I do love a good snow globe as does my son Oliver. I’ve brought three back for him from various holidays. It appears that the magic of ‘shake and wonder’ appeals in the sunshine as much as it does in the winter time.
Recently, I was at Harrys school for his Christmas fair and was chatting with another mum. We were talking about how wonderful the school is and how grateful we are for the ‘bubble’ of normality (whatever that is) that it provides. It was a lovely conversation and I often think back to the days when I dreaded him attending such provision and had such an outdated view of what life in special education would be like. As I wandered along the various stalls haemorrhaging money on home made souvenirs that might not even stand up to the journey home (as well as a delicious cheese board chutney that I can’t wait to try) I came across some home-made snow globes and thought about the conversation I’d just had. Here are seven reasons why I believe that life in a SEND (special educational need and disability) school is like living in a snow globe.
School is adapted to suit them
I am very fortunate that although Harry has a diagnosis of craniofacial disfigurement and autism, neither affect his mobility. However, lots of his friends at school need wheelchairs to allow them to get around. At school, everything is adapted to ensure that they can enjoy their time there without any barriers. Ramps replace steps, doorways and corridors are wider and toilets have the necessary hoists and space that the children need to allow them to relieve themselves with dignity. My friend Laura has written a great post on the importance of ‘changing places’ adapted toilets and Lorna has a petition to try to get more CP toilets into public places. I don’t even put my handbag on a toilet floor (retching noise), yet plenty of parents are having to change their children in filthy conditions. Please do have a read of the posts to find out more and help.
Life is predictable and safe
The routine at school is absolutely key to my sons’ happiness. He knows what is happening and when. Any changes (like school trips) are planned well in advance and children are prepared. There are few impromptu surprises like the ones that can be found in the world beyond school to throw and distress them. As with any school, security is tight but for children like my Harry who thrive off the challenge of absconding, there are extra measures to ‘Harry proof’ a SEND school and there are eyes on him at all times. He is safe from his own curiosity there (which is more than can be said for home where he once put 3 lipsticks and some cutlery in the microwave!)
All achievements are appreciated
Harry recently copy typed a sentence on his own at school. He received a certificate and a praise note in his planner. At school, his progress isn’t compared to that of every other 12-year-old in the country. He is spared the soul crushing system of comparison and ranking. Instead, the progress that he does make – no matter how small the step – is recognised and celebrated. If I told another parent that my son had typed a sentence I’m not sure they would share my excitement. Here it really matters. Harry really matters.
Everyone is included
There have been so many times at Harrys primary and secondary school which have warmed my heart to see the lengths that staff will go to to ensure that no-one is ever left out. I remember one sports day when a child had a melt down and refused to finish the egg and spoon race but stood by the wall instead. The staff walked to him with the finish line and he walked just a few feet to receive his medal. Similarly, at Harrys high school during an achievement evening, one of the leavers couldn’t face the crowd of strangers in her school hall and so she waited in a corridor instead. When it was time to present her award the head teacher spoke beautifully of her abilities and she received her award and the applause she deserved regardless of whether she was in the room or not. More recently at his Christmas fair every child played a part – be it an instrument or a speaking part. Children with profound disabilities which, in other settings, might mean that they don’t participate as fully, but here in our snow globe of inclusion they all have a role. They all make a valuable contribution.
Everyone at school just ‘gets it’ – the sleep deprivation, the melt downs, the physical and emotional outbursts that cause everyone so much distress. The way we despair and feel sad, lost and hopeless whilst still fiercely loving the very people who, without meaning to, cause our hearts to ache as much as swell with pride. The worry of appointments, the battles with local authorities and the crushing fear for the future at times. The intense appreciation for the staff who support our children and really push them to be the best versions of themselves rather than having lower expectations and accepting ‘just enough’. The sheer and utter pride. The small achievements that we wouldn’t really share with anyone else who may smile and make “oooo yeay” noises but not really FEEL the success in the same way that the other snow globe parents do – my sons first standing up wee at the age of 11 had me cheering like a lunatic.
We are protected from ignorance
I don’t mean that in a hostile way. I refer to the lack of knowledge and understanding that provokes stares, inappropriate comments, unrealistic expectations (both low and high), eye rolling judgement and deliberately loud ‘tuts’ of disapproval from others some times. There is no need to provide a label so that people feel they understand our lives a little bit better because their sister in laws best friends’ niece had autism so they can relate somehow. There is no need for labels at all because here, we know that a label doesn’t define a child, their heart does. In our snow globe world, its all about the different abilities and gifts of our children. The ways that they stand apart from the others and not just stand out.
Its shaken often but we still manage to find the beauty
The very nature of a snow globe life means that inevitably there are shake ups. Some gentle and expected, some sudden and violent. A beautiful chaos ensues and for a moment in the frenetic disorientation of the whirling white stuff we lose our minds and cling to whatever we can to make sense of it all. But as the scenery settles, the landscape changed again, we sit back and enjoy the view, until the next time our snow globe life is shaken up. We appreciate the moments of peace while we have them, the small steps along the way of a life that is racing by and we do it knowing we are never on our own. One thing is for certain, our life is never going to be Lilliput lane, and I’m ok with that. Lilliput lane might have beautiful gardens and picturesque homes but we have glitter and snowflakes – each one magical and completely unique, just like our children.