When ‘Fun’ is Scary

IMG_1534What might be enjoyable and fun for many children, can be a very frightening and distressing experience for other children.

‘Book Week’ celebrations and other dress-up days can cause considerable confusion and distress to Autistic children – whose neurological processing relies, to a large degree, on ‘familiarity’ and ‘known’ knowledge (past experiences) to navigate the world.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for many parents of Autistic children to keep their child home on ‘dress up’ days, resulting in the child missing out on that days lessons / learning.

On her part, while Cadence very much enjoys dressing up; when others are in costumes, they can become ‘unfamiliar’ to her – visually a person she no longer ‘knows’. This is especially true where costume involves face masks and / or wigs – as was the case at her schools ‘Book Week’ celebrations this week.

This year her school’s theme was ‘super hero’s’, resulting in many teaching staff and students wearing face masks and / or full face paint. Others wore full animal masks and / or an assortment of different coloured wigs.

With many in masks / covered faces, Cadence found the digression from who and what she knew, too extreme, making transition to school difficult and frightening for her: “I thought it would be fun. But people looked strange and creepy, nothing was familiar”.

‘Dressing up’ is a ‘right of passage’ and much loved activity of childhood’ and so it should be for all children.

In support of inclusive approaches recognising the differing abilities, needs and diversity of their school population, many schools have asked themselves the question, “is the wearing of face coverings a necessity for children to delight in dressing up? Does the wearing of face coverings result in some children being excluded and / or not engaging in their learning”? And, have subsequently elected to adopt a policy of no face masks / face coverings on dress-up days. We look forward to more schools giving consideration to inclusive policies.

Dress-up Day (by Cadence)
“No-one was normal, only creepy and scary.
Masked faces, wolfs, horses, bears, strange things,
Closing in on me. Surrounded. Trapped.
By bodies with no faces.
The faceless moved so quickly.
Running. Too fast for me.
They laughed. Like it was fun?
Like nothing was different – when everything was wrong.
In a voice I know, from a body I don’t,
It makes no sense that they say “Come with me”.
My feet can’t move. They are stuck. Frozen. Glued.
Everything I know has disappeared.
Screams in my head that they can’t hear.
“Don’t touch me. Please leave me alone”.
I don’t know who or what you are –
When you are not you.
I don’t understand how they think
Scary is fun”.

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