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.

The view opens up

One of my Running trail runs is tough. It’s a muddy slog through increasingly thick woods. It’s a slow claggy run climbing through undergrowth that sees only glimpses of the sun. It’s very claustrophobic. Your on your own. A little voice keeps telling you to just stop. Why am I doing this. One step forward, two back.

But with patience and effort the going becomes easier. The ground levels out. The cover starts to thin and the distant view begins to reveal itself.

Then your out. The openness is initially disorientating but it’s been so worth the struggle.

Then a reluctance. A moment of doubt. Need to turn your back on the openness and head back into the dark. The way is back through the woods.

This trail run reminds me of our life these days. I head into the working week with trepidation. Too much to do and not enough time. Self doubt is king. Often so little direction and so much frustration. It feels like you are against the world. Battling uphill through mud. Our Son heads into 5 days of mainstream school. So little help. Fighting on his own. Not sure why he is doing this. It’s an alien world. You just have to keep plodding on but then Friday comes. Our hopes and spirits build. Then you arrive at the weekend. For two sweet days life improves. The week’s slog and struggles are forgotten. But so quickly it’s late Sunday and you face the trepidation of the upcoming week and the return to the darkness.

So we move on. The week calls and maybe so does the woodland trail. That’s our life cycle.

The Golden Ticket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Another odd day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then it slowly started to rise and off it went.

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

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

Definitely an odd day.

Imagination

It doesn’t have to be big to have a bucket full of atmosphere.

This is Skelton Tower on the North Yorkshire Moors.

It’s almost 200 years old and is a former hunting lodge.

If you time your arrival at the Tower correctly then you can enjoy the passing Steam Train coming down the North Yorkshire Moors railway. Unfortunately this walking muppet has never managed that. Still you still get views of the haunting Newtondale.

The Tower is also a fantastic dreams portal. As long as no other walkers are in sight our son can spend hours here. Lost in another world. Talking animals and mythical creatures. Playing about with time and the laws of science. I must admit I often dream of rebuilding the tower and living here 200 years ago.

It’s really good to dream and stretch your imagination. I wonder how many inventions and leaps in understanding have come from doing this. That’s why it’s so frustrating that as soon as kids get past the age of 11 dreaming is often frowned upon. At school the kids have a predetermined and restrictive curriculum to get through (set by the Government – god help us). Hardly anytime is scheduled for creative thinking. Even in subjects like art the approach seems to be learn about this artist then reproduce one of the artists most famous pieces. More marks for getting close to it. Only occasionally are kids allowed to free draw. When our son tries to reproduce something then it’s a disaster. He just can’t do it. But allow him to draw from his imagination and suddenly he’s away.

Kids are not encouraged to explore logic and push the boundaries of thought. In science son has been told on a number of occasions to just accept the facts. Once he asked why science was seemingly so sure of its laws when we can only see less than 1% of the universe. He got the above response.

In maths the class had some questions to work out. Son found a quick way to get to the answer. It worked for every question but was told he was doing it wrong as it wasn’t the approach set out in the textbook.

In our area we are so lucky in terms of history. On our doorstep we can touch the Neolithic. The Stone Age. The Bronze Age. Roman History. Viking History. Medieval Times. The industrial Revolution. Victorian Times. World Wars. So much history to live and breathe. Yet do the schools make use of this. Not really. In his 5 years at Primary School he went to two historical sites. Currently at his present school he has spent one hour at a local archeological dig. What a waste. Won’t the kids learn more about history if they can actually live it. Apparently not – the only source of learning is from predetermined textbooks.

Imagination is the key to so much. It should be one of the key facets of modern education. When I was a kid the brilliant Carl Sagan ignited my passion for astronomy and thinking. I will leave you with his take on imagination.

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. CARL SAGAN

Is Phonics the wrong path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.