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.

Look what’s cropped up

Some call it a weed. Some call it a flower. I’m definitely in the flower camp. It’s amazing where these things crop up in the garden every year.

Now we have had several weeks of schools version of homeschooling, I guess it’s time to look at the parent side of the process. What have I learnt during these weeks. The first thing to say is that it’s NOT been impossible. That was my fear when I always thought about homeschooling. I’m going to mess this up. I just won’t be able to cope. Well I’m still here. Son is still here. No huge disasters. Son doesn’t hate me. School haven’t demanded my sacking as a parent. So yes I kinda must have coped with this homeschooling lark.

Another thing I’ve learned is this IS NOT TRUE HOMESCHOOLING. This is schools version of teaching when the classrooms are locked up. Some lessons might come close to true homeschooling but others are just the same classroom lessons delivered in your living room. The Government and the Schools set the agenda, decide on what areas are covered and how they are delivered. The children and parents largely do what they are told. The point about true homeschooling is the freedom that it offers. You can tailor the education to suit the child. This version of homeschooling feels more like forcing the child to fit the needs of the system.

So what have I learned as a kinda homeschooling parent then

  • I know diddly squat about Art, Music, Religious Education and Drama.
  • I can look like the worlds most intelligent parent when I hide my iPhone in my shirt pocket and find a way of discreetly typing in questions to google.
  • Homeschooling is far more tiring for the parent than the child.
  • My spelling is worse than my dyslexic son.
  • For homeschooling to work really well you have to engage the child. Focus on the things that make him or her tick. What seems to work for me probably doesn’t work for our son.
  • I need my own school stationary cupboard. The amount of time I waste hunting in draws for things like pens, paper, paints and art materials.
  • Science hasn’t half changed since I got my A-Levels in Physics and Chemistry. Was Quantum even a word back then?
  • I might have a master degree in computing but that counts for nothing when you are trying to get the iPad to talk to the school computer.
  • Things like housework and working for money are really not going to happen during the homeschool day. For the parent homeschooling is as time consuming as it is for the child.
  • I’m so lucky just having one child to homeschool.
  • Me trying to explain French pronunciation is a complete waste of time. Maybe investing in something like Rosetta Stone is the way forward. But that’s a key point. Some of the homeschooling will be beyond me. I will need to invest in online support, book tuition time and additional help so as to make this work.
  • Getting son to just read a textbook is not the best approach. If homeschooling is going to truly work it will mean doing things like taking son out to historical sites and geographic locations. The parent needs to fully commit to this.
  • As the home school day has to replicate the normal school timetable I have learnt to be fairly strict on the time Son spends on each lesson. Trying to avoid overruns. Once these start they just accumulate and that just drags the day out for Son and ME.
  • Homeschooling increases the urge for things like strong coffee and biscuits.
  • I don’t care how many weeks I do this – I still can’t remember the school timetable.
  • Broadband failure just as work is being submitted is seriously stressful.
  • I’m very good (as are the PE teachers) at reminding the kids to warm up before the do exercise. I of course forget to warm myself up. Although I like to think of myself as fairly fit, I also tend to forget that I am basically an old fart…. So without warming up and then trying to do something like a forward role is basically asking for trouble.
  • How much paper does schooling use ….. far too much.
  • Homeschooling is tiring. But it doesn’t help with nighttime sleep. Too many school things to think about.
  • If I pick up the courage I can make things like homemade play-doh without the need to panic buy off Amazon.
  • As the homeschooling week unfolds my dress sense deteriorates. By Friday I look like a badly chewed dog rag doll. Don’t even start me on my hair.
  • Just go with the flow. If Son wants to learn outside, or walking about or stood on his head or whatever … work with that. I need to keep telling myself that what works for me will probably not work for him.
  • Over the years I’ve often had sleepless nights wondering what mystical substance has the chemical formula C12H22O11. Now I realise it’s Sucrose.
  • I’ve also found out how difficult it is to try and type chemical formula properly. Surely in 2020 we must have found easier ways of typing numbers which are littler than letters. AND Don’t start me on trying to do French and typing things like acute accents and circumflex’s. The process extends writing an answer from seconds into months. On these I have been no help to our Son.

So basically I have survived this form of homeschooling so far. Yes it’s not always easy. Yes I’ve resorted to pulling my hair out in some lessons. Occasionally I have sworn. It’s demonstrated that homeschooling and work don’t really go together. But actually I have also smiled quite a bit. Sometimes even had fun. That’s just for schools version of this. How good could we make proper homeschooling.

Week whatever

At least we are getting a few glimpses of the sun. But it’s mainly very very dark. For those with good eyesight – you can just see our friendly mole has taken a shine to our neighbours front lawn.

I guess sunshine amongst the darkness is a good way of summing up this weeks school at home project. I think it’s week 7 but I’ve lost any real grip on time.

Some lessons continue to work well. This week PE managed to bring in new exercise routines and somehow find a way of getting the kids to practice cricket fielding skills, in the garden. The teachers have embraced the heaps of resources on the internet. It’s amazing how many coaches and sports stars have uploaded fun things for us mortals to do at home. It also helps that the games teachers are engaging positively and with a real sense of humour with each pupil.

A subject like maths continues to use existing online national teaching resources to run the lessons. Online teaching lessons are followed by online questions. The class teacher keeping an eye on progress and tailoring the online lessons to each child. It’s reflecting how the class operates when the schools are open. It works so well and it does raise the question – can maths become a fully home based lesson when schools start again.

Then the darkness….

We still get lessons which are so formulaic. Here’s some text read it and then answer these questions. The approach never changes. It’s the same approach which is used for each lesson in the classroom. Ok it might work for some kids but for many it just won’t. Talk about trying to make a lesson as dry and boring as possible.

You then get the lessons where content and the knowledge a pupil has is seemingly not assessed. Marking just focuses on spelling mistakes and handwriting neatness. Interestingly the actual English Language subject is one subject which doesn’t use this approach. Some of the most brilliant and talented people I have met seem to have the worst grammar and spelling skills. Surely a pupils understanding of the subject matter must count for something.

Then you come to human nature. Teachers are not robots, they are just like the rest of us. We have those people we like and appreciate. We also have those we don’t get and probably don’t treat as fairly as others. Son has two teachers who just don’t get him. Whatever he does he never seems to get any positive feedback or credit. This week he submitted a piece of work for one of these teachers. I checked it with the marking scheme and his answer definitely went way beyond the standard answer. All the additional marks on offer were definitely covered in his response, and more. The actual teacher marking was predictably distinctly underwhelming. Purely highlighting the negatives. As Son pointed out

No point working harder for this one as it really doesn’t make a difference. Always going to be a C- regardless of the work. I must be the only kid in the class not to get a house point all year from this teacher.

So yep it’s been another dark and light school week. Bring on week 8 (or whatever number it is)….

It’s back to online school

Orange sky at night homeschoolers delight?

This weekend we return to the wacky world of schools version of home schooling. When we joined thus school, all parents had to buy an iPad which would become the school iPad. It would be integral to the teaching approach. It never seemed to be fully exploited. Well that was until the schools went into lockdown. Now it’s allowed the school to run the usual school timetable completely remotely. After a few weeks we can confirm that the technology works well. The quality of the lessons varies between subjects. Some of the lessons just feel like it’s basically read a text book for an hour. Lessons like Mathematics have used existing online teaching apps which work really well. To that extent it definitely feels like Maths could just become a home based lesson as standard, with the teacher just providing a guiding overview and tracking development.

Lessons like History can be so hard to bring to life. They tend to be too dry for many kids purely delivered from the classroom. Anything which opens up this teaching approach gets a thumbs up from me. Suddenly History is exploiting interactive media. How about the next stage being history lessons delivered from local historical sites.

P.E is a subject he dislikes at school. Too much pressure, too little time to change clothes in cramped and noisy changing rooms, so many kit items to remember. Yet at home he has loved following the lesson requirements in the safety of his garden. English is another subject which has worked much better in the home. At home Son is much more relaxed and will happily ask for help. In the classroom he just won’t ask….

What hasn’t changed sadly is some of the marking and review processes. That doesn’t apply to all the subjects. Some of the comments are supportive, encouraging and helpful. Unfortunately too often correct spelling is stressed rather than actual content. How is making a dyslexic type out each spelling mistake three time going to help him. It will certainly knock his confidence. He had to submit a project which he worked really hard on. When I checked it I was seriously impressed. I learnt a lot from it and I got an A in that subject at college. Yet when it came back from the teacher the only comment was that it was ok and please correct the spelling mistake…. The look on his face when he read that feedback told me everything.

Then we have subjects that won’t accept work unless it’s done on paper and then submitted via a photograph. What is certainly not helpful is making someone with handwriting problems write (not type) work out then mark it down as not being good enough and needs more work. What’s not good enough is that teaching approach.

Going forward he is happy to keep working through schools online programme. He is hoping that it will run for the rest of the school year. From a parenting point of view, I’ve got used to it pretty quickly. The quality of the teaching has varied between subjects. But without a doubt Son has been much less stressed out about school. The question will be what happens when schools reopen. Ultimately it’s his call. If it’s September then has time to have a good think about if he wants to return or opt for full home schooling. At least now we will have a better grasp on what homeschooling may entail. What works for him and what needs changing. If schools open in the short term then it will force his hand. In the current climate and without significant change in school practices, he’s just not ready to go back. I suspect it’s the homeschool option. At least he won’t be crashing into homeschooling, he will have already tipped his toes in the water. And whisper it quietly, it’s not as daunting as it seemed 6 weeks ago.

Art

If I’m going to suffer this, then you can as well DAD.”

We had arrived at one of those lessons – ART.

Son really struggles with drawing. His fine motor skills are just not conducive to it. Unfortunately his Dad is also rather deficient in this area as well. I am to Art as Donald Trump is to Veganism. I remember one art teacher quietly whispering in my ear when she took one look at my attempt at a landscape scene.

Can I suggest that goes in the bin. I wouldn’t take it home as your parents might be of a nervous disposition.

But son is right. If he suffers then I need to suffer as well.

One hour later we compared masterpieces. His attempt was not too bad. Son cast his critical eye over my work.

Erm Dad what exactly is it?”

That’s a tree”

Are you sure. I would never have guessed that.”

Look son it’s obvious. These are branches.”

“Are you sure it’s not upside down. What on earth is that?”

That is a bird and that is a nest”

Oh a bird. I thought it was a car. Look Dad I am bad at art but I have an excuse. I have Dyspraxia. What on earth is your excuse to be so awful at this. Clearly you talents lie elsewhere. “

The search continues…….

Motivation

Not sure it’s the slightly unhinged world but here the daffodils are looking extra special this year. Much needed colour. Much needed motivation to keep believing in our world.

“Come on Dad, your doing the PE lesson with me.”

So 20 minutes later we are doing a fitness workout. I do slag the school off quite a bit but sometimes it does do things well. The online PE lessons was really good. It started with a daily workout from YouTube. The Body Coach TV (PE with Joe Wicks). The person doing it was great and made the session so much fun for kids. Son warmed to him straight away. Which is no mean feat.

My second workout of the day was definitely very different from the first. Standard weights and short burn military fitness exercises at 7am. Pretending to be Spider-Man and bouncing like a bunny rabbit at 11am. The latter was way more fun. So maybe, just maybe tomorrow at 7am you might see a grown man pretending to be a rabbit. That’s my excuse if I get wheeled away in a straight jacket.

But you need balance in life. If you get good then often the not so good arrives to bring life back into order. The Food Technology online lesson was grisly. Son attempted the task which was so tough for him given the difficulties he has with handwriting, spelling and drawing. But he tried and that’s all we can ask. A bit later the response came back. One or two good efforts but some are very poor presentations. Well that’s done his confidence a world of good.

So we have balance. Motivated and demotivated. Looking forward to the next lesson and dreading the next lesson. One has 1.5 Million subscribers (plus two more from our house) and the other has a kid desperate to drop the subject.

I’m sure even this guy was motivated to move just a bit during the fitness workout.

I should really tell this guys story as well. Completely ignored him when I waffled on about his gnome buddy. His name is Gene. Can you work out why? Gene is a relative baby. He’s about 7 years old. He was a Christmas present from my brother. He was supposed to be fireplace ornament. Unfortunately my partner hated it. As did our dear departed psychotic girl cat. So he was banished to the garden to save him from the sledgehammer and the apex predator. On his bottom a sign says – Not for external use. Yet after 7 years of grizzly Yorkshire weather he is still shinny and looking like new. So he clearly likes dancing in the Yorkshire rain.

Take care my friends and try to smile.