D is in reception. Every week yet another child comes into school clutching a pile of envelopes and with the help of their parent hands them around the gaggle of children waiting to go into the classroom. D is luckily (for now) oblivious, but I am acutely aware of what is going on.
I hold my breath – trying not to make eye contact with the parent, because if I do they get flustered and look away – and this then means a few weeks of them avoiding eye contact with me until the party is over and the cake is now but crumbs on the floor.
There are 30 children in his class – so far he has had 1 invitation (and to that Mum I am eternally grateful). But there have been many many parties. Other parents at the classroom door tell me how busy their weekends are, how it just seems to be one birthday party after another. They stand and chat about how little Jimmy and little Jane looked so cute as they attempted to play musical statues and chased bubbles around the room. Normal children, doing normal stuff, learning to be part of a bigger social world.
I know all the arguments – that your child has the right to invite who they want to their birthday. It is after all their special day. But this right to choose leads to a very insidious and subtle form of exclusion.
None of these parents are awful people – in fact the very opposite – they are good members of a strong local community – but who have no real concept of what it is like to have a special needs child in your family.
But it brings into focus just what the life of a special needs child is like in a mainstream. They are always on the periphery. Always observing.
A parent who had struggled with moving her child from mainstream to a special school was astounded by the number of birthday invites their child now got and how more meaningful the friendships he formed became.
I don’t know what to do about D. I can’t make friends for him. I can’t find a way into these fast forming friendship groups. He’s not ready for them yet.
But next time you come to write the invitation for your child ‘s party – please for one moment stop and think about whether you could play a small part in helping a little child learn to play their part in a bigger world.