…12 moms sitting in a big circle and inside the circle 12 toddlers are picking up and throwing balls in every possible direction whilst a happy bouncy melody fills the air.
…the same circle of moms now all holding up a big, multicoloured parachute whilst the same toddlers explore underneath. Some bravely walk around, loving the feeling of their heads brushing against the cloth, others are more cautious and slowly crawl from their mom’s laps to explore this new rainbow world.
These are two moments from our music and movement class that Matt and I have been attending for the last 5 Friday mornings. Each class lasts an hour and is filled with songs and music. With each song the teacher brings out a fun item for the kids to play with – it could be balls, bean bags, windmills, silk handkerchiefs, shakers, dusters or something else exotic. She gives the moms and kids a suggested way of moving or using the item, but is really not stressed if the kid improvises and does his own thing.
I had such mixed feelings about taking Matt to this group. This year I wanted to increase Matt’s interactions with other kiddies. When a friend recommended this group it seemed like an excellent opportunity, especially as it had a strong focus on music. And if you know Matt, you know that he loves music. But on the other hand I was quite nervous of introducing Matt to a whole bunch of people who don’t know him, who may judge him or me. I was worried that he might not enjoy it or that he would be overwhelmed by all the people.
It turns out that the teacher, Theresa, has had experience with kids with special needs so she has been really sensitive to Matt’s needs. She helped me choose the best class for Matt to join. She also gave us space to introduce Matt the class and to share with the other moms about Matt’s syndrome. I decided it was better to be up front about Matt, rather than have them wondering about Matt but being too shy/polite to ask. The moms responded just as I hoped – they treat Matt just as any of the other kids, but they don’t mind asking me questions or finding out more about Matt.
Matt’s response to the group has surprised me. He has managed very well with the many people. He participates in most activities. There are some of the games that he just does not want to do. I can tell he knows what is expected and that he is choosing not to get involved. I’m happy with that – he is learning to express his will. The first song always catches him by surprise and he sits on my lap looking around quite bewildered, and not keen to get involved. After welcome song comes the parachute – which still freaks Matt out. He is happy to stand next to me and watch it, but don’t ask him to get under it. Once these two activities are out of the way, he seems to settle in and enjoy the rest of the session. He enjoys waving the handkerchief, throwing the balls, making stomping-elephant movements, clapping his hands, playing peek-a-boo with the doll, and he loves the story time at the end. This week he took brave steps to go to the teacher to fetch the item for each song – he has been too nervous to do this up until now. I loved watching him interact with her.
Matt’s not the only one who has benefitted from the group. I’ve had some moments of self discovery. I realised in the 3rd class that although I wanted this experience to be all about Matt, I was in fact bringing my own baggage into the group. I realised that subconsciously I love pleasing the teacher, getting things right, following orders and getting praise (yes - you can imagine me in my school class, sitting in the front, hand up ready to answer the question). Deep down I was finding it hard that Matt didn’t want to do something or that he wasn’t participating like the other kids. My head completely accepted that Matt would do things at his own pace, but the “young rule-following, people-pleasing school girl” in me was unhappy. I had a good prayer time with God, repented, recognised the lies that I had been believing about myself and Matt. This prayer time has resulted in greater freedom for me as I’m less concerned about the people-pleasing, and more authentically content for Matt to do his thing his way.
Theresa always ends the session by giving the kids an ink stamp on their hand – this week it was a picture of a butterfly. As Matt is obsessed with butterflies he spent most of the car trip home looking at his hand and signing the word for butterfly.