Silverback

Must cut my grass…..

One of those days where you line up a full day of work and then son wakes up with a temperature…. One too many coughs and he’s off sick. One too many sneezes and he’s contaminated me. Deep joy.

Still a day off from school will delay yet another bust up with the teachers. Maybe get my stress levels down to just below meltdown level.

In one subject last year he had a great teacher who seemed to get dyslexia. At the Parent Evenings she would tell us that in her opinion our son was as good as anyone in the subject in the school. She would say ok he struggles to write the knowledge down on paper – but we can find ways round that to suit him. It was refreshing to hear a teacher say that the key thing is the actual subject matter not the written English – that’s got its own subject anyway.

Unfortunately that teacher left. The replacement teacher seems to follow the school line. Neat handwriting and spelling come first, subject matter second. So now son is seen as low attainment in the subject. This terms homework project requires many pages of handwritten essay work. Points will be given for the quality of the presentation and points lost for things like spelling mistakes. So kids with dyslexia who struggle to write are being set up to fail. The school must know what a huge disadvantage this places on some kids. Oh I forgot – those kids are low attainment so it just proves the point. That’s modern education in England.

So once again I go through the finances to see if I can find a way to homeschool. Once again I fail. It’s at times like this that I feel so frustrated as a parent. It’s like constantly wading through treacle. Every step forward is such an effort. I’m so knackered – lord only knows what our son feels like. Everything seems to be stacked up against us. But sadly I bet if you asked virtually every parent and child dealing with a learning disability then they will say the same thing. It’s a never ending slog. And like all these wonderful parents and kids – we fight on. We love a quote which is maybe from Einstein, but if it isn’t, then it’s still a belter.

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing that it is stupid”

Or the other belter which comes from Spongebob.

“Patrick, you’re a genius!”

“Yeah, I get called that a lot.”

“What? A genius?”

“No, Patrick.”

Talking about genius. Then there is our sons Dad. I’ve been struggling with a Rhomboid injury. I had the bright idea of strapping it up with kinesiology tape. First of all – what a stupid place to put a muscle group. When you don’t have a partner – how in all that is holly am I supposed to get my hands back there… Then having dislocated my shoulders just enough to get my hands next to the Rhomboid I somehow need to attach this super sticky tape neatly across my shoulder blades. With a physio it’s a piece of cake. In my case think disaster. So several strips went on in the wrong place, creased or just badly twisted. But here’s the final insult. Now these useless attempts need to come off. Where in the instructions does it say in big letters – whatever you do if you have a back as hairy as a Silverback Gorilla on no account buy this tape. And if you are stupid enough to apply it to hair then change your name to Mr Stupid from Stupidville.

That’s me and my postal address.

The Golden Ticket

It’s amazing what you come across on a daily basis. You get good discoveries that just make you go ‘wow’. The ones you can look at for ages and get a sense of wonder.

Then you get other discoveries which make you go ‘wow’ for entirely different reasons.

Today I came across a headline in one of our so called better newspaper – The Times.

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Pupils lose out as £400m schools funding diverted to special needs

Children have been losing out because millions of pounds earmarked for their education has been siphoned off to pay for special needs education, an investigation by The Times has found.

A surge in pupils categorised as having special needs has led schools to lay off staff, increase class sizes and cut back on subjects as councils raid mainstream education budgets to fund support for them.

One headteacher said that the funding reforms introduced in 2014 created a new education, health and care plans that were seen by some parents as golden tickets”

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Don’t try to read the article as you have to pay Murdock for the pleasure. No free news here. Where do we start with this article from the Rupert Murdock stable.

  • Am I missing the point here but surely SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) kids are pupils as well. My son is a pupil surely. Not according to this newspaper. Clearly The Times would like to scrap inclusion and go back to the good old days where too many kids where denied the opportunity of mainstream education. The Times journalists have an underlying principle to most of its commentaries. Well if I don’t need that support so why should we be paying for it.
  • This article is likely to cause some parents to start resenting and blaming SEND kids for school problems. It’s pouring fuel on the fire of resentment and bullying. Basically what this article is saying is the those SEND kids are robbing Normal kids. It is deeply irresponsible and distasteful journalism.
  • The article doesn’t mention the 1500 SEND kids who are unable to find a mainstream school that will accept them. But it according to this journalist – that doesn’t matter as they are not pupils.
  • Blaming SEND kids for the £400m short fall in school budgets is lamentable. Clearly according to The Times this countries crisis in class sizes and falling teacher numbers is purely down to SEN kids. Let’s not mention that school budgets have been severely squeezed as a directly consequence of Government funding cuts. Let’s not mention that this Government introduced a new assessment system but refused to fund that change, That’s the very Government this newspaper supports whole heartedly.
  • This country has had a crisis in SEND school funding for years. It is chronically underfunded, it has always been chronically underfunded. Recently it has been subject to further Government cuts. No mention of that then.
  • A surge in pupils categorised as having special needs. It makes it sound as if suddenly parents are inventing SEND symptoms. This country has an estimated 350000 kids with a learning disability. Most experts say this is a fraction of the actual number. So many kids go through education without having a learning disability diagnosed. For too many years we have failed to address this educational crisis. This is going to get worse as a direct consequence of Government Policy as the criteria for SEND diagnosis is becoming stricter – purely to save money and not based on any health grounds. This is at the same time that funding cuts are resulting in longer wait times for an actual diagnosis to take place.
  • Finally ‘a golden ticket’. Really. In our case it’s the reverse of the article. The funding which has been awarded to our son for his learning disabilities is being used to part fund Teaching Assistant support for the whole school. The article also fails to reference that most SEND parents are already paying for additional care and educational support. This so called Golden Ticket only covers a fraction of the true cost of support.

Once again journalism gives us an insight into the deep rooted problems we have in society. The media reflects the current views of our so called Governments. It shows how far we have to go. How difficult this fight is going to be. I will leave the last word to my old Dad. He would call The Times ‘excellent toilet paper’. Thats all its good for.

Yorkshire Chilli

After years of trying to grow just one chilli in the subtropical climate which is Yorkshire we get to this. In about 10 years this is as good as it gets. Two huge Guinness Book of Record Largest Chilli winners. But after all the years of failure I will take these mini wins.

The one thing you learn with bereavement is that every persons grief journey is different. Regardless of what the textbooks tell you ITS UP TO YOU to find your own route through the minefields you find yourself stuck in the middle of. Some can do it within months. Others it takes longer, sometimes much longer.

I was listening to a bereaved man on the radio. He had starting dating again within a couple of months of the funeral. He was remarried within 6 months. In his words he had ‘grieved for about 6 weeks then it was time to start again”. When asked if he still grieved he said ‘No I have moved on’. That was his way through and out of the minefields.

One of the saddest and most beautiful things I have ever heard was an elderly chap who had lost his wife. Every wedding anniversary he took his wife’s ashes out to the same restaurant. He would sit and have his meal alone with the ashes. Nobody knows what he would say but he frequently cried. He’s been doing that for over 20 years. Maybe that’s someone who has chosen not to leave the minefield.

I’ve been in the grief minefield for 3 years now. But that’s only part of the story. No real time to grieve as I had to step up to being a single parent. I needed (still need) to give our son the best possible childhood he could possibly have under these circumstances. In my brain parenting became more important than grieving. My way out of the minefield frequently became muddled and lost . What happened was often parenting driven rather than grief oriented. For example.

Three years of virtually no social contact happened not because of grief rather because of having a young kid with Aspergers.

In those three years my not so great social skills have become extremely limited.

Last week I had a lunchtime coffee with four of the mums from our sons school. I’ve done that a couple of times over the last 3 years. It’s only for 30 minutes or so. In my case it’s now Peppermint Tea rather than Coffee. It’s about my only non-son social life these days, certainly since the world changed. Talk about wooden. I end up just listening. Luckily the mums are really nice and I think they understand. It’s a start. A little dip of the toe back into the big bad world. It’s a mini win. At least I’m not still in the middle of the minefield.

So like the chilli in Yorkshire. I will take the little wins. I think it shows that I probably want to make my way out of the minefield eventually but I have to admit – I’m not entirely certain about that….

Not Great anymore

Donald Trumps Wall appears to have started in Yorkshire. Here it’s probably to separate the privileged few from the many.

In my country professions like Teaching, Policing, Nursing, Clinical Specialties once we’re highly respected. This respect was reflected in pay and pensions. Unfortunately times have changed. Or should I say Government Priorities have changed. The argument was that low taxes was the new king. Low taxes on the rich and the money generators started to dictate thinking. The Government started to pick fights with various professions. A deliberate attempt was made to erode public confidence in areas like teaching, health and policing. Then the money generators messed up and we had the financial crisis. Suddenly austerity was needed. But again it was austerity for the many while protecting the few. So the Many and the Public Sector took the hit.

Government introduced competition into all areas. Suddenly contracts were awarded on best value for money. Best value rapidly became defined as the cheapest. As a result the workload on services increased. Quality levels dropped. Providers repeatedly changed. Unfortunately on top of this the pay and pensions of hard working professionals were also squeezed.

When people find their wages and pensions squeezed three things can happen

  • They buckle down for less money but their standard of living is eroded,
  • They become disillusioned,
  • They leave the job.

The Government trots out the argument about the cosy public sector life. The country will be better when everyone works in the good old private sector. Let’s not forget that our Prime Minister said of his own position

‘My Cabinet Ministers salary of £141,000 is not enough for me to live on’

When he said those wise words he was living in his rent free £20M Ministerial Mansion…. one rule for the few and a completely different rule for the rest of us.

A kid with Autism needs above all stability. Continuity in care. Trust is a commodity which takes along time to develop. But those key qualities have been destroyed by Government Policy. This year every single Teacher and Teaching Assistant changed for our Son. We have had to start again trying to build up the so important knowledge base of his particular educational needs. His Paediatric Care Provider has changed and we wait for his new clinicians. Wait is the buzz word. Appointments have gone from 4 times a year to twice a year to once a year. Not sure what the definition for a Year is. We recently received a letter saying that due to the change of provider the next appointment will be significantly delayed. He has had the same Physio for 4 years. But she quit her role. Then the next Physio left after one session. Another Physio then left before the first session. Currently we are waiting another a Physio to be appointed. He had access to a brilliant Clinical Psychologist but she retired and was never replaced. He started work with a Speech Expert but after 2 months she left the profession and the service was cut. He started a programme to work on his optical muscles but the service was cancelled with responsibility passed over to Education. Education refuses to provide that programme. I could go on…

So while our PM moans about his falling living standards the many are picking up the pieces. That’s modern Britain. It’s not Great Britain anymore. It’s certainly not great if you are not one of the Few. And it’s certainly not Great if you are a kid with Autism.

Sensory overload

There is a scene from the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie. Sherlock is in the restaurant waiting for Watson and his fiancée. You see him people watching. But quickly the noise and the images overwhelm him and he closes his eyes to shut out the world. Too much for him. Sensory overload.

It’s one of the few times I’ve seen this depicted on screen. It’s a problem for so many in our society. Yet it’s an often overlooked element of autism.

Imagine every time you go shopping, or sit in a classroom, or walk in a busy street or sit on an aeroplane or cross the road …. you get hit with this sensory overload. Too many different noises, too many images, too many smells, just too many sensations. Your brain just can’t process them. It can cause anxiety, confusion, anger, blurred vision, a meltdown or it may just hurt a lot.

Son has suffered with this. I’ve suffered with this.

Sometimes it’s easy to spot those potential sensory vortexes. Places with lots of people in a confined space. Various noise sources. Complex lighting. But often it can be more subtle situations which can produce the dreaded vortex.

  • Bright colours and certain patterns. The wrong type of wallpaper. A vivid unusual designed piece of clothing.
  • Where you try and process a number of facial expressions or different types of body language at the same time. A school corridor.
  • An unusual or striking taste sensation.
  • An unpleasant touch sensation. The wrong type of sock or glove. With me it’s often the feel of cold metal.
  • Trying to listen to a conversation where a number of people are trying to talk at the same time.

Over time you learn which environments will cause the issues and you start to avoid them. That’s potentially one of the reasons some with autism seek isolation and a private lifestyle.

Our son had started to develop his own defence strategies. One of his most effective ones is dreaming. When the environmental factors start to become unpleasant or unsettling he will often dream. Create a world he can fully control. This helps him shut out many of sensory inputs trying to overload him. You will often see him flapping or stimming during this process. He doesn’t completely shut out the entire world. He can keep track of certain inputs. You will see him dreaming but at the same time he is scanning a conversation or a teacher talking. As a kid I would do something similar when the anxiety started to kick in. Suddenly you feel your back in control again. Unfortunately I was not as good at keeping track of what the teacher was saying – my school reports often mentioned I was a day dreamer and needed to try harder.

Unfortunately as a society we are just not geared up to understand these issues. If you don’t conform to the required standards then you are labelled different. A problem. Most schools give little thought to how they design a classroom and no thought to what goes on the walls. But this can have such a huge impact. A psychologist told me this true story.

A young girl struggled to concentrate in the classroom. She was unable to read at school or in the home. She was written off as low attainment with behavioural issues. Then she was referred to a specialist who asked school to try and teach her in a different location with plain walls. The only room available was a little empty storage room under the stairs. Unbelievably the girl suddenly started to read in the store room.

The problem was that the classroom had a bright patterned wall which overloaded the girls senses. Every room in her home had complex patterned wallpaper. Quickly her parents redecorated the house with one colour paint. Unfortunately her school did not change the classroom so the girl would go to read in the storeroom.

We are seeing progress. For example some stores are starting to run autism friendly shopping slots. We went to one. The shop had turned down the lighting. Switched off the PA and music. Staff wore white shirts. Some of the bright coloured walls were covered over. The store controlled how many people entered the store. It worked and made such a difference.

As a society we have failed too many for far too long. We need to stop being so judgemental about those who don’t fit into the narrow accepted standards. We also need to have a long hard look at how we design our public buildings and homes. Let’s start to make a difference.

Unsettling

It’s been a seriously grey day. Heavy rain due within a few hours. When it’s like this you can’t see where the road ends up. You end of questioning your judgement. On your own it can be deeply unsettling.

Unsettling is a term I’ve become used to over the last 3 years. When my partner left this world it was a massive shock to my system (understatement of the year). For years I had got used to that wise voice guiding me through the world. The wise guide on life, on parenting, on everything. Suddenly life was uncertain. Now I was map reading on my own. Trying to navigate life and Aspergers felt like walking an increasingly thin tight rope without a safety net. Initially my approach was trying to make decisions that I thought my partner would make. Never going to work. We were different people with different takes on life. It was down to me to own this. Take responsibility. But it’s easier said that done.

Three years later it’s still easier said that done. Grief tries to rob you of your confidence and self esteem at a time when you are your lowest ebb. You have probably just lost your guiding light. Everything is stacked against you.

So again this weekend another crisis of confidence. Been many of these. Am I handling the school situation correctly. Should I be more forceful? An I being to pushy? Am I getting this badly wrong like most things. How can I be trusted with this when I can’t sort my own life out. Basically I’m out of my depth here. It’s a deeply unsettling feeling which sadly is not restricted to me. Too many live with this. In my case this leads to an initial overthinking of the situation, then the mind keeps focusing on the negatives (the possible ways I could mess this up), next comes the crisis of confidence which leads to a spell of depression. Well at least I’m predictable.

But the bottom line is that it IS DOWN TO ME. No one else is here. So I might think that I’m the wrong person to do this but I am the ONLY person available to do this. So it’s time to just try to keep moving forward. Move forward even though the path has disappeared. Hoping that one day the fog will clear. Then is the time to judge who bad my judgement has been.

Another odd day

Another odd Yorkshire day. Mixture of sunshine and then chucking in it down. Warmish then freezing. Still and then gales. But it wasn’t just the weather that was odd.

This morning started with a broken works computer system. Won’t be fixed until this – Saturday so that’s several late nighters then to catch up. Didn’t really want any sleep this weekend.

Next came a heated exchange with school. Due to a school admin error son never got his Year 8 injection. Not an issue as the school nurse will be returning next year BUT just a picking minute. If parents or kids make one mistake it’s an automatic negative yet no sanctions on school when they mess up. Apparently in schools case it’s just one of those things as mistakes can happen. Have you had one of those calls where you can feel the blood go from boiling to nuclear. One of those calls where you are increasingly squeezing the life out of the telephone. This was certainly one of these.

The call rapidly moved onto the lack of support for our son and the refusal of school to move him (at least in a couple of subjects) to a higher set. Last school year his Form Tutor told us that he was performing so well even without support from school. She was one of the few teachers who seemed to understand dyslexia and autism. As his marks were in the top 2 of the class then he should be moved up in at least 4 subjects. Unfortunately she left in the summer. On the call school said the Form Tutor was incorrect and it is not just marks that determine academic performance. Now apparently he is viewed as being in the lower middle of his class with many children ahead of him. In effect he is a low performer and any moves up in set are out of the question. The call ended (to the phone handset great relief) with a terse Dad demanding another meeting with school and the council. Not that it will do any good.

Needing to cool the raging core meltdown within I went for a run. A couple miles into the run a hot air ballon appeared over the trees. A quick photo and off I set again. Head down.

Running through the woods I started to hear voices. But nobody was insight on the path. Oh no it’s those Viking Ghosts. Then a roar of a burner above. Now the balloon was directly above and just above the tree line. I’m being buzzed by a mad balloon pilot.

Then a shout and they started waving at me. You wouldn’t be waving if I had a pellet gun with me.

Then it slowly started to rise and off it went.

Just before school finished I had a dreaded dental appointment. Might as well buy a yacht in Monte Carlo – unbelievably expensive. I ended up being told off for trying to be healthy. I have always had lemon water when I am training. Even more since I’ve stopped drinking coffee. The Dentist was not impressed. Apparently lemon (even watered down) is really bad for the enamel. Good job I didn’t mention the super strength lemon drink I have when I wake up. So now I am supposed to switch to Cucumber Water or Thyme Water. Cucumber Water taste like the liquid you drink as the last resort if your stuck in the desert. I’m only guessing that as NO I have not drunk my own …….

One last odd twist. Son came back from school with a letter. The letter was issued to son before my heated argument with school. In a few weeks the school is having an awards night. And son is getting an award for the number of merit awards he got last school year. This is fantastic. BUT. Not sure how this tallies with the schools current assessment of him.

Definitely an odd day.

Commitment

This photo is from a couple of days ago. It was reasonable weather.

Over the last couple of days the weather here has been a little more damp. The Photograph below from The Guardian sums up today’s dampness. Welcome to Yorkshire – the worlds best cyclist competing at the UCI World Championships and enjoying the welcoming Yorkie weather. As my Dad would have said that will put hair on their chests. Bet the poor riders didn’t expect to be riding through lakes. Amazingly the race was completed. Thats commitment for you.

Parenting is about commitment. Even I realised that before our son was born. The bizarre assumption we made was that at some stage the kid(s) would fly the nest and we would go back to something like our old life’s. Maybe after school, after college, after university, maybe a bit later. But at some stage it was happening. At some stage parenting becomes more part time and the stuff we had to park can be resurrected. In my case socialising with friends, climbing, playing sport, career, astronomy….

“WE” would get our life’s back – yes I never envisaged one tragedy…..

But maybe the full time parenting commitment may last longer. I remember our sons lead health professional telling us

It is possible that your son will be largely independent at some stage. However on the current evidence this might be the least likely outcome. You need to prepare yourselves that he may find it very difficult to live independently at any stage.”

As a family we are so fortunate. Son is making great progress in many areas. So many families don’t get this level of progress. But there are clear areas where progress is not being made. We have to be realistic that progress may never be made. Support may be needed life long. That’s a sobering thought and raises so many knock on considerations.

Those parts of my life I assumed would restart at some stage may in fact not happen. I don’t like admitting it but this thought makes me sad. But that’s life. I now realise bad things happen and you have to deal with them. You never know son might one day take up something like climbing. I suspect not in the case of climbing. He is a natural risk assessor. He might make sufficient progress to become fully independent. We just have to see what happens.

I know I’m not the only one who is in this position. I was reading a similar thing from a blogger I really respect just the other day. Parenting sometimes doesn’t work out the way you have imagined. Parts of your world are lost. Dreams become unattainable. Although parenting is the best gig in the world it is so hard to explain to others how part of you can still feels so sad.

I now know that this is parenting. Its about sacrifices. It’s about commitment.

Is Phonics the wrong path

Our much beloved School Minister (and first holder of our Boris Numpty Award), Nick Gibb declared “the debate is over”. He was referring to his decision which meant the all kids in English schools would have to learn reading by phonics. Kids are taught to break words up into parts and then learn individual sound parts. Previously kids were taught with a mix of phonics and the old approach of memorising the whole world.

Interestingly our School Minister who is an expert in all things education has no practical experience of teaching. He is an accountant. Which makes me equally qualified to set school policy….

Yes phonics does work for some kids but not for others. For example many kids with dyslexia or kids on the spectrum struggle to decode words and then struggle to produce the right sounds for each individual part. I’ve tried phonics and I struggle with it. It’s a disaster with son. We could be trying to use phonics for the next 100 years and it will still not help our son to read.

We all must have done this. Set out for a nice walk. In the case of the photos across the stunning North Yorkshire Moors. Then you come to a crossroads. Paths going in all directions. You look vaguely at the map. Try to look like a professional. Fold up the map carefully. Then go Eeny, meeny, miny, moe and randomly guess the right path. In my case it is usually unerringly wrong. After several miles you get that sinking feeling – wrong path.

Actually wrong path is not the best description. It will be the right path for many. It will take them to their desired location. But for some (like me) we could go down this path for years and it will never ever get us to our desired location. So what I need to do is get off this path and find a path which works for me. That is the sensible thing to do. As a I am not that sensible I won’t retrace my steps back to the crossroads. I will try to break trail in a different direction in the hope that I will find the path for me.

Now according to our Schools Minister all kids should go down the same reading path. Unfortunately doing that will guarantee that some kids never do arrive at their destination. Endlessly walking down this path, getting lost, getting disillusioned. That’s what happened to us. We blindly went down the phonics path and basically got no where.

But then we stopped and said stuff you Nick Gibb. And we broke a new trail.

  • We started learning some of the most common words the traditional way. Son would memorise the whole word.
  • We started playing around with various learning to read games on the internet.
  • Using trial and error son would try to use app’s like YouTube, Google Search or games like FIFA by himself.
  • Son would watch TV shows with the subtitles on. Movies like the Avengers were perfect. He knew them virtually off by heart. So he could focus on the subtitles and start to make links.
  • He would relentlessly work on his coordination. He would read a grid of letters while clapping his hands. He would bounce a ball while trying to learn and read words.
  • We would jointly read books. Normally Mr Men books. They were just the right length and fun. He would join in when he wanted to. I would never correct a mistake. He would process that himself.

The new trail has started to work. We haven’t reached our son’s destination but it feels like we are heading in the right direction at last. Enough for son to call himself now – a reader.

So I hope our Schools Minister finds his own path. Preferably takes him a million miles away from this countries classrooms. Then we can get back to trusting parents, teachers and kids to pick the education path which best suits them.

Lego

Rewind several years and we find our son seriously struggling at school. His reading development has flatlined. First impact of dyslexia but also the Governments forced phonics teaching approach doesn’t help. He is increasingly alone in the playground. In lessons he struggles to stay still and concentrate. He’s become clumsy and his fine motor skills have deserted him.

We had a few warning signings at nursery but these we largely missed. In fact at nursery he was ahead of all his age development targets. He was a character who was happy to be the centre of attention. He had loads of friends and the little girls would fight over who was going to marry him. Within the course of a few months this all changed.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF ASPERGERS, DYSPRAXIA AND DYSLEXIA.

As we started the process of getting a diagnosis everything we tried failed to work. It felt like we were working in the dark. Any type of win would really boast everyone’s confidence. Step in LEGO.

On the recommendation of a health professional it was agreed with school that we try a teaching programme based on those magic little toy blocks. Over the course of a few months school would incorporate a number of 1 hour LEGO sessions into each week. At home we would take every opportunity to encourage our son to play with his LEGO in a structured way. The whole approach was heavily influenced by the increasing use of LEGO-BASED THERAPY in schools and autistic research. The process worked and delivered clear results.

  • The repeated process of picking up small and differing shaped blocks started to improve his finger control.
  • Incorporating role play and story telling into model building helped him develop his imagination.
  • In the school sessions increasingly other kids were brought into the programme. This really helped his team working and willingness to share. Plus it gave kids a chance to see a different side of our son.
  • Increasingly complex designs helped with improving concentration levels.
  • As every small milestone reached gained a certificate. Son could see progress. This really helped his confidence.

So in an increasingly alien world for our son and his struggling parents those little building blocks brought our first real ray of hope. They really do work.

Why?

Because learning works best when it’s fun.