Red Sky in the morning….

Red Sky at night …. fisherman’s delight. Red Sky in the morning …. fisherman’s warning.

Yes it works.

A routine dental appointment ended with me trying to stem blood from the mouth for 4 hours. That’s a good start. Especially as I’m one of those odd souls who is fine with blood as long as it’s not mine….

Then school struck again….

Son had been looking forward to getting his school award from the celebration evening. That’s all changed now.

I don’t want to go. I REALLY don’t want to go. Turns out it’s not a party after all. Everyone getting an award has to go on stage and then give a little speech to the crowd. Going to be at least 100 parents sat in the audience. We have to practice the speech tomorrow. When I told the teacher about my Aspergers she said ‘it would be good for me'”

So we have gone from a boost to self confidence to meltdown. Doesn’t help when the kids have been told that they are representing the school so they need to be in full uniform and speak with a loud clear voice. Speaking to a large audience is a challenge for anyone. For a kid with Aspergers it’s a nightmare. Room full of strangers, no where to hide, all those eyes on you. One final twist is that the kids can take notes on stage to read from – well that’s bloody helpful when your dyslexic. It’s just not right. AGAIN.

So we have agreed that son will ask if he can get his award without going to the event. If he has to go then he is going to decline the award. If that’s the case then I’m sure a Dad , Son, Cat, Dog and Gerbils can come up with our own FUN awards night. The magic word being FUN.

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.

How does the mind work

I can memorise phone numbers, the stars in constellations, virtually every of the Mr Men books yet every year I can never remember what the tree which overhangs our garden is. Every year I have to look it up……

Dad why do I find some long words easy to remember yet some small words I have to keep relearning every time I see them

It is one of the great frustrations of dyslexia. When you read some words, maybe all words it’s always like your reading them for the first time. Doesn’t matter how many times you see that word it’s always like you have never seen it before. Constantly having to decode and relearn. Speaking with the health professionals there can be hundreds of potential neurological, physical, visual, environmental reasons for this. Often it will be a spiders web of causes. Some get answers, many don’t. With our son we have only just started to scratch the surface. Maybe the best we can hope for is by trial and error we come across stuff which help but we will never fully understand why.

I can sort of understand what our son is going through from my own experiences. I was a reading late starter. I eventually found a way that worked for me. But there are words that I still constantly struggle with. They stop me in my reading track for a few seconds. Thoroughly is one that I have to almost relearn every time I read it. I struggle with spelling. Autocorrect is such a godsend. Then you get words like There, Their, They’re. Every time I use it I have to relearn the rules on which variant to use. It’s as if my brain just blanks the rules as soon as I’ve used it once. It’s not that I don’t understand the rules, I just can’t see them, just see static. Never will understand why.

It’s like trying to fully understand grief. The brain processes it in different ways. Some memories are painful. Some items I can’t touch or look at anymore. Yet other items bring happiness and are almost like a comfort blanket. I drive past the first house we lived in as a couple and I often stop. It brings good memories and smiles. Yet I can’t look at my mums last house. It’s filled with good memories but …. When I go to the Dentist I should drive past the house yet I take a much longer route to avoid the street. I can go by the hospice where my partner died yet I become a shaking wreck if I walk past one of the wards where she was initially assessed.

Some days the brain relishes working on its own. No complications, no alternate views. Isolation is a boon especially when the world seems so alien to me these days. No awkward social moments. Peace and tranquility. Yet other days the brain can’t cope with the isolation. It’s a cold dark prison. The world is living outside yet I feel so adrift here in these four walls. No love for the prisoner, just got to do my time. It’s the same house and same brain yet different outcomes.

How does the mind work – it’s beyond me.

2000 years

If you keep your head down and have blinkered vision it is staggering what you might just miss.

How many thousands of pairs of eyes have just not registered this little sign at the edge of the path. 2000 years.

The thousands of times I have been in the front room desk draw. Looking for postal stamps, envelopes, address books, paper clips. I never registered the little blue notebook. Well after all this time it registered. What is this. It’s a piece of family history. Not from 2000 years ago. In fact it’s probably only 4 and 5 years old.

It’s a notebook which my partner wrote things in. Important stuff.

  • Christmas Food shopping list,
  • Thank you lists,
  • Present ideas,
  • Christmas Card lists,
  • Christmas Lunch cooking timings.

Initially I panicked. She might catch me looking. Yes for a brief moment I did actually think that. Then I became concerned that this unplanned find would bring on a grief storm. But no. It was an entirely different feeling. Being a typical sad numpty I was fascinated to find out what my present list might have been. Some great rock cd ideas. A U2 cd – clearly the joke present. Pointless but fun little toy gadgets. A little cricket dice game called HOWZAT (I would have had hours of fun with that). A book on bushcraft – was she going to kick me out into the garden. A grumpy old man T-shirt (why would she get me that…). Another Trivia Pursuits game so she could embarrass me again – why can’t I just win the game by answering only sport questions. A Toolkit – yes I never did get round to putting those shelves up (sorry dear).

It’s strange how things change. Since the world changed I don’t really get presents now and the interest has gone. Just want son to have the fun so any presents must be his. But you know what – just maybe I might by myself a couple of items from the notebooks list. Hell will freeze over before I get a U2 cd. So just maybe on Christmas Evening I will be sat in my Grumpy Old man T-shirt playing my silly little cricket dice game. This all came about from opening my eyes. Must try it more often.

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.

Worth it

The rain clouds finally moved on and the sun shined briefly today.

If you open your eyes it’s amazing what gifts this beautiful world of ours will bestow on you.

The news in many countries is usually grim these days. In the U.K. we find our country run by the most extreme and dangerous government this country has seen in centuries. Your either completely agree with them or you are branded a traitor. An enemy of the people. We have become a country were a PM is hailed by his supporters like a conquering roman emperor after he was found guilty of breaking the law by our highest court in the land. A country where the PM is openly stoking the fires of intolerance and hatred. Where intimidation is commonplace. Brexit has broken the country. Was it really worth it.

So parents have to bring up their children in this toxic environment. A world made toxic by the adults. As a generation we have monumentally failed. We continue to find new ways of making things worse. Our leaders play a daily game of who can be the biggest cheating lying dork. Who can bring down their democracy first. Who can burn the planet fastest.

But hope has not been vanquished. The decent law abiding amongst us greatly outnumber the deluded. The next generation have not been blinded by the madness and greed. The educational system may try to clip their wings but it’s the job of parents to keep those dreams burning bright. The young like Greta are the future. The planet is still staggeringly beautiful. Just a short walk can yield such wonders.

So tomorrow Johnson will continue to try and push our country nearer the precipice. But take a quick walk and look at what is around you. Take a good look at the faces of the young. See their dreams. That’s the important stuff. That’s what should be guiding our direction. Not the poisonous Brexit agenda – whether we should leave or remain. Regardless of what happens we are going to have to get the country working again. Bringing the artificial divisions together again. A time to marginalise the extremists, build bridges (not walls) and reclaim our wonderful planet again. The kids deserve that.

Voice

It’s been one of those Yorkshire days. Long periods of rain punctuated with spells of stair rod duck weather. It’s the perfect weather for a leaking back door. If we had ducks then they would be happily swimming about in the utility room. I know what the rich must feel like now – an indoor pool. Looking at ours I really don’t see what all the fuss is about.

It’s was similar weather three years ago when I had to go and see the solicitor about my partners will. I was in such a daze that I hadn’t realised that I had forgot to put a coat on when I got out of the car. Within minutes I was a drowned rat but I only realised when I saw my disheveled reflection in a shop window. Previously I would have had an angelic voice quietly whisper – why don’t you put a coat on dear. It’s the one thing I have never adjusted to. Not having that caring soul help guide this bumbling fool through the twist and turns of life. That’s probably why I still tend to avoid social gatherings. Not sure I trust myself.

I’m so blessed to have been with that caring soul for a wonderful 17 years. It’s created so many memories. Fortunately years of over using the camera has created multiple photo albums filled with these memories. Those photographs tell our story perfectly. But one thing is missing and it’s so haunting. I just can’t seem to remember her voice. After all those years we spent together how can I forget something so important. I just can’t get it right in my memories.

So I have been trying to find a video with my partner talking. So many videos taken but they all focus on our son. Then I came across our old video camera. The one we bought during the pregnancy. The one which has been gathering dust since mobile phones became the memory recorder of choice. No luck so far but I did come across something which completely floored me. A mini video disc marked up as sons first walk.

When it happened I had picked our son up from nursery. My partner was still at work. Son was sat on the floor singing away so I started filming him. Within seconds he managed to pull himself up and waddled across to me. All captured on film. Unfortunately our dvd was broken at the time so we couldn’t replay it. So I said I would go into the city and get it transferred to video. I kept putting it off. I never got round to it. Over time the disc was forgotten about. I never did share that moment with my partner.

You assume you have all the time in the world but in reality you never know how much sand is left in the egg timer.

It so important that we remember to seize the day. Don’t assume you will get another chance tomorrow.

So the voice hunt will continue. I know somewhere I will find it. Then my memories will be complete. And again I will hear my angelic angel.

Art

Dad I hate art at school. It’s so strict. I always thought art would be fun.

Art is not like that very often. It should be about just letting your imagination roam wild. It should be great fun.

Dad did you enjoy art at school then.

No hated it. We had a strict art teacher. But to be fair to her our school was a war zone. A 2B pencil or fine tip paint brush would be seen as a legitimate weapon by most of the idiots in my class.

My class is ok. It’s got some very nice kids in. Even the ones who cause all the trouble mainly get into trouble for really petty things. Like last week half the kids in the drama lesson got a negative because they forgot to bring a black T-shirt. The teacher said we needed one in the first lesson but didn’t talk about other lessons.

That’s too harsh. In my day you had to do something properly bad to get something like that.

Tell me about your mad class again.

We had someone who burnt the church hall down. Another boy was appalled when he found out someone else had been put on report for something he had done. He went off to sort it out. We assumed he was going to own up. That must have been plan B as he was caught trying to set fire to the headteachers desk. We ended up with two boys who went to borstal for robbery. Another boy who went to prison for attempted murder.

Are the two robbers those muppets.

Yep. While one of them broke into an off licence the other went to get a getaway vehicle. Unfortunately all he could find was an electric milk float. So a few minutes later they were trying to escape with the float engine burning up at 10mph with police cars in very slow pursuit. One of the muppets was on the back of the float throwing milk at the police. They didn’t get very far.

Shall I draw a picture about those two for Art. I still need to do my homework. Don’t won’t to get a negative.

No why don’t you pick something else. Something more arty. Why not a drawing of the farm. Or a flower. Something nice.

Ok, something nice it is then.

**So he disappeared in his room for an hour to do his nice masterpiece**

Dad I’ve finished. Nice. Is a bit of Tim Burton ok.

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.

Numpty Award

The world is increasingly been filled with Charlatans, Liars, Cheats, Self Absorbed Tossers and Unadulterated Numpties. For too long these individuals have gone unrecognised. So I’m going to rectify this by introducing our very own Numpty Award which will be fittingly named after the UK’s most esteemed PM.

The the first Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson Numpty Award goes to this man. Nick Gibb who is the UK’s School Minister.

Today good old Nick made the following comment about today’s brilliant Global Climate Strike.

“We share the passion, as a Government, of young people for tackling climate change, and that is why this Government and this country is committed to reaching net zero greenhouse gases by 2050.

But we don’t think it should be at the expense of a child’s education because what we want is for the next generation to be as well educated as possible to tackle these kinds of problems.”

So Nick shares the passion does he. This is clearly backed up by his Parliamentary voting record on addressing climate change. According to TheyWorkForYou.com on measures to prevent climate change he has “generally voted against” these. His record is 10 votes for, 17 against and 5 absences.

He seems happy with the commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That’s another 30 years of screwing the planet then.

He has voted for the reintroduction of Fox Hunting and backed the culling of badgers.

Let’s not forget that dear old Nick was the Minister who told schools that kids going through bereavement must be in school. He called kids missing school on the grounds of grief as ‘an extended holiday’.

This is a man who is convinced that increased discipline and a return to the 1950s school system is the answer to our educational problems.

This is the chap who refused to separate spelling testing from the assessments for 10 year olds even though Teachers and Dyslexia Associations objected to the fairness of the approach.

This is the man who told schools they must only to use Phonics to teach kids spelling. Another policy which appalled teachers and health professionals. Yes phonics can work for many kids but is completely the wrong approach for some kids, especially those with special needs. Nicks approached moved schools away from explaining what words mean to learning parrot fashion how to spell a set list of words.

This is the man who introduced exams for 4 year olds. FOUR YEAR OLDS. Yes the wonderful baseline testing which is largely rejected by educational professionals and parents.

And let’s not forget that the man behind so much testing for kids 4 and 10 year olds actually got one of his own English questions wrong live on radio. He then refused to answer the maths question thrown at him.

This is the guy who said exams didn’t put pressure on kids. Social media was the cause of the pressure.

So I present to you Nick Gibb the first holder of the Numpty Award. Who can deny this monumental bellend his moment of glory.