17. Finding Nemo by Colin Fawkes

A short blog about my childhood ignorance and where the next generation are going right.

When I was wee (isn’t that how all these things start?) I played football all the time. We were always looking for more people to play. Anyone would do. Anyone that is, except Navi’s brother Nemo. You see Nemo had Downs and I was a little bit scared of him. Other kids would talk of his ‘mongo strength’ or that you could ‘catch it’ if he touched you. The kind of ignorant, childish chat that I wish had never been spoken.

I resented Nemo joining us for a game, and hated having him on my team. He was a few years older than me, roughly the same height, but burly and strongly built. His speech wasn’t great, technique poor, but boy could he run, and he worked ridiculously hard on the pitch. The older boys would occasionally make sure he got a goal, especially if the game wasn’t close. He’d get all the breaks that were going. In my immaturity, I resented this. I was a competitive wee shit at times (still am) and winning was everything. Sensing my feelings, the older boys who ran the game would usually ensure Nemo and I were on opposite teams. I got to win, more often that not, and he got a game. All was right with the world.

Older kids don’t play football with the wee ones forever though. Soon I was one of the older ones, and soon I was picking who we’d invite to play, and who played in what team. One day we were short of players and I went round to invite Navi, knowing it meant Nemo would come too. I faced into the team selection issues of balancing the sides. I was going to take Nemo, but in doing so weighted the team with other strong players. We were walking it, and Navi encouraged me to give Nemo a goal. I did. Laid it on a plate for him, and I’ll never forget his reaction. Joy unconfined, and ready to celebrate with me. I didn’t think it possible, but he made me feel special. I loved it. Who doesn’t want to feel that way? From that day on Nemo was more than just another body on the pitch, he was my friend, and my equal.

I’m delighted to say my kids, aged 5 to 11, have none of the ridiculous prejudices I had, and won’t ever need to learn the lesson I did. Their primary school is fully inclusive and they work with, play with and celebrate achievement with children who have a range of physical, mental and emotional disabilities. The staff at the school do a wonderful job and we are better as a society as a result. Certainly better than in my childhood when all I’d see of Nemo during the week was him being carted off in a van to a “special school.”

I worry that in this time of cuts to council budgets that such services are compromised. I would urge anyone reading this to make your voice heard at a local council level to ensure this doesn’t happen. Schools with enhanced services need to have their budgets protected so they can continue to employ the staff they need and pay for the equipment they use. Integrated schools may cost more, but losing the quality services they provide will cost us more.

Colin does something to do with IT, lives in Falkirk and is an Am-dram hero.  He is a proud and doting dad of three wonderful children.

My ’21 blogs’ series, in the lead up to WDSD16, is raising money for Down’s Syndrome Scotland. Please take a moment to donate if you enjoy reading this blog to support the vital work they undertake. Thanks for reading, Dave


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