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Friday, 2 September 2016

My First Experience Working With ASN Children

Earlier this week I took part in the Edinburgh Book Festival. I performed for large groups of schoolchildren, and signed copies of my new book. I was delighted to be back in Edinburgh after having taken shows up there in 2012 and 2013 for the Fringe, and I also managed to catch the last day of the Fringe this year, performing a set at Comedy Club 4 Kids and catching a show by the fantastic (albeit very weird) Spencer Jones.

After my Book Festival performance I caught a train to Aberdeen to take part in the Booked! Festival, an outreach programme run by the Edinburgh Book Festival which involves taking the festival experience to different parts of Scotland. It was in Aberdeen that I had my first experience of performing poetry for a group of severely disabled children.

There were about ten children in the group, from Woodlands ASN (Additional Support Needs) School, many of whom were in wheelchairs. Each child had a support worker with them, and most couldn't talk. I was nervous about this, since audience participation is usually a crucial part of my act. I was also nervous generally; I had no idea how my performance would be received, and I had pretty much no experience working with children with these kinds of disabilities.

I decided to do the same act that I do day in day out at schools, and that I did the day before in Edinburgh. The audience participation worked well: there were a couple of very vocal, enthused children, and other children had their carers interact on their behalf. I found that the pieces that worked best were the rhythmical ones, and the ones with strong, distinct choruses.

Why am I writing this? Because it is very easy to see such people and to 'write them off' in our minds, to tell ourselves that they are incapable of enjoying or experiencing things as we do, and to just kind of leave them to it. I myself have unconsciously been guilty of this type of thinking. It sounds ridiculously saccharine, but to see the smiles on their faces and in their eyes when they were listening to my poems was really special, and I am grateful to have been given an opportunity to share my work with them. I hope to do so again in the future.