Thursday 19 November 2015

Inclusive Dance: after school club success

So today we had one of the best, most inclusive experiences with our younger autistic girl at a dance class, that I just have to tell you about. It reminded me of a post I'd read at Diary of A Mom earlier this year: A Place To Dance. Our whole class was an equally uplifting and memorable occasion and I'll admit it brought a little tear to my eye.

Image is of Sasha in a huge field, spinning to her hearts content :)

I saw a local Dance class which had been organised for children under 18 with special needs  advertised this morning and figured it could be worth a go. As I picked her up from school, I discovered Sasha hadn't had a great day (think meltdowns and a very sucked, wet tie indicating huge anxiety), but I decided it was worth asking anyway. To my amazement she said yes! So many issues to think about; new place we'd never visited, new people, not knowing what the rules were, what music might be playing etc and yet her overwhelming love of dance took over.

Unfortunately we walked up to the wrong place as we arrived so the class was a little late starting (it turned out it was just us!) and that was nearly enough to send us home before we'd even started. Sasha doesn't do waiting; you can see her anxiety sky rocket in such a short space of time.

Once in the dance studio though, the full length mirrors were a big hit and the happy, bubbly dance teacher quickly made up for the wait. She put Sasha at ease by simply listening to her and being interested in what she had to say - even when it didn't make any sense! The excitement caused Sasha to turn into a huge chatterbox and at one point I was worried there wouldn't be any time left for dancing.

Sasha wasn't all that keen on learning dance moves initially, but she did do a little of what was asked, putting her own twist on it. One of the most successful parts of it all was that so little was asked, which meant that the PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) barely reared up at all. The teacher, Tamsin and Sasha all just floated and spun and grooved around to pop hits, with a bit of hula hooping, musical statues and taking a pose as they went. The teacher coped admirably with requests for specific music (that we listen to in our car every day) and thought on her feet about new ways to interest Sasha and keep her going.

The fact that our autistic girl no longer takes part in any after school clubs has been playing on my mind of late. It hits home more on those days of the week when we drive her older sister Tamsin to her four different activities (Guides, Jazz, Fencing and Drama, in case you're interested!). Sasha has tried joining a few different clubs or activities over the years; I wrote about our start at Brownies some time ago. It didn't last long though, it never does. Swimming lessons always needed me to be in the water with her and ballet lessons were equally challenging, with her lying on the floor, in the way of the others, when she'd had enough after ten minutes.

Sasha around the time of her first, and only, ballet lesson...
Then there's one extra monthly activity after school which Tamsin now attends; SIBS club. This is a special club, only for children who have siblings with Special Needs. It's a general session where the children just 'hang out' and have fun with others who understand the difficult parts of life. It looks like fun, and that's exactly what Sasha thinks when we walk in the door to drop Tamsin off.

'Why can't I stay Mum?' asks Sasha.

It's very difficult for me to answer that question. Part of me wants to say that she can, that it's not really fair her elder sister gets to enjoy yet another club after school and she's not able to be part of that either... but on the other hand I appreciate that it's time for Tamsin to let her hair down with friends without the pressure and embarrassment of having her sister around.

It's also difficult to answer for the obvious reason. How do I explain that the whole reason for this club is Sasha herself? That if she didn't have Special Needs then there would be no need for a SIBS club for her sister? Sasha doesn't even yet realise that she is autistic, as I explained in my recent post How To Tell A Child They Have Autism.

Back to the huge positives though. To see Sasha dancing with no inhibitions, just enjoying the music and doing her own 'thang', was priceless. But what really made my heart miss a beat tonight was when Sasha breathlessly asked, with hope, 'so does this mean I now have a Wednesday night club?' and 'will some other children come to be friends and dance with me?'

I hope so. Fingers crossed next week goes as well! Will be interesting, depending on the other participants and whether they can take Sasha dictating the music choices... or indeed whether Sasha will learn to compromise.... time will tell. But for now, I'm banking this huge success with a huge smile on my face.

Thank you SO much to the Hertfordshire Dance Association - A Social Enterprise to promote education, inspiration and equality in dance. Totally inclusive and I thoroughly recommend them to everyone.