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.

And more school at home

The weather has definitely changed but the school at home project chugs along. It will do until the end of the third week in July. After that the so called government is telling parents to send their kids back to school in September with minimal additional safeguard, as it is completely safe. Let’s see how many kids do return….

That’s a thought for another day. Back to the present lets see what I’ve learnt from this weeks school at home project. Remember it’s not true Homeschooling, it’s schools version. They are two completely different approaches.

  • Trying to teach basic cricket skills is no fun during torrential rain and a thunderstorm. Unfortunately the house does not feature an indoor sports hall facility.
  • Clearly the Games Teacher and a certain Dad disagree on what constitutes a good bowling action in cricket. The game must have changed since I was a kid.
  • Old school French to English dictionaries have so many pages yet they don’t seem to have the exact word or phrase you need.
  • School repeatedly sending an email out to pupils with the title ‘Important information about Careers, please read‘ will mean that the email is never opened.
  • Another week and another Food Technology lesson focusing just on puff pastry. As son says “I don’t even like the stuff so I’m never going to eat it. This is a waste of time…”.
  • The school has a really good online teaching infrastructure. Probably as good as any UK school. So it’s so frustrating that with a few teachers we still have to print out a copy of a sheet. Son fills it out by hand and then has to take a photograph to send it back in. What a waste of paper.
  • Getting no feedback on a piece of work does not really help.
  • Drama is such a great lesson when the kids get to watch a ‘live’ theatre production on the iPad. Even his Dad sat and watched Treasure Island.
  • The Dead Sea is sinking at 1m per year. That’s quicker than my football team.
  • Why do all the felt tip pens instantly turn dry and useless as soon as the words ‘for art today you will need coloured felt tip pens’ are mentioned.
  • What is the fascination of doing word searches as a teaching tool. I am trying to work out how finding a word in a sea of letters will help embed concepts and theories into a young mind. Especially a mind which sees words through dyslexic eyes….
  • Without caffeine trying to undertake long division is impossible. So the following words sent shivers down my spine. ‘Dad can you check this sum, it’s 13422 divided by 317′. Really…..
  • I have a policy of not trying to interfere in son’s work but even I have a limit. My limit is where his Form Tutor asks the kids to do 20 minutes quiet reading then take a photo of the book. Sons choice of book – Stephen King’s IT. Just NO, how about a Roald Dahl book.…..
  • Why do school keep asking a kid with dyslexia to read books without additional checks and help…
  • Fukalite is a chemical compound.
  • The school iPad can survive having a full glass of orange juice spilled over it.
  • Apparently Continent’s move at the same rate as your finger nails grow… This is still quicker than how fast my hair grows back.
  • When your son is not wearing his dark blue school blazer it would be smart to put it away neatly in the wardrobe. Leaving it on the back of a chair for 3 months and in front of a south facing window is not such a smart idea. One side has definitely faded in the sunlight. Deep joy.

So that’s it for another school at home week. We can definitely do this.

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.

Another week

It’s that kinda day. Definitely a true Yorkshire summer has finally arrived. Time to dig out the thick jumpers (sweaters) again.

We have made it through another School at Home week. That’s something like week 11 or maybe week 14. Definitely week something. So what has this parent here learned this week.

  • Sitting outside and having a few minutes of relaxation is not so much fun when it’s absolutely chucking it down.
  • In some subjects clearly the quality of the spelling is more important than knowledge of the subject matter.
  • Black pens run out of ink quicker than blue pens. Those black pens will also decide to run out in the middle of a test. Then the parent will find a million working blue, red and green pens, but can not find one working black one.
  • Biology education has come on leaps and bounds. Watching videos about DNA and cell structures is far more fun than in my day when biology basically involved randomly dissecting an unfortunate small creature.
  • Being a qualified public sector accountant does not necessarily mean I can do basic arithmetic. We did a maths test together. Son got a score of 97% unfortunately the accountant came a close second with 66%. I’m sure I can account for the difference in terms of depreciation and incremental drift.
  • The paint from an art project looks much better on the painting than it does on the sofa.
  • Young kids are good at expanding the minds of parents. Apparently Penguinone, Sex, Moronic Acid and Arsole are all legitimate chemical molecule names.
  • Tell me why Kryptonite is not an official element. Surely they must have found a green thing they could have named after Superman’s nemesis.
  • Discovering a half eaten sandwich in the bottom of a school bag, which has not been used since March is a real delight.
  • Art have started introducing the pupils to cartoon video making. Apparently the app STOP MOTION was so easy to use, even Dads could use it. Within minutes the house was in fact making Wallace & Gromit like productions. A simple demarcation of responsibility’s was established. Son was Director, Producer and Creative Writer. Dad was the camera person and general gofer. Fun off the scale – now this is education.
  • Clearly Food Technology cooking instructions are based on a standard oven and not designed for our unpredictable, nuclear fusion reactor oven. Is Puff Pastry supposed to be this black….
  • Apparently the capital of Tanzania is Dodoma. When I was at school I’m sure it was Dar Es Salaam.
  • We have discovered a new law of the universe. The time constraint of a homework task deadline is directly proportional to the likelihood of a significant broadband disruption.
  • iPads have great batteries but it is only just sufficient to last a full day of school lessons. If you forget to recharge overnight then you are basically stuffed.
  • In some subjects the use of orange rather than yellow text highlighting is considered a capital crime.
  • How often do I have to say this. Please PE Teachers stop trying to include parents in the games activities. Getting a parent v child sprint race in a small garden may seem like a good way of family bonding. It’s also a great way of getting the not so streamlined Dad (who can carry huge amounts of momentum even though he is travelling so slowly) to crash into the garden fence. Can I bill the school for fencing damage.

So we survived another home school week. Whatever number it may be. It seems to have gone on for so many more months. As if we started in winter, it went through all of summer and it’s still going when winter has come back 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.

Red rose

Whisper it very quietly. A red rose in Yorkshire. The white rose is our counties symbol and our historic rival, Lancashire has a red rose. The two neighbours have had bloody civil wars and conflicts over the crown…. Now thankfully the battles are restricted to the sports field.

Not the only battle being waged here.

Anxiety and adverse reactions to it, are very common for individuals who are on the autistic spectrum. It can take so many forms

  • Social fears and crowds
  • Fear of being alone
  • Noise
  • Thunder
  • Germs and illnesses
  • Eating and food types
  • Animals
  • Heights
  • Darkness
  • Bright lights and colours
  • Types of clothing

Too many to list. Some of these may have sensory origins and appropriate medical help should be sort. Whether that help is available is another matter….

Our son has had to face down and battle a number of these fears. One fear in particular has been ever present. The fear of illness, germs and death. These are genuine, life altering fears and anxieties. Fears which became even more real to him when he lost his mum and both grannies in such a short period of time. We were lucky in that finally his medical notes were passed to a young nurse counsellor. Over the last few years she has done stellar work with him. He trusts her fully – no mean feat. Unfortunately government cutbacks have resulted in far less contact time. Any contact has now temporarily ceased due to the pandemic.

The pandemic has really shaken things up. For our son it has ramped up his fears and anxieties. Now they are off the chart. This manifests itself in so many ways

  • Constant hand and face washing,
  • Frequent hand washing finally taking its toll on the skin,
  • Repeated changes of clothes,
  • Reluctance to leave the house or garden,
  • Refusal to touch many items – telephones, handles, gates, letters, food packaging, surfaces and clothes which have not been washed that very day,
  • Trips to the bathroom every time a bug or fly brushes against him (summer and living next to farm land mean that can be every few minutes),
  • Refusal to venture anywhere near strangers and anyone outside of our household – one of the reasons I can’t arrange for someone to come and repair our boiler,
  • Any food deliveries or parcels having to go into quarantine for at least 4 days before they are let into the house.

So we battle on. Eventually his nurse counsellor will be able to see him but until then it’s self care.

  • We try to maintain a diary. Record and document the anxieties. Try to get a handle on what we are dealing with. Is it improving or getting worse. What improves things and what makes things worse.
  • Trying to balance avoidance with small doses of learning exposure. Yes avoidance works but it doesn’t address the route cause. So carefully controlled small anxiety exposures needs to be factored in. Yesterday that involved both of us putting our hands on the grass for a minute. Then without washing our hands observe if anything bad happens….
  • Trying to slowly control the hand washing. Setting a time limit on the seconds he is allowed to wash his hands for. Currently that’s the time it takes to say a nursery rhyme. Trying to encourage him not to use soap for a number of the hand washes. Get into the habit of properly washing hands when IT IS NECESSARY.
  • Yes he has a range of fears but we can’t deal with them all at the same time. So we only ever deal with one fear at a time.
  • Allow as much access to those things which help him relax. If he wants to go on YouTube, or play an Xbox Game, or watch a movie – then he does….

We all have fears and anxieties. Some disappear, new ones appear and some stay with us for life. With Autism and Aspergers these fears can so easily be ramped up. Yes we hopefully can find ways to eliminate our worries but realistically some fears are with us for life. I guess the secret is trying to provide a range of tools and strategies which we can have at our disposal to help manage those fears when they strike. In that way it still allows us to keep living and enjoying life. That’s the plan with our son.

Another week

It’s one of those days. Wet, windy and damp one minute. Then sunnier, even windier and wetter the next minute. At least the rainwater tubs are filling up. Can’t believe that they were empty. EMPTY – this is Yorkshire….

Another week has come and gone. Another week of schools version of homeschooling. So what did we learn this week.

  • Apparently the school has one of the best online teaching systems in the country. It’s frightening that many schools are struggling to get any systems going. But what do you expect when the government tries to control everything about education. Strangely it never saw the need for online education. Why bother when it’s so much cheaper to cram ever increasing numbers of kids into overcrowded classes.
  • Even with a school iPad and online systems, we have run out of pens, pencils and coloured markers. We only stocked up in February…….
  • The new school trousers (3 pairs) which were bought the week before the lockdown started, now don’t fit. So we managed one use out of those. Money well spent.
  • Clearly using google translate doesn’t necessarily get you the right answer in French lessons.
  • Drama is the most appropriate name for the subject. Here every lesson in Drama ends up as a right DRAMA.
  • Music is largely based around the GarageBand app. Has there ever been a more frustrating learning based app. It looks so easy on YouTube to produce professional sounding music compositions. Not in this house. So far we can just about get a drum to beat. It’s the same sound regardless of if son is trying to do a rock or classical composition. Not quite what the music teacher wants.
  • Clearly the half term weeks holiday should be renamed the half term do school projects and homework week.
  • What’s this new trend of getting parents to join in with PE lessons. This week I got to show my prowess in the hop, skip and jump (Triple Jump). I can now rename that as the hope, skip, fall over and hold my back in agony jump.
  • Some teachers are starting to get our son and others never will. One lesson he is still waiting for a house point. He’s only one of two other kids who has not been awarded one this year by this teacher. Apparently even getting 93% in a test doesn’t constitute being worthy of just one point. Maybe I’m missing something. Another frustration is that every September the teachers all change as kids move up a year. So all the progress of developing a relationship is lost. The ironic thing is one of the few teachers who doesn’t change is the one who doesn’t get him….
  • Food Technology is so much easier when it’s home based. It’s all theory so no need for the parent to stress out about finding food ingredients and suitable containers. Also no need to deal with the inevitable school bag food spillages. It’s 2 months since the last incident and his bag still spells of garlic.
  • When I was a kid magnetic fields seemed so easy to understand. So why now do they seem like some strange Harry Potter magic.
  • Apparently some lessons are best undertaken in short 10 minute spells, punctuated with a few games of Crossy Road.

So yes we can tick off another school at home week. Some parts still don’t work but many elements do work. Here’s the key thing. The current approach is determined by the school. You take all elements of the package. Take the good and the bad. True homeschooling allows you the flexibility to address those elements which are not working. But that’s a debate for another day. Let’s settle for just ticking off this week. Job done now let’s move on.

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.