Pushy

The farmer playing real life MINECRAFT.

Day One of the Two Day Heatwave. Todays garden temperature from our mini weather station hiding in the shade was….

That is ridiculously hot for Yorkshire, unheard of. The forecast is that it goes even higher tomorrow. At this rate I might have to take my jumper off. Unbelievably, it was so hot that Hawklad put shorts on, WOW, the last time that happened was when he was at nursery.

You can only fire water pistols for so many hours. Well if the school doesn’t send any work, you have to improvise the learning day….. So as we sheltered inside for a few moments and dried out, I tried to get my head round the Government’s latest ideas to sort out the Special Education mess. From what I can see it’s about replacing one mess with another mess while saving a bit more money….

Currently parents have to jump through a seemingly never ending number of ever shrinking hoops until their child gets a Plan approved (or mostly doesn’t). It’s a process which forces shellshocked parents to take on the mighty big bureaucracy. The lucky few emerge with a plan that is supposed to identify needs to be met. A personalised budget is then awarded to the child to help fund this. Sounds promising but what then tends to happen is that the big bad bureaucracy then says

You now have to give us that money back and that buys you a place in a mainstream school. No money no place. That money then pays for general teaching assistants who the school then use to help out teachers. They provide no dedicated help to Special Needs pupils. Then the big bad bureaucracy talks up the idea that PUSHY parents get this gold plated education for the lucky child. PUSHY parents are taking money from the majority of other pupils. This sets parent against parent while the special need pupil is mostly left without support. That’s the current system.

The new proposed system seems to be, keep the same nightmare approval process, make it harder but add in a bit of mediation when the application is almost inevitably rejected. If you do fluke it through to getting approval then rather than bothering identifying individual child need, parents are just offered a standard ‘one size fits all’ solution. Doesn’t matter if it doesn’t suit the individual child, at least we are saving money and it’s much easier to administer.

So it’s a mess and if it changes it’s going to be just another mess, but cheaper.

Sigh, breathe deeply and slump a bit lower in the chair. Definitely time for water pistols…..

Standing alone

Suddenly school wakes.

After hardly any communication from school suddenly it’s almost communication overload. Almost.

Missing exams papers are starting to arrive. A push to squeeze an annual review meeting in before the end of term. Some class notes from a missing in action subject. Interestingly it looks like our best guesses at what this subject has been doing in class since the schools reopened again 4 months ago have been completely wrong. Hawklad is way off topic. But as we have had no class guidance then what can we expect..

Then more Art trauma. Why is it so often Art. Hawklad submitted his exam piece and was pleased with it. Clearly the teacher was less pleased. The feedback is that the teacher had not received a final submission and had only received a rough draft drawing… A rough draft….. That rough draft is Hawklad’s (who has dyspraxia) best effort.

Hawklad’s take on all this. A shrug of the shoulders. One of those looks. No he won’t be submitting a final piece as that would be a final final piece. He will happily take a poor mark and then even more happily drop the subject in just 4 sweet weeks.

Art…..

Dad what is it about Art. The one subject I can’t do at all. That’s why I’ve dropped it. But it’s everywhere…..”

I know what he means. With his dyspraxia he finds holding a pencil or paint brush difficult. So it wasn’t a surprise when Art was dropped for next year. But here’s the thing. This year there seems to have been a lack of drawing in Art Class. It’s been mainly writing. Which is ok with Hawklad. But Art and drawing gets everywhere. You get to draw more in other subjects than Art….

Over the last few days Hawklad has had to

– draw and paint various product designs in DT,

– draw and paint a room in DT,

– paint a backdrop to a mini stage set in English,

– draw and paint a functional land in English,

– draw various food designs for FT,

– draw a coastal feature in Geography,

– draw and paint French scene in French,

– draw a cartoon strip in Computers,

– draw a tree in RE,

– draw a cartoon strip in Citizenship

– draw an ecologically friendly house in Science

I could go on but you get the picture. And the feedback. ‘Could try to be neater’…..

The only two subject I don’t have to draw in at present is Art, unbelievably and History. Clearly avoiding drawing should have meant me keeping Art as a subject. And if my favourite subject gets me to draw a castle or the Bayeux Tapestry then I’m officially finished with school…”

Don’t you just love art….

Charge

Can’t let Captain Chaos off the lead even here. He only has two modes will out. Head in all directions accept forward and CHARGE….

So Hawklad is busy building Lego sets. All about working on his fine motor skills. For some reason he likes to build these outside on the patio.

So there he was nearly completing an old Lord of the Rings building. All very intricate and delicate. Hours of work and then…..

My sister appearing at the back gate.

Captain Chaos is mad but goes the maddest of mad when there are visitors. Like DCs Flash, he was getting to the gate at near the speed of light. Two options. Go the direct and clear route OR head the longer and Lego blocked way. Only one option for a Lord of Chaos.

Lego everywhere. You wouldn’t believe how far Lego can fly and roll. Days later we are still on a recovery mission.

Oh what fun.

No one ever asks

It’s been a little wet over the last few days. The sheep have got themselves a couple of paddling pools. We might give those a miss. I guess no one will be to upset about that.

I have a questionnaire to fill out about school and it’s services. Looking at lots of areas.

Teaching quality, subject material, classroom facilities, school meals, communication, discipline, bullying, uniform, school transport, sports facilities, IT, websites, outside clubs…..

Lots and lots of areas. So many questions.

What’s revealing is not the questions being asked but those which are not asked. Ones which are never asked. Questions about Autism and Aspergers support. Dyslexia support. Learning Disability support.

No one ever asks. It’s not just our school. It’s across the board. No one ever asks. We live in a world driven by performance measures and league tables. Yet no one ever asks….

I wonder why that is.

Which way

In life you get asked so many questions. But some questions keep repeating themselves. Like the classics ‘Are we there yet?’ and ‘where’s the remote control?’.

Then there are other questions. More vexing questions. One question keeps popping up. I’ve been asked this by family members, other parents, teachers and even once a nurse. It does have a number of variants but it’s basically the same question

Will your son get better?

Will his Aspergers improve?

Will his Aspergers improve as he gets older?

I’m no clinical specialist. Just a bumbling parent. But here’s my take on the question.

Aspergers is a lifelong syndrome. It’s not going to get better. Its not going to be cured. It’s not going to disappear. What might change is that over time the individual and the family may develop strategies to help deal better with some of the situations life will throw at them. Also some of the specific symptoms may fluctuate over time. For example in a number of individuals something like repetitive hand flapping may become less prevalent with age. Also Aspergers often coexists with a number of other conditions – dyspraxia, ADHD, dyslexia…. It is possible that some of these conditions could improve with time. For example our son has with hard work started to overcome some of the issues which his dyspraxia and dyslexia had caused him in his earlier years.

So yes it is possible that improvements may occur. But here’s the thing, it’s not guaranteed. Each individual case is different, unique. Things may stay the same with age. They can also get worse with age.

So we just don’t know.

The Clinical Psychologist who did the full review of our Son was quite clear. The majority of his Aspergers related traits will stay with him over his life. However at around the teenage period changes may start to occur. It could go either way. He could become fully independent or he may regress and may need some form of life long support. She talked through a number of possible scenarios. One scenario was that some improvements would occur potentially in the areas of dyslexia and the diminishing of some of the repetitive behaviours. Another scenario painted a downturn in his existing anxieties and fears. This could occur naturally during his teenage years or could be triggered by a single significant event which effects his view of the world. Tips the balance in his risk assessments of the world. This could lead to significant mental health concerns and potentially social isolation. Where we are sat currently, we are not a million miles away from that scenario. The triggers – the death of his mum, a pandemic, his teenage years…. He is currently physically cut adrift from the world. His fears and anxieties ramped up to the rafters.

Nothing is set in stone. We just have to go with the flow and see what life brings. It could be still be a fully independent life. But it could also entail a lifelong requirement for support. In this country we don’t cater for the latter scenario. Support has to be fought and won for young children. That support is at best is patchy. During the teenage years the support tends to be reduced due to funding cut backs. By early adulthood the support has completely vanished. That’s a sobering thought for parents in this position. It really is.

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.

Forgotten

Isn’t the human mind strange. Somethings you just can never forget. Hopefully mostly the really nice, beautiful and precious things. They are always on your mind and then other stuff just seems to instantly disappears. Not just stuff like ‘where I put my car keys’, ‘what did I put on my shopping list when it’s been left at home’ and ‘what on Earth was I thinking about when I decided to support Newcastle United’. Could be precious memories, important details and posts. I wrote a post in June and yes I forgot all about it. Poor thing just sat gathering dust in the draft folder. Well yesterday I remembered it.

Unfortunately some of the post is out of date now but at least one bit is still relevant. So here goes then. A few months late and heavily edited but I give you a forgotten post.

*********

So we have a few weeks left of homeschooling. Maybe more. Son’s anxieties are starting to mount. The government is committed to reopening the country at breakneck speed – have we really got the pandemic sufficiently under control. No sign of a vaccine. Just feels like the infection numbers will be back on the rise very soon. So maybe homeschooling will still be the option after the summer break.

As a family we have learned so much from the enforced school at home project. Most of these I have already mentioned. But one very large and ignored elephant is sat in the room. ZOOM.

All children are different. Unique. Surely the key to education is to look at each child and see what works for them. Unfortunately the UK approach is fast moving towards the production line education model. Labelled Victorian Values. One set curriculum, one set teaching method, try to minimise input costs, force all kids through the same hole and then try to carefully control the outputs. Variations are seen as very bad.

So when a teaching approach is adopted then it is forced on all pupils – even if it doesn’t suit them.

In terms of our son it’s clear that he functions best at homeschooling when he is given research to do, watch videos, complete online questions. He works in short bursts. Maybe 20 minutes max of concentration then a quick walk about or something to reset, then he goes again. The initial home at school approach allowed for this. So it worked. But that’s starting to change now. Lessons are increasingly going ZOOM. Online video conferencing classes. 80 minute lessons. Teacher and pupils sitting in front of a video camera. The teacher can see what every pupil is doing. The other pupils can sometimes see but always hear what their classmates are doing. Senior teachers are reviewing each class to check for inappropriate behaviour and lack of effort.

Now this approach will work for some pupils. But not all. Our son hates being filmed. He hates to see his image on a screen, he hates to hear his own voice coming out of the speakers. He cringes at the thought of other people being able to see him. Sitting still for 80 minutes is a significant challenge for him. In a class setting he won’t ask questions, won’t put his hand up. Will just freeze and be filled with anxieties. Basically ZOOM teaching is currently just about the worst teaching approach for him. It just won’t work. But that’s the set teaching method for some classes now. He just has to do it. His marks are lower in those classes. How can this be effective, modern teaching…..

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.