Let’s break some rules….

Our school like so many others prides itself on discipline and the behaviour of its pupils. This is achieved with an inflexible set of rules. If a pupil breaks a rule then it’s an automatic negative. Four negatives in one week means detention. Repeated detentions bring the sanction of isolation. A serious negative can lead to an immediate spell of isolation. It’s all a bit Dickensian – was going to say Shawshank Redemption but that’s probably not a good example to use really…

The rules must come in about 7 volumes so too many to list. But let’s give a flavour by quoting some of the negatives which our son has seen issued.

  • Unbuttoned shirt
  • Incorrect positioning of the tie
  • Throwing a snowball – after school and not on school premise
  • Small coloured markings on white sport socks
  • Parent not signing off the weekly planner sheet
  • Forgetting your planner or text book
  • Incorrect colour pen used. Has to be black, unless it’s a correction which has to be green – still haven’t worked out what blue is supposed to be for
  • Forgetting to bring your cooking apron
  • Bringing the wrong measurement of food ingredients
  • School iPad running out of battery
  • Carrying snacks in a rucksack
  • Going to the wrong lesson if you misread the timetable
  • Getting lost in the school – it is a big school area with several separate buildings
  • Bringing the wrong type of calculator
  • Repeatedly asking to go home if you are unwell
  • Pointing out that the teacher had got a fact wrong (son’s only negative so far)

And on and on

Our son came home yesterday to say that he had to complete a series of corrections in his book. Failure to do so would result in two negatives…. When I checked he had one answer correction to make – fine. But he also had to correct spellings. As you can imagine with dyslexia he had many. We had the dreaded red “spelling mistake” label on almost every line. I gave up counting at 30.

The school has another rule which says that for every spelling mistake the pupil has to write out the correct spelling three times.

Call me awkward but he’s got dyslexia. How can this be right. I have spoken to the school on several occasions but I am told it is the rule for all pupils. Well bugger it. I have emailed school to tell them that he is not doing the corrections. We will add the words he has struggled with to our home reading work. But he is definitely not writing out the corrections three times. If he gets a negative for this then I have warned them that I will consider legal action against the school. U.K. organisations need to take reasonable steps to avoid discrimination on the grounds of disability. Under the Equality Act Dyslexia is classed as a disability. OR the school could just give me the detention – that could be really interesting (unbelievably I have never suffered that punishment).

Being stupid

Son accidentally knocks something off a shelf and it’s smashed. Son is mortified but I try to reassure him that it’s fine. These things happen to everyone. But he’s not happy.

“It’s because I’m stupid. It’s the same as why I am in the bottom set, it’s because I’m stupid. It’s the reason the teachers don’t spend much time with me, it’s because I’m stupid.”

Poor kid. It is so difficult for him. His logical mindset cannot fathom out school politics. He can see kids he consistently gets higher marks than sitting in sets above him. He can see teachers focusing on other children in class – often the disruptive ones. He hears me and the health professionals complaining to school about them not recognising his potential – but nothing happens.

Today homeschooling is looking a likely option. Practicalities still to be worked through. Finances will be a challenge. Maybe looking for a switch in the summer. This allows for one final push with school. Months to sort out the details – plenty of time.

Piece of cake. Talking of a piece of cake.

Our Prime Minister is still telling us that we can do Brexit in a few weeks. Really.

She assures us that they have the best people handling the process. Really.

My Dad wouldn’t have trusted them with a stick of rhubarb never mind the keys to the country.

But our Government does have it uses. They give us so many examples of real stupidity. I told our son about how our Government had decided that we needed extra emergency ferry capacity. The Government decided to give the contract to a company which has never run any sort of transport service and unbelievably doesn’t have any ships….

When our son heard that he smiled and said “Now that is properly stupid. Maybe I’m not as bad as I think I am.”

Son you are brilliantly gifted. Unfortunately the Government is not…..

Enlightened by a flapjack

Son has always had a healthy appetite, but unlike his dad it doesn’t seem to impact on his body shape. At his last school (with less than 50 kids) lunch was very relaxed, with room to spread out and time for him to have several helpings.

At his new school meaningful intel about the practicalities of the school day has dried up. No feed back from school and a son who often wants to quickly forget about the traumas of the day. So I had no idea how lunchtime was going. I payed the school meal bill online and assumed a balanced diet was being consumed. He never complained about it so it must be ok – that’s my 479th bad parenting example, complacency. I did notice that he had a remarkable appetite on his return. Often eating me out of house and home.

This week as I paid the online meal system I noticed by chance an option to view what the menu was. Reassuringly it looked pretty good. Then I noticed another well hidden option which was tomview what he had actually selected. The selection was very enlightening…

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

5th Sept – Pasta Main Meal

6th Sept – Macaroni Cheese (very surprising as he hates this)

7th Sept – Flapjacks x2 (sweet granola bar)

After that every day has been Flapjacks x2 apart from 2 days which showed up as a Tuna Sandwich.

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

By my calculations that’s 184 Flapjacks since September. Bugger – that’s my 480th bad parenting example, must stop swearing.

So it was time to have a more in-depth fact finding chat with our Son. Apparently on the first two days only his year group was in school. It was fairly quiet and he enjoyed his pasta dish. On the second day he thought the sign said pasta meal and was a bit miffed when he found macaroni cheese on his plate. After those two quiet days school lunch has become a nightmare. Too many kids, too little space and limited time. For a main meal you have to queue up for about 20 minutes. After that you need to circle round the dining area waiting for a space to become free. A bit of a nightmare for anyone, a lot of a nightmare for someone with Aspergers. To jump the queue you can opt for either a Sandwich or Flapjack or icebun. Queue jumping it was then for our son. I was puzzled why he broke his sequence of Flapjacks heaven with two Tuna Sandwiches (especially as he doesn’t really like bread). Apparently they had sold out of Flapjacks….

I have now spoken to school but they can do little, just too many kids to feed. I suggested staggering the lunch starts but apparently this cannot be done logistically. Really!!. They will however think about some dyslexic friendly food signage.

So I’m not sure where this leaves us. Packed lunch is not an option. These have to be dropped off at another part of the school prior to the first lesson and this would just provide more school stress for him. He’s never going to queue. So it’s Flapjacks, sandwiches or go hungry. I suppose at least he is eating something- 481st bad parenting example, it’s not a healthy option. Will just have to ensure he gets a good breakfast and have plenty of food in for his return.

One last thought.

After our conversation he asked what was for tea.

Rather sheepishly I replied

“I baked a fresh batch of Flapjacks this morning”

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

For a different and far more astute take on the autism school lunchtime trials please read Robyn’s great post from earlier in the week.

Made up

Today I was thinking about how nice it would be to have some colour in the garden again. I tried to picture some flowers. The flowers I could see in my mind were last years plants. Couldn’t imagine any new flowers.

Our son’s school does ask the kids to do an awful lot of homework. Too much really. One of his assignments was to start putting together his autobiography. Red flag alert. This is a recipe to just reopen old wounds. Son was equally apprehensive. So I contacted school and expressed my concerns. We agreed that rather his own biography he would come up with a fictional one. As his hand is still not fixed I was going to scribe his thoughts.

“Ok I am in my 70s”

“I was born in the South of England”

Good start.

I like music”

“My best friend is called Keith and he also likes music”

“I have another friend called David who I often share clothes with”

Not sure where this is going.

“I joined a band with my friend Keith”

“We played our first concert in 1962”

This sounds a bit like Mick Jagger.

“Well it is Jagger”

No you can’t use him, it’s supposed to be made up.

“Oh, Ok.”

“I am middle aged and I am a lecturer”

This sounds more like it.

“My father is very religious”

“I am an archaeologist”

“I’m scared of snakes and I am also an adventurer”

By any chance does he go looking for the Holy Grail.

“Yes, how did you know?”

Because its Indiana Jones. You can’t use him.

“Why he’s made up”

You just can’t use him, make one up about a child not a famous adventurer.

“Alright can I be an 8 year old boy”

Yes much better

“I am a bit cheeky”

“I live with a large family with many kids. I have a really annoying older brother and uncle”

“I am always getting shouted at”

This will make an excellent biography.

“Every Christmas my family go on holiday but they always forget me, so I am home alone”

Deep sigh…. Fine you win, you can be Kevin….

It’s not just vampires that don’t like

Its not just vampires that don’t like garlic…..

“Dad I have to take some ingredients in for Food Technology. I tried to write the list down.”

So all the ingredients were carefully packed into the school bag. The last item. What does that say, big something.

“Think it’s a big garlic.”

Ok you can have a few cloves. Job done.

Fast forward to the end of the school day.

“Dad it wasn’t a big garlic it was a big turnip.”

No damage done and some laughs. Well that was until I went to empty the school bag.

Wow what a smell. A really strong garlic smell filling the room emanating from the bag. It was that bad I was tempted to call the Ghostbusters. Apparently when our son had discovered that the garlic was surplus to requirements he just throw it back into the school bag. Now everything stunk. The bag, the books, the pencil case, the calculator, the iPad.

One hour and one full bottle of Lemon Surface Cleaner later everything apart from the bag smelled ok. The fuming school bag would just have to be washed. Chucked into the washing machine – job done.

Contentedly I walked to make a drink. A thought crossed my mind. Houston we have a problem!!!! Some numpty forgot to empty the washing machine before the garlic bomb started it’s cycle.

60 minutes later. The bag still stinks. But progress – now the school clothes and my sports kit stink of garlic. So second washing attempt this time with triple the soap and half a bottle of fabric conditioner.

60 minutes later. The bag, clothes and now the washing machine stink of garlic.

Advice was sort from the internet. Third washing attempt but this time with added vinegar and three cut up lemons.

60 minutes later. Thankfully success. Strong garlic smell replaced with strong lemon smell. I’ll take that. Luckily after tumble drying the lemon smell is now almost pleasant. Unfortunately the school bag was obviously not tumble dryer proof. It now resembles a shrivelled prune.

A very tired Dad sits down with a well earned coffee.

“Dad you smell of garlic….”

I can now see why vampires don’t like garlic…..

Plan X

The sun sets on another school week.

The school week almost ended prematurely this morning. To a child with Aspergers routine is the key. Outside the house at precisely 805am. Recheck the school bag contents. Go through the class timetable for the day. Reconfirm the after school plan. At 810am start listening for the bus to arrive. As soon as the bus is heard move towards the gate. As the bus passes confirm with our son where he plans to sit. As the bus does a u-turn son sets off for the bus stop.

This routine works well … most days.

Today as we left the house at 8.05. On plan. Bus is already at the bus stop. Oh s**t.

Suddenly we have a meltdown. The plan is out of the window. Poor kid doesn’t know what to do. After a couple of minutes he is frozen to the spot, in tears and unable to think. All I could think about was to reach for a scrap piece of paper in my pocket.

“Son this is Plan X, it’s our plan for this”

He looks at me and asks what does the plan say. Not sure son if I’m honest the scrap paper is my shopping list for the week.

“It says we start walking to the gate while I quickly check you bag and read out your class timetable. At the gate you tell me where you are going to sit. Then you walk calmly to the bus singing your favourite song”

We head towards the gate suddenly we are on plan or to be accurate on the shopping list. Suddenly he stops and he asks what does the plan say about what happens if the bus sets off before he gets to the bus stop.

Dad sits cross legged in the middle of the road and refuses to move. Thus stopping said bus.”

He smiles and says “you made that last bit up didn’t you.”

As the bus passes, he waves from the window and laughs. Silly Dad is sat crossed legged in the snow.

Maybe we need to think about our routines and schedules. Map out some of the things which might go wrong and plan some alternative plans. Not having to rely on a shopping list again would be nice. But at least we have Plan X now.

Like a Swiss Train

Dad if the bus was like a Swiss Train then I might be happier about getting it everyday”

My son if it was like a Swiss Train and served the same chocolate I would live on the bus. To someone who has been brought up on the infamous UK train network the concept of clean, comfortable and sometimes opulent carriages is rather alien. That’s before we even think about precision punctuality and a nice food service.

I remember waiting for a train in Switzerland one morning when the station announcer informed us that an avalanche had blocked the track (the announcement was in 4 different languages). In the U.K. that would mean the track would be shut for about 9 months. Or if our Prime Minister is sorting it out maybe never. A few minutes later the station master started speaking to all the people waiting on the platform. In perfect English he informed me that the specialist team was on site and he genuinely seemed horrified that the train would be late. After a couple of minutes it was announced that the avalanche had been cleared and they were deeply sorry that the train would be 10 minutes late. Ten Minutes……

Son survived today’s bus trip but it wasn’t a bundle of laughs. Although he did appreciate Dads attempt at a slushy drink when he came home. The dog enjoyed chasing the ice around the kitchen when someone forgot to put a lid on the blender. Silly dad.

When budgets are tight it is difficult for councils to run a school bus service. We actually should be thankful that we have one. But the school bus run is often so difficult for many kids, especially those spectrum kids. I’m not sure I like that phrase for some reason, may not use that again.

So many factors contribute to the difficult school journey:

  • Different drivers everyday. Our son would really appreciate just one familiar face and it spooks him when a new driver appears,
  • Frequently dirty bus interiors. Let’s be polite and say they tend to be not that clean. Again to someone who hates touching potentially dirty surfaces this is not conducive to a relaxing trip,
  • Poor behaviour. I think the term bear pit comes to mind. To someone who finds social settings challenging this type of behaviour is really distressing,
  • Different sized buses used daily. Because of his Aspergers he likes routine. Not knowing what type of bus will turn up can and does disorientate him. It is a big issue if the bus randomly changes from minibus, to medium size bus, to large super coach,
  • Because the bus size changes and the large number of kids using the bus, seating position is random. On an ideal day he can have a window seat by himself just behind the driver. However when smaller buses turn up, seating is restricted so he is often forced to sit next to someone who he probably does not know. This is an absolute nightmare for an Aspergers kid.
  • The buses have such a tight timetable. On arriving at school the kids only have a few minutes to get to the first class. If you are late you get an automatic negative. After the final lesson the kids only have 10 minutes to get on the bus before it leaves. Added to this it is a big school site and also due to its age it’s a bit of a maze. That’s a lot to cope with especially for someone who can go into meltdown when he needs to rush and who struggles with the concept of time. He also takes a lot longer to pack his bags and put things like coats on. It’s a recipe for anxiety and stress.

I haven’t got an answer. I have contacted the school and council. Our Health Service has repeatedly raised similar concerns in connection with many of its patients. Nothing changes. My last offer was that I would be more than happy to volunteer to work with the authorities in designing the next tender process for school services. I suspect I know the two word answer to that, something like **** off. In an ideal world we could get the Swiss Public Transport experts to run the school bus. That would be problem solved and wow the chocolate…..

Bad parenting

First taste of winter. Hardly alpine skiing conditions but at least it feels like winter. In some parts of Austria they have had 10 feet of snow falling over just 15 days. England grinds to a halt when we get 6 inches…..

Our son had been clinging onto the hope of a Monday school closure. I always suspected he would be disappointed. The school has many faults but it does seem immune to the weather. It never seems to close.

It feels so cold in my heart today.

You get mornings when you are tired and then you get mornings when you are TIRED. Today I just can’t get going. Lack of sleep eventually gets to everyone. It did this morning and I hate it.

As the school bus trundled down the road.

“Dad I don’t want to get on the bus, will you drive me”.

I realise how daunting that trip is to our son and my usual answer would be – don’t worry, no harm done let’s get in the car.

Not today……..

Today I told him to get onto the bus. As soon as he was on the bus my mind had cleared. What was I thinking of. What a prat…

Am I just looking for excuses. Probably it’s just down to awful parenting. Part of me is hoping I can blame fatigue. The other part of my brain is looking to give myself a good kicking. Will certainly try to make it up to the little fella tonight. Must raise my game, son deserves better than this…..

School Dracula

This is the Hospitium a 14th century listed building in York’s Museum Gardens. These days it’s a venue for conferences, weddings and special events. Many years ago it was a support building for the Abbey.

St Mary’s Abbey was founded in 1088. The surviving ruins date back from about 1270. York is such a good place for kids to actually touch history.

Over Christmas our son spent a few hours here trying to imagine what life was like before it fell into ruin. Recreating the sounds, the people, the buildings, the life. Big scale creative play. I must admit I was lost in the world of dreams to. Mine was a world of ghosts, ghouls and vampires. I had almost forgotten how much fun you can have when you release your imagination.

This was the visit when the first seeds of home schooling started to be scattered. Last term had been grisly. No real sign of development. No evidence of school making any effort to provide an effective and supportive teaching environment. Most importantly a really unhappy and anxious child.

Our son loves subjects like history but not the way school deliver it. He likes the History Teacher, she is really nice. But being in the bottom set and given his encyclopaedic knowledge – he’s not learning anything. Plus regardless of which class you are in the teaching is so traditional. Text book after text book. Very dry and not very dyslexic friendly. Unfortunately it’s the set teaching approach dictated by the government.

Between my thoughts of ghosts and ghouls I also pondered with so much real life history so close to hand, why not bring the classroom here. Bring the lessons alive. That’s when the thought pinged, if school won’t teach here, why don’t I.

We will see.

The trip was completed with the required extra portions of ice cream. That night my imagination had clearly not been put back in its box yet. A dream about Dracula. But not the bloodthirsty vampire. This one was about a reformed Prince of Darkness. He had sold his Transylvanian castle and bought York’s Museum Gardens. He wanted to turn the gardens into the finest history school in the world. All the teachers were ghosts and ghouls. And Dracula was selling the ice creams and he didn’t skimp on the portions. Now that’s a school.

Bird of Prey

Thankfully we made it to the end of the week. Some random animal photos helped. But it’s the weekend and at least for a few hours our son is in a happy place. While he is happy then I am happy.

A few weeks ago we talked about his second favourite animal in the world. Let’s meet his favourite now.

The Peregrine Falcon.

Since an early age he has just loved the Peregrine. Luckily he has had the opportunity on a couple of occasions to handle this just stunning bird of prey. In the U.K. one of our main nature presenters is Chris Packham. He has Aspergers and is brilliant. A tireless campaigner for good. Chris has openly talked about his life with Aspergers. As a child he developed a special bond with a Kestrel. His fascination and bond with the Kestrel mirrors that of our son with the Peregrine.

I now hand over to our son for fact time (his words now)

  • The Peregrine is the fastest animal on the planet. Likely to be the fastest creature ever to live on earth. Potentially the fastest creature in the Universe. In its dive (the stoop) it can reach over 215mph
  • They have special baffles in the nose to stop them blacking out during dives
  • Sometimes called Duck Hawks
  • Favourite diet is pigeons, starlings, doves,
  • It’s nest site is called an eyrie
  • Wingspan is 3ft
  • It flies high, uses its super eyesight to see prey below. folds its wings like a jet fighter and nose dives towards its prey. It will then strike its prey with great force.
  • They can be kleptoparasites. Steal pray off other birds.
  • Lifespan up to 15 years
  • They have larger eyes than humans and can see prey over 300m away