Last week was Spirit Week at Pudding’s school. Each day, the pupils were allowed to dress up according to a certain theme. I was looking forward to this, because last year Pudding had loved spirit week, and I was sure she would again. But you probably know by now, dear reader, what happens when I’m certain of something.
This first day was pyjama day. She absolutely was not going to wear her nightgown. She would get dressed for school. Alternative pyjamas and nightgowns were presented, but it wasn’t going to happen. In the end, I dressed her in leggings and a t-shirt (which looked like night clothes) and sent some more options in her bag.
The next day was Topsy Turvy Tuesday (mismatch day) and I helped her to dress “wrong.” She looked adorable, but it turns out that dressing wrong meant that she felt wrong. All day long.
After Pudding’s worst two days of the school year, we decided to abandon Spirit Week for this year.
I don’t know why it was easy for her last year, but hard for her now. I do know that she likes to decide what to wear, and she feels in no way compelled to do something just because everyone else is. I also know I’m now glad she doesn’t have to wear a school uniform, because if there is one thing this kid isn’t, that would be uniform.
Of course, most kids love these days. The whole point is to build a sense of solidarity and community. The students can express themselves and feel like they belong at the same time. I wonder, as she gets older, will the desire to conform become greater that the need to be her own person.
Pudding’s school means to be truly inclusive. They don’t just want her to be in the classroom, she needs to fully belong and be part of the class, goals I want for her too. But sometimes I wonder how much she wants that.
On Friday we had Pudding’s ILP (Individual Learning Plan) meeting. The year has been going well, but there are some areas causing Pudding problems. She struggles to pay attention to her math work, she is overwhelmed on unstructured days, and then there is physical education.
Pudding does not like PE. That was a grand example of an understatement. PE is impossible for her. Her body doesn’t cooperate with her brain. Her muscles tire far quicker than they do for other kids. These additional challenges merit the addition of Developmental Motor Coordination Disorder diagnosis, in addition to her autism. She doesn’t understand the rules of games, nor is she intrinsically motivated by playing them. Not only must she absorb and process the movements, speed, noise, and feel of other kids rushing around her, but she is supposed to get her own body to do these same things, for reasons that are obscure to her.
The solution so far is that Pudding has had one-on-one time for the duration of PE, but this is no longer workable for her teachers who have planning meetings scheduled for the same time. So parents, teachers, therapist, and principal, we all got together to brainstorm supports and accommodations to help her to take part. We came up with some ideas to try, because all of us in the room were motivated to make sure she felt like she belongs, and has the school experience that every child is entitled to.
But the first step is always going to be to make sure that Pudding herself is opting in, that she actually wants to belong. What seems right to us might just be Topsy Turvy to her. It doesn’t really matter how weak or uncoordinated her body is, her spirit is incredibly strong. And we celebrate that unique spirit by listening to what it has to tell us, even if it isn’t what we want to hear.