Saturday, 28 April 2012

In a bit of a Spot!

What's so funny?
The other day I found myself in our local library with a bared footed son who decided to curl up on the settee and declare that "he wished he were dead" to anyone who wanted to listen.
We're having a bit of an autistic day today I whispered to the librarian as I proceeded to try and lift him from his seat and guide him towards the car.
Only a couple of years ago I would have cringed with embarrasment at the stares and disapproving looks we were likely to attract in similar circumstances.I still have my moments but I've hardened over the years.
I can now find it funny that my son chose one night to sleep in a laundry basket, or that he used to sleep in a tent in the bedroom, that he wears his wellies almost constantly or changes his mind on an almost daily basis about what he likes to eat. In a funny sort of way it's almost normal. Particularly as I surround myself with like minded people who spend their days with children who scream for hours, spin round constantly or deal with anger, aggression or oppositional behaviour on a daily basis.
It has changed my outlook on life for the better.I'm more tolerant,tend to see the funny side of things and have made some great friends
Disability brings out the best and worst in people. There are those who don't believe my son has a disability, he looks perfectly normal, is articulate and funny and when he swears and shouts they blame me as his mother for lack of discipline.
Then there are the gems, who listen and support. Like my mother who calls daily to see that I'm O.K, offers to look after my son to give me a break and laughs at the funny comments my son comes out with., or my friend who tells me her son was just the same and that we are welcome at any time. Funnily enough when my son is accepted he is relaxed and happy and we rarely see the stress he reveals when he's confronted, or shouted at or judged by people who are frightened he will hurt their children or swear. They don't want to acknowledge that it is they that often cause the behaviour by the things they do and say!
Autism is a funny thing, you can't describe it, you have to live with it and what one family will experience will be completely different from another. It's difficult to explain that it's not that your son doesn't like black shoes ,he just refuses to wear them, or that he won't get into the car to go out or that he refuses to do his maths.It's not just a simple matter of 'making' him do it as many parents believe. The brain is inflexible, it's unable to move from it's mindset,or choose between the sweets on offer or accept that 'going to town' doesn't mean shopping in the supermarket but actually spending the afternoon at the toy shop. It's a narrow and limiting world, a frightening world where routine makes you feel safe , secure and loved. So next time you see a child who appears to be misbehaving in the supermarket or at the shops, take a minuteand think - it may not be bad behaviour it may be autism!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

A Square peg in a round Hole.

Making a den
As we sat round the dining table last night we began to discuss the narrowness of the national curriculum. My Autistic son who is home educated asked what I meant by 'narrow curriculum' and I explained that pupils throughout the country in mainstream schools were required to learn the same subjects regardless of interest or inclination on the basis that the Governments underlying belief that it increased standards in schools.
It was only when I began to home educate that I realised this. By buying various text books suitable for my son's age I quickly noted how they all covered the same topics.
I expressed the view to my son that it leads to dumbed down pupils who instead of being able to learn and investigate for themselves are spoon fed information which the government deems it appropriate to learn. My son who is home educated because he 'didn't fit the mould' when at school wondered how what he learned was different from children at school and I explained that we learned as things cropped up and became relevant and  that most of his peers probably wouldn't know the president of France for example, although there are ongoing elections in France. He looked surprised and I suggested he ask his twin sister. His sister ummed and aahed and said that she thought it was written in her French book somewhere. I then suggested he asked his older brother who is fifteen. His brother couldn't answer either. On a roll my youngest son then asked them for the president of Russia.That drew a blank too.Finally he asked about the president of the USA and his sister came up trumps. My son turned round to me and said 'I thought everybody watched the news mum?'
' I don't think it's been introduced into the National Curriculum yet '.I answered with a smile!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Insight of an Eleven year old Autistic boy!

Home educating a special needs child can be exhausting.Autism in particular can be difficult to fathom out at times. Thankfully however home education offers the opportunity to observe and understand your child's difficulties and help them with life skills in a far more practical way as and when they happen.
Take today for instance, my son has had a very difficult couple of days.Today however he was far more cheerful and I was able to ask him why his body seemed to shut down when he was placed in a stressful situation such as a busy place or noisy supermarket. I pointed out that he often appeared to become deaf, was unable to speak and began to walk although he had a limp. My son was surprised. He wasn't aware that that happened.
He told me that he didn't like talking to people he didn't know as it made him feel uncomfortable. I suggested that he could explain to them (without getting angry) that he had Aspergers and that if they didn't mind he didn't like talking to people. That . he said , made them  talk to him as though he couldn't understand him which he found very condescending. I admitted that it was and laughed as he academically  far cleverer than most of the people I know. I then asked him what it was about using a wheelchair in the garden centres and supermarkets we go to that relaxes him? Precisely that people didn't speak to him because they thought he had a learning disability, he answered. Instead they looked over his head as though he weren't there and spoke to me instead! My son has learned a valuable lesson about disability discrimination and  has turned it around and used it to his advantage! I too have learned that he is gradually finding strategies to cope with his hidden disability. All to often in the past he has experienced the prejudices suffered by those who have an invisible disability which can put you at a huge disadvantage. He has so often been judged by people, professional or otherwise  who have misunderstand his actions and straightforward talking for rudeness. Wheelchairs have for him given him 'a cloak of invisability' so that he can get on with his life in his own particular way! That's my boy.....

Saturday, 21 April 2012

I Spy with my little Eye!

My unknown plant
I took a photo of a small blue speckled egg which I found on the road as I walked home with the dog yesterday. In fact I'm always taking photos. It helps me to remember the small details I see as the seasons change from day to day. It started as a way to remember our home education lessons and gradually became a habit. In our small hamlet with no more than 70 houses you would imagine there would be little to record.In fact you would be wrong. I am always comming across small details which would flash by in the blink of an eye if you were in the car. There was the day I found a mole trying to bury into the sunbaked earth on my way back from taking my daughter to school. I picked it up and took it home and my son and I spent the next hour watching how it burrowed with its spade like hands into a big bucket of earth before we took some photos and let it go. Or  the time we found a slow worm basking on the pavement as I waited to pick up my eldest son from the bus stop, or the pheasants nest in the garden, the deer grazing on the lawn and the heron rising up from the beck. The other day I spotted a green spike like flower in the grass verge. I didn't know it's name so I took a photo to remind myself to look it up when I got home. I have read about Shaggy ink cap toadstools, blackbirds being able to mimick other birds and the fact that it takes a lamb a day to bond with it's mother as if it is separated too early she will reject it. There is a lot going on around us each and every day if we take the time to look!
Lambs in the back field!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

When Autism becomes a Physical Disability!

Aspergers on a good day! You woudn't have a clue !
Well I found myself yesterday in the cafe of our local garden centre with my eleven year old under the table hands over his ears! I wouldn't have minded but he had specifically asked to go there the previous day and this was supposed to be a treat.
You see my son has Aspergers and sensory overload can cause him to 'shut down' in the most inconvenient places. I should have seen the signs. When he woke up that morning I reminded him we were going out. His face took on a glazed expression and he said he was 'too tired'. As a home educator I often worry about his lack of motivation and desire to go out. Whilst he will often say he is bored, he refuses to do anything you suggest to the point that you give up, knowing that this is a phase he is going through on that particular day and nothing you can do is going to change it. I suppose it's a kind of depression. It's sad to see, he misses out on so many opportunities but my job is to provide those opportunities and facilitate his interests and on the days he grabs the offer it's another step foward.
Well, going back to the garden centre scenario. I had insisted we go. My son had requested it and even set the departure time. There are times when he as an adult will need to go out and I had all day if necessary to cajhole him. In fact it took ten extra minutes to get out the house, rolled up in a duvet and looking like a hot dog in a bun. I bundled him into the car before he could change his mind and off we set.
 For the first fifteen minutes or so, when he realised the new car radion needed programming; he was animated and chatty as he programmed our favourite radio stations into the radio. Then he picked up his science enclyclopedia ( our car is like a travelling library) and began reading! My son learns more in the car and when he is out than at home usually , as there are no computers or tvs to switch on when I'm not looking!
At the garden centre it was like switching off a switch, he rolled tighter into a ball and refused to get out. My heart sank. We had driven 15 miles through beautiful Lake district countryside and I was going to have to wheedle and cajhole my son to do every little thing. I finally got him out the car. There was a brief glimmer of hope as he threw a coin at the little bell in the wishing well at the entrance then he LIMPED into the garden centre and up the cafe stairs.
I've known my son long enough now to know that the autistic traits like limping, groaning, sitting on the supermarket floor come with sensory overload. He sat at the cafe table and said he didn't want anything other than to go home. I asked if I could have a drink and he agreed so I bought him his favourite hot chocolate with cream, marshmallows and a flake and said if he didn't want it I would have it. As I stood at the counter I watched him out the corner of my eye as he tucked into the cream, flake and marshmallows before curling up into a ball. I manged ten minutes holding him tight and rubbing his forehead until he slipped under the table and sat there whilst I finished my coffee.
I was desperate to buy a birthday present and it didn't look as if I had any chance of that. We made our way slowly downstairs and in the quiet of the showroom I suggested he try a wheel chair. He perked up , smiled and said he would try it.
 So there we were ,my.normally mobile autistic son wrapped in my coat being pushed round the garden centre (even having a go himself) and myself suddenly free from the chains of autism and able to enjoy ourselves. It was a bit Andy and Lou in a scene from Little Brittain! My son said he suddenly felt "secure and safe" and I realised that to him his autism is a disability which on occasions can cause him to become deaf, mute, immobile whatever.

Instead of feeling guilty about using the wheelchair I had discovered something that worked for us on that day and therefore he was as entitled as any other disabled person to use it. Just because he has a disability that cannot be seen doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. So we learned two things, my son experienced the difficulties faced by someone who is confined to a wheelchair and can only see the displays as a certain level and often has to travel the long way round to get where he wants to be ,and I learned once again to go with my convictions and do whatever it right for us as a family unit, without fear of being judged by people who don't understand ,to make life easier for my son and me.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

When the children came home from school today the learning began. First stop was my son's drum lesson. He's been playing for several years now and he loves it! Only the other day he was 'jamming' with his friend in the music room above our garage. The noises emanating from that room were suprisingly harmonious. We have always resisted music exams on the basis that music should be fun and have made it clear that he could stop at any time. He did play in an orchestra for a couple of terms but he found it too formal. Nevertheless he has persisted in his daily practice and is now really good. If at any time he feels that he wants to pursue his grades then he will do so with the right attitude and motivation.
Whilst we waited for him to finish his lesson I took my other two children to the library. I found my eleven year old son in the adult section browsing the Computer books section.He was looking for computer programming books, unfortunately most of them were the "Teach your granny to use the computer" type!
When we got home , my eldest son discovered the postman had delivered a radio for his car.(He isn't old enough to drive at the moment but as he is studying car mechanics we felt it important to encourage him in his interests and he has recently helped his dad to get the car through its MOT. Before we had even eaten tea he was out in the garden with his Dad fitting the radio. It wasn't long before I could hear the Boom boom boom of the speakers coming from the car.It would seem that his lesson in electronics had been sucessfully completed.
After tea he was off to scouts to plan a summer expedition covering England Ireland  Scotland and Wales, and a Duke of Edinburgh Kayaking expedition from Liverpool to Leeds. He has already asked if he can take a week off school at the end of term to do it and we feel that as his exams will be over he will benefit so much more from the trip and all it entails that what he will learn at school.
I began to google computer programming books for my son and found ".Hello World Computer programming for kids (and other beginners)". It's quite expensive but the reviews on Amazon are good. Before buying it I will ask for advice on the HE.SpecialUK forum as the parents are always full of good advice and eager to help.I may also check the local libary catalogue to see if we can borrow the book before we buy it. Again it never ceases to fascinate me how much we learn independently if we follow our own interests!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Education without looking for it!

As usual when I came to write up my home education record today I realised to my surprise just how much we'd covered as a family without any form of structured education at all. It was a Saturday morning and whilst my husband and eldest son decided to go and look at cars , my daughter and her twin brother stayed at home with me.
My daughter decided to make fairy cakes from a cake mixture we had bought from the supermarket earlier this week. Having gone over the intructions with her I left her in the kitchen to measure her water, crack her egg and whisk her cake mixture ready for the oven.
Her brother meanwhile played Minecraft on his computer , a game which is recognised to help with mathematical and problem solving skills.
By the afternoon it was off to our local independent supermarket, as my daughter was bag packing to raise money for our local children's ward. I was so proud of her as she at the age of eleven, spent the afternoon helping the customers pack their shopping at the tills. I overheard a conversation between a lady customer and the scout leader as she informed him that it was a great way for them to learn new life skills but perhaps they needed 'a bit more training'. I smiled as the most important lesson my daughter learned that day was how to handle awkward customers! Volunteering is such an important  way for children to learn how to support their community and they all did it with big smiles and willingness.
My eldest son meanwhile was learning the art of bagging a bargain as he and his dad went searching for a new car . They narrowed their search down to two almost identical cars and then set to to see which garage would offer the best deal. No deal was made until the best offer had been ascertained and my husband and son returned home happy with their purchase whilst the garage was glad to close the deal.
My younger son meanwhile , not to be outdone ,managed to purchase a science enclyclopedia for 50p which he spent the journey home reading in the car.. He has spent the evening designing a house with a home designer game he bought in a charity shop which involves maths , measuring to scale and geometry and a Mall simulation game where he receives ten percent of the profits,again an exercise in percentages and marketing skills. Not bad for a day off!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Letting go the Reigns!

Kirkby in Furness Railway station

For the first time this morning my son set off to his friend's house, which is at the other side of the estuary, under his own steam. By car it would take about half an hour. By train the whole journey, barring high tides , about ten minutes. A century ago you would have crossed the sands on foot, there are still stepping stones to be seen at low tide but today it would be extremely dangerous without a proper guide due to sinking sands and strong currents.
Anyway, my son wanted to go and see his friend, and having ferried him back and forward between friends all week, my husband suggested he take his bike to the station,get on the train and ride to his friend's at the other end about two miles away. We are lucky, if you avoid the main roads you might meet a tractor or a horse but there aren't many cars.
Now that may not seem to have a lot to do with education but as I've said before we regard vital life skills as being paramount and by giving these to our children we are giving them the self confidence to do things for themselves and at the right time for them to teach themselves what they need to know. By letting go of the reigns 'just a little bit' my son will have had to check train time tables, navigate his way to his friend's house. (He's never been from the station before) and his confidence and independence will have grown a little bit more.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Home Educating an Autistic child

When I first started home educating I had wonderful visions of walks in the woods, beach combing down on the estuary and visits to museums during quiet times.
It hasn't quite worked out like that. As the mother of an autistic child with oppositional defiant disorder I have noticed over the years how my 'teaching style' has been moderated and adapted to suit his learning style at different times throughout his development. At the age of eleven my son is exhibiting an increased reluctance to go out anywhere and when we do manage to go out we are invariably accompanied by a dirty  old duvet (a comfort blanket) which he wraps round himself . Gone for the moment are spontaneous trips to the park,swimming in the pool or walks in the countryside. Everything has to be planned and negotiated in advance.
I have to say that at times I have felt like a prisoner in my own home. I love taking the day as it comes and going out and exploring- you see so many unexpected things .The negativity and opposition you get from a child with Autism can drain you too. When all your well meaning ideas are rejected and your son seems to want to do nothing but play on the X box or watch television you can feel like you're failing. But looking back over the years since I began home educating I can see so many positives. My husband has just returned from a week away. Only a year ago my son wouldn't sleep, turned over furniture, lashed out at his siblings and swore, all because he was stressed by the change in routine.This time we worked our lives round him, restricted trips out,cooked what he wanted to eat ,watched what he wanted on the television. To those who don't live with an autistic person it  looks as if he is controlling our lives, in fact the opposite is true. By 'listening' to my son and acknowledging that his worries are real , we have removed much of his stress thereby enabling him to be more flexible and in control of his anger. By placing our son at the centre of our life we have transformed our world from one of continual anger and negativity to one where we have frequent happy family moments together.
We have opted , after an initial period of structured learning, to educate autonomously, observing our son and following his interests. As we dismantled our old trampoline yesterday my son commented on how rusty the springs were. My eldest started to explain how the rust was formed by oxidisation of the metal.It is at moments like these that you realise how important it is to answer the questions as they come up! Only yesterday my son asked whether clouds were water and, as we travelled in the car ,we discussed evaporation and the water cycle. Later, as we watched Disney and Pixars animation 'Cars', we discovered that Radiator Springs is a real place in Nevada to the east of California and North of Arizona. We discussed the number of states in America and my son picked up an American Newspaper my husband had brought back from his week away and studied the weather reports and the map of the U.S. None of this was planned, it just happened! It wasn't a week day, it was a Saturday! We don't have set teaching days. Every day is an opportunity to learn and whether it be in a museum, on a field trip or in our back garden my son is learning because he is happy and will continue to learn throughout his life .