I saw this photo of a show report being shared on Twitter recently and it resonated with me instantly. I had had a similar experience while playing Aladdin over the festive period. During the run I had the privilege to go out front after each performance and meet families who had come to see the show. Seeing the sheer wonder in children’s eyes as they came out of the auditorium was truly magical. It also gave me the opportunity to speak to Art Attack fans which usually entailed an extremely excitable (or equally shy) child telling me about art attacks they had made at home. Such encounters were typically followed by a parent holding me responsible for paint stains on their new carpet. I met some lovely people and was touched to know that I had become a small part of their lives.
One story however really stood out, will remain with me forever and came straight into my head when I saw the above photo. It comes from Michelle Adamson-Mitchell. I first spoke to her on Twitter before meeting her after a performance along with her children, Lochlan and Maddison. I found what she told me so moving that I got in touch with Michelle recently to find out more. She has very kindly agreed to share her family’s story in her own words:
Maddison wasn't sleeping, eating, walking or talking by the age of two but she was extremely OCD; everything had to be the same way every single time and if it wasn't she would completely freak out as if it was the end of the world. Apart from me, her brother and my mam, dad and brother she couldn't be around anyone without having panic attacks. After a year of doctors and health visitors saying that it was stress related, due to my ex husband’s alcoholism and violence and leaving 3 months before she was born, they came to the conclusion that she was more than likely autistic. I disagreed with until I was blue in the face.
There's only 15 months age difference between her and her brother, Lochlan, and he has always been very protective of her and did everything for her. So when he started full time school she started improving very slowly. She's always loved nothing more than having a pencil/pen and paper and drawing for hours. Then I saw the publicity for you being the new presenter of Art Attack and I remembered how much I loved the show when I was a child. I must add here that I did try her with Neil and she didn't like him, ha ha J. I sat her down with me on your very first show and it was the longest she'd ever been quiet since she'd been born!
I recorded the shows for her and my parents did the same and that was all she ever watched. She still does now but recites them word for word, which shows how much you are on our TV! She started half day nursery when she was three and she didn't say more than a barely audible yes or no to her teacher for the first six months. I told her teacher to do something arty with her. When I picked her up her teacher was in tears; she couldn't believe that something as simple as stencils had worked!
Maddison turned five in September and is now in full time school and excelling at art. According to her teacher her skills are that of a nine year old. I took her to the doctors in October for chickenpox issues and they still referred her back to the autism specialists. The specialists said that she was so far from being autistic that it was a waste of time being there; she is just a very shy little girl. That is until you sit her down with her art and craft box and she'll show you something that 'her Jassa' showed her how to make. Yes my friend, you now belong to a five year old. Ha ha J. She's now caught up with everything and is a regular five year old girl, which wouldn't have been the case if it wasn't for you. You've helped the three of us more than you'll ever know and it was an honour to get to meet you and let you know her story. xo xo xo
To be a part of a show that can inspire a child so profoundly is incredibly rewarding. This is a true testament to the value of the arts and the power of children’s TV.