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.

Service

Maybe I can call our little part of the world a Rose Garden. Makes a change from Jungle or Weedville.

Well so far we have survived the boiler service. The chap turned up and to be fair to him, he did use a mask and gloves. He did confirm that it wasn’t me being a muppet. It had fuel. It was turned ON. He explained that it was the oldest boiler he had seen in ages. Possibly over 40 years old. It’s poor motor had finally died. Unbelievably he found a replacement motor in the van that just about fitted. So with a hefty bill winging my way he departed. Apparently after all those years it is still working at 90% efficiency. Wish I was that good at 40.

The thought of an outsider entering the house sent son into an anxiety meltdown. Unplanned visitors is not easy at the best of times for someone with Aspergers. But during a pandemic…..

To try and keep a lid on his anxiety we agreed a decontamination protocol. Thankfully this was carried out to the letter.

  • The service person wore masks and gloves,
  • He only entered the house via the back door,
  • He only ventured into one room,
  • After he finished I quickly disinfected the room and the door he used,
  • That room and that side of the house was then closed off for 3 days,
  • As was the path which the serviceman walked across,
  • I than had a shower and completely changed clothes.

It might seem OTT but to our son this was the bare minimum which was acceptable to him. His way of protecting his safe place. He will be much less stressed out when that part of the house comes out of lockdown. Later we had a chat about all things pandemic and his anxieties. Clearly we won’t be dropping our local procedures for a considerable time. Putting aside the merits of homeschooling debate, I just can’t see how he cope function in a public environment any time soon. Certainly not in a crowded school at the start of September. Thankfully the concerts we were due to see have been cancelled. (The Who, Whitesnake, Foreigner, Europe, Aerosmith, Hollywood Vampires). We are down to just two in October now. Deep Purple and Ozzy. But I just can’t see them happening as well.

So maybe we start to adopt a mindset that actually our enforced house and garden lockdown will last into 2021. Will need to think about that. What additional things do we have to put in place to ensure that we both can continue to enjoy life for all those months. Maybe that industrial sized ice cream and slush puppy machine is not such a far fetched idea……

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.

His eyes

It’s been a few months since I went trail running along this route. The first time I did this route I remember thinking that the route will gentle meander up the hill. Wrong. A direct, straight up mud fest.

When we came walking here with the dog I remember telling our son that the route was into the trees. Straight up and then down the other side. His response

Why don’t we just walk round the base of the hill. We will eventually end up in roughly the same place. Makes more sense to me.

That is the perfect metaphor for life and parenting. It’s something I’m desperate to learn from.

Each person, each child is unique. What works for one person may not work for another. My path might be right for me but is it really the right path for our son. The answer is probably NO. So why should be follow me up that hill path. He sees the world through his eyes not mine. He will see and interpret things differently to me. He has to find the route that works for him. That’s the way he becomes the person that he was meant to be. Not the person I, or the government or society believes he should be. He has to live his OWN life. Become the person he is most at ease with. His true self.

Dad why wasn’t I christened?”

Because that has to be YOUR decision not OURS…..

I might be convinced that homeschooling is best for him. But only HE really knows, so it has to be his call. If in September he decides that school is safe and that it’s where he wants to learn then he will go back.

It’s tough for the parent. Trying to find the right balance. I probably get it wrong every single day. But the secret is to learn from those mistakes. Parents should learn just as much or more from their children than we teach them. So hopefully I can stop myself from saying things like

  • You need to do…
  • This is what will happen…
  • This is best for you…
  • That is wrong for you…
  • This is the truth…

Replace these phrases with

  • What do you think…
  • How do you see things…
  • What is your heart telling you…
  • What works for you…
  • This is only my opinion…
  • It’s your call…

Ultimately it’s HIS life. It’s the ultimate privilege that he allows me access his world. To sometimes act sometimes as guide and but more often just as a companion. But it’s a two way process. He also guides me. More than he realises. Until he decides to spread his wings and fly, then I’ve made the life choice to be that companion and occasional guide.

Day 123

I clearly have too much time on my hands because I’ve been counting

It’s Day 123 of our lockdown…

Normally I do a weekly post – what have we found out this week from schooling at home’. But this week in honour of the 123 day milestone let’s do a special ‘what have we done withoutpost….

  • That’s 123 days without the school bus or ironing a school shirt,
  • That’s 123 days without missing the school bus,
  • That’s 123 days without a school bag,
  • That’s 123 days of not forgetting to pack a really important school item,
  • That’s 123 days without the carefully packed ingredients for food technology deciding to empty themselves over the other contents of the bag,
  • That’s 123 days without the school bag zipper becoming stuck,
  • That’s 123 days without having to patch up school trousers,
  • That’s also 123 days of not using his new trousers – bet they won’t fit now…
  • That’s 123 days without losing items of sports kit in the school changing rooms (but strangely they still find a way of going missing),
  • That’s 123 days without son combing his hair (ok that’s an exaggeration but it certainly looks like it most days….),
  • That’s 123 days of son not meeting another person except me,
  • That’s 123 days of me not going into the work unit,
  • That’s 123 days of not emptying the work unit bin or checking for out of date milk in the work fridge. As I’m the only one who does – I just dread to think what alien life maybe germinating in there,
  • That’s 123 days without a run (not counting the garden runs as they are more akin to a game of twister than actual running),
  • That’s 123 days of my mountain bike being sat unloved in the garage,
  • That’s 123 days without a trip to the ice cream parlour or a food takeaway,
  • That’s 123 days of not popping into a coffee or cake shop,
  • That’s 123 days without an excursion,
  • That’s 123 days without a trip to the zoo,
  • That’s 123 days of not going out then worrying constantly if I did remember to lock the front door,
  • That’s 123 days of living in shorts, sarongs, running leggings and tracksuit joggers (don’t panic they are getting washed) – I might have fibbed on one of those..
  • That’s 123 days without having to buy a car parking ticket,
  • That’s 123 days of not feeding the car petrol,
  • That’s 123 days without using a cash machine,
  • That’s 123 days of desperately not searching for my car keys and wallet,
  • That’s 123 days in which our entire world comprised only of the house and garden.

But even after 123 days, if I look hard enough I can still find something new to photograph. That’s shows how lucky we really are. Even after 123 days of lockdown.

School at home week something

Still summer…

It’s the end of another school at home week. These weeks are just merging into each other now.

School at home has gone pretty well over those whatever weeks. Son has adjusted well to it. He’s been pretty relaxed but we have a cloud on the horizon. Next week the school is starting to bring in virtual classrooms and live teaching via Microsoft Teams. Son hates the thought of being videoed. He really struggles with it. Plus with the other kids present he will retreat into his shell again. So this new teaching development has filled him with dread. The technology will work. Will it work for all kids. Will it work for those kids with special educational needs. That’s a bridge to cross next week.

The other thing which has stood out is observing the impact a slight change in school routine can have on our son. And it’s not just the virtual classroom idea. Sudden and unscheduled changes in teaching style, teacher, timetables…. All these have a major impact on him. He becomes deeply unsettled and stressed out. This really compromises his performance. I’m not 100% certain schools are aware of the impact these things have on kids on the spectrum.

But back to this week. What has this slightly bewildered parent learnt.

  • Son can walk, eat, drink and use his iPad at the same time with ease. I struggle to walk without crashing into walls.
  • Two words have the immediate effect of sending me into the kitchen to eat junk food and find coffee. French and Drama….
  • How many lessons does a kid need just going on about how to make puff pastry. Surely Food Technology can find another food to look at.
  • Apparently the term for you arm hairs standing on end is Piloerection…
  • When I get the feeling that I am right and the science teacher is wrong on magnetic fields, it’s probably best to fact check my knowledge first……
  • Occasionally giving a kid a little constructive feedback on work might be a good idea. Most teachers do. Unfortunately some teachers give nothing back. That’s something like 13 weeks with nothing. Really…
  • Practicing tennis in the garden is difficult when you can’t find any tennis balls.
  • Practicing tennis in the garden is difficult without balls and it’s chucking it down.
  • Practicing tennis in the garden is difficult without balls, in the rain when you can’t find the tennis racquets.
  • Online French classes seem to drain the iPad battery much quicker than any other subject. This is bizarre as French vocabulary seems to have exactly the same effect on me.
  • It’s rather emasculating when your Son decides to film his own art cartoon project. The words maybe getting the cartoon in focus might be a good idea do sting….
  • When your son has Dyspraxia and Dad has basically got the artistic talent of a Brussels Sprout – trying to free draw a pie chart on the iPad is basically a waste of time.
  • iPad voice recognition works with hundreds of languages but can’t handle anyone speaking with a Yorkshire Twang. For example how difficult can it be for a machine to understand someone saying ‘Royalty’. As hard as Son tried the iPad kept hearing Roll over and when I tried it heard Reality. Remind me not to try it with a word like luck.
  • I can’t remember how to programme the microwave or where I left the TV remote control but somehow I can remember school calculus. How is that possible.
  • The school has done a great job in getting the school at home IT working. But it hasn’t cut down the paper usage. Since the project started in April we have used up a full ream of paper….

So another week down. I get the feeling next week will see the return of the really sarcastic parent….

Building Bridges

A fine northern river. Many bridges connecting both sides of the city. Without those bridges and the city is split asunder.

Son do you want to go out for a blueberry ice cream?

No it’s ok Dad.”

Son do you want to go and visit your Auntie. We can keep 2m apart when we get there?

Not this week.”

How about visiting your favourite toy shop. It’s open?

No I’ve got plenty of stuff to do.”

What about going to that remote walk and going to see that Neolithic site. We can stop off and get one of your favourite pizzas?

No, maybe some other time.”

These are some of his favourite things. In 2019 the slightest mention of any of these would have sent our Son running towards the car. That’s all changed now. He has most definitely burnt his bridges with the world. He is also in no rush to start to build them again. Many people will be in the same boat. We have a community split asunder. Split in more ways than this….

I understand someone from the so called Government was not happy with pupils been kept off school. Kids should be forced back to schools as it will be good for them. They don’t have the slightest idea about Mental Health awareness. Good job we are ignoring what they say.

It’s going to be a long road back for some. Certainly for our Son. It’s pointless putting a timescale on it. It will happen when it happens. Until then the bridges will remain down and we make the best of it. I’m looking out across the next door farm and into the distance. We are so blessed. We certainly can make this work for us. No rush for bridges here.

The Dads

The ‘Stay at Home unless you are a pompous cretin called Cummings who thinks he is the UK Government‘ message has been on for months now. Ok the social distancing thing is starting to fall apart but for some of us, it’s still very much in force. One knock on effect of that is that you end of taking photos of the same thing, over and over again. SORRY. More cows. One day maybe we might get a giraffe or a camel.

This post is a tribute to Dads. I don’t need to say sorry about that.

Dad in Art I have to create some characters for my stop motion cartoon project. I have to think of some designs, sketch them and then cut them out. They will then become the stars of the cartoon. Any ideas?.”

Well you want to make them simple to make. What about superheroes. Make a simple version of Captain America and Ironman. Lots of muscles, great costumes and heroic.

That gives me a great idea. Let’s go for the complete opposite. No muscles, no dress sense and bad haircuts. Let’s go for Dads…..”

So here goes. Our little tribute to all the Dads out there. I’m trying to work out which one is me…. Maybe it’s the one still to be made which looks just a little like Thor….

Running wild

Remember those times before 2020. No masks or enforced social distancing. It seems an awful long time ago. So much enforced change. A world which has shrunk for virtually all of us.

After my partner died the world did shrink for me. No more holidays, no long distance work journeys, less visits to family and friends. No climbing expeditions. Things like trips to the gym even stopped. One thing that kept going was running. Son would go to school and my new found work flexibility would allow a couple of long runs every week. I got to see and breathe the local countryside. Run through the hills, valleys and woods. Every so often a little longer trip to the coast. The delights of a beach run. These became such an important part of my coping strategy. A way to manage my mental health and stay fit.

These runs have now stopped. The last run was in early March. Still there but out of reach. Out of reach until September when the secondary schools potentially go back. Maybe Son will opt for homeschooling and the runs cease permanently. But life goes on. It has to. So the runs have had to be replaced with exercise bike sessions – I have developed a pathological hatred of the piece of rock called the bike seat. Replaced with extra weights exercise in the garden. More CrossFit workouts. And yes with garden runs. A small garden doesn’t lend itself to a great variety of routes. Basically I can keep going round in circles clockwise and anti-clockwise. Constantly going round in circles. I measured it out, the longest straight line run possible is a massive 15 paces. Round and round again.

“Dad school have set a running challenge this week. They want the class to run and cycle. Using the Strava running app they want us all to work together to get to ferry in Dover and head off into Europe. Parents are encouraged to join in. Come on Dad. Get your running kit on.”

It’s a bit like my blogs creaky world tour but recorded using Strava. So I downloaded the app and dragged my tired body outside. I had already done my morning weights exercise routine. And off I went. Round and round the garden. Clocking up km after km. Bored out of my mind. Son did a bit of running himself before he went inside to start his next online class.

Eventually the knees said that’s enough. They can only take so much constant turning. And I went inside to send school the running results. The thing about Strava (and other running apps) is that you get a route diagram. A map of your run. They should look something like this…..

Well mine was a masterpiece. It’s my finest work of art I have ever produced….

The final ironic element to the story. A couple of hours later…

Oh Dad. Just had an email from school. You had better sit down…. Apparently a few parents have complained about privacy and the schools online Strava Running Club. So they have had to delete the club and cancel the running challenge.

Oh well at least I got a work of art out of it.