Lesson 49 on Various aspects of communication
Long ago, before we categorised specific special needs, children often turned up in your class with some sort of difficulty and you just had to work out for yourself what best to do for them.
This was particularly so at Mandy’s school, because that was the very end of the educational line. When you had been thrown out of every other school, or the local authority couldn’t find anywhere to put you, or you had some problem that other schools couldn’t cope with, then you ended up with us.
Sanjit was one of the latter. She had been at a neighbouring primary school, but had failed to make progress. There was nothing on her primary record card except her name and address. (In the bad old days this was not unknown.) Nurse and I looked at her medical record to see if that could provide any clues. Nothing – she had had all her check ups and immunisations. She was apparently healthy.
What Sanjit did, was to sit in class and sob. She wouldn’t tell anyone what was wrong. In fact she wouldn’t say anything at all.
In desperation I asked her classmates if she had done the same in her last school.
“Oh yes Miss, but not quite so much. Our teacher used to let her go and read books in the quiet corner.”
So at least she had learnt to read somewhere along the line.
There was no Google in those days, so I had to rely on the old fashioned printed word to research Sanjit’s behaviour. All I came up with was a paper on Elective Mutism by a teacher dealing with twins, who would communicate only with each other.
When Sanjit got what or where she wanted, she stopped sobbing. She didn’t sob in my group or in Art, and very seldom in Domestic Science. She sobbed so much in Maths that she had to come out to my room, or the teacher would have murdered her.
Sanjit was clever. She didn’t speak, but she listened and her written work was neat and careful. However she was miserable in most normal classes and a nightmare for teachers and pupils alike.
What to do with her? Nurse had dug out a little background information that an attempt had been made at some point to transfer her to Special School, but her family spoke no English and were difficult to persuade, and the Special School said she was too bright.
Meanwhile I had found out from my group that Sanjit spoke to her mother. I decided I had to meet with Mum. The family lived nearby. I asked Sanjit if her Mum would come to see me at school. She shook her head. I asked if I could I come and see her at home. Sanjit looked undecided.
“If you asked your Mum and she said yes, you could come with me and tell her what I say, couldn’t you?” Sanjit nodded.
I did not believe that Sanjit’s Mum couldn’t speak any English at all. She had been watching English TV for 16 years. I had elicited from Sanjit that her Mum was an avid Soap fan.
I took care to dress smartly for our meeting. Mum had taken care to lay on refreshments. The younger brother was off school sick and was clambering all over the furniture with the cake knife in his hand. He didn’t look very ill to me.
Between the four of us we managed to discuss Sanjit’s unhappiness at school. Mum told me at home Sanjit was fine, she spoke and helped with chores. She read books and sang. She loved films and music.
Slowly a story emerged of a family life so complex it could have been a Bollywood script. At one point Sanjit and her Mum had been sent back to the Punjab and had lived as outcasts in one room at the home of a relative. They were not spoken to by anyone for months on end.
Despite the practical difficulties in communication, Mum and I saw eye to eye. If a place could be found for Sanjit where she might be happier, Mum would agree to it.
“I believe you Mrs Wise,” she said, looking approvingly at my carefully chosen outfit, “Because you are a lady.”
Unbelievably I managed to find a single-sex School for Delicate Children within travelling distance. After much lobbying of the local authority, they agreed for us to visit. Mum and I and Sanjit dressed in our best, and off we went.
As we drove up the drive it was as though we had entered a time warp. The school looked as though it had dropped straight out of an Enid Blyton story. It was a rambling mock-Tudor country house set in leafy grounds. There were even tennis courts on the lawns.
Sanjit perked up.
The headmistress, who also looked and spoke like a kind Enid Blyton character, showed us round the wood panelled classrooms and neat dormitories. There was a possibility of weekly boarding. Sanjit observed everything with interest.
When we went back to her study, the headmistress smiled at Sanjit and spoke to her directly.
“Well, what do you think Sanjit? Would you like to come here?”
“Yes, thank you,” said Sanjit firmly and clearly.