Posted by: njs44 | December 5, 2009

The Saturday Clubs

On Saturday afternoons there is a club for those with Learning Disabilities and their families. The club meets in various church halls, rotating round the district. The atmosphere is hectic sometimes, with shouting and music, ball games, children of all ages getting boisterous, adults chattering nine-teen to the dozen. One of the benefits of these clubs is that it gives parents a chance to exchange notes about all kinds of things. Top of the list is swapping stories of their dealings with Social Services, Education authorities, Health authorities and the like. When you have a child with special needs, they often have more than one kind of problem. Getting the right help is essential and yet finding out what is available, and how you can qualify for it, can be a nightmare. Many parents just give up and make do, even though they might be entitled to more, the rigmarole they have to go through to claim things is too much.

Comparisons are made with other countries. Someone has a sister in Ireland where provision appears to be better. Or maybe someone lives in a more rural area where provision is worse. It is hard to know, except that no-one has an easy time of it when they have a child with special needs.

One of the organisers of the club is talking to a mother about preparing her child for First Holy Communion. The mother is sceptical and reluctant, feeling sure that her child would not understand. It is too hard to get her daughter to be quiet for five minutes to contemplate bringing her to Mass. She wasn’t able to send her child to a Catholic school because there is no Catholic school in the Borough that can accommodate a child with her daughter’s level of need. There is a Catholic special school in another Borough, but the Local Authority won’t pay to send her there since there are adequate Special Schools in this Borough that can meet her needs.

Towards the end of the two-hour session we get a group of chairs together and gather in a semi-circle round a table on which are special items, an icon, some flowers, candles, things the children have made and decorated today and on previous occasions. One-by-one children come forward and light a candle, some with help, some unaided. A tape of some Taize music plays in the background and when the music stops there is silence. The contrast with the noise and hustle-bustle before is palpable. This is no ordinary silence. It is the silence where something deep, too deep for words is happening. The last time I felt such a silence was a long while ago while I was staying in a Benedictine Monastery. After a nod from the lady who organises the club, Larry, one of the adults with learning difficulties, leads us in prayer. Everyone listens and is quiet and attentive as Larry thanks everyone for coming, and prays for our safe journeys home.

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