My 11 year old has just had his first co-starring role in a school play. He's currently playing Ratty in a production of 'Wind in the Willows' at More House School.
When he came and told me that he was planning to audition, I was very worried about how upset he would be if he didn't get a part. I wanted to shout, "Don't audition! It'll make you miserable!" But I held my tongue and told him what a great idea it was.
On the way home from school a few nights later, he was telling me what he had had for lunch and then, "And by the way, I've been cast as Ratty in the play." I nearly crashed the car, gripped by a sense of excitement and fear. Excitement because someone had had faith in him to cast him (Thank you, Mr Kirkham) and fear because I knew that over the coming months we would have to HELP HIM LEARN HIS LINES.
Now, I have no objection to helping him, quite the contrary, I used to do the same for my mother in her amateur dramatics days. The fear was that he wouldn't want help and wouldn't bother to spend any time learning his lines at all. My son has Asperger's and is very bloody-minded and stubborn. I worried he would refuse any offer of help and, true to expectations, the only time he would let us help was when he was in the bath. We would then have to perch on the toilet lid and go through the script with him as he soaked in the bubbles. Still, at least he was learning it.
The weeks passed and as often as we would ask him if he wanted to rehearse, he would politely turn us down. I ground my teeth with anxiety as I imagined him on opening night, being prompted with every line and ending up humiliated.
The Saturday before the performances, he finally let us help and we were horrified to find that there were several scenes that he only had a very hazy recollection of. In a frantic effort to assist, we recorded the whole script onto his computer so he could listen to it and practise.
Then, last night came. We filed into the hall, nerves jangling, taking seats in the second row, as we were banned from the front in case we put him off. The lights went down, and he was on stage, delivering his lines with perfection. He even prompted Mole at one point. How on earth did that happen? The boy was fantastic! They all were!
The production was beautifully staged, the live music was impeccable, the set imaginatively decorated, the costumes perfect. It was nothing like a ramshackle school play, it was ... slick, impressive and great entertainment.
For the first time ever, as I watched my son on the stage, I saw him not as my 11 year old son, but as a young man in his own right, not connected to me at all; an individual with talent, confidence and guts. I was so proud, I could have burst.
For all his problems with ASD, my son is a truly remarkable young man. But although we have tried our best to help him as parents, it is the staff at More House School who have found a way to nurture his gifts, with expertise, understanding and always, encouragement. They make him feel that he has something to offer; that he wants to audition and join in, that there is a place for him and he is welcome. That is no small achievement and proof that with the right educational setting, obstacles can be overcome and where everyone is treated as the individual they are.
It is nearly the end of the school year and I expect I'll gush again before then about how wonderful our school is, but for now, Mr Kirkham and your amazing team, three cheers for you all and a huge thank you!
She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
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