Earthquakes and The Scottish Play

Finally succumbed to the New Year ‘Sort myself out’ bug. So the Gluten, Soya, Caffeine, Dairy, Meat Free diet is back in force. Whats the old phrase – in for a Penny in for a Pound. So on top of that it is a fasting type regime as well. 10pm to 4pm no food. Allowed to eat in just 6 hours everyday. If I was sticking to the 8:16 diet then I could start eating at 2pm but as Son is not back from school until 4 then might as well wait. It’s funny the effect it has on me. Even a simple bowl of green salad takes on an out of body experience at 4pm. Almond Milk becomes pure nectar.

Anybody who experiences the pleasure of IBS will probably understand the length you will go to try and sort your innards out. You realise it’s unlikely ever to be that magic fix. You happily settle for work around that settles things down for a few months. As you get older more items are added to the banned list. Or at best the once a year I’ve got to have my fix and will take the consequences list. It never seems to be the boring or least favourite foods does it. This Christmas shockingly Marzipan has been added to the naughty list. Absolutely heartbreaking. It’s bizarre as Almond Milk is currently fine with my body and yet Marzipan…… So if you ever see me in the street looking like Mr Creosote then you know I’ve just succumbed to Marzipan with a large coffee.

Anyway the diet switch has been surprisingly easy this weekend. As soon as we have got up Son has wanted to play football in our mud patch and then take the dog for a walk. It’s helped pass the empty feeling hours. Frustratingly the football was set all day in a misty and rainy backdrop. Only as we started to pack up did the clouds finally part and we got to see the last embers of the setting sun. It will be a brief interlude as another Atlantic Storm is flying towards us. The Trampoline is hopefully well and truly sandbagged down.

So now we prepare for school. Last week was best described as a holding pattern. It didn’t get worse but certainly didn’t move forward. Currently we are trying to revise for a Science Test. For whatever reason Son suddenly gets areas of knowledge that he just can’t visualise. Being dyslexic visualisation is his memory method. I’ve previously talked about his struggles with decimal points and shapes. We can now add Waves to the list of struggles. Poor kid just can’t get his head round them.

Dad not sure Im going to do very well on this one. Can’t even spell Electromagnetic or Longitudinal. So even if I do fluke the right answer I still won’t be able to write it down correctly. Maybe as I’ve been practising for a Shakespeare spelling test I should just put down random bard words. At least they will be sort of spelt right.

That did make me smile. Imagine the look on the Science Teachers face when the response to the question. Which of the two types of wave produced by an earthquake is the first to arrive at a location. And will it be the P or S wave? Is as following

Macbeth and Stratford upon Avon.

Green and pleasant land.

Welcome to Britain. A green and pleasant land.

A country where this man has just won a massive majority. A man who continues to cover up his repeated cockups which has led to a British Citizen bring help in Iran since 2016. Now his focus is on trade deals and turning the country into a trumped up lap dog. Sadly the poor British Citizen can’t offer a trade deal so she is stuffed.

Where this man from our Government claims that he has more common sense than those who died in the Grenfell Tower Disaster. He has made millions from his hedge fund company on the back of Brexit.

Where this man has been our Schools Minister since 2014. The man responsible for the current state of our schools. The man responsible for the introduction of testing for 4 year old kids. And the man who said kids taking time of for bereavement was like an extended holiday.

And a country where this man has just been awarded a knighthood. A man who introduced sweeping and brutal benefit reforms which has led to unprecedented levels of misery and is probably responsible for the deaths of hundreds who lost benefits.

Britain a green and pleasant land.

*** the photos of these lovely human beings are from The Guardian, Inside Croydon, Yorkshire Post, Change.org

Red School Sky

Red sky at night ready for the school fight.

So the dreaded hour is fast approaching. School opening its gates again. Feel so sorry, sad and angry for the kids like our Son having to face up to the nightmare which is modern schooling. I use the term modern in its loosest sense.

Increasingly my thoughts are turning to homeschooling. When to flick the switch. How to make it happen. Trying to stress tests the plans which are swirling around in my pea soup of a brain. Which options are best. What fits best with our circumstances. The aim being to have a workable plan in place by the end of February. As ever Son is the voice of reason. In fact as it’s his future he is driving the process. It has to be that way. He really isn’t happy but he’s giving the new term a go.

Dad going to give it a real go. Want to either see me moved up in the subjects I’m good at or want to be helped in the ones I struggle a bit in. Just one subject move would be cool.

“It’s not the subjects you struggle in. It’s the way the teachers judge you in those subjects. It’s never about the stuff you know. You have never had one comment about that. Remember what that teacher said last year – Don’t let anyone tell you your not clever. You are. The problems are not yours. It’s ours. We need to find better ways of getting the stuff in your head out into the wider world.

Ok Dad. Well let’s see what happens. What’s the plan if it goes pear shape this week at school?

Send you up chimneys to earn some money to pay for my rock and roll lifestyle”

Are you joking?

“Sorry, yes son I am pulling your leg. At least you can fit up a chimney.”

Your bottom would me a fine chimney sweeping tool. Not much would get past that.

“Let’s hope that school goes really well and your super happy. Let’s cross the over bridges if they happen. Most bridges are good ones.”

Which bridges. If I remember correctly we drive over 5 on the way to school.

And the voice of reason brings his Dad back into the real world again. So many options to consider.

  • Online tutor v Local tutor.
    How much will I teach. I can certainly do Computing, Mathematics, Science.
    Subjects like Geography and History maybe we just let him run with it. As last years Class Teacher said ‘you probably know the subject better than me already“. Just concentrate on how to access his ideas. Find the best way to express them.
    How to tailor some of the tuition around times that I need to go into the work base.
    Restructuring work to fit round the new world. Luckily I can probably do this. Just maybe will have to put off buying that sports car for say the next 100 years.
    When we move into the 15 and 16 age range how to handle examinations. Some of the colleges have courses for qualifications he could opt for. Would that work for him. Or do we go the tutor or online tuition routes.
    Languages – how far do we go down the online packages route such as Rosetta.
    Ways to ensure that he can socialise when he wants and needs to.
    And on and on

So much to consider. Maybe just maybe school might step up to the plate and this is never needed. That is probably a pipe dream so it’s time to sort this out. It will be a reassuring feeling when a plan is in place. When we have an idea what his education week and plan will look like. To our Son that level of practicality is an essential part of the transition process. It will help him at school knowing that he has a Plan b.

If anyone reading this has ever homeschooled then it would be great to hear from you. Either as a comment or email. What did your ‘learning week’ look like. What approach did you take. I’m sure this wont be the last you hear of this. I think the more we can talk about homeschooling the better. In many places it’s still frowned upon or it’s seen as a bit of a dark art. Maybe people should frown upon the mainstream school system instead.

I will leave you with one final thought.

Dad Santa can get down chimneys so there is always hope for you. There is always hope.

Flick the switch

Ans so the transition begins.

A transition from a happy and relaxed boy to one wracked with doubt and anxiety.

School starts to flick the switch again. How many kids are going through this experience. Far Too Many.

Here the school prison gates open on Monday. Son’s words not mine.

So on this glorious winters day he tries to wade through the homework which was dished out before Christmas. He spent an hour trying to sketch a mirror image of a Scream like skull photo. The fear of picking up a negative for not putting enough effort into the drawing driving him on. Sadly I fear it’s also driving any love he might have for art well and truly out of his system as well.

Once the skull torture was finished. He started work for two upcoming spelling tests. Then time spent on Science, Mathematics and French work. Finally he needed to work hard to complete a writing piece neatly. His teachers words. Whats the point, going to get told that it’s not good enough, I haven’t tried enough and it needs to be done again. Son’s words.

This really can’t go on. Son deserve so much more than this. So many kids deserve better than this. Is it so difficult to make education just a little less daunting and just a little bit more inclusive. What’s the word I’m looking for. Welcoming. Another word. Enriching. Another word. Fun.

Who am I kidding. It will be the same school that he was so pleased to escape from before Christmas. But 2020 feels different this time. This time the prospect of a positive change has dimmed significantly. Our Government is now in place until son will have left secondary school. It is committed to extending the current education philosophy which has already created this hell hole. We are now facing a real risk of son being failed for the entirety of his school life. That’s a sobering thought.

2020 will start with yet another push to deliver any positive change at all. Again school and teachers will be told exactly what actions and support son needs to be put in place to make his schooling work better for him. The dialogue will be constant – certainly from my side. But deep down I know what the likely outcome is. So this year the question is probably more about what it will take for us to flick the switch and turn off this failed schooling nightmare. If we were still a two parent family then the switch would have already been flicked. Homeschooling. With Single Parenting it’s more fraught with logistical and financial issues. So many issues to address. BUT son only gets one childhood. One go at his formative years. Flicking the switch is increasingly looking inevitable.

The river

Plenty of water flowing under the bridge. The water seemingly never ending.

In the run up to Christmas I was worried that it would bring sadness and hurt. Anniversaries and big holidays do that. As it happened yes one or two wobbles but son seemed to enjoy himself. That’s the only thing that matters these days. So it’s late on Boxing Day and soon Christmas will have gone. Job done. I survived.

But the flow of grief never stops. It’s ebbs and flows. The calm often masks the arrival of a raging flood.

Unknowingly my attention for weeks has been focused on the goal. The goal of giving our son the best Christmas possible. A real focus. A real direction. Caught up in the growing excitement of a child looking forward to time off from school and still hooked on most things festive. That rubs off on the parent.

Now it’s the end of Boxing Day. Heralding the coming end of that special time. The end of the focus. Suddenly it hits me. A new year. A year of more school strife. Son spending so much time in a place, an institution (sadly seems a more apt term to use than school) which goes out of its way to constrain, belittle and make him feel without worth. Hence another year of soul destroying fights with the authorities. Trying to squeeze more work into those hated school hours. Failing to find a way to rebalance the books to allow for home schooling. Adjusting to a world of increasing isolation which currently is the path of our sons Aspergers journey. Sleepless nights and tired days. Living in a country which is becoming increasingly alien to me. All wrapped up in another year without my beloved partner.

Tonight that is a truly haunting feeling. Son is in bed so no distraction from these worries. Suddenly I feel low. Very low. Feeling so unprepared for 2020. For all my fears Christmas provided a much needed boost. Something positive to focus on. Something tangible which I could have an impact on.

This haunting feeling will pass. It must pass. No one to step in if I shut down. Like most parents I will do what ever it takes for our children. A few tears tonight I suspect but tomorrow let’s make some more laughter for our son. OUR SON as it’s still our son. Yes I’m carrying the baton but he’s still our son. I just can’t drop that baton now. So after January 1st I will find a way to go again. Maybe it will be the year of progress. Maybe I will end up reposting these words next year as nothing has changed. Like the river I’m sure the bouts of sadness and loneliness will keep flowing. Constant stream of perpetual tiredness. But the good times and smiles will also flow. Yes remember that river – it keeps flowing – I keep going.

Need the full picture AGAIN

It’s difficult to work if you only have part of the picture. This is so true of dyslexia. A few days back we explored how difficult it is for a child with dyslexia to answer school questions without help. A help which is often absent.

Our son is dyslexic. He has found a way of reading up to half the words he is is presented with. The missing words are either filled in with educated guesses or just missed out completely. He faced the following test question without any help or any additional time.

Tissue is a structure made of many cells performing a similar function and different tissues do different jobs. Which tissue carries the fluid containing nutrients, oxygen and waste products?

Without help son read this question something like the following.

Tissue is a s……….. made of many cells p………… a s………. function and different tissue do different jobs. Which tissue c……… the fluid c…………….. n……….., oxygen and water products?

The letters in bold he guessed. When you guess you naturally gets some words wrong. Without help he was unable to read enough words to allow him to answer the question.

This is such an issue. You need to have understood enough words to allow you to make proper sense of the sentence. The more missing words. The more guessed words. The more words read incorrectly. The greater the likelihood that you will answer the wrong question or just be unable to answer at all. Our son is really good at maths as long as it’s just numbers and symbols. Add text and his performance starts to level off. He’s not getting the maths wrong. He’s getting the English wrong.

Another complication is that he frequently reads characters reversed.

He then has to make sense of the reversed character pattern. Sometimes he can process the character correctly. This takes time. Other times it throws his reading completely. When you think of letters like b and d. A reversal here is hidden but can have a huge impact. Is the word bad or is it dad or is it dab or is it bab.

The above example of reversed characters includes numbers. Number dyslexia is often forgotten. Son has less difficulty dealing with numbers. But it’s not plain sailing. Numbers can be read reversed. Numbers can be misread. He struggles to read numbers which contain a decimal point.

And there is one final surprising factor he has to deal with. We stumbled across this issue by chance. But it’s been confirmed by the health professionals. His mind switches between processing characters from left to right and then right to left. We haven’t been able to workout why his braindoes that or when the switches occur. But when he switches to right to left processing his brain must then try to reverse the image so it fits in with the English language. We had hoped educational professionals would examine this and see what impact this is having on his dyslexia. Maybe it’s the reason for it.. We are still waiting.

This is our sons dyslexia story. Every case of dyslexia is unique. It’s causes are not well understood and thousands of factors can impact on it. Surely it’s time our educational systems got up to speed with dyslexia. It needs commitment from government. Sadly in England this has not been forthcoming. In fact in many ways under the last 10 years of Conservative Rule the plight of dyslexic children in mainstream schools has got significantly worse. It’s time the Schools Minister got off his backside and did something about it. Maybe there is still time for him to see the bigger picture.

Melodrama

Dad we have an end of term Drama assessment tomorrow. It’s basically a spelling test. Have to learn words like Melodrama, Facial Expressions, Villains, Exaggeration, Storyline, heroic and conclusion. No wonder Im in the bottom set if they only judge kids on spelling.

The ironic thing is that the Dyslexic pupil is getting higher marks than many of the other kids in the test he is being set up to fail in. Plus I’ve said it before – isn’t Drama supposed to be about creativity. What’s creative about spelling Melodrama. Maybe the creativity is finding different ways to misspell words.

MELODRAMA – melonram, meltorama, melodyarm, mouldyfarm, mellowdram

The worlds a melodrama.

A world where a PM driving a forklift truck is deemed more newsworthy than young children spending hours on the floor of

underfunded hospital’s because no beds are available. How a PM can walk past a homeless man sleeping rough and SMILE. So many countries run by liars and self serving buffoons. How a teenager with Aspergers is vilified for standing up for the planet. How so many societies are descending into hatred and violence. Where it’s open season on minority groups.

Photo from Inside Croydon

On days like this part of me is relieved my partner is not hear to see this. To see what has become of our country, our world over the last three years. She would be devastated.

And then your see a beautiful sunset over a little church which has been around for hundreds of years. In those brief moments before the darkness falls you see hope and you see a reason to fight. If enough good people see this then the day of reckoning will soon come for those who abuse their power and abuse their position.

When that day comes the melodrama will centre on the facial expressions of the villains as they are brought to justice. It’s no exaggeration to say that will be a storyline which has taken far too long to come to his heroic conclusion.

**************

This went down a route I wasn’t expecting. Like many people in the UK we are going down with election cabin fever. Clinging to hope yet fearing the upcoming darkness which may befall our country tomorrow night.

Try harder

I must try harder to catch a few Pokémon. During the week Son likes to see his trainer account topped up with a few catches. I’ve had a fairly shocking catch rate recently. Maybe it’s the Captain Chaos effect.

Our Son struggles with his handwriting. According to several of the teachers at his school he just needs to try harder to get to the handwriting level of some of the other kids. Its one of the reasons he has been labelled low attainment.

Well that’s very helpful, thank you. Just remind me again since you are constantly picking fault with his efforts with a pen – exactly what help do you provide to try and improve things. Yes now what’s the phrase I’m looking for here. Diddly squat.

Yes his handwriting is not what you would call neat.

It has improved a bit over the years. That improvement is down to – strangely – unrecognised hard work by our Son. But we have to recognise for all the hard work it is fundamentally down to a recognised medical condition. A medical condition which has been repeatedly documented by his health professionals and communicated to school. To quote the last health letter sent to school

His poor handwriting is specifically associated with the Developmental Disorders Aspergers, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. Conventional teaching approaches to handwriting are unlikely to deliver any positive improvements. Focus should be on specific Dyslexia investigations, Fine Motor Skill development, trialling of writing aids and the use of technology.

In effect his handwriting difficulties come from two interrelated factors

  • Visual and Cognitive Letter Perception – he struggles to recognise letter forms. Letters can be reversed and letters can be mixed up (an ‘a’ maybe mixed up with an ‘e’, ‘y’ mixed up with a ‘g’).
  • Poor Fine Motor Skills. He struggles to hold a pen (often held with too much muscle force). He then finds it difficult to coordinate and control the required hand movements (his movements are not smooth).

As I’ve said improvements have been made. We did manage to secure some ongoing Physio Therapy to work on the motor skills. Due to Government cutbacks they are not as frequent as the health service would like them to be. But they have helped. At home repetitively bouncing various size bouncy balls has made a huge difference. From not being able to catch to becoming really adept at it. But he still struggles to write, struggles to tie knots and has to be helped to open things like screw bottle tops. At home we have tried various pen types and grips. We have trialled things like colour overlays and special rulers. But these have had little impact in our sons specific case. But I’m no specialist so who knows if I’m doing it correctly.

In terms of the visual and cognitive perception area unfortunately the health service is not allowed to provide any detailed dyslexia assessments. This has been defined by the Government as an educational area. And in our area the educational services have decided not to provide a specific dyslexia service. So kids like our son are left basically to fend for themselves. Branded as low attainment.

So the hard work will continue. I will try harder to catch some Pokemon. Not hopeful as I’m not that good with computer games (I struggle with fine motor skills as well). In terms of our Sons handwriting I am sure that he will continue to try hard. However just saying he must try harder completely misses the point. Just constantly pointing out the kids who write neater and saying that’s the level you should be at achieves only one thing – erodes personal confidence even more.

One final thought. Associating poor handwriting with low attainment is an interesting concept. Having worked in education, health and policing I can honestly say that the individuals often with the most illegible and scruffy handwriting are the HEADTEACHERS, DOCTORS and DETECTIVES. So if poor handwriting is a sign of low attainment – we are in trouble.

Time for punishment

After weeks of rain the clouds finally parted and reassuringly the sky is still blue. The sky is blue and the ground is still muddy.

Since it’s a day with a name that ends with DAY – it must be a day for another school moan. Don’t worry it will be the Christmas holidays soon and you will get a break from the rants – hopefully.

Next week our dyslexic son has to sit TWO spelling tests. One for English and one for DRAMA. That’s DRAMA. So to develop any Performing Arts talents he has to learn to spell words like

Melodrama, Exaggeration, Facial Expressions, Placards, Stock Character….

I guess when he wins his first Oscar in his acceptance speech he can thank these Spellings…..

Then we have the English Spelling Test. The weekly spelling test. This week he has 15 words to learn. Including such beauties as

Advertisement, Similarity, Persuade, Exaggeration, Testimonial, Alliteration….

All the class (regardless of individual spelling ability, regardless of dyslexia) have to spell the same words. The expectation is that you will get 100%. All it takes is a bit of effort. Hang on we need to raise the stakes just a bit higher. Anyone not getting at least 10 out of 15 exactly right will get a Negative. Four Negatives get you detention and much shame. It also rules you out of the end of year trip to the Fun Park/Zoo.

For F*#@ Sake.

This new penalty rule was introduced minutes before today’s test. One unfortunate student received his punishment. Our son managed 11 so survived. As he says he had to guess the ending of most words and was largely lucky today. But he’s a nervous wreck. Having seen this weeks words he’s convinced he has no chance. How can this be part of modern teaching. Oh I forgot our Government wants to return to Victorian values. Well they can all bugger off back to Victorian Times and leave us in peace.

On a side not I see our Prime Minister is avoiding being asked difficult questions so he has started sending his Dad to do some of his interviews. I’m not making this up. Well today a member of the public phoned in and basically said Johnson was like Pinocchio. His Dad then said mockingly “the British Public couldn’t even spell Pinocchio if they tried”. Well let’s try – Pinocchio.***** up yours you posh snob.

So what do we do. We have the weekend to think about it. I’ve offered son the day off if school insist on him sitting the test. At the moment he is saying that he will have to sit the test. He doesn’t want to be picked out as different. But that’s the problem with the current approach to handling dyslexia in the classroom. It’s the same as with Aspergers and the classroom. The approach is so fundamentally wrong.

Assume the child is low attainment.

Resist providing proactive support

Deliver one standard teaching programme for all kids – no variations

Put the onus on the child to put a hand up and ask for help – in front of all the other kids

Child doesn’t put the hand up so assume everything is fine

Watch child struggle in tests and class work

Confirm assessment that child is low attainment

One final thought. It’s ok to penalise the kids but what about those leading us. Our School Minister – Remember him he’s the lovely chap who thought kids having time off for bereavement was like “an extended holiday” – was asked a grammar question he was expecting school kids to get right. Guess what the numpty got it wrong. So maybe he should get a negative and be barred with running our schools. That is one punishment I can agree to.

More rain

And still it rains. And rains. And rains.

And still it rains at school.

French Homework is to complete a crossword. A French Crossword. Marks will be deducted for incorrect spellings.

Dad I can’t even do a crossword in English never mind French. I can remember the sounds but I can’t spell the words. The Teacher knows this but just says I have to try harder.

And we have more…

Drama Homework is to complete an acting related Word Search Game. Really. Very early on his previous school it was identified that he could just not do Word Searches Tables. The Psychologist who looked into this established that for some reason he was not able to visualise letters and collections of letters if they were printed diagonally or backwards. On top of this his dyslexia just made identifying words difficult. As this was stressful for him it was strongly recommended that his education did not use word based games. Fast forward a couple of years and his current school now requires him to do word searches as it’s the set task for the class.

I can see the point of a French Crossword for some kids but how is a dyslexic kid expected to complete this. Has our school system become so inflexible that we can’t just vary the teaching programme a little for each individual child need. Clearly not. The Government is committed to this Factory/Production line model of education. That’s for State Schools. Private Schools have more scope to flex the teaching programme. Unfortunately many can’t afford to go Private. But that won’t bother Boris and his buddies. As long as the chauffeur driven car turns up and the expensive wine keeps coming.

Ok I can see the point of a crossword for French for some BUT… What is the pigging point of a word search for Drama. I guess it’s all part of the Government’s drive to make every kid spell correctly the defined key words. Spelling is given a higher profile that actually understanding what the word means. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the best way to develop the next Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg and Tom Cruise is to focus on spelling. Oh hang on a minute these have dyslexia as well. So no I don’t see the point.

We just set too many of our kids up to fail. They see other kids repeatedly praised for great spelling or neat handwriting while at the same time they are just told to try harder. How demoralising is that. A phrase you hear often is that kids with learning difficulties have to try super hard just to keep the perceived learning gap from widening. DAMM RIGHT THEY DO. Too many kids are forced through the same stereotyped classroom hoop. Never given a chance to demonstrate their unique skill sets as these are not in the areas deemed valuable by the Government.

Too many kids have been failed by our society. It’s not as if our society is particularly successful or sustainable on the back of this. This has to stop. When it does stop and we start allowing all our kids to grow – just take a few minutes to think how good this world will become. That is a hope worth fighting for. That is a hope worth voting for.