Spirit of Inclusion

Well, the long wait is almost over. Half of the doors on the Advent calendar are hanging open and – for my three-year-old, at least – the sound of reindeer hooves on rooftops can’t come quickly enough; while I am still trying to find my back-of-an-envelope calculations from last year that tell me how long to cook the turkey, and scrabbling around the back of my brain for a gift idea for that tricky member of the family. Which means: it’s Nativity season!

Photo of three children taking part in a nativity play. Girl on the left in a sparkly dress wearing a blue head dress as Mary. Boy in the middle sitting in a wheel chair with a red checked scarf on his head as Joseph. And a another boy standing beside them as another character from the Nativity. A doll in a cot sits at the front

Having three children in two different school settings poses its problems, of course, but it certainly makes it difficult to escape the Christmas cheer as I attempt to remember two Christmas jumper days, two Christmas lunches, buy gifts for three sets of teachers/TAs/escorts and endure enjoy two Christmas fairs, a Christmas concert and a Nativity without cracking open the Aldi sherry I’d bought to go with Santa’s mince pie and Rudolph’s carrot.

I’ll come clean here. My little boy, who is in every way a superstar but has some complicated additional support needs, does not attend our mainstream local school with his sisters. Mainly because when I was younger and more naïve I trustingly followed the well-trodden path paved with therapists, equipment, experience, and support. Fortunately for us, in our local authority that path does not lead to a fully-fledged special school but to a support base within a lovely small primary school in a similar town to ours, twenty miles across the county.

So, although my son spends most of his time in a class of seven children, all with their own support needs, he does have his name on the register of a mainstream P2 class. He is known and loved by children and teachers throughout the school; he takes some lessons with his mainstream class; he attends assembly with the whole school; and each year one lucky mainstream class – and they truly do feel they are lucky – gets to do a Nativity play with the children in the support base.

Close up of a little boy wearing a red checked head scarf dressed up as Joseph for his school nativity play.

Well, there’s nothing like starting at the top: last year, in his very first year, my little boy was chosen to play Joseph! Joseph, wearing an authentic Middle Eastern headdress on his head and a teatowel on his lap. Joseph, to a Mary with no additional support needs. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. Would he fall asleep as the baby Jesus was born? Would he vomit and need suctioning while the Angel Gabriel tried to deliver his message to Mary? And how would Mary and the rest of the mainstream cast react to him? Would they be patient while he fumbled to press the switch that delivered his lines? Would they ignore him? Would they let him in?

I needn’t have worried, of course. We see it time and time again – children who are allowed to become used to diversity just get on with it. They have an innate tendency to see past the wheelchair and the feeding-tube to just another child. Our Mary and Joseph formed a perfect tableau together with their roughly-handled baby Jesus exactly as in schools across the country at this time of year. They just played their parts, smiled for the cameras, and milked their well-earned applause.

We are so fortunate that my boy gets to experience inclusion in his school community – many children do not have this right met. But having seen how simple it is, I wish he were included in the same school community as his sisters, as is also his right; I wish he were part of the town where he will grow up, live, play and work through his school years and beyond. And that’s something I’m working towards, because if one mainstream Mary can accept my Joseph, then that can happen anywhere. Merry Christmas!

[Alex Davey is a mother, botanist, activist and writer living in sunny East Lothian. She blogs at www.thelongchain.wordpress.com]

Published by a24scotland

A24 is a new organisation aiming to support, promote and secure inclusive education for all children and young people in Scotland as set out in Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. A24 are a group of parents of disabled children, self-advocates, researchers, academics, and practitioners.

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