Sunday, 16 August 2015

Growing up and Autism-and the benefits of Home education

Google has just been with us on a family holiday.He went aged fourteen and came back fifteen.

As always, holidays give us  the time to reflect on how he has matured.Long gone are the physical outbursts of anger, the kicking of doors and throwing of chairs.What we have now is a very tall, handsome teenager whose voice has dropped to  deep base and who has a  sense of  identity and a conviction about  his own strong views and opinions.

He couldn't give a fig if  people think his views or actions are 'strange'.He is just who he is and he's happy with that.

School doesn't prepare you for life.I read this week about a study that confirmed it. Dr. Gerard Hoefling, of the autism support program, Drexel University, Philadelphia:has said,

"We make the erroneous assumption that high schools are getting students ready for college, and they're not really.

That's not their primary task. High schools do a wonderful job
of getting students ready to graduate from high school."

I firmly believe that. How many children know how bank rates work, how to use a credit card, about the electoral system and democracy and communism and dictatorships for example?

As I watched my son I realised that he wasn't wearing his ear defenders, he checked out a menu on-line before going to a restaurant so he could choose his meal in advance without being overwhelmed by the choice. He paid for a DVD over the counter without support. Suggested to his sister that they go to the local park on holiday,then went out the door and set off to the park with her struggling to get her shoes on and follow him.Despite having no wifi on holiday he happily joined in family discussions and played board games ( with only the slightest mutter about the benefits of digital technology) He went to bed at a fairly reasonable time for him (and slept!) and he even managed a trip to the Metro centre in Newcastle where we had a Chinese buffet and then a short shop for his sister to buy a birthday present.Whilst he indicated that he did find that uncomfortable, he patiently sat it out without a meltdown and I realised that he had grown up substantially.

He is able to communicate his needs far better now.When he had blisters from walking, he told me that so I could offer thicker socks to cushion them.He told me he gets a bad back from sitting at the computer so long (something which I suspected but he has never told me) so we have discussed the benefits of more fresh air and exercise and a better computer desk and chair.

Now that he is 15 I have suggested that our aim for the year is to enable him to support himself more by making meals ( and ensuring he doesn't forget to eat) and also we need to start looking at ways he can start to learn to bring in an income (possibly a computer based income which would make complete sense for someone with autism)

Who knows where we will be this time next year? We will just have to see!

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

My Life in books!

At the moment I'm reading My Natural Life by Simon Barnes. It's the story of how the love of nature helped to shape the author's life and it came to me that there are many things that shape the direction of our path as we go through life. For me books have always been a passion.They accumulate dust in a pile under the bed of those I've yet to read and they have been a major part of our home education journey.In fact I'm only reading this book now because of Ross Mountney's blog the other day about How to be Wild by the same author.

As I look around our house I see that Google has a pile of books:


The Military History Book

Java for Dummies

History of the Second World War

and Into the Unknown

My pile on the other hand contains

Short walks in the Southern Lake District

Map of the Cumbria Coastal way

Wainwright The Biography

A Child in the Forest

A walk in the Woods

The English Lakes- Memories of times past

Surviving the Iron age

What do your books say about you?

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Making the grade (or not!)

"Parenthood is a perpetual compromise between neglect and pushing.The last thing you want to do with anything that matters to you-art, books, wildlife-is to ram it down their throats."

My Natural History by Simon Barnes

I'm forever coming across parents (and teachers for that matter) who are convinced that without good GCSE's their children are doomed to a life of drudgery and low pay.The government perpetuates the myth and I cringe when time and time again I come across children who are re doing  their A levels because they failed them first time round and couldn't get a place at university.

I remember my son asking me if he would have to go back to school to redo his GCSE's if he didn't do very well.The answer was no.It turned out that was the right decision.Without parental pressure to suceed, he set himself his own goals and achieved the grades he needed to climb the next step on the ladder towards his goal.That's how we work in our house.You set yourself an immediate goal and then find out what you need to get there, we have found that intrinsic motivation is what matters, not extrinsic influences.

If you become bogged down with what you think your child should be doing, you set up problems for yourself later on.How many people have followed their father's footsteps into the family firm only to discover that they hate it.It was never their goal you see, but their parents.
In his book  "My Natural History " Simon Barnes describes his mother's expectations of him:

"Education and subsequent high achievement was never my goal.Rather it was my duty...So I  not only had to follow that tradition, I also had to make good the wrongs of the past."

It is interesting that, later on in the book he explains how he himself home educated his own son.Perhaps out of realisation that education isn't about grades or degrees, it's about wanting to learn about things as and when they are relevant to you.

Just as we have to grieve when we have a disabled child (and Simon describes this too in a chapter about his Downe syndrome son Eddie),, so too we need to give up our expectation for our children to let them live and grow as independent human beings . They are not 'mini mes", they are individual human beings with their own minds and interests.

We will only learn if our instincts are correct when we look back on our children and hopefully find well rounded and balanced individuals.For now, number one son, loves his job and is doing well, my daughter has her goal and is working step by step to becoming a dancer and Google has yet to identify what he will do to bring inan income but I am confident that that will come

So next time you worry about your child and their grades, stop and look at their life skills.Are they confident, happy and mature, if so they will be fine.If not, build on their life skills, it is those, not grades that will get them where they want to be.Grades are just a by product of that.

Monday, 27 July 2015

The Power of Nature

Yesterday I walked round the garden. It's 1.5 acres and fairly overgrown so it's often difficult to appreciate the work I've done this year. I've read so many articles recently on the benefits of being at one with nature and it's true.Whenever I spend time in the garden or go walking in the Lakes I feel so much better and more creative afterwards.

This year I have bought packets of bulbs and seeds when they have passed their planting date and the shops are trying to get rid of them.Not everything has worked but I've taken the view that at the price I've paid for them, it doesn't matter I'll just pop them in and see.

The roses have been fabulous this year.My David Austin old English rose in the front garden, has, for the first time, been covered with flowers.Only yesterday my wild candy stripe rose suddenly came into bloom and a birthday present I bought this year, a pale peach climber  called Wollaton Old Hall Climbing Rose ,has finally come into flower too,

I've had huge successes with Borage .I do so love the piercing blue star like flowers, white phlox, which I bought for mere pennies has provided three small plants, and a pink Astrantia which I bought for £2.00 in a car boot sale looks perfect next to the pink Astilbe outside my kitchen door.


Wild honeysuckle (or woodbine) is everywhere. I love the smell when I go to feed the hens and I keep  popping strawberries into my mouth as I wander past the rather overgrown strawberry patch which this year has been a mass of fruit.

Wild strawberries

I also have a new lace cap hydrangea for £5, a real bargain! It is huge!I thought it was white but its turned out to be a pale blue, at least at the moment until we see if the soil changes it's shade. It should be fine in the woodland area.But for now it stands proud in its tub waiting for planting.

Lillies in the village

I've learned this year the pleasure of being able to give plants away as gifts so, bulbs have been planted in pots when I buy them and spare ones gave made a very cheap and lovely present.

Wild flowers were planted too.Some in the village and some in the garden and the results bring a huge feeling of satisfaction and a lot of pleasure . I will certainly be planting more next year!

Poppies and chamomile


I appreciate that I am very lucky to live in such a beautiful area where we have wild life and flowers in abundance but if  nature is available to all of us if we search it out.Here is a great place to start from your armchair!  

Saturday, 25 July 2015

How do you remind your Autistic child to eat?

We went out for a meal on Thursday, Google, myself, my husband, his siblings, his grandparents and his aunt, that is.Google was excited.He'd known about it for weeks and accepted that a hair cut and a bath would be necessary the day before, without hesitation.Once again it was evident that these activities were neither stressful or painful when the need was there.

As he grows older Google is teaching me such a lot about Autism (his autism that is) I asked him the other day, why, when I go out,  he doesn't make himself anything to eat.I used to think it was laziness (and yes that does come into it if his sister offers to make him some toast or his older brother is making cheese and ham toasties in the kitchen) but yesterday when I dropped his sister off at Peak Camp I picked up a BLT sandwich as promised .I got home late, imagining he would be famished but, to my surprise he said he had forgotten all about it as he was so engrossed in his computer programming.

I think that's half the problem.It doesn't even occur to him that he's hungry if he's engrossed in something ,so he has to be prompted to eat otherwise he would forget.That's a problem we will need to deal with for the future.Perhaps an alarm system will do the trick or a picture system.Any ideas from those further ahead of us would be gratefully received.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Seven weeks of Freedom!

Life is so unpredictable.As I drove home today I passed two highland cows walking along the grass verge,I did a double take and smiled.It's moments like this that you realise that it's the little things that make you happy.

It's been a tiring week. My daughter broke up today and we have had end of term itus for the last couple of weeks.Mental gymnastics are required to keep up with where you have to  be and when.Monday was school rewards trip in Blackpool.Tuesday and Wednesday Duke of Edinburgh reward from Beetham to Silverdale and back. Thursday was School picnic at Tarn Hows and today after school finished at 1pm Year ten went down to Coniston water to swim and are now as I write,are erecting tents in Guards wood for a sleepover! It's what memories are made of but it doesn't account for parental exhaustion.

So next week my plans are minimal.I intend to wake up each morning,with no alarm and ask myself what I plan to do that day.No advance commitments in case something better comes up unexpectedly and I want to do it! School gets in the way of such things and I can't wait for my daughter to leave the 'system' and be able to do her own thing

I've never liked being tied down by the education system and its petty rules and regulations ,when my now eighteen year old started school it was a shock to the system but things are definitely getting worse and if I was starting again from scratch now,knowing what I do about home education I would definitely not hesitate to home educate all my children.

 But one has moved on and is very happy and thriving in his apprenticeship, one is working steadily towards her goal of being a dancer and one is happily following the path of self led learning so I suppose for now and just need to go with the flow and rebel where I can! Happy holidays everyone!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Living peacefully with Autism.

So often I hear of parents, battling with the Education system,the NHS or the Welfare benefits system to get the right provision for their child. It really is a struggle, an exhausting one, which,in the most extreme circumstances can break up families or cause extreme stress and mental health difficulties both for the parents and their Autistic child. It can be a very hard existence,the world hasn't yet caught up with what it means to be autistic. Parents like me are still educating them!

Nevertheless, autism is  common, I see it about me all the time.Any parents of an Autistic child can spot it a mile off and so often it has been undiagnosed for years.Only now are some parents beginning to recognise autism in themselves of their partners,following the diagnosis of their child.

There is a poem about coming to terms with your grief following the realisation that your child is disabled. It has a very clear message that the journey you will find yourself on will be no less joyous.Yes it will have its struggles, all journeys do, but it will have its exhilarating points too.

I've learned that the key to living with autism peacefully and with acceptance is to change yourself.Change your own perceptions of what is normal and suddenly life gets a whole lot easier and richer

So what if your child doesn't sleep in the day,doesn't do their teeth, only eats mars bars and rarely bathes?None of these are life threatening.I would much rather have that than watch my child die from a terminal illness before me,being unable to do anything about it.

I want my children to have happy and fulfilled lives, and whilst for two of them that might mean being out everyday with friends challenging and stretching themselves continuously,for Google things move much more slowly.

I have no expectations that he will be ready to leave home at 18 or go to work, or drive  but I won't be putting pressure on him to do those things until he is ready! That doesn't mean that I think him incapable of doing great things.I know that he has the capacity to do whatever he sets his mind to!He amazes me with his intelligence and eloquence.

With transition to adulthood come further battles to get ESA or independent living or support-after all it's not the responsability of the parent anymore ,or is it?

Fighting a broken system causes heart ache and stress.Once we as a family took back control and stopped relying on the 'support' offered by the system, a weight was lifted off us.

My role I think will be to continue to facilitate my son,to stretch him without pushing the boundaries so that he suffers from mental health, to offer opportunities and to put people in his path who can offer support if he needs it.

Life will not all be roses but if you concentrate on the now then the worry of what lies ahead disappears.Similarly any guilt for what may have happened in the past,goes away. You did what you thought was best for your child at the time.

I read this article this week ,very wise words from a parent who has reached the same part of the journey as me.It's worth a read!

We only have one life,it's our choice how we choose to live it!