Last night I went to see my son perform in a school production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. My son played the lead role of Prospero. I was just like the mum from The Goldbergs, beaming with pride and happiness. I wanted to stand up during the production and shout, ’That’s my son!’ But in the end, I decided to let him enjoy his moment in the limelight instead, solely without me embarrassing him. It was an excellent production. There were moments of great comedy as well as surprise and awe. The setting was in space and it was an intelligent retelling of the play.
This might not seem that remarkable. I am sure that many of you will have children who have taken a leading role in a school production. However, my son has a diagnosis of Asperger’s and has profound speech and language difficulties. In short, he doesn’t speak much in real life and he finds it difficult to communicate his needs. He prefers to be quiet and only speak when necessary. My son also attends a specialist school for students with Asperger’s. To most people who know him, it is quite a shock to see him with such a clear and commanding presence on the stage. Yet, that is what is so wonderful about drama, it enables him to become someone else.
When my son was about five, he had great difficulty settling into school. He had a rare form of epilepsy at the time and he used to experience abut forty fits a day when his brain would reboot itself. School was incredibly hard for him at this age. He was fortunate in that he went to a very caring primary school and they went out of their way to help him. He struggled a great deal with sensory experiences such as the smells and sounds. He hated having to go into the school hall and this would frequently cause him severe meltdowns. So, I decided to enrol him for drama lessons.
The drama school I chose was called Helen O’Grady. To be honest, it wasn’t far removed from ‘Legs-A-Kimbo’ in The League of Gentlemen. Students had to pretend to be a spoon or a knife and fork. Lessons were very regimented and always followed the same structure. This really appealed to my son and surprisingly he settled in and started to enjoy the sessions. He stayed with the Drama Academy for a full five years and only stopped when we moved, and he started at Senior School. He loved his drama lessons and they encouraged him to dress up and create imaginary characters at home including my personal favourite: The Ninety-Ninth Doctor Who. I remember though every year, the Academy would put on a production which would be presented at a drama festival, where other groups would perform. This drama festival was particularly tortuous for parents, as you would be forced to sit through about six hours of turgid, nonsensical plays, before you child would finally appear on stage for all of five minutes at the very end.
My son started at a specialist school about three years ago. We had to endure the horrific EHC process with the local council, to get him the vital help that he needed. His time at this school has been hugely positive and they have nurtured and supported his drama talent with regular productions. Students with Asperger’s frequently have an obsession or a talent that they excel in. For my son, it is drama. The school he attends ensures that they discover every single student’s special talent; whether that be drama, music, dance or even, heavy metal music. Last year the school pantomine started with two rather scary thrash metal songs sung by one boy. You know the type of song that concerns making a pact with satan. As much as it was a bit of a shock to the start of what ended up being a stereotypical, child-friendly pantomine, this showed how inclusive the school is and how they want to encourage every student with their passion, no matter what that might be.
Next year my son hopes to go onto a BTech in Performing Arts at a local college. So, if ever anyone says to me, ‘Oh, what’s the point of the Arts?’ Or ‘Why should we spend money on non-academic subjects such as drama and music?’ Well, I think you know how I’ll respond. Drama gives my son confidence, self-worth and enjoyment. For once, he can be the centre of attention, instead of the quiet, shy one in the background. And what is more, it also makes his Mum, incredibly proud.