Special days

28th November 2003 at 00:00
Visitors to a special school need to look at the world with fresh eyes, explains Maria Corby

Halfway round the tour of the school, I look up and notice my visitor is pale and shaking, her eyes full of tears. Oh no, I've done it again. One of my regular jobs is to show visitors around - new parents, students, interested professionals and prospective supply teachers (please love us, please stay). This time it's a student nurse and I've wrongly assumed she won't be fazed by the sights, sounds and smells.

We get as far as the junior department. Through the classroom window I see Donna and her team preparing the class for playtime. I see Davy, Marcus, Sanjeev and Angel. Then I see what my visitor sees - a standing frame, a wheelchair, a lying board and a walking frame. A child on the floor, kicking out and making a terrible noise. This is how Davy reacts to change.

His teaching assistant, standing by with the cue for the next activity, will soon have him happily trotting off to play.

There's Marcus rocking from foot to foot, pulling at his fringe and humming the theme from M*A*S*H. Marcus has made such good progress to cope with being in this class. There's Sanjeev, sitting up in his wheelchair, grinning at me. Sanjeev. Cheeky, chatty and charming - one of those people who lights up a room with their presence. My visitor probably sees a thin, sickly looking boy with dribble on his chin and a band holding his head erect. When she looks at Angel she probably sees a beautiful little blonde child clinging bravely to her standing frame. I see a little monkey whose favourite trick is to get other children into trouble.

I make my visitor tea, and wonder why special children have such an effect on some people. Is this why, for so many years, they were simply shut away and forgotten about? Maybe inclusion would solve my visitor's problem. If she had a couple of youngsters with mobility problems in her nursery, wheelchairs and standing frames wouldn't look so alien. If she'd learned sign language at first school, used a communication aid to chat to a friend at middle school and knew how to guide a blind person through the disabled-friendly corridors of upper school, she wouldn't be upset. Maybe one day the tour of the local primary will include the sensory room, the physio workshop and the tactile trail. And all local children will get on with growing up and learning together.

Maria Corby is the deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties in the west of England. She writes under a pseudonym

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