The chances of you managing to see ‘Hindsight’, the play by Jill Franklin, currently being reprised in Edinburgh by the impressive Fox and Hound Theatre as part of the Festival Fringe, grow slimmer by the day, as its run ends on 24 August, but if you can still get a ticket, do! Be warned, though – it is intensely painful in points in its piercing reflection of the inner life and thoughts of children. While this makes it an absolute must-see for parents, school leaders and teachers … and anyone who has ever had, or who ever will have, anything to do with children (ie, basically, every single one of us) … make sure you go prepared, with an open mind and an open heart.
It is the story of Laura, a 12 year old girl who sees the world just a little bit differently, but in ways which her school just doesn’t understand, and which renders her mother at times powerless. It is a story of misperceptions, wrongly founded assumptions, and the utter perplexity and desperate frustration which results when we do not seek to understand the world of a neurodiverse child. Human beings divided by a common language … with awful consequences.
It struck me when I reflected after the play, when the tumult of my emotions had calmed, that one of the most important messages that this play had was that we harm children when we presume to understand their inner world without questioning our assumptions. This was not a play ‘just’ about an autistic girl – in fact, the label was powerfully rejected by her mother: “She’s just LAURA!”. This was a comment about how children’s lives are trammelled by convention and schools, and how the wings of their ambitions, hopes and dreams are savagely clipped when we do not try to understand them, respect them and nurture them for who they are.
There are amazing schools out there – and I believe in the power of schools to make a difference in the world; I know too, however, that we cannot allow our own assumptions about children and their behaviour or their thoughts to go uncritically challenged, and we must always be on our guard for our own unconscious bias. Every child who is born into this world is an amazing gift, with the potential to make the most wonderful contribution to humanity and the planet … for those of us (all of us) who are charged with tending these green shoots, we need to learn really, really to listen to them.
William Blake said that hindsight is a wonderful thing … and he added: “but foresight is better, especially when it comes to saving life, or some pain”.
We need a lot more foresight in our world, in our relationship with our children. Thank you, Jill Franklin, for reminding us of this.