need as many funny and/or heart warming stories as possible.