I have to admit that I have been taken by surprise at how emotional I feel about the General Election. There I was, preparing myself for another five years of coalition politics, of one hue or another, and, instead, here I am, presented with a Tory Party majority. I’ve actually cried. I couldn’t bring myself to smile at people last Friday, such was my dismay. The narratives of welfare cuts (£12bn of them) and benefit scroungers echo round my numbed brain. The ‘me’ rather than ‘us’ agenda makes me want to weep all over again.
It’s not as if I don’t believe in individual responsibility. I’m pretty sure that, with Sam as my son, we could be entitled to all sorts of things we don’t claim. When I filled in the parental part of his Education Health Care plan at the beginning of the week it stared me in the face, how little help from outside agencies we actually have. Social worker? Nope. Respite? Nope. I was quite surprised when I saw the lack of it all written down.
True to form, I took the opportunity to add as much information as I could possibly squeeze into the (ridiculously small, if you ask me, but then I accept, I suppose, that not everyone has a much to write about their own child as me) boxes, and, equally typically, the moment it dropped into the post box at the end of my road, I thought of all the other things I should have written; all the other thoughts about how we could plan for Sam’s future that tumbled into my brain as that letter tumbled away. It’s always the way.
And those things that I missed out, they have echoed for longer than I thought they would. They dominated the conversation I had on Wednesday with the Educational Psychologist. I bent my mum’s ear, and possibly my dad’s too, over the weekend. You see, I am worried about Sam’s future.
Not the long distant one, the one where he is an adult and all sorts of scary things lurk, no. I don’t really think about that, despite being asked about it on that form. (I wrote that I hoped for the same things that I hope for my younger, typically developing children – that they would find someone to love them, be happy and do things in life that enable them to be independent and live with dignity – I resisted the temptation to write that I hoped he would win the lottery and pay off my mortgage, in case you were curious.) I put that future to the back of my mind long ago.
No, the bit of the future I am worried about is the next little bit, the bit that is full of growing independence and fun times and friends. The teenage years. It’s not that Sam doesn’t have friends. His sense of belonging at his wonderful school is a palpable thing. He charges in through the gates, on a weekday morning, or for a weekend club, without so much as a by your leave or a backward glance. He goes to a youth club for young people with special needs, and there he mooches about with his mates, enthusiastically joining in with the organised activities.
No, the bit that bothers me, funnily enough, is when he is out with us. Those times, when we are out shopping, and a girl who was in his primary class says hello, and he doesn’t recognise her, or we go to the sailing club and he wants to join in, or invite other children to play, and doesn’t quite know how, that’s when I worry.
You see, up until very recently, there has always been someone, usually an older and often an older female someone, who has taken Sam under their wing. He hasn’t needed to do much more than dance about in front of them before someone has taken pity on him and included him in whatever game they are playing, but not any more. Not now his voice has deepened, the first shave has occurred and he is so much bigger and stronger. The balance has changed.
Sam is no longer one of the little ones, no longer one of the ones that the older kids automatically look after. He is no longer the one that everyone wants to play with, the specialness of his condition rubbing off on them, much to their delight. When we go out and about and join in with things outside of the town in which we live, there isn’t a chance that any of the children he went to primary school with will be there. There is no reason why any of the children he meets in these situations should have a shred of understanding of who he is, or know how to communicate with him. The ‘play with me dance’ means nothing to them.
And Sam, for all his desire to play with his peers, to join in with the games of the older boys in particular, finds himself in No Man’s Land, and I, watching from the sidelines, find myself unsure of how to help. Should I intervene? Should I ask the boys to let him join their game? Should I translate? Or should I stand back, resist the urge to barge in and embarrass him with my mother’s desire to make it all better?
For this, I need a bit of help. If Sam is to learn how to make his way in mainstream life without always being the one who is pitied, or helped, without him being forced into a false state of continued childhood, I need other people, my community, to help me. We need to work together.
And last week’s General Election result, with its confirmation of the ‘me’ over ‘us’ agenda that is running rampant through our society, echoed up and down the classrooms of the country with divisive policies like performance related pay and punitive inspections that force us into cowering with fear and working competitively rather than cooperatively, compounds my fear.
It’s times like this, when I am presented, fairly and squarely, with evidence that, for all I live and work in the cooperative bubble that is edu-world, how strongly we reiterate to the children we teach, day in day out, that we have responsibilities towards each other and not just ourselves, that I realise how differently I see the world, and I feel sad.
It’s why I’ve been a bit quiet.