Claire Campbell is a Thanet mum-of-three and SEN teacher working in a specialist school in Broadstairs where all children are autistic with complex learning needs.
She teaches in KS1, lead on sensory integration, and is also PA for Beau, a child in the class, taking him out at weekends or in school holidays to support his mum getting respite and the youngster accessing activities.
Her monthly column aims to raise awareness and cultivate change:
This month feels like the most significant yet in progressing our family new year’s resolution of improving community access for families with children with SEND.
We were able to make a hopefully meaningful act of advocacy this month by submitting a piece to the Sick Artists’ Club online gallery. The Turner Contemporary, CRATE, and Limbo galleries in Margate have all been exhibiting a retrospective of artist and disability activist Lizzy Rose who lived with Crohn’s Disease and whose work reflects on living with chronic illness.
There was an open call for artists to submit work for an online gallery to share their lived experiences of illness or disability and I decided to submit a piece for the autistic children that I teach. I created a video where I juxtaposed photographs of my children engaging with play equipment and other things in their surroundings with Beau engaging with these same objects in order to highlight differing play styles and ways of engaging.
Towards the end of the video similarities rather than differences are portrayed with examples of enjoyment and laughter being shared. I hope the more that it is viewed, the more these differences can be valued and accepted. You can read about my submission and watch the video via this link:
Please do share!
We were also able to undertake a real exercise in empathy this month as my three children and I looked after Beau for 5 days and 5 nights whilst his family enjoyed a short holiday. I have thought long and hard about what it is that I want to share from this experience. What is it that I learned from this? And what from that learning is useful to share with others?
I think the most meaningful experience we had that week that I think will forever stay with me, was when we met up with a friend. This friend has two children of her own and we meet fairly frequently. She is the type of friend that you always leave feeling better for having spent time with them. We went to play in a lovely spot with a big play park, open playing field, and a little orchard with a stream. Beau was exploring the environment and my friend said something along the lines of ‘isn’t it lovely that he hasn’t lost that way of interacting with the world’.
Spending time with children like Beau is so wonderful. That world of exploration, of being without reserve or inhibition, moving your body in ways that feel good, exploring your environment with your senses, touching and feeling your surroundings and creating a world from these sensorial experiences. Getting to interact with a child where language and questions are unimportant. There are no expectations of saying the right thing. You can just be, observe, listen, respond and hold space with someone in their own skin. It is really rather special.
We lose the freedom of being that in touch with our sensory world. We learn inhibitions, societal expectations, and just being with someone and connecting with them feels like it isn’t enough in such a fast paced world.
I love that my friend saw Beau being himself and felt such warm, positive thoughts of understanding. She didn’t feel sorry for him, she didn’t look at what he can’t do, or what he can’t access, but instead she saw all the wonder that lies in his innate way of being.
I want to balance this by saying IT WAS HARD! I would hate for anything I say to ever make a parent feel guilty because we all know there is far too much of that about and it is completely unnecessary. Beau did not hug me goodnight, but he hit me in the face. He did not say good morning but pushed me to the food cupboard to show me he was ready for breakfast. It is wearing.
When those experiences lead you to feeling sad and lonely and when the exhaustion of the million and one things you have to think about sets in, if I could do one thing for you it would be to gift you a friend like mine. A friend who sees your child as they are and it makes them think ‘wow, isn’t that special’.
We accessed the community a lot in these five days and found some new places to explore. Minster recreation ground and play park is a lovely space. Free nearby parking, public toilets, lots of open space, a visually engaging mural, and a good variety of play equipment in the play park. Also West Bay (Westgate-on-Sea) is a lovely spot for a beach day. We took Beau there in the height of summer a couple of times and it was always quiet. Free, on road parking, right next to the steps down to the beach, public toilets, wide open promenade away from the road and a lovely bay with a raised area to sit on off the sand.
We also visited Birchington library. We are fortunate to have lots of libraries in Thanet that offer a variety of activities. My children did some rock painting and although Beau chose not to engage in this activity he enjoyed buzzing around the space exploring the interactive displays. The staff were incredibly welcoming and it felt very relaxed.
Finally, someone got in touch with me after having read last month’s column to ask if I would share their SEN football sessions with Margate Youth FC. When looking into the partnership between Margate Youth FC and Inclusive Sport, I found that Inclusive Sport offer a wealth of SEN sport sessions across East Kent. For more information please visit: inclusivesport.net
Great article very insightful and also inspiring for the fellow artists in the area.