Just like that Tree

A couple of photos of a favourite tree of mine. And Captain Chaos – saves an extra special cock of the leg for this one.

It’s sits on the edge of a forest. It’s in a field all by itself. Is it part of the forest or does that 50 yards of separation make it a loner – in its own forest of 1 tree. I guess it once was part of the main forest but over years the trees around it have died or been felled.

There’s a photograph from our sons old nursery which comes to mind. I can’t share it as it has other kids on it and I don’t think it’s right to show it without their agreement. It was taken when our son had just turned four. He was a kid which every other kid wanted to play with. Up to that stage no real indication of Aspergers. In fact I really didn’t know what Aspergers was. The photo has all the nursery kids and nursery staff stood in a group. The Nursery Team photo. All huddled together except one small boy. Our son was stood by himself about 2 yards in front of everyone. Giving the camera a real Paddington Stare. They tried to get him into the group but he just kept saying ‘NO I’m fine here’. Unusual for him as he was normally the one hiding at the back with a hood over his head as soon as a camera was produced.

Was he part of the group or was he becoming a loner.

Maybe he thought he was the leader. Maybe he thought it was his moment to shine. Maybe he just took a dislike to the photographer. We will never know.

A note was shoved through our letter box yesterday. The Village Committee are holding a village Christmas party at the little Village Hall. Children can come so WE could go. But I’m not sure I feel part of the village these days. The friends we had have all left now or passed away. The few I still know are elderly Residents and they will either be off to spend time with family over Christmas or are not interested in socialising anymore. So if we did go WE wouldn’t know anyone there. Part of me is saying WE should go as it’s a chance to meet new people. But WE won’t in the end. Son is adamant that he would rather do a spelling test than go to that party. A large part of me shares his view. Stood in a cold village hall with people who either have no idea who I am or with people who I share nothing in common with. They live in a different world. A world of dinner parties, bridge Clubs, Conservative Party Socials and going pheasant shooting at the weekend. You see the problem is that although I am living within yards of these good people – I am not really part of them. I once was but those close to me have either left or died. Slowly isolating me from the village. Just like that TREE. Hopefully the dog doesn’t cock his leg on me.

Splendid

Running is such a release for me. It was such a shock when I was advised to stop due to injury. As I’m no spring chicken I feared that was it. But luckily a period of recuperation and a completely changed exercise regime has got me pounding the trails again. Some days you think WHY…..

Drenched, cold and running into a 20mph wind. Unfortunately I’m not what you would call aerodynamic. Today I felt like a tub of lard. An unfit Tub of lard would probably have gone quicker into that wind than me. At least nobody witnessed my struggles. These winter months it feels like I have the place to myself. Splendid isolation it might be but oh for the occasional running partner.

Splendid isolation is a phrase our son likes. I think he’s decided that he would love to have a circle of friends while getting as far away as possible from everyone else. I think most of us probably feel that way these days.

As a parent you desperately want your kids to be happy. Seeing the world through my eyes I often see happiness in terms of him spending time with a range of friends. Yet in reality this doesn’t happen. Over the last 16 months he’s been invited to one birthday party and probably had no more than 5 or 6 meet-ups (if that). The friends he made at his last school have slowly drifted into new friendship circles. The way his new school has put him in a class with none of his old friends has not helped. When I spoke to the school they argued that as he was basically low attainment they didn’t have any option open to them. Read low attainment as being dyslexic and being on the spectrum. And NO school – sitting a random kid next to him in a class does not count as a friend. Last year he did start to make a couple of friends in his class but both kids were moved up into a higher class in the summer. Out of school there are no kids his age in the village. Hardly any kids at all and certainly no communal play facilities for miles. But that’s through my eyes.

Through his eyes it’s Splendid Isolation. He will find the right people to be friends with in his own time and in his own way. Until then he’s more than happy with his Old Pop and doing things on his own. It’s important that we recognise that everyone is different. And difference is a good thing. To me being so isolated is a significant cause of anxiety – but not to our son. To me running is a brilliant releases – but to our son running is monumentally boring and should be restricted to no more than the occasional 5 yard burst. He does have a point.

Change

That’s either a years supply of fire wood or one monumental nature hotel. I strongly suspect it’s not for nature. It’s strange how things can change. One week a pile of wood is home to nature the next its ashes in a fireplace.

Immediately after my partner died I suddenly started to experience significant isolation. Largely cut adrift from society. Your life becomes intertwined with that of your partner and your own sphere of social contacts gradually drops accordingly. Rupture that partnership and you rupture your social life. On most days my only opportunity to socialise was at the school gates. The daily school run became a source of much comfort. I could talk to other parents and son would interact with the other kids. Being a small school really helped him.

Fast forward a couple of years and the school run experience has completely changed. Bigger school. No gate anymore. The parents who do turn up stay in the car and wait for their son or daughter to find them. No one gets out of the car. Very isolating.

Then you see the kids leave school. Mainly groups of kids. Twos, threes or more. Occasionally you see one walking by themselves. Son always walks by himself. Suddenly it feels a very very dispiriting experience. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Best thing

Some days life needs lots of words and some days it just needs a few.

I was going to reflect on how difficult the school bus journey can be for so many kids. I will leave that for another day. I picked our son up from school the other day and he came up with this gem.

“Dad that’s some sky. It’s a sky show. That’s why life is the best thing”.

Cheap

Hard to believe that 10 minutes later it was absolutely chucking it down. Maybe we have already had our summer sun for 2020.

So the week ends with two wins

  • School has confirmed that punishments like negatives will only be issued for poor behaviour or standards. They will not be for poor test scores. Son will still sit the spelling test but most of the stress he was under has been removed. Yes he still does the test but now he doesn’t have to worry about being punished if he struggles.
  • The NHS has agreed to another block of physio to try and help with his fine motor skills. He now has a new named Physio. Hopefully she will last longer than the last two. One lasted a session the other didn’t even last long enough for a session.

We take the rare wins and continue the fight.

Unfortunately our old electric kettle gave up the fight. Yes we must live in the posh end of Yorkshire as we have electricity on tap. But the kettle has brewed its last cup. As John Cleese would say ‘it’s shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain, joined the bleeding choir invisible, it’s an ex kettle’. So off I went to buy a new one. The nearest supermarket had sold out of all kettles. Clearly it’s the gift of choice this Christmas. So I ventured into the main electrical retailer for our nearest city. In the UK it’s the one that sounds like a spicy dish.

I have never seen so many kettles. You can buy virtually any colour to match your kitchen. Strangely I didn’t see the The RATHER CAT PAWED SLIGHTLY FADED MARIGOLD colour. You can get clear ones so that you can enjoy watching water boil. Ones which look like Darth Vader. Ones which play music while you wait for a hot drink. WIFI enabled ones that you can control from your living room. Voice controlled ones (bet it’s like everything else – it can recognise 300 languages yet it can’t understand the Yorkshire accent). Even a kettle that you can set the temperature of the water it produces (erm isn’t that just the boiled level – maybe it goes to nuclear temperatures – that would allow the Pot Noodle to be ready in seconds).

One problem. How much…. I am not paying the neck end of £50 to £100 for a kettle. Certainly not paying £180 for something called a Smeg…Suddenly I was pounced on by the salesman trying to sell me the latest expensive model. The look of distain on his face when I said.

Have you got the basic model in stock.

“You mean the £5 one”

That’s the one.

“It’s very basic sir”

Does it boil water

“Well yes”

Well that meets the spec then.

“Most people are upgrading their kettle options these days.”

***Why am I starting to panic. Embarrassed about not buying what everybody else is buying. Then I did a Trump and Boris. Sadly I told a fib.***

Its just for our caravan which we only use a few times a year.

***why did I just say that. I haven’t been in a caravan since well into the last century***

“Oh I understand sir, it’s perfect for that”

***and off he went to find the basic kettle safe in the knowledge that he wasn’t selling it to a cheap skate or God forbid – a poor person***

Try harder

I must try harder to catch a few Pokémon. During the week Son likes to see his trainer account topped up with a few catches. I’ve had a fairly shocking catch rate recently. Maybe it’s the Captain Chaos effect.

Our Son struggles with his handwriting. According to several of the teachers at his school he just needs to try harder to get to the handwriting level of some of the other kids. Its one of the reasons he has been labelled low attainment.

Well that’s very helpful, thank you. Just remind me again since you are constantly picking fault with his efforts with a pen – exactly what help do you provide to try and improve things. Yes now what’s the phrase I’m looking for here. Diddly squat.

Yes his handwriting is not what you would call neat.

It has improved a bit over the years. That improvement is down to – strangely – unrecognised hard work by our Son. But we have to recognise for all the hard work it is fundamentally down to a recognised medical condition. A medical condition which has been repeatedly documented by his health professionals and communicated to school. To quote the last health letter sent to school

His poor handwriting is specifically associated with the Developmental Disorders Aspergers, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. Conventional teaching approaches to handwriting are unlikely to deliver any positive improvements. Focus should be on specific Dyslexia investigations, Fine Motor Skill development, trialling of writing aids and the use of technology.

In effect his handwriting difficulties come from two interrelated factors

  • Visual and Cognitive Letter Perception – he struggles to recognise letter forms. Letters can be reversed and letters can be mixed up (an ‘a’ maybe mixed up with an ‘e’, ‘y’ mixed up with a ‘g’).
  • Poor Fine Motor Skills. He struggles to hold a pen (often held with too much muscle force). He then finds it difficult to coordinate and control the required hand movements (his movements are not smooth).

As I’ve said improvements have been made. We did manage to secure some ongoing Physio Therapy to work on the motor skills. Due to Government cutbacks they are not as frequent as the health service would like them to be. But they have helped. At home repetitively bouncing various size bouncy balls has made a huge difference. From not being able to catch to becoming really adept at it. But he still struggles to write, struggles to tie knots and has to be helped to open things like screw bottle tops. At home we have tried various pen types and grips. We have trialled things like colour overlays and special rulers. But these have had little impact in our sons specific case. But I’m no specialist so who knows if I’m doing it correctly.

In terms of the visual and cognitive perception area unfortunately the health service is not allowed to provide any detailed dyslexia assessments. This has been defined by the Government as an educational area. And in our area the educational services have decided not to provide a specific dyslexia service. So kids like our son are left basically to fend for themselves. Branded as low attainment.

So the hard work will continue. I will try harder to catch some Pokemon. Not hopeful as I’m not that good with computer games (I struggle with fine motor skills as well). In terms of our Sons handwriting I am sure that he will continue to try hard. However just saying he must try harder completely misses the point. Just constantly pointing out the kids who write neater and saying that’s the level you should be at achieves only one thing – erodes personal confidence even more.

One final thought. Associating poor handwriting with low attainment is an interesting concept. Having worked in education, health and policing I can honestly say that the individuals often with the most illegible and scruffy handwriting are the HEADTEACHERS, DOCTORS and DETECTIVES. So if poor handwriting is a sign of low attainment – we are in trouble.

More rain

And still it rains. And rains. And rains.

And still it rains at school.

French Homework is to complete a crossword. A French Crossword. Marks will be deducted for incorrect spellings.

Dad I can’t even do a crossword in English never mind French. I can remember the sounds but I can’t spell the words. The Teacher knows this but just says I have to try harder.

And we have more…

Drama Homework is to complete an acting related Word Search Game. Really. Very early on his previous school it was identified that he could just not do Word Searches Tables. The Psychologist who looked into this established that for some reason he was not able to visualise letters and collections of letters if they were printed diagonally or backwards. On top of this his dyslexia just made identifying words difficult. As this was stressful for him it was strongly recommended that his education did not use word based games. Fast forward a couple of years and his current school now requires him to do word searches as it’s the set task for the class.

I can see the point of a French Crossword for some kids but how is a dyslexic kid expected to complete this. Has our school system become so inflexible that we can’t just vary the teaching programme a little for each individual child need. Clearly not. The Government is committed to this Factory/Production line model of education. That’s for State Schools. Private Schools have more scope to flex the teaching programme. Unfortunately many can’t afford to go Private. But that won’t bother Boris and his buddies. As long as the chauffeur driven car turns up and the expensive wine keeps coming.

Ok I can see the point of a crossword for French for some BUT… What is the pigging point of a word search for Drama. I guess it’s all part of the Government’s drive to make every kid spell correctly the defined key words. Spelling is given a higher profile that actually understanding what the word means. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the best way to develop the next Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg and Tom Cruise is to focus on spelling. Oh hang on a minute these have dyslexia as well. So no I don’t see the point.

We just set too many of our kids up to fail. They see other kids repeatedly praised for great spelling or neat handwriting while at the same time they are just told to try harder. How demoralising is that. A phrase you hear often is that kids with learning difficulties have to try super hard just to keep the perceived learning gap from widening. DAMM RIGHT THEY DO. Too many kids are forced through the same stereotyped classroom hoop. Never given a chance to demonstrate their unique skill sets as these are not in the areas deemed valuable by the Government.

Too many kids have been failed by our society. It’s not as if our society is particularly successful or sustainable on the back of this. This has to stop. When it does stop and we start allowing all our kids to grow – just take a few minutes to think how good this world will become. That is a hope worth fighting for. That is a hope worth voting for.

A very long time

I believe Marygate Landing was built in 1324. In all though years it’s seen many many things. So many passing boats. So many passing souls. And I understand as many as 4 sunny days in 785 years. Another day and another drenching.

So in the end it’s been a complete weekend lockdown. An attempt to soothe the raging anxiety which school and modern life creates in someone so young. Someone with Aspergers and Dyslexia who doesn’t in to the current factory schooling regime. A regime which will only get much worse if the current Government with its elitist dogma wins the election.

Last night we were due at a concert. One of my favourite bands. A chance to see them for the first time. But it wasn’t to be and in the grand scheme of things – it doesn’t really matter. When you experience grief. When you enter the world of parenting. When you become a single parent. It changes you. It changes your outlook on life. It changes your life opportunities.

Ten years ago I would have been really annoyed at the sudden change of plan. Frustrated at missing that concert. Not now. It is what it is. With little support you learn to appreciate even the smallest win. An hour reading. A good movie. A nice walk. A good run. Yes a night out with friends or a days climbing would be wonderful. But it’s probably not going to happen. It’s now over 4 years since either of these occurred. But you get attuned to the new life. Yes one day it would be nice but there are other more attainable wins to build your life around. The main one is blocking the system out so you get to see your son smile and be relaxed.

Yes because of circumstances you make countless plans. You try to create stability and repeatability. But in our world life happens. You might hope for the perfect day. But in reality how many perfect days come your way. Not many. So Plans change. Son was watching a video about Prussia and the famous quote from Helmuth van Moltke (Military Commander) came up

No plan survives first contact with the enemy

Today maybe this can be changed to

No parenting plan survives first contact with the outside world.

You learn to be flexible and pragmatic. A well thought out plan for a concert did not survive first contact with an Aspergers Meltdown. So we lockdown. So when the concert was due to start I asked the question “here’s the popcorn, what movie shall I put on”. Expecting something like Marvel End Game or Paddington and not expecting this response.

I fancy something a bit different. This movie has had great reviews and apparently is historically very interesting.

Oh he’s going for Apollo 13. I like that movie.

Can you see if you can find Victoria and Abdul. It’s about a friendship between Queen Victoria and an Indian Muslim Servant. It supposed to be very good and it shows how racist Victorian Society was.

Ok. Never saw that one coming. After much searching and after paying the £3 online rental we watched the movie. And it was really good. Son enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. It was a win. So the original plan failed but it worked out ok in the end. If we can keep doing that then we will be ok. If I keep remembering that actually I have a lot to be thankful for. Yes life will be a struggle but every so often wins come along. Just need to see them and grab them. Make the most of the many imperfect days. In the end it’s not worth relying on that perfect Yorkshire sunny day to arrive as you might be waiting a very long time.

Lockdown for the Numpty

It’s a real ‘Dowly/Chucking it Down’ type of Yorkshire day. Son has had a bit of a meltdown this weekend. Combination of tiredness and school. So we are on lockdown. Excluding the outside world for a couple of days. It’s unfortunate as I was hoping to go to see one of my favourite bands for the first time. Its not looking good. But it is what it is.

It’s also a deserved lockdown for a prize Numpty.

Last night I decided to look out for some Black Friday bargains. My list of required items, computer and a large hot drink next to me – off we go. After a few hours I was thoroughly disillusioned. Hardly any deals with many stores doing nothing. Well this is a waste Ot time. Apart from some cheapish school socks and a few pennies knocked off a pack of Top Trumps – nothing. Why are many of the stores having sales next Friday. Bizarre.

Hang on a minute it’s not the 29th yet.

What a muppet. Next week – watch me post that I forgot all about it.

Let’s spell out Monday

An entire weekend without seeing any evidence of other humans. No post. No phone calls. No dog walkers. Villagers hidden away in warm dry houses. On the walks not even one passing car or stray rambler. Helps when many of the roads are closed with overrunning roadworks or floods. Great fun in the pouring rain trying to play tennis on the pavement. Very cramped in an area probably not big enough for table tennis.

Sadly the relaxing weekend goes to quickly and dreaded school looms. A temporary change in school bus routes means more strange faces and much larger buses are running. No guarantee when the bus turns up. An absolute nightmare for a kid with Autism. If only that was the only thing.

Another heated discussion with school and the authorities. Both reassuring us that measures have been put in place which ensure compliance with government requirements and allows all kids a fair chance of performing well. Yeh right. Keep the Government happy – Sod the kids in effect…. Clearly certain parties need to lookup the definitions of all and fair. So this weekend our son’s homework basically is all about writing out three times all his spelling mistakes and unclear handwriting attempts. That’s going to expand his mind and boost his confidence!!

Then to cap it off he has to revise for an English Test. The test is an old school Spelling one. Learn 20 words.

Language

Presented

Sherlock

Through

Evidence

It’s the same spelling test for all in the class. No extra time or help for any child. Again maybe it just me and my cabin fever. If it is please just delete this post. But how is this fair. On what planet is this supposed to have any positive impact on any child with dyslexia and autism. Designed to fail AGAIN. For all the required words our son can give definitions for and provide alternative examples of how to use the word correctly in spoken English. But this is not important apparently. Not what school and the government wants. The focus is on getting all kids to just spell by learning parrot fashion a list of predefined words. If you can’t do this then you are low attainment. A failure. A faulty item.

Education is filled with really good, dedicated and caring teachers. Yet they are increasingly told how to teach and to focus on a narrowing range of objectives. Objectives not about the interests of the child. It’s all about Satisfying the Government. The agenda is that money should go to fund tax cuts for the rich rather than on unimportant things like school budgets. To make sure this happens Schools need to follow the tried and tested factory model. Increasingly large production runs which help drive down costs. Eliminate natural variations and reduce choice. Children just seen in terms of inputs and outputs. Push them through the system. Those who don’t fit are labelled a problem and discarded as surplus to requirements.

I will tell you where the staggering stupidity and the real problem lies. It’s in those leaders pushing this dogmatic crap and equally on those who choose to vote for them. Shame on you.

So we move on into another uncertain week filled with too much anxiety for someone so young. Let’s hope a few Muppet and Spider-Man movies can briefly lift the mood. Even a bit of no space tennis might help. But surely the countless thousands of children who suffer deserve so much more than this. The really do.