Two quotes

“I AM DIFFERENT NOT LESS” – Dr Temple Grandin

Another week we dust ourselves down and go again. Although the route is still shrouded in mist and we face countless dead ends – we must keep going. If not for me but for our son.

A session with a new health professional. Always a good sign when she does not ask me what I want, she asks our son. The health professional is going to contact school to see what work they have undertaken to help with our son’s handwriting. Assuming school has done nothing and has no plans to do so (which we believe is the position) then the health service will start a programme to help with his writing. This will be the first time in three years work that son will have had specific help with his writing. Let’s see what progress can be made, what writing aids help. If progress cannot be made then that might be the time we start to move away from pen and paper to keyboard and voice recognition.

So we start down another path.

These are the specific areas son asked for help with

  • Handwriting
  • Shoelaces and Ties
  • Holding objects like handles which require two hands.

Interestingly he sees Aspergers as who he is – his personality. Aspergers is not a label just him. However he now sees himself as not dyslexic.

The fact that I can now read some of the words and can mostly guess the rest means I’m not dyslexic. Now I’m just not very good at reading.

I think this recent view of dyslexia is down to school. Firstly school sees anyone with dyslexia as low attainment. Son hates being branded as below average. As a result Son sees dyslexia as an unwelcome label. Secondly the label dyslexic brings him no additional help from school. Whats the point of referring to yourself as dyslexic if it brings no support benefits and only results in being automatically branded below other kids in the class.

The bottom line is the school system has failed him. It has failed too many kids. That’s one of the reasons you read so many cases of great individuals who have decided to hide their dyslexia. Kenny Logan is a Scotland Rugby legend playing 70 times for his country. He choose to keep his dyslexia secret. From his team mates. Even from his wife. Only at the age of 34 did he finally seek help. On what planet can this be allowed to happen. So much wasted talent and opportunities. So much stress and suffering. This is nothing short of a disgrace.

I started with a quote and I will finish with one. One from our son

When someone has a disability your not allowed to discriminate against them. If your in a wheelchair you shouldn’t have to put your hand up for help. So why is it that when someone has an invisible disability you can be ignored and that you have to say ‘Please will you help me’ and when they ignore you it’s not discrimination.

Grief and muddy puddles

A brief respite before the next storm arrives. Grey, cold and very muddy. Soon to be grey, cold, very muddy, very wet and stormy. It’s been one of those winters. Constantly just trying to avoid deep muddy puddles. Today I failed. My old running shoes have hardly any tread left on them. As I tried to sidestep a large puddle my foot slipped and I ended up standing in 4 inches of dirty water. Lovely. I really should buy a good pair of trail shoes but money is a little tight. Expenditure is prioritised. They will have to wait their turn.

If you we’re like me then you tried not to think about death and grief. I knew it would strike at some stage (that’s life) but best not think about it too much. I could understand the emotions as I had experienced losing my Dad when I was quite young. But I was shielded from much of the fallout. I really didn’t have the faintest idea about the practicalities. Years passed and I avoided thinking about death again. Then my mum died. This time no shield. Suddenly I was grieving again but this time I was also dealing with practicalities. So when my partner then died 6 weeks later. I was doubling up on the emotions and doubling up on the practicalities.

That is what’s tough about losing someone so close to you. At your lowest emotional point you are saddled with practicalities. You can’t think but you are trying to organise

  • Registering the death
  • Informing people
  • Organising a funeral
  • Sorting out your job
  • Sorting out your partners job. Returning work assets and documents.
  • Trying to work out finances
  • Trying to find the will and wade your way through probate
  • Dealing with Government Departments, Banks, Utility Companies
  • Trying to change the deeds to the house
  • Going through personal items and enduring countless trips to charity shops
  • Trying to change car ownership so I can sell her car
  • Sorting out what to do with the ashes

Your not even warned that the ashes come back in a glorified giant sweet jar. I wasn’t expecting an Egyptian Sarcophagus but I certainly wasn’t expecting a sweet jar shaped thing.

Like grief the practicalities tend to stick with you. As we were not married probate was brutal and took 15 months to finally bottom out. I didn’t expect that. I never considered that my career would have to be ditched quickly as it became incompatible with the now number one priority – single parenting. Suddenly two steady incomes dropped to one zero based hours contract income. Where did that practicality come from. I should have realised really. The sudden loss of someone your intrinsically linked with is going to send seismic waves through the very foundations of your life. Stuff will fall down. Things will change. Seismic waves – guess whose been trying to help son with Wave Theory for school.

So here we are in 2020 and I’m still dealing with grief. Still dealing with practicalities. I have managed to kinda stabilise the new post death financial world. But things are tight. Very tight. Again something I would never have immediately associated with losing someone close to you. But it is what it is. You prioritise the essential stuff. Unfortunately brand shiny mud loving trail shoes are not essential. So I guess it won’t be the last muddy puddle I end up standing in.

I guess I can forgive myself for not seeing that particular connection. Grief and muddy puddles.

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.

Christmas Diaries 4 – Shopping

A perfectly tranquil setting which feels like a million miles from civilisation a dit’s madness.

What possesses anyone to venture into a English Supermarket on the 23rd December. As Son sat in the car I donned my finest Indiana Jones costume and ventured into the tunnels of hell to try and secure the prize. This time the prize was not a rare artefact. The goal was milk, bread, cheese, fruit juice, ice cream and carrots.

This wasn’t a shop. This was an ordeal. A form of modern torture. A sometimes moving sea of humanity – usually moving in the wrong direction. Too terrifying for even an a hero like Indiana. Milk, bread and cheese ticked off. The fruit juice and carrot sections stripped bare. Are we prepping for an upcoming apocalyptic winter. No I forgot it’s the few days of Christmas.

Trying to fight my way through the hoards to the freezer section. So many empty sections almost as if they had been previously visited by a plague of locusts. A brave shop assistant trying to bring a box of frozen parsnips to the freezer. As he walks shoppers are rapidly emptying his box. A few seconds later he’s walking back to the store room. Poor chap never stood a chance. He didn’t get within 50 yards of the freezer before he was stripped bare. At the freezer ice cream is at a premium. Must be summer. From the empty sections and desperate shopper faces the luxury little tubs costing a million pounds each are this years must have. Luckily the value vanilla tubs are clearly being shunned in the shopping frenzy today. So I’m now finished. Almost….

Then you get to the mayhem which is the cash tills. At least 10 deep. I opted for the self service as every cashier appeared to be sneezing and coughing. After 20 minutes I’m next in line. Unfortunately a family better placed in The Simpson’s stood in my way. Clearly a bar code reader was beyond them. Just putting the item straight into your bag is not going to work. Covering the bar code up with your hand is not going to work. Scanning an item then rescanning the item isn’t going to work. Then with half of your items still on the conveyor belt just basically giving up is not going to work. They just paid for the few items they had managed to scan and left. Leaving a poor over worked shop assistant to remove the unscanned items so giving the rest of the poor sods stood in line a chance to get on with their life’s.

Finally returning to the car to find it’s now well sandwiched between two cars clearly deciding 6 inches is enough space to open the car door and slide easily into the drivers seat. Have they seen the size of my bum….. Luckily son was in the car and he opened the window. The window proving the only way into my car. I guess Starsky and Hutch entered there red police car with a bit more star quality than me. Finally at the wheel a careful 27 point turn managed to free the car from the parking spot.

Dad did you remember the bananas.

No son. I forgot but thankfully as they are for me then they can wait until normality has returned. I’m guessing sometime in 2025.

Don’t you just love Christmas.

A little bit of France

A largely sleepless night. Too much time to think. World seeming particularly cold this morning. In need of a lift. For some reason the run didn’t work today. Just a freezing slog. A slow 30 minutes and then the motivation battery completely drained. So back home even colder and still in need of a lift.

But then salvation. Old photographs. Memories. Great Memories.

Back to 2001 which finds us in the Loire.

Chateau de Chenonceau was built over the River Cher in 1576. It’s French Renaissance Architecture at at finest. The chateau has a fine collection of masterpieces, tapestries and renaissance furniture. The long Grand Gallery stretches over the bridge and across the river. It’s a stunning place. Inside and outside.

As much as the chateau brings back great memories one photograph lifted my spirits. It reminds me how truly blessed I was to spend time with this special person. Always in love. That makes me smile.

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.

Another day

Another day in Yorkshire and another day of rain.

Another day of rain and another very muddy dog.

Another very muddy dog and another very messy house.

Another very messy house and another need to clean.

Another need to clean and another news bulletin on the radio.

Another news bulletin and another interview with a government spokesperson.

Another interview from a government spokesperson and another bunch of lies.

Another bunch of lies and another radio turned off.

Another radio turned off and a another realisation that the clock is ticking..

Another realisation that the clock is ticking and another urgent search for the right colour school football sock.

Another search for a football sock and another school bag not meeting school requirements.

Another school bag not meeting requirements and another day in school.

Another day in school and another day without support.

Another day without support and another set of exams.

Another set of exams and another setup to fail.

Another setup to fail and another shed load of young anxiety.

Another shed load of young anxiety and another failure of school to support.

Another failure of school to support and another mother lode of parent stress.

Another mother lode of parent stress and another phone call to school.

Another phone call to school and another wall punched.

Another wall punched and another ice pack applied.

Another ice pack applied and another attempt to soothe the school anxiety.

Another attempt to soothe the school anxiety and another set of school homework to be done.

Another set of school homework and another list of misspellings to write out three times.

Another set of misspellings to write out and another wave of young anxiety.

Another wave of young anxiety and another search for something that will help.

Another search for something that might work and another frustrated parent.

Another frustrated parent and another attempt to bring some smiles.

Another attempt to bring some smiles and another viewing of The Guardians of the Galaxy.

Another viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy and another bedtime.

Another bedtime and another living room to myself.

Another living room to myself and another forlorn wish to turn back time.

Another forlorn wish to turn back time and another realisation that ‘it is what it is’.

Another realisation that ‘it is what it is’ and another day gone.

Another day tomorrow……

Foot bath

The sun so tantalisingly close but no cigar. That’s as close as it came to beach weather here in Yorkshire today. When I say beach weather that is in terms of Walruses.

The picture is perfect for my mood today.

Trying to be a ray of sunshine but not quiet achieving it. After the stress of the last few days I was aiming to have a nice day. At home sorting out the works payroll run while listening to a fine collection of relaxing music. Not forgetting to fit in a run around a slightly extended lunch break. Well that was the plan.

Unfortunately as I was heading for bed at 1am I noticed son had lost a button on his school jacket. That’s a School negative and would send him into meltdown again. So the half asleep Dad with the sewing abilities of a drunk Penguin spent most of the night basically sewing various fingers onto the front of the said jacket. How difficult can this really be. As a guide it took me 40 minutes and three hot drinks to just thread the needle. At one stage I must have dozed off as I managed to head-but the sewing box. Eventually I made bed at just after 4am with a pretty decent sewing job completed. Unfortunately now I was wide awake and sleep passed me by for another night.

Relaxation and no sleep are not a great combination. Especially when the old CD player annoyingly developed a jump while playing my favourite cds. Thankfully I made it to my run. An almost enjoyable run until my sleep deprivation led me literally down the wrong path. Normally the right one but since the last floods – not a great one. The ground was becoming increasingly squelchy until I came to the large beck. Normally a nice wooden bridge joins both sides of the path. Unfortunately the bridge collapsed months ago and is currently heading towards the North Sea. So two choices do a u-turn which will add another hour to the run or jump the beck. The need to restart work ASAP dictated the mad option. I guess I can just about jump the beck – it’s only about 6 feet. I hit the long jump perfectly and unbelievably sailed clear over the beck. My moment of triumph was short lived. As quick as my considerable momentum tried to take me forward my left foot tried to sink into the mud. Then the dreaded muddy suction sound and a foot reluctant to come out for air. Something had to give. My foot released unfortunately my shoe didn’t. Hoping around on one leg while trying to prize the missing trainer from its muddy grave. Unfortunately gravity always wins and my exposed white sock sunk into the mud. When the trainer was rescued it was full of thick cold mud. Lovely running in that for the final 2 miles. At least my left foot got a free mud bath.

But here’s the rub. To take my mind off the mud drenched foot I replayed memories in my head. Happy memories of my partner. Passing one particular farm field I was taken back about 16 years. A late sunny evening walk. Maybe one too many wines. Then trying to make snow angels in that fields wheat crop. Completely forgot that one. It’s such a treat when you discover keys to long lost memory doors.

The mood darkened a bit on news that son has to revise for two tests on Monday morning AND spelling tests will now happen every week. Deep joy. So yes it’s been a day which could have been really uplifting but never quite managed to shake off the dark clouds. Maybe tomorrow the sun will shine.

Thirty Minutes

About a month a go I visited the Moorlands Nature Reserve. It’s a small but ever so beautiful piece of nature on the edge of the city. After years of driving past it and thinking ‘must go there’ – I finally found the time. Really pleased I made myself stop the car and go for it.

Well another work visit to the City. Work completed sooner than expected. So a spare 30 minutes before I head for the school run. No better use of that time than another walk round the Reserve.

The colours have so changed in just one month.

Countless studies have shown the positive impact nature can have on a persons wellbeing and stress levels. I’m no statistician but I confirm that even just 30 minutes is just so uplifting.

I just love the beautiful carvings which are dotted around the reserve. The old 14th century acorn quote is brilliant. We can make a difference. Seemingly small and modest things can grow into something impressive given time and patience.

I really need to make a date to come and look at that quote every single month. Yes seemingly small changes in my lifestyle can have a significant impact. The garden can be made into our own little nature reserve. I can make a difference. Son can achieve his dreams. I can do this. He can do this. We can do this.