Stories from New Zealand: A Girl Named Abby

Emma Deakin, Helicopter Stories Practitioner, New Zealand

About ten years ago, when I lived in London, I learned to deliver Helicopter Stories with Trisha Lee and Isla Hill. I now live back at home in Aotearoa, New Zealand, where I have recently delivered the first pilot programme of Helicopter Stories as a visiting practitioner.

At Best Start Arrowtown, I had a wonderful encounter with a girl called Abby. She has communication difficulties. Very little of what she says can be understood. When she speaks, it comes out as sounds, and it rarely contains words that others can understand.  

After the first session, the teacher I was working with, Karen, asked me about Abby joining in, explaining her difficulties. I shared some anecdotes about how the approach supports all children at all stages of development. Absolutely we ought to include Abby. We agreed that the following week we’d invite Abby to join us and see how it went.

Arriving for week two is always exciting. It means it’s time to be around the children, and I get to scribe their stories. That was when I met Abby. She didn’t hang around during the story-scribing. But we let her know that we’d be acting stories out on the stage, and we invited her to join in, which she did. Abby remained on the periphery, but she stayed for the whole session. I invited her onto the stage when it was her turn, but she didn’t join in.

For me, it is wonderful once we get to week three and four. I feel more a part of the group. Children come running up, have remembered my name, and are eager to get stuck into telling stories and CAN’T WAIT to act out on the stage.

Soon after I arrived, I was surrounded by children wanting to tell me their stories.                             Including Abby.

She sat very near me, watching me scribe another child’s story. She pointed at the page and said “Abby” several times. I paused my scribing, found her storybook and gave it to her. She saw her own name on the cover, saying again, “Abby.” I told her we can write her story in her book if she wanted. She sat patiently as I finished scribing the story for the other child. Then it was her turn.

To be honest, I was a little nervous and unsure of what to expect.

I wrote Abby’s name at the top of the page. She started talking. I didn’t understand her, but she was communicating so clearly in her own unique way. A story was being told – that was absolutely clear.

After a few moments, Abby gently took the pen out of my hand and began writing on the page herself. As she did, occasional words emerged that I could understand.  I repeated them and said, “shall I write that down?” Abby demonstrated she agreed by handing me back the pen.

I heard an audible intake of breath from her teacher; we were experiencing the limitless potential and wonder of this simple yet profound approach we call Helicopter Stories. Surrounded by other children, Abby and I continued to scribe her story like this – she talked and wrote. I repeated the words that I understood, which she permitted me to write down.

Here’s Abby’s story;  

Her first words were “A monster.” The story she had just heard dictated by another child contained a MONSTER character. I love the fluid sharing of stories between children that happens during Helicopter Stories; a communal borrowing of ideas.

Abby’s delicacy and focus to tell her story was captivating. I learned that it was not about her trying to make me understand, but rather it was up to me to understand her. This was her world, utterly, and it was my job to meet her, not the other way around.

When she finished, I asked Abby which character she wanted to play when we came to story-acting. I didn’t manage to confirm this; her response was unclear. It didn’t matter. As soon as we taped out the stage on the floor, Abby was on it! Eager to tell her story, repeatedly saying, “Abby, Abby, Abby….”

We began with Abby’s story. Abby looked focussed and ready for it to be acted out. I introduced her to the group.

A child invited onto the stage stomped around pretending to be a monster. Abby joined in for a moment but then continued to move around the stage as children were invited to play the other characters. For the most part, Abby remained on the stage but not committing to any one character. Instead, she moved like a dancer shifting between all her characters; a stomping monster, prancing unicorns, funny penguins, a spectacular round moon and a delicate butterfly. Abby’s arms were thrown in the air at times. She looked happy with herself and her story. And the children revelled with her, as actors and audience.

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