Mothballed

This is a mothballed Coal Power Station that is right on the furthest horizon we can see. We can only see that far as we are on top of a hill. It takes an effort to find it from here. Can only see it from one extreme corner of the garden. This is also at my poor old camera’s maximum zoom. I guess it’s a reminder of a rapidly receding age and will be getting demolished soon.

Last school week and it’s trying to end the year on a most vexing high….

Let’s see how many assessments we can squeeze into 5 days. The answer ….. TOO MANY.

I had spoken to school and told them that son was still not 100% following his hospital visit but would give the last school week ago. However he wasn’t firing on all cylinders. School assured me that they would go easy on him. ASSESSMENTS are clearly easy on him. That’s so how I remember school tests in my day. Then we come to English. He completed the online lesson and submitted a rather fine gothic story. I was impressed with the storytelling and especially the writing. It was grammatically very good. Whisper it, spelling was almost perfect. That is some progress for him. So I was a little surprised to receive an email from school at 11.30pm to inform me that his work in the lesson had been below standard and incomplete. Really. The teacher has not responded to my query as the email failed to provide any details. Well that’s helpful. Having reviewed the lesson material several times I can only assume that he failed to respond to one rather vague question. A hard to spot question requiring a one sentence answer. Son had actually answered it but forgot to upload a photo of the one line answer. Unsurprisingly not a mention of the story he had submitted. If I wasn’t already convinced about the failures of mainstream education then this has finally clinched the deal. Well stuff school. I’ve assessed his work as brilliant and he will be getting a reward for it.

Maybe it’s time to mothball our countries factory farming educational approach…

Midday

Still summer is glorious. Had been hoping to get outside, have a chat and be creative with a pencil, but the weather is just not playing ball. This is midday…..

The school at home project has allowed this Dad to see some practical evidence of the progress and issues which son has with his learning process. The level of insight that is just not provided to parents from schools. Maybe in class sizes approaching 30 this type of insight is just not collected.

After these 3 months I have a better grasp on the dyslexia position. The feedback from school has been limited to

  • He has reading problems,
  • He is doing quite well in spelling tests.

That’s it…. Nothing else in just under two years.

So what insight has the last 3 months provided.

  • His reading has developed. I would estimate that he can read unaided about 50% of words. If he takes his time he can try to sound some of the missing words out, eventually arriving at a word he’s heard of before. The other words at school he’s been guessing or just ignoring. At home he’s happy to ask for help with words. Even allowing me to read out particularly difficult sections,
  • His dyslexia is more pronounced when he’s doing handwriting.
  • He finds it easier to type out answers. It’s a long process as his typing is not quick. He also struggles to see when the predictive text function selects the wrong word.
  • With certain word patterns it doesn’t matter how many times he sees the word, it’s like he is seeing the word for the first time.
  • When he gets tired the dyslexia flares up with greater force. Regular breaks really help. The optimum time appears to be 20 minute work blocks with short breaks.
  • Number dyslexia is still a problem. 6’s and 9’s are easily switched, especially when a decimal point is introduced into the number.

I’m not a trained teacher but I have a valuable quality which many teachers don’t get in UK schools. Quality time. Time to focus on one pupil. That is something which is not permitted under the current government led approach. An approach based on schools operating like automated production lines. That must be another vote for homeschooling…..

Differences

Wild Strawberries growing under the blueberry bush. Certainly wasn’t expecting these to grow here but with an open mind, this is such a result.

The decision to abandon mainstream schooling is in our son’s hands. It’s his life. His risks. His anxieties. His dreams. His future. So ultimately he decides. If it was my call then I’ve made my mind up. It would be homeschooling from September. That viewpoint has hardened with the last two communications from school.

The first was a summary of the schools position. Basically son is low attainment and has significant educational needs. Progress will be difficult. His educational needs are best met in the bottom set. With effort he may still be able to get a few qualifications. He is best following the normal teaching programme with no specific interventions (which would eat into tight school budgets).

Ok….

Then the next communication was his school report for the year. It painted a slightly different picture. To quote a few phrases from his individual teachers

  • Strength for creative writing,
  • Worked hard to produce some fantastic work,
  • Excellent attitude,
  • Will progress very well in subject,
  • His remote learning has been great,
  • He is a star,
  • Class work of the highest standard,
  • Superb young historian,
  • Considerable talent in the subject,
  • Very good understanding of the subject,
  • Pleasure to teach.

Ok….

Two conclusions here. One is that the report comments are standard across all the kids and so they mean nothing. Just a way to keep parents happy.

OR

The report comments are the reality and something is seriously wrong with schools overall assessment.

I strongly suspect this is a common pattern across the country. It mirrors current government thinking. If thinking is the right word to use. Basically kids with educational needs do not fit neatly into the factory production line educational approach. Minimise input costs to generate a set and limited output. Discard those items which fall out of the narrow design specification. Educational needs equate to additional teaching costs which will not be funded. Thus the best approach is to dump kids with Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD, disabilities and mental health issues into the bottom set. Conveniently forget about them. If these kids then get the odd qualification out of the system then the authorities can pat themselves on the back after a job well done. Let’s not forget the important thing, all this delivered all so cost effectively.

Maybe I am being cynical but that’s the reason I am definitely falling into the homeschooling camp.

Wembley

The Yorkshire version of Wembley Stadium. Can you spot the pet trying to once again sneak into the photo.

Even comes with a discerning crowd.

If Aspergers Parenting was a football game, well today feels like we have had a key player sent off….

I always naively assumed that if and when son got an official diagnosis then a support package would be out in place to help with his life chances. How silly of me. I didn’t count on year after year, having to fight the system. Trying to prize just the hints of support from a system which has been hammered into the ground by a Government which only looks after itself and it’s friends. To summarise

  • A school system repeatedly fails kids who do not fit into the factory production line which is the UK school system. Two options, either fight for a place in one of the few special schools or accept your child being bracketed as ‘low attainment’ and consigned to the bottom set. The school will then forget about the child and then pat itself on the back if the child gets just one certificate.
  • Letter after letter, call after call trying to find a clinician who is prepared to look at your child’s case.
  • Passed from specialist to specialist who don’t have the time or resources to add your child onto their case load.
  • Service after service cut by a Government which believes that only the rich should be able to buy access to essential healthcare. A Government that sees Mental Health as no more than an excuse to avoid work. Let’s not forget they described a child taking time off from school after a bereavement as an extended holiday.
  • When you do finally get access to a service you then join the growing waiting list. Finally when your child is seen it’s virtually always by someone new, with no understanding of the back story.
  • Finally your child starts to get older and the few services he has had access to are withdrawn as he is now above the age threshold. You see the Government likes to think that after 13, services are pointless and far too expensive. Adults have to sort themselves out.

We have had three brilliant exceptions to this.

  • A Clinical Psychologist who worked with out son consistently for three years. She even delayed her retirement to ensure son’s diagnosis was officially approved.
  • An Occupational Therapy service that worked with him every few months to help with things like coordination. A service which was cut when he reached 13.
  • A wonderful Nurse Counsellor who worked with our son for 3 years helping with his anxieties and joining the fight for additional help.

We entered June 2020 with just the Nurse Counsellor left from his entire care package. And now the player is sent off.

The Nurse phoned today to let us know that she had been reassigned. She is great and some other kids are really going to really benefit from her time. We are eternally grateful for everything she has done. She is going to desperately try to find another clinician to take over from her. I know she will really try. We may get a replacement. The Nurse was the only clinician he really has connected with. Those connections are rare for him. Making a new connection is going to be tough and most certainly not guaranteed. As the Nurse said it feels like we have lost the progress made over the last few years.

Today feels like one of those tough parenting days. As a friend wrote recently we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and start again. We most certainly do. But it feels like it’s a much depleted team taking on the struggle. Forgive me I’ve not used a Lord of the Rings metaphor for a while. It feels like the heavens have opened. The hordes are massed outside the walls and I’m stood alone on the Battlements of Helms Deep. Just me protecting our son now. Doesn’t feel like Gandalf is riding over the horizon in the morning. I’m going to have to just find a way of doing this myself.

I’m off now to kick the ball into the net a few times. Maybe with a bit more force than usual. Then the fight starts again.

Break

A little bit of a break between the rain clouds. Apparently the sun has been replaced by the moon.

I was looking at the view and getting some much needed fresh air when a thought crossed my mind. A strange thought began to rattle around in my brain. I love astronomy. As a kid I so wanted to be an astronomer. As most kids wanted to be the new Pele or Bobby Moore, I wanted to be just like the TV astronomer, Patrick Moore. Alas that dream never happened. I never got that job as a stargazer. But the love never stopped. I can still here the words of Carl Sagan inspiring me to get my dads old binoculars out and look to the heavens. Over the years the dream changed to just have my own small observatory with a biggish telescope. I did buy a scope eventually, but it was small and second hand. Not much more than a toy one, but it’s better than nothing. It will tide me over until one day……

Anyway back to my strange thought. I had never tried to look at the moon in detail during the day. So I ran inside to find my little telescope. Yes it’s still going mainly thanks to generous amounts of glue and heaps of gaffer tape. Gently I carried it outside to find the sky was completely cloud covered and it was raining. Oh Pants.

Maybe another day. Maybe tomorrow. You never know what this crazy world will throw up. That is so true of school….

There is a subject that whatever Son has tried to do, he can never seem to get any credit. This year he must be about the only pupil in the class without a house point in that subject. It’s slowly ground him down to the point that he hates the subject. Can’t wait to drop it. Putting aside the decision about homeschooling for a few weeks, he was asked by school which two subjects he would be dropping for next year. With the speed of Usain Bolt, this subject was almost instantaneously dropped. Then a very strange thing happened. Within hours an email from school was received. His dreaded subject had awarded him two house points, a really positive comment about his last test and a really high work assessment. Couldn’t make it up could you.

It’s a crazy world. Now I’m going to get back to dreaming about having an infeasibly big telescope in our small garden.

Homework

The hardy old rose bush right next to the front door. Against all the odds, it just keeps on giving.

In a few hours the school at home project restarts again. One more 7 week push before we finally arrive at the summer holidays. What kind of Britain will it be? The old normal, the new normal or something else.

This afternoon was glorious. Hot (for here) and sunny. Unbelievably not a single cloud all day. This is Yorkshire remember.

Yes this is Yorkshire but sadly it’s connected to England. Which means it has to live with the Government’s take on education. So while the sun beat down, we were inside. Trying to get homework completed and revision to stick. It’s bizarre that we force kids to work during holidays and weekends AND yet we have a part time Prime Minister who avoids such weekend and holiday work at all costs…. Yet again one rule for the many and another much nicer rule for the few.

The really frustrating thing is what exactly is the homework achieving. Four hours today and what did our Son learn….

What is the point of this Dad. I’ve not learnt one new fact. Not done anything which is interesting. I’m bored out of my mind. My hand hurts from writing and I dislike these subjects even more.”

Sadly I can’t argue with this. The school system here has been deliberately broken. Not by the teachers but by people in The Government. People who enjoyed the benefits of expensive private education. It’s not about developing individual kids now. It’s all about ticking political boxes for those in power. This government will not change its mind. But change is needed. So it will be local change.

We will continue with the school at home project until the summer. Remember this is not homeschooling….this is just trying to do exactly the same school lessons just not with the kids sat at a desk in the cramped classroom. In the summer our Son will decide what he does next. To go back to school or to go for full homeschooling. It’s his call. If he defers to me then he is leaving school. But what to do with the next 7 weeks. We have just brought in a new house rule.

Son will only be expected to do additional homework if it meets one of 3 conditions

  • He will actually learn something from it,
  • He will find it interesting,
  • It actually is going to contribute to his overall assessment. (Staggeringly much homework does not. Frequently it is not even marked in detail and sometimes not at all.)

We did have a fourth condition but that was dropped

Dad that’s a pointless condition. How many kids will honestly admit to actually wanting to do a piece of homework. Definitely never me….”

So if a piece of homework does not meet one of these conditions then he won’t be asked to complete it. I will write into school and let the teacher know. If the school wants to push it then they can deal with me. In our house – I am the headteacher and remember I don’t currently have a PM…..

Over my head

One of the advantages of not cutting the hedge. A bit of overhead yellow is always very nice.

Dad this is just going over my head.”

He wasn’t referring to the hedge as well…

“This is refusing to enter my brain. Sometimes dyslexia is a right pain in the butt….”

He was referring to French. In particular today’s lesson. All about grammatical gender. It’s not an easy concept for English speaking numpties like me as we don’t tend to get so focused on gender and nouns. Which is most odd as our language is heavily derived from Anglo-Saxon and French, which are. So you can hear my brain chug away when it sees

A simple word like HAPPY become in French either HEUREUX (masculine) or HEUREUSE (feminine).

Hard for me, a nightmare for a dyslexic. So a lesson of writing these out for an hour is just torture for him. Yes you can try and learn the rules. But when you struggle to pick up word and letter patterns – it’s not much help.

Hey Dad I’m dyslexic in multiple languages. Surely I get a badge for that.”

We should really be switching dyslexic kids to different learning techniques. Maybe focusing just on visual and verbal learning. Using fun, online teaching resources. Finding out what works and what doesn’t work for each industry child. Unfortunately teachers are given so little flexibility by our Government. They have to stick to the national curriculum. Sadly the factory education approach doesn’t work for many. So we try to make the best of it. But it’s not easy seeing your child struggle.

It feels like you are holding onto the side of a giant bolder as it tumbles down a hill. Not in control and just grimly trying not to fall off. But eventually you reach the bottom. You can take a breather before you start tumbling again. I guess the secret is to make the most of the flat bits. Grab that ice cream and think of ways to make the tumbling down hill more fun. Must be possible. Remember being a kid and rolling down the slopes. As long as you avoided the nettles and animal droppings, it was the best laugh ever. So we will put our thinking hats on, how to make learning French fun.

Bonne journee (yes I know I’ve dropped a mark for the missing thingy off the e, but my keyboard doesn’t do French)….

Please note one of my great regrets is that I’m not multilingual. I love talking to people who can effortlessly switch languages. So I will keep going. You never know, one day…

Busy

Running round the small garden for what seems like the millionth time and desperately trying to find an excuse to stop for a few seconds. Thankfully a yellow rose is a suitable excuse for a photo pit stop.

I’m sat writing this during another brief day pit stop. Son is having a wander round the garden, dreaming and working on what we do next this Sunday afternoon. It will be a short pit stop. Maybe 30 minutes at most. It’s an odd busy feeling….

My mind wanders back to pre Aspergers, pre parenting life. Early commutes, days filled with meetings, projects, accounts and people management. The working week punctuated by the occasional long train journey to London. Trying to get the works laptop to link to the train WIFI, so many unread emails to look at. I would return home and think – wow that was busy. Then the world changed three times. Parenting, Aspergers and then bereavement. One overriding thought comes to mind. What was I doing with that career life. Busy maybe, happy not, fulfilled – most definitely NOT. The first two events forced both our careers to alter. Suddenly the careers had to start fitting around our Son. One of us had always to be there for him. Definitely feeling busier. Then with a flick of a switch, two parents became one. The career was untenable and that was it. A new part time job and a full time single parent role.

Now the world has changed again. A social distancing fuelled change.

So I’m sat here watching son dream and I’m waffling on with these words….. Thinking about

  • A backlog of washing and domestic tasks,
  • Getting my head round this weeks school at home project,
  • Laying the groundwork for a switch to full on homeschooling,
  • Preparing the next appeal document to try and source the additional help our son needs,
  • Arranging calls and sending emails to teachers. Trying to make schooling work for son,
  • A garden which looks like an Amazonian Rainforest,
  • Looking at other work from home options as the current ideal role is potentially not outlasting the pandemic fuelled government incompetence,
  • Reading online DIY guides, preparing for the next home servicing and repair task,
  • What to cook for lunch and tea,
  • Scouring the online food supply options. Trying to figure out what we really need. Then trying to somehow book a home delivery for what is available,
  • Picking up the courage to get out the sewing kit and repair those pesky trouser knee holes,
  • Looking at the home finances spreadsheet AGAIN. I must be missing something,
  • Thinking about what things we can line up to fill the half term week off with fun and happiness. All without going through the front gate.

So the meetings, the commutes and professional career have gone. Yes I am at home. Yes my paid work is part time normally but has currently ceased completely. It may not seem like I am busy. But sat here, looking out the window, I have never felt so busy. Busy definitely YES, Fulfilled most definitely YES.

Now I am called back into action. Take care everyone. WE will do this.

What a drama

“Son, just go outside and look at the flowers. At this rate the school iPad is going to smash into the wall”

It was one of THOSE lessons. Why is it so often Drama…..

Dad I just can’t do this. It’s only the first task and it’s going to take forever.”

Tell me what will you learn about acting and the performance arts by doing a glorified word search. Read a 29 page script and find which character had to say these short phrases. Most of the phrases were in the middle of long paragraphs. On what planet is that exercise tailored to help kids with dyslexia.

Only after you had successfully completed that exercise was Son allowed to move on to the half term assessment. And what a beaut that was as well. Three options.

  • Costume design for a character in the play. Describe the theory behind your choice, draw the design and then develop the design with what materials you have at home. The pupil must then model the costume and be photographed.

Just NO Dad. We don’t have any clothes we can use, I can’t draw AND if they think Im having my photo taken wearing it – they have another thing coming.”

  • Learn the role for one character. Describe the theory behind your acting approach and then film yourself acting the role.

And that’s a big fat NO as well. I’m not being filmed for anybody.”

  • Design the stage set. Describe the theory behind your design. Draw a detailed picture of the stage. Then build the stage with resources you have at home.

Well I guess it will have to be this option. At least I don’t have to suffer being filmed. But looking at the example then we don’t have any of that stuff in. Suddenly Drama has become Art. Painting backdrops. Making or drawing miniature curtains. Building miniature props. And I will be starting after everyone else because the word search took me longer than probably all the other kids. Deep Joy.”

And he was right. We don’t even have a cardboard box to build a rubbish one. The teacher clearly doesn’t live in a house with three gerbils… Thankfully Son understands that I don’t care what grade he gets for this assignment. Let’s just get it done and then we forget about it. So after he had cleared his mind looking at the flowers, he did a quick paper stage design. Then for next weeks final assessment lesson he will build a Lego stage. I wonder if the teacher will appreciate Darth Vader and IronMan mini figures playing completely different roles. I do hope so.

Speaking

I have always hated speaking. It’s fine if I am amongst friends and people I trust. But put me in front of strangers then it becomes a completely different ballgame. I have to find ways to get through it. Ways to avoid tripping over words. Trying to stop the stammering returning. Public speaking becomes a mechanical task which needs a process. I significantly cut down my vocabulary range. I never use a planned written speech (I just can’t find any rhythm when I’m speaking from prepared text – I even struggle to read a book aloud). I plan and memorise the first two lines that I will say. I work out exactly how I am going to greet someone. I never make direct eye contact, rather I tend to look at eyebrows or foreheads. Even then it’s a bit of a lottery. I’ve delivered a perfect conference speech to 500 yet completely collapsed in front of just 2 people. I guess the secret is to try forget about the inevitable mistakes or just smile at them.

I remember speaking to the medic who mentioned the word Aspergers first in connection with our Son. She was an autism expert – one of only two we have ever met, which is kinda scary. Anyway I remember her saying something like

I suspected that he was on the spectrum almost immediately. It was the way he walked into the room. They way he struggled to sit and make eye contact. He confirmed my diagnosis as soon as I heard him SPEAK.

Son was very like me in that he started to talk pretty late as a toddler. As soon as he did start talking then his vocabulary rapidly expanded. At nursery he was absolutely flying with his speech. But then at about the age of 5 he started to struggle with a number of factors

  • His speech suddenly become extremely monotone,
  • He would either speak far too quietly or far too loudly,
  • He struggled to pronounce many sounds correctly,
  • He would always get the use of plurals wrong,
  • He was definitely using language which was well beyond his age.

The final one was not a problem but it did lead to some amusing incidents. In his first year at school the class was about to start a series of lessons trying to teach the kids about animals eventually after a number of weeks leading to touching on evolution. Within a couple of minutes of the first lesson our boy put his hand up and then proceeded to explain evolutionary theory to the class. The lovely teacher said she had to later go and look up some of the terminology he had used.

But as the months went on his speech issues became more pronounced. Eventually his Aspergers Expert managed to arrange speech therapy for him. Slowly the therapy started to work. Certainly his pronunciation and his control of his voice levels improved. Unfortunately after 6 months the speech service was cut by the Government to save money. It’s never restarted. The therapist gave us a number of exercises to practice but did leave us with a message

Constant practice will help manage any speech issue but they won’t solve them in your son’s case. They will be underlying for the rest of his life. They may become more pronounced as he gets older. He needs to develop his own way of coping with that.

That’s where we are today. He still can’t get his head around plurals. He is still struggling to pronounce certain sounds. No help is available for him. But rather than trying to cope with the issues, it’s more about him developing his own unique communication style. One which suits his personality. That approach I’m pleased to say is working. The other key thing is to stress that we all struggle with speaking at some stage. It’s nothing to be ashamed about. It’s who we are. It what makes us unique.

Son always likes to hear one of my most embarrassing speech incidents. I have a niece who when she was very young would not say big or large, rather she would have to say really really REALLY big. That was pronounced wheelie wheelie WHEELIE big. Anyway many years ago I was delivering the organisation’s annual report to The Council. Representative of the Government was there as was the local press. Talking about the financial position I meant to say

In terms of of our Operational Budget and our Tax Revenues we have a significant underspend.

Unfortunately that was delivered by this prize muppet as

In terms of of our Operational Budget and our Tax Revenues we have a wheelie wheelie wheelie WHEELIE big underspend.

Not sure that key message was delivered with quite the gravitas I was hoping for. Still at least we can laugh about that now….