I wasn’t planning to write another post quite so soon but some inquisitive little minds at Tilly’s school have prompted this one.
After a difficult decision making process, we chose to send our significantly developmentally delayed, non-verbal little girl to mainstream primary school. We did it for many reasons, but one of the factors was so that she would have the chance to learn some social skills from her peers.
It has been the right decision so far because she’s happy, she’s progressing (at Tilly’s own speed!), the support at school is amazing and she always has some ‘friends’ around her.
But why have I just written ‘friends’ you might ask? Because, although she is a popular little girl at school – I lose count of the number of times I hear a little voice shout “Hi Tilly!” when we are out and about – I know that it isn’t because she is somebody’s real friend. Not in the way that I had a friend at 6 years old, where we talked about everything and sang and danced our way through the early, innocent years.
Having a relationship with somebody who is unable to talk, or use sign language, or lives life by their own agenda and doesn’t understand the art of reciprocation in a friendship is bound to be pretty difficult. For Tilly’s school mates, who don’t truly understand why she is the way she is, it must be hard for them to become proper friends with her.
I’m not naive, I know she doesn’t have real friends, she’s not developmentally able to – well, not yet anyway. For a start, she doesn’t get invited on playdates – but to be fair, she doesn’t have playdates here either! She does have little people around her all the time at school – they do it because they are fascinated by her, they want to help her, to look after her. But this is a view I’d like to change. She has an adult to look after her, she’s in the school playground to play, just like everyone else.
I am quite sure that, in some way, the children who are with Tilly a lot, hope that they’ll be able to get into ‘Tilly’s World’ – just in the same way that I do! Perhaps that is why they all want to be with her. Just to get a glimpse that she’s let them in, that she’s sharing something with them and that she’s showing them that she wants to be their friend too.
I’m not really sure what the point to this post is. It’s another brain dump of thoughts I’m having today but I think I also somehow want to begin to educate people, including the children at Tilly’s school, about why she is the way she is. It might mean that I don’t get asked the questions I was asked at the school gates today….”What type of infection does Tilly have?”, “Why can’t she talk?”, “Why does she just want to splash in the puddles?”, “Why did that boy say Tilly is strange?”.
I’m made of harder stuff now than I was a couple of years ago when I was first asked by a little boy in Tilly’s nursery why she didn’t talk, and was she a baby (I didn’t let him or his mum see it but as soon as I walked away, I burst into tears and felt physically sick for the rest of that day). I can deal with questions like todays so much better – it’s no longer like a kick in the stomach, but it does make me question how I could make things different.
One option would be to move her to a special needs school where she’s with similar children – a move we will be taking at some point in the future – but then we’re missing out on all the reasons we chose mainstream for her early school years in the first place. And being part of her community, having her around other kids who watch her each day and perhaps learn a little more about who she is, what she is capable of and how they can reach out to her and pull her out of her little world, is really important to me.
In the meantime, a little education will help. Any parents out there reading this who have children who ask about Tilly – just send me a message, ask me to help explain. If you don’t mind, I don’t mind!
She is a little girl with a whole lotta love to give, and by understanding her boundaries and the small signs she does give (get in her space and she’ll give you a little nudge – not to be mean, she’s just a little scared that you might knock her over), we’ll all get there. Who knows, she might even let you become her friend.