Reviews

I want to start this by apologising. With being largely house and garden bound, I don’t get out much. Haven’t got out much since March. So I don’t get to that many different places. That’s why you tend to get the same views in my photos, over and over and over again. One day they will change. Thankfully the changing skies try to help out a little.

Isn’t it nice when you look at reviews for something you are looking to buy and they all agree. It gives you a level of confidence about whether to spend your money or not. But when are we that lucky. Normally it’s five camps of reviews

  • The greatest thing since sliced bread, unbelievable quality,
  • It’s useless, the wrong size, wrong colour, doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do and falls to bits with days,
  • It’s ok but I’m not really sure,
  • Clearly reviewing the completely wrong item,
  • It’s a present for someone so it’s not been used yet……

How can people see the same thing in so many different ways. You end up being even more confused than before.

I’m looking to get a language app. Hopefully one which both of us can use. So covering German and French. I have an old one which is great for learning German words but is rubbish at actually developing my conversational skills. So I’m looking for one that can actually start to make me fluent. Son needs one to help with his homeschooling. So he can learn French. Improve his vocabulary and spoken work. In an ideal world it would be dyslexic friendly as well. So not much to ask for then…..

Rosetta Stone was mentioned by a few people. Yes it’s expensive but it covers both languages and is supposed to be quite dyslexic friendly. So let’s see the reviews. Well it’s either brilliant or useless. Fantastic for building conversational skills or maybe it’s only good for learning individual words. Worth every penny or a complete waste of money. The reviews were no help at all. I guess it depends on the person and what they need. So I’m none the wiser.

So you have to be careful with reviews. Certainly school reviews.

I remember someone asking me about son’s last school. I think I said ‘it’s very nice just a bit rubbish. Disorganised but it’s heart is in the right place’. Bit harsh but I thought it was fair.

Well I looked up the reviews for my son’s current school and it seems to get mostly really high approval ratings. As a parent that would certainly encourage me to send my child there. But then you drill down further. Yes lots of very positive reviews from parents. Comments like

  • Great school,
  • Very good on discipline,
  • Learning focused,
  • Gets results,
  • Responsive,
  • Good teachers,
  • Child enjoys school,
  • Great headteacher.

Still looking great and then you look at the small number of negative reviews. Something then strikes you. All those comments come from parents with something in common. Every single negative review was from parents with children who had special educational needs. Aspergers, Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Oral and Written Language disorders. Suddenly the comments changed. Now the language was

  • Useless if your child has an Education and Health plan,
  • No support,
  • Teachers don’t care,
  • Unresponsive,
  • Too quick to write kids off who need support,
  • Might as well teach at home,
  • Had to take our child out from this school,
  • Child is stuck in the bottom set and the school is seemingly happy to keep him there,
  • Child is so unhappy.

Sadly this is replicated in too many schools across the UK. It shows the overall school system priorities. Demonstrates the values of the Government. As a country we let down too many with additional educational needs. It shouldn’t be like this.

Sometimes reviews don’t lie.

It’s wet

It’s definitely wet today. Pouring down and very cold. All rather depressing so let’s take the time to look at a bit of nature’s colour.

Do you ever have those conversations. Those conversations where the words seem to head in one direction but actual the conversation clearly ends up in a totally different place. Ever so frustrating.

I’ve spoken to school about Hawklads enforced school at home project. I thought I had explained to school that although it’s kind of working it was far from ideal. In particular

  • He is getting absolutely zero feedback. He is submitting work but getting nothing back. The other kids are clearly getting marks and comments back. That’s clear from some of the teacher comments on the set work tasks. But those comments are always aimed at other pupils. If he doesn’t get feedback then what is the point.
  • Have the teachers forgotten that he is dyslexic. Comments like ‘if I don’t get round to sending you tasks for the lesson then just read a book on the subject’ don’t really help….
  • Have the teachers forgotten that he has difficulty in hand drawing. He struggles with fine motor skills. I can’t believe the number of times the set task is to hand draw something – unbelievably that is currently not Art.
  • Some of the subject teachers are still completely forgetting about Hawklad. No subject material at all has been made available.

Anyway the school seemed very supportive, so surely job done. Clearly not as the school responded with an email basically saying that they were happy that things where going so well. They will keep going with the current approach and they hoped that we would keep in touch…..

Sounds like it’s time for me to most definitely stay in touch with them right now.

Where did that go – The Sequel

The quickest sequel ever. Only a few hours ago I wrote about where did the summer holidays go! Where did the first 6 months of lockdown go. It’s ending for many but not for some. Not for us. That got me thinking, which is dangerous🤪🧐

What has changed for Hawklad and me over those 6 months.

So for Hawklad the following have been the big changes…

  • His fears about health and illness have gone through the roof. Just exploded. He is wracked with anxieties and the need to wash is never more than a few minutes away.
  • His social anxieties have become more prominent. He is more inward looking, and less likely to interact with others. As a result he had become more isolated.
  • He is more aware of the world.
  • He is more aware of Aspergers.
  • He is more aware of the incompatibilities between the outdated world and those who are on the spectrum.
  • His reading has really come on. In his words – ‘more of a part time dyslexic now’. The irony that happened without direct school teaching.
  • His available world has shrunk. The days of school, trips to the beach, a hill walk, an outing to a historic site, a visit to a friends house – they all seem a distant memory. Most days he can’t even get to his own front gate.
  • He has shot up. Now taller than his Dad.
  • He has become thinner. Need to watch that.
  • He became a teenager. Almost instantaneously he suddenly found movies like Dumb and Dumber, Bill and Ted and anything by Will Farrell hysterical.
  • He has a truly shocking hairstyle. Dad is great at doing them and he has so much hair to mess up.
  • He can now talk about his mum without so much sadness. Much more about being proud of her.
  • He sleeps much less now.
  • He is becoming more clingy. Needing more reassurance that I’m in the house somewhere.
  • Many of his personal traits, those that are often identified as being Aspergers, have become more pronounced. More marked.

So many things have changed for our son. Changes in circumstances, physical changes, changes in personality. Some of these changes could be down to the lockdown but it could also be a natural development. It’s a difficult time for him, to be a teenager. But add in Aspergers and it can be such a disorientating period. Trying to find a fit between the complex world and the need to find personal identity. Finding that sadly Aspergers is still not widely seen as being socially acceptable. What to do? Try to confirm or be himself. All this at a time when he may become more inwardly looking and less likely to talk to about his emotions. Potentially troubling times ahead. Maybe that’s the next theme for our journey. We shall see.

Soon I will try to do a similar list for me. What’s changed for this Kermit the Frog.

Monday

Got to just follow a trail. Hope it leads in the right direction.

So the school reopens a week today. Most kids will return. Some won’t. Our son will not be able to return at this stage. How long will he be out of school. Weeks, months, permanently – no idea. So we have to work on the assumption that he will return at some stage. So with minimal help from school and nothing from the authorities, who do we try to keep him on track with his classmates. To ensure that if and when he does return that he has not fallen behind.

The plan is to get the class timetable from school. That will form the basis of the learning each day. We won’t stick to the class timings but will try to focus on covering the subject matter. First call will be any lesson notes that are posted in the school system. Ensuring we do any work assignments that might be posted as well. I will ask each teacher to at least provide an indication of what topics will be covered and the copies of any handouts that are provided. Then it’s Dad trying to be teacher, looking for relevant videos and resources on the internet. All work completed will be emailed to each teacher at the end of the day. Any gaps we will make up with stuff son wants to cover.

If this school at home project extends further then I will supplement gaps with buying online teaching packages.

We are lucky that my work has basically dried up. Not much until 2021 at the earliest. The positive is that frees my time up to focus on being a teacher. Maybe I need to dress like a teacher?

That’s the plan. What could possibly go wrong.

Tomatoes

It’s taken long enough but at last some tomatoes. For some reason they are about a month later this year. Blame it on 2020. But at least it’s a start.

This morning I had two firsts. To start with, I managed to do a weights move for the first time ever. Instead of using two hands to pick up the laden weights bar and push it over my head, I did it one handed. It’s not clever and a little reckless, but it’s certainly cool when you do it. Never been able to do that before.

Then I finally managed to correctly transition some yoga moves. Normally when the video instructor says carefully transition – that involves me falling on my face, crashing into a wall and swearing lots. Today I was almost ballerina like. A ballerina with hairy legs…

It gives you a lift when you finally achieve something. We all need that from time to time.

I was going through Hawklads school notes today. He’s made great progress, certainly in the time he’s been school working from home. But what concerned me was the lack of progress I was making with the school authorities. It’s been 18 months since I made any headway with them. Just seem to be stuck. Can’t get any more support for him. Can’t get the school to try new teaching approaches with him. Can’t get the regional education authorities to send in a dyslexia expert. Can’t get the authorities to show a little flexibility with his education funding. Basically it’s the set teaching programme, with any additional financial support he’s been awarded just been used to fund general teaching support budgets for all the kids. The so called special funding basically buys a kid with additional educational needs a place at a school. The Government is quick to point the finger at families getting additional schooling funds

– we are taking money off other kids,

– it’s the gravy train,

– waste of tax payers money,

– it’s wasted funding.

Yet what the Government never seems to mention is that the families never see that money. We can’t control it. It is basically recycled into general school budgets. So the kids who need it actually don’t get any direct benefit from it. Sometimes the fundings only purpose seems to be to just shift the blame for school failings away from the authorities and on to a minority of families.

So yes some education progress is needed. Either that or for Hawklad to elect to be educated from home. But progress would be nice.

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…

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.

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….