Up and down the slippery SEN ladder again

My son started college in September.  It isn’t going as well as we had hoped.  Poor communication and inconsistent support has led to him dropping out.  Our troubles began in the summer when it became clear that college weren’t really interested in listening to us.  We tried our best and met with various people in the hope of getting more information of how they’d support him but it was hard going.  Except for meeting our son in school, nothing else happened to help him prepare for the move to college.  Neither was anything said about how he was going to be supported in class.  We were totally in the dark.

It worried me because I know from experience that our son can’t cope with change and that he would need help to settle into college particular after the long summer holidays.  Fortunately my son seemed keen to go and buoyed by his enthusiasm I was hopeful that a fresh start out of school would see a change in him.  I kept hearing about the success stories of young autistic people who did much better once they left school.  I was hoping my son would be one of them but alas after a few days at college things started to fall apart.

The interview process was difficult.  Left unsupported (the support tutor had priorities elsewhere) he came out stressed and confused about what was said.  Fortunately I managed to reassure him enough for him to continue on to the induction programme, a week long festival of events which included assessments, tours and speeches.  My son was expected to join along with everyone else.  However it was all too much and he soon became too exhausted and anxious to continue.  He stopped attending.

I felt incredibly infuriated with the whole thing.  The college had had many an opportunity to discuss with us our son’s needs.  They also had a copy of his learning difficulty assessment which sets out his special educational needs but alas it seems that they weren’t interested in us or his LDA.  I couldn’t help but think that much of my son’s distress could have been avoided by better communication with us, better planning and of course better understanding of the autism spectrum.

Leaving the politics of SEN to the side (for the time being anyhow) I managed to make contact with a support tutor (we’ll call him Mr A).  This time I told him specifically about my son’s condition and what help he needed.  It seemed to me that relying on staff reading his learning difficulty assessment was not going to work and that I would have to tell them instead.  I was nervous of doing this as during previous encounters with teaching staff in school there was an attitude that as a mother I shouldn’t know more than them and certainly I shouldn’t be advising them what works for my child.  One horrible memory is of providing evidence to my daughter’s school about why she struggled in PE (aspergers and hypermobility) and being humiliated by the SENCO as a result.  I didn’t want a repeat of this but on the other hand I needed to get through to college staff the complexity of my son’s condition.  Fortunately the support tutor was a friendly and knowledgeable guy who listened to me and acted upon my suggestions.  I was taken back to be honest.  For the first time in my son’s life someone took an interest in him.

Needless to say it worked.  My son settled into class and for the next few weeks did well that is until half term when the change in routine threw him of course.  It’s horrible for him and us when he becomes unwell like this but experience has told us that with plenty of rest and gentle encouragement he can (and often does) find the courage to go back.  The problem I’ve had is dealing with the college whilst looking after my son.  Whilst Mr A is great the pressure from others (notably the support team) to get my son back was horrendous; there was no understanding of my son’s condition.  I found it perplexing; didn’t staff communicate?  Instead we were subjected to regular calls demanding to know where he was.  At one stage they even suggested that his absence was a child protection issue.  I was raging at this point.  This wasn’t a child protection issue but rather an issue of inclusion in that poor support had led to my son becoming too unwell to continue his studies.

Nevertheless I made contact with Mr A again who informed the relevant people of my son’s difficulties.  The telephone calls stopped and I was able to make progress with my son to such a degree that he has now made his first tentative steps back into college.  However I can’t help but think that much of this could have been avoided if the staff had listened to us and provided the relevant support in the first place.  I believe they call it co-production.

Posted in Autism Spectrum Disorder, Post 16, Special Educational Needs | 3 Comments

So what have I been doing?

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I’ve just realised that it was April since I last posted!  That really is a very long time even for my standards.  Anyway here’s a catch up on what I’ve been doing.

Home schooling my daughter

We’ve lengthened our lessons and now do about 8 hours of work a week.  This may not seem a lot in comparison to formal schooling but I’ve found that you can get through a lot when you’re working on a one to one basis.  (This doesn’t include the hours of informal learning which we do ‘on the hoof’ that is in response to something in the news or on the telly.)  In terms of formal subjects, we are doing maths and English and now moving towards science (more about this later on).  For maths we are sort of following key stage 3 but also recapping primary level numeracy.  This may sound a bit odd because, theoretically, you need a good grounding of number work to proceed to more advanced maths.  However, I’m not strictly following the rules because if I was to just focus on number work my daughter would be bored stiff.  Also because she has been put off maths at primary school I’ve had to find ways to engage her again.  It wasn’t easy to start with as she was really anti-learning but slowly through the use of practical activities (ie shapes, graphs, probability) she has picked up and is ready to start doing some number work in more detail.

As for English, we’ve made some progress in that she is starting to read again and out loud.  This is a major breakthrough as a few months ago she refused to read anything.  She had been put off English at primary school mainly because there was such an emphasis on reading stories which she absolutely hates.  She finds language difficult to understand, particularly when its non factual, plus she struggles to follow a story without the aid of a picture.  Throw in the lack of support and not surprisingly we ended up with a child who refused to read.  Needless to say I had to start again, looking for ways to encourage her.  Fortunately I came across a fabulous book called Wow!: The Visual Encyclopedia of Everything.  It is a visual book full of super photography and information on subjects as diverse as nature, science, space, people and culture.  It is a great book to dip into and has proven so popular with my daughter that she is now reading it to me.

Then there is science!  I have to admit at not knowing how to teach science in the home.  I mean we don’t have the equipment for a start plus the bulk of my scientific knowledge is at O level standard (though I did part study the environment during my degree).  Even so I didn’t feel confident about teaching the subject plus the key stage 3 books left me cold.  Even my engineer husband thought they were too theoretical.  So, chucking the books aside, we decided on a practical approach and bought a crystal making kit.  My daughter loves crystals so it made sense to start our science lessons with something she had an interest in.  Overall, it has been successful.  Except for one or two experiments that didn’t work, she really enjoyed the practical work and has been able to create some lovely crystals including a geode (a hollow rock filled with crystals).  We’re now moving on to a chemistry kit which is something we will be working on during the summer holidays (well that’s the plan).

As you can see from the above badge, I’ve linked up with the Adventures in Home Schooling Weekly Link Up.  I’ve decided it would be a great opportunity to meet other home educators particularly those teaching tweens/teens.

My son’s school and the transition to college

Now an update about my son.  As some of you know, he will shortly be finishing school.  I am finding this a difficult time as I keep thinking about how education has treated him (and us) and the loss of opportunities as a result.  I have much to say about this but will not go into detail here as it warrants a blog post all of its own!  Nevertheless we have turned things round and my son has been able to complete his final year at school (the school wanted him out at the start of year 11).  He has also been able to sit a few exams.  We are relieved that the school backed down on this because it was important for him to complete his education without the trauma of moving schools mid way through year 11.  I’m not sure the school appreciated this but my son compartmentalises his life in such a way that he had to see through his last year before thinking about college.

However, as far as college is concerned, transition between school and college has been hopeless.  In my opinion this has mainly been due to him being schooled out of town which has meant that the colleges the school have worked with have not been our local ones.  In view of that you would think that our local authority would provide some sort of support to help pupils like my son to move across to a local college.  Alas nothing like this appears to exist (not for us anyhow) and yet again we’ve found ourselves trying to sort something out ourselves.  Eventually we chased up a specialist careers adviser and organised a learning difficulty assessment and made contact with various other people in college.  However our son didn’t want to become involved and we were left to look round college and meet the tutors on his behalf.  This wasn’t ideal as we wanted him there but if he wasn’t interested (or alternatively too stressed to go) then we had no choice but to get the information for him.  Eventually after a lot of encouragement our son asked us to apply for an IT course on his behalf which we have now done.  Now he’s waiting for an interview.  Fingers crossed that he will go.

So there you have it.  Life is busy and chaotic and very up and down.  However, in comparison to a few years ago things have improved a lot.  There is still a lot of work to do and a lot of support to give but in general our household has become calmer which is not something I ever thought would happen.  I only hope it lasts.

PS: I forgot to mention that my eldest daughter now has a job with a city company.  It is a temporary job which she is doing before heading off for university this autumn.  She has been doing this job for several months now and, it appears, quite successfully too as she has been given extra responsibilities.  I’m really pleased (and proud) of her as she appears to be coping really well with quite a demanding job.

Posted in Aspergers, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Girls with aspergers, Home Education, Post 16, School, Special Educational Needs | 3 Comments

Teaching Assistants – why I don’t need my expectations managed

I was having a relaxing bank holiday Monday until I read a newspaper article about the use of teaching assistants supporting children with special educational needs.  The article made me rage for several reasons.

Firstly it suggested that SEN children who received the most TA support made less academic progress than similar pupils who received little or no TA support.  In this regard the author cites a study of 48 statemented pupils in mainstream primary schools and found that they had fewer interactions  with teachers and peers and almost constant and lower quality support from a TA.  I can’t deny these findings but I think it is important to note that in some cases not having TA support can be equally detrimental.  As you will read later on in this blog, a sole reliance on a teacher (no matter how qualified or experienced) can also have a negative outcome.

Secondly it suggested that parental expectations of securing teaching assistant support should  be managed though the new £30 million pound scheme of independent supporters who would warn parents against relying upon TA’s.  The author does not specify exactly what the support should  be except to say that those working in the best interests of the child need to help parents understand that quality of support is more important than the quantity.   It is notable to read that the author is positive about the up and coming  SEN reforms as he says it will emphasise high quality teaching in managing special educational needs.

High quality teaching is not a panacea; it will not remove the need for teaching assistants to support some of our SEN children.  Without them children can languish, suffer and drop out of school.  This is what happened to my two children who were denied TA support in mainstream school and who had  to struggle alone in a class of 30.  No matter how experienced that teacher was, he/she couldn’t manage my children’s needs in such a large class and the effect was that they both developed health problems and dropped out of school.

For my son, his schooling didn’t get much better when he moved to a special school.  Whilst classes were smaller (13 in a group headed by a teacher and supported by a teaching assistant) he still struggled to access learning.  He needed more support but never received any and this, I believe, had a major impact on his health which led to significant periods of time out of education.   This is the worst sort of outcome for a SEN child; exclusion from the education system because of lack of support!

It is important, for balance sake at least, that we think about children like my son who are denied individual TA support and who have to get by with a class teacher and generalised support.  Whilst improved training of the teacher may have helped it would not have solved everything.  My son also needed social, emotional and mental health support which should have been provided by a suitably qualified support worker, teaching assistant or mentor.

I am not demanding a full time TA glued to my son’s side but a team of people that can support him as and when the need arises.  It is not unreasonable for me to expect this and to suggest that my expectations need managing is downright patronising!  I don’t need an independent supporter telling me what I should expect from the education system.  If I am going to place my children into the state education system then I expect them to have both quality and quantity of support that’s needed for them to access learning.

To pitch quality above quantity is nothing short than an attempt at cost cutting which invariable puts our SEN children at risk.

Posted in Aspergers, Autism Spectrum Disorder, School, Special Educational Needs | 1 Comment

Home educating aspergers – my philosophy

Educational philosophy is something that home educators are expected to consider and it is something that I have been giving a lot of thought to recently.   I was particularly anxious to consider this as we’ve now made touch with the home educating officer in the LA and I wanted to be prepared for any questions fired my way.

Initially I couldn’t think of a philosophy.  I still felt very tied to the idea that a formal education delivered by ‘teachers’ was the only way to secure a ‘decent’ education.  I also felt constrained by the national curriculum and the need to follow an exam system.  Part of that attitude was influenced by the widespread view that passing exams is evidence of an individual’s achievement.  However, as I started to think about it, I realised that accumulating a load of GCSE’s is not the only indicator of success or indeed happiness.  Certainly when I thought back to my own education I realised that my clutch of O levels was no indicator of success, wellbeing or even knowledge.  The rote learning that lay behind my O level subjects bored me senseless as a teenager.  My thirst, back then, was for politics, environmentalism and business studies but starved of access to these subjects I became bored, disengaged and depressed.  On the surface I may have appeared successful; underneath I felt anything but.  Needless to say I don’t want this for my daughter.  I want her to enjoy learning and to eventually lead a happy and fulfilled life based on the notion that she is doing the best she can.

With that in mind, I started to think about how I could home educate my daughter.  It was quite clear that following a timetable similar to that at school would not be in her best interests.  Her confidence was rock bottom and she was frightened of doing anything too hard or going wrong in her work.  She also needed a lot of support in managing her anxiety which was disabling her so much that she could hardly venture out of the house.  I realised that whatever I did would have to be individualised for her.

After some thought, I decided upon a very gentle approach that combined a mixture of structured and ‘child-led’ learning.  I still felt it important to maintain a structure for my daughter not just because she needs (and likes) routine but because she has to understand that there is order in life.  As part of this, we agreed upon doing very short lessons in Maths and English, only half an hour per subject a week.  This is all my daughter felt she could manage at the time but it was a start and something that I hoped to build on.  I also thought it was important for her to practice her basic skills and to prepare her for a possible re-entry into school or college.  Whilst she doesn’t want to go back to school at the moment she may change her mind in the future.  As a home educator I have to prepare for that sort of eventuality.

In addition we have also timed in craft and cookery lessons every week.  These have been hugely therapeutic for my daughter particularly in the early days when formal subjects were too difficult.  She also shows aptitude in this area and gets a buzz out of using her hands to create something so it makes sense to follow her talents and boost her morale.  These lessons are also opportunities  to embed English and maths almost without her knowing; a strategy I recommend to anyone who has a child or young person who refuses to (or who says  they can’t do) maths and English.

Aside from this, I decided that the rest of our time would be more relaxed.  I am of the opinion that learning doesn’t just happen in formal lessons.  It can also happen naturally at any time in the day driven by an individual’s observations or interests.  With this in mind I decided to create an environment through which my daughter’s natural interests and curiosities would come to the fore.  This would be encouraged by creating an aspergers friendly environment which meant reducing (or managing) sensory distractions and anything else that could provoke anxiety.  Learning could then be encouraged with the aid of the television, books, the computer, newspapers or quite simply observing what is happening outside our front window.  This would provide the basis for further investigation, discussion or even embedding into our other lessons.

To date, this approach has been very successful and we have looked at topics as wide ranging as deserts (inspired by the recent sand storms), the Winter Olympics, weather disasters in the UK, the universe and social issues (inspired by Call the Midwife and Casualty).  I could cite even more examples but the point is that learning opportunities are all around us; it is up to us what we do with them.

It is also important to note that part of my approach includes collaborating with my daughter.  Whilst I do assert some authority particularly in our English and Maths lessons I have no qualms of going off topic.  If my daughter asks a question I consider this a prime learning moment as she is clearly interested in finding out something.  This happens quite often and it has been exciting how we have ‘naturally’ landed upon topics such as supply and demand economics, basic algebra and scientific notation.  Indeed her excitement that the approximate diameter of the galaxy is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 m or ten to the power of 18 is something that I remember very well!  Oh how she loves big numbers!

The point is that empowering my daughter is important for two reasons.  Firstly she has difficulties starting something and/or engaging in something beyond her zone of interests.  This is due to the executive functioning problems that accompany aspergers syndrome which can result in difficulties with organisation, sequencing, motivation, time management and memory.  By empowering my daughter to have some degree of control and choice then it can help her to feel motivated to start and complete a task.  This brings me to my second point, that home schooling is about helping my daughter to enjoy learning again.  To do this means I have to understand how her aspergers affects her and to adapt my teaching accordingly.  Providing my daughter with some control over her learning is motivational for her; it also helps to maintain morale and interest as I said before.

Understanding her aspergers is also important because, as a home educator, I still have to meet the objectives in her statement of SEN (which we are maintaining).  These objectives are not just academic but non-academic which means that I have to  support her social/communication skills, emotional development, life skills and of course her anxiety.  In many ways these are probably the most important aspects of our home schooling because unless my daughter can learn to manage her anxiety then life outside the home will continue to be out of reach.  (Exclusion is far more than simply being out of school.)  This is why our home schooling programme involves a trip to the corner shop each week and now, more latterly, a trip to her grandparents.  You could call it our anxiety management programme!

It sounds daunting being a home educator doesn’t it and I would be lying if I said it was a breeze particularly at first when you’re trying to find your feet.  Initially I felt overwhelmed by the failure of my daughter’s school placements and the responsibility on me to rehabilitate her.  Six months on though and I am starting to feel very differently about the whole thing.  Home schooling is starting to become a way of life for us. My daughter is becoming more relaxed and is now starting to show interest in learning again so much so that our lessons have lengthened.  I would even go so far and say that I don’t think I want her to go back into the system.  I think we’ll carry on just the way we are:-)

Posted in Aspergers, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Girls with aspergers, Home Education | 3 Comments

My thoughts on the Cinderella Law

According to the reports in the media the government will be considering whether to introduce a new offence of emotional cruelty to children.  The change aims to update existing laws in England and Wales which currently only allow an adult responsible for a child to be prosecuted if they have physically harmed or abused a child.  It would mean that it would also become a crime to do anything that deliberately harmed a child’s intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development.  This covers a range of behaviours including deliberately ignoring a child, not showing them any love and failing to stimulate them.

Robert Buckland, a Conservative MP who has recently discussed this issue on radio 5, says that the current law is outdated and that it is important that our criminal law reflects the emotional suffering experienced by children who are abused by their parents or carers.  According to Action for Children who spearheaded this campaign, thousands of children suffer from neglect and yet their parents or carers are never brought to court.  The changes to the law would mean that parents or carers who are found to deny their children affection would face prosecution for the first time.

Whilst it is abhorrent that children suffer emotional cruelty I am concerned about the intrusion into family life and how a new law will be policed.  Families differ and people have different styles of parenting.  What is right for one child is not necessarily right for another which means that it will be very difficult for a professional to make a decision about whether a child is being emotionally harmed or not.  For  example, my two younger children cannot, through virtue of their autism spectrum disorders, tolerate physical affection, excessive talking and people being around them.  To do any of those things could lead them into overload and ultimately a meltdown which is not good for their health.  I’ve therefore had to adapt my parenting to their needs which means creating a calm environment and keeping interaction to a minimum.  To the ignorant onlooker this could be viewed as not very stimulating.  Does that mean I’m a neglectful parent?  No it doesn’t.  It means I am doing what is right for my children but how many people will understand that?  There is so much ignorance about autism and aspergers amongst professionals that I am fearful that innocent families will be hurt by the changes to the law.  It would be ironic that a law that intends to protect children from emotional neglect could, if administered badly, create further emotional harm.

There is also another potential side affect to this law and that is parenting itself.  If parents become fearful of state intrusion (or their child reporting them for being unloved) then they could refrain from disciplining their child.  Children don’t always know what is good for them and a simple telling off may lead to a child saying they are unloved even when they are not.  Consequently there is a risk that children will not be taught boundaries about what is acceptable or unacceptable behaviour.  This can’t be healthy for either the child or society.

In addition there is also the question about how far the government should be intruding into family life.  As parents we should have the freedom to parent without the state telling us what to do and how to do it.  In most cases the state is not the better parent because they don’t have the emotional attachment to our children as we do though I accept that in a minority of cases the state has to step in to protect a child.  However we can’t ignore the fact that the state itself can be an abuser so it seems somewhat hypocritical to suggest that every parent should be under increased vigilance by the state.  Of  course there may be a more sinister motive behind these proposed changes.  Whilst it is claimed that the intention of the new law is to protect children from abuse it could be seen as an opportunity for the state to demand that all children be brought up in a way dictated by the state.  I find that a deeply disturbing thought.

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Some positive news

If you read my blog regularly you’ll know that I’ve been struggling with my son’s anxiety and school refusing on and off for a long period of time.   It has been a difficult road for all of us we as we’ve had to try and manage our son’s needs against his wants.  It seems a strange thing to say ‘needs against his wants’ but it has become clear to us that what he wants doesn’t always match up with what he needs.  My son has always maintained that he loves his school and wants to be there but I could never work out why he couldn’t keep up his attendance if things were as great as he made them out to be.  I started to think that familiarity was more important to him than anything else which made things very difficult for us.  On the one hand we had to respect our son’s views and if he wanted to return to this school then we had to make it happen for him.  (I don’t want my son to turn round to me as an adult and accuse me of removing him from the school he loved.)  On the other hand I felt a responsibility to try and improve his support to prevent the mini breakdowns he was having.

Unfortunately the school thought that his anxiety attacks and school absences were a mental health problem which had nothing to do with them.  CAMHS argued that the school should be managing his anxiety better and I agreed with them.  Medication only goes so far.  At the end of the day you have to put in place additional supports to manage anxiety.  Whilst we did all we could our end I didn’t feel enough was being done by school.  In fact I started to suspect his statement wasn’t being properly met.  I had often thought that many of his teachers had presumed competence in my son and as a result assumed that he did not require the input as stated in his statement of SEN.  This is an attitude that I have come across time and time again; that because my son appears normal there is no need to support him emotionally, socially or even educationally.  Indeed at one parents evening a teacher told us that my son had nothing like the difficulties other pupils had.  That may be the case but we shouldn’t assume that because my son appears in control that he is underneath.  As I explained to this gentleman, my son has learnt to mask his difficulties in a school environment but lets go at home. Unfortunately it seems that if people don’t see any challenging or unusual behaviours they don’t believe that it can occur just in the home and hence you get this situation where parents like me are either disbelieved or assumed to be over anxious.

We tried to bring these issues up at the annual review meetings but I’m afraid to say that these reviews were a rushed affair.  No-one properly considered the reasons for my son’s school refusal or even listened to us.  They maintained that unless my son was in school they couldn’t support him (ie blame the parent for not getting him in).  We argued that something in school was triggering the school refusing and that this is what needed to be addressed.  My view is that school refusing doesn’t happen without a reason and sometimes that reason can be a symptom of something going wrong in school.  For my son I felt it was poor support during periods of change because he would often fall apart during the summer term.

Unfortunately the school didn’t accept this.  They also argued that their provision was based on small groups with one teacher and one assistant.  If my son required more support then my LA would have to pay for it (my LA pays for my son’s place).  At this point our educational psychologist asked the school to provide evidence that could be put forward as evidence for a TA but alas the school didn’t respond.  To make matters worse the school then dropped a bombshell and told me that the school could no longer meet need and due to pressure on places my son would have to move into pre 16 provision at a local college.  I was not happy.  My son at that point was in school part time; he was happy and wanted to do more hours.  I felt it important that he be allowed to do this and to complete his final year at school just like everyone else.  If he didn’t finish his compulsory education I felt he would react badly.  Indeed when I spoke to him about the possibility of moving to college he replied that unless he finished his schooling he would never continue with his education.  I told the school this but I was accused of misinterpreting the situation.  I was beyond angry; I knew what I heard!

At this point tensions between us, the school and now our LA were at an all time low.  The education officer who had been in attendance at my son’s last annual review sent in another council officer.  This was the meeting that I recorded in my Friend or Foe post where a teacher came into my home and started throwing her weight around.  (At that point I think she assumed we were the problem.)  Fortunately I had given this officer a written synopsis of my son’s education history and thank goodness I did.  In time she was to read it and as a result started to see that we weren’t the problem and that it was school that could have done things better.  At last we had someone on our side and together we have been able to assert enough pressure on the school to agree to my son finishing his final year.  I have also been able to get school to agree to my son doing functional exams as I felt it was important that my son leave with something rather than nothing (my son had missed too much time to sit his GCSE’s).

I am very happy with this outcome.  I was on the verge of complaining to the Local Government Ombudsman about the way my son has been treated but now I am having a rethink.  I am not convinced about the effectiveness of the LGO.  As far as I know they can order local authorities to pay out compensation but besides that they have little power to restructure education.  As it is I think I’ve done the best I can for my son; a chance to finish his schooling with his classmates and a chance to get some qualifications before starting college.

PS I use the phrase mini breakdowns to describe the anxiety-induced ‘crash’ that my son experiences from time to time.  We haven’t received a clinical diagnosis for this but I have always felt that these episodes were more than just anxiety because my son’s day-to-day functioning has been significantly affected by these episodes.

Posted in Autism Spectrum Disorder, Mental Health, School, School Refusal, Special Educational Needs, Statement | 2 Comments

Wordless Wednesday

Posted in Cookery, Home Education, Mud Pie | 2 Comments

Longer school hours – did anyone think about the #SEN child?

You’ve probably heard about the government proposal to extend school hours to 45 hours of education per week.  Apparently it is designed to allow ALL parents to work full time without resorting to additional childcare.  You can read more about it here.

My view is that whilst I agree that an extended school day could benefit working parents and those who need help with bringing up their children, it won’t work for everyone.  There are many reasons why I think this.  Disability, health issues, bullying and other social difficulties can make school a difficult experience for some children and therefore it seems harsh to expect them to endure an even longer day.  My son and daughter are an illustration of this.  Their autism spectrum disorders mean it’s difficult for them to cope with the multitude of sensory, social and learning demands being made upon them.  Even with support in school, there is only so much that their brains can cope with without becoming unwell.  For them they need to have a chance to relax at home in order to recover from a school day.  Without that break their ability to learn becomes compromised and the risk of further health problems and school refusal/absence increases.

Unfortunately the government does not appear to have considered the needs of children such as mine.  There again, as we’ve seen with this Tory government time and again, the needs of those with disabilities or illnesses don’t count for very much; neither do the needs of their carers who incidentally save the economy billions of pounds per year (calculated by Carers UK to be £119 billion per year).  Their preoccupation is with the  economic contribution of individuals, particularly women who they believe could be working more and contributing to the economy if childcare was made more accessible.  I don’t deny that childcare isn’t a problem; I know myself how hard it is to combine work with looking after children.

However I also know the importance of spending time with my children after school and this brings me on to another reason why an extended school day is problematic.  Time after school provides opportunities in which a parent can help their child with homework, teach them life skills such as cooking and enjoy activities together such as watching television, playing games and chatting over a family meal.  These are important opportunities for interaction, socialisation and learning and for bonding between family members.  An extended school day would eat into and this bothers me because it implies that family is not important  in nurturing children.  The family unit is a vital source of unconditional love and support that cannot easily be replicated in the school environment or in after school clubs.

Indeed for those of us with disabled children, the practical and emotional support that we provide cannot always be provided by people who run after school activities.  Knowledge of disabilities (particularly hidden disabilities) can be lacking even in the school environment let alone sports and social groups.  As I have experienced, my children have been unable to access after school clubs due to inexperienced staff who didn’t know how to support them.  This led to them becoming confused and distressed and eventually they refused to join in.  If this is the sort of thing that happens now, what will the repercussions be if the school day is extended?  Has anyone in government considered the impact of this proposal on the sick and disabled?

It seems that disability has not been part of this debate and yet it should be.  If the government want to improve female participation in the workplace, if they want to improve the standard of living for families and lift families out of poverty then they need to consider disability and illness.  It is not enough just to focus on working parents or those who struggle to bring up their children and to find a solution to meet their needs.  To do so overlooks the needs of a great many other families out there who, for whatever reason, do not want to pass their children over to the state for 9 hours a day.


I’ve added this post to the Britmum’s linky (click here) on longer school hours.  Please check it out if you can; there are some great reads.  Alternatively join the discussion and add your views.

Posted in Disability, Family Life, Parenting, School, Society, Special Educational Needs, Work | 3 Comments

Home Education so far

As you know I’ve been trialling home education for my daughter.  Initially I was very hesitant about doing this on top of looking after my son and running a home.  However, with all the difficulties we’ve been having with my daughter’s schooling I decided I had no choice but to give it a go.

I started off gently, doing a couple of hours a week recapping some of the primary curriculum in literacy and numeracy.  I tried a combination of resources, the exercise books you get in W H Smith and the like, the KS2/KS3 bitesize website and some of my own lessons.  (PS I always plan my lessons even if I use other resources.)  Overall my daughter engaged quite well though it was quite apparent that after 30-45 minutes of what I call pen and paper work she was too tired to continue and we would often have to end the session.  In contrast when we did more hands on work she was much more alert and I could often extend the session beyond an hour without her realising it!  As a result the emphasis of our lessons has now become much more practical and I’ve now included cookery into our weekly timetable.  It is obvious to all how much pleasure she is getting from this and I was really pleased to hear her excitedly tell her nan about a stir fry she cooked the other week (see my wordless Wednesday picture)!  This is just what I wanted to happen; my daughter feeling good about something because for so long school was too hard for her and she lost confidence.

Building on the cooking success we’ve now including craft lessons which I’ve based on a DK Craft Book which I was lucky enough to find marked down in a local book store.  It is a lovely book which covers textile crafts, papercrafts, jewellery, ceramics and glass, candles and soap and eco crafts.  Each section describes and illustrates the tools and materials needed for a particular craft followed by step by step techniques and a project.   Each section is well illustrated which makes it easier for my daughter (who is a visual learner) to choose her favourite project and to follow the written instructions.  Indeed so successful is this book in engaging my daughter that she has chosen about 20 projects!!  This week my daughter has started her first project: glass painting which she has enjoyed so much that she has asked to do ceramic painting next month.

Besides craft and cookery I am still working with her on her literacy and numeracy every week and am very slowly introducing slightly more challenging work particularly in maths where she shows some aptitude.  Indeed we’re having particular success with shapes at the moment mainly because it involves more hands-on work.  It is interesting that while she struggles with number work she can grasp other mathematical concepts much more easily which shows how we can’t rule out someone’s mathematical abilities based on number work alone.  As for literacy, this is more challenging mainly because of her difficulties with language which makes reading and writing stories difficult.  In view of that,  I’m using facts and information as the basis for her literacy work with pleasing results.  Indeed it is interesting that once I removed stories and poems (they make no sense to her) she started to relax and engage much more easily with the written word.

Aside from that I’ve also adopted a ‘learning by stealth’ method as my husband calls it.  We have been using this approach for a number of years now but essentially it means not forcing learning on our children but embracing their curiosity.  I guess many parents do this naturally but with my children it can be harder to engage with them particularly on subjects outside their special interests.  A lot also depends on how they feel which means that opportunities to engage with them can be a bit unpredictable.  This is why when they do show an interest in something we run with it.  To give you an example, my daughter became very curious about sink holes the other day and so I encouraged her to find out more about sink holes on the ipad.  As a result she found examples of sink holes across the world which she was able to tell me about.  I didn’t formalise this into anything written as I didn’t want to make it a chore for her and put her off.  I also think that with her aspergers mind she will learn about something if she is interested in it, which is what happens with my son.  In fact he has acquired the most incredible knowledge about military stuff which he has amassed from watching old black and white war films.  (Never dispute the value of the television; it is an amazing resource for some of our SEN children.)

However, I would be lying if I said that home education was easy.  I still worry whether I’m doing the right thing.  I worry about whether I should be following the curriculum or not (though I’m finding that my daughter’s interests and abilities are leading us away from that.)  Then there are the anti home educators who dismiss what people like me are doing and try to discredit our work with whatever spurious evidence they can find.  I try not to worry about this but the pressure is there nonetheless.  On the other hand home education is the only option available to us at the moment.  My daughter is still struggling to leave the house and help is not easy to get.  At a recent CAMHS appointment I  was told that there is a four month waiting list for talking therapy so the question is what do I do in the meantime?  I suppose I could continue to fight the system but for what?  I know from my son’s experiences that there is no school in my area that can meet the needs of an autistic child with anxiety problems so why bother fighting for something that doesn’t exist.  I’d much rather use my time and energy helping my daughter which I hope is what I’m doing.

Posted in Aspergers, Family Life, Girls with aspergers, Home Education | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Wordless Wednesday

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Posted in Cookery, Home Education, Pork Stir Fry, Wordless Wednesday | Leave a comment