Friday, 18 May 2012

Diet and Autistic children,

What children need is not new and better curriculm but access to more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them." John Holt

Until quite recently my son has happily eaten most of the foods I put before him. Granted,like most children he has a penchant for chocolate and fizzy drinks when given half a chance but he will gobble down an indian curry, a roast dinner or a cajun chicken wrap without much persuasion.
I remember as a toddler he would often go for hours without a drink and it would be necessary to remind him to drink a glass of milk or water if he became too absorbed in his activities. Even now he will often forget he is hungry when absorbed with his X box or computer. However I have noticed that suddenly he 'has gone off' most of the foods he would eat until quite recently. He doesn't like, the beefburgers we have always bought.The sausages taste   'strange'. Even pizza isn't the same as the one we usually get.
I have become quite used to the grimaces of distaste as I place a lovingly prepared meal in front of him ands he rises up silently and walks out the room as though in some way I've offended him. I have tried to ignore it, it's nothing personal and he will get something when he is really hungry and to a certain extent it has worked. However yesterday, having spent a lovely afternoon at the cinema we came home and I offered him a bacon sandwich. The day before his grandma had come round and he had tucked in to two bacon sandwiches and professed the bacon to be 'much better that mums'. There was some bacon left and he accepted the offer but when placed in front of him he turned up his nose and said he didn't like it like that! I bit my tongue and said I would eat it for my own lunch instead. An hour later I was about to pick up his siblings from school when he said he was very hungry. I explained wearily he would have to find something as I had to go out and he went over to a bag of mars bars and took one, I suggested that it might be better to choose something more healthy and then found myself at the end of my sons fist as he screamed and swore that I hadn't offered anything to him to eat! *He was very sorry afterwards that he hadn't been able to control his anger and it is an issue which we need to address as a priority as it is the most debilitating part of my sons autism and will only become harder to manage as he becomes older, but the matter of his eating habits is also of concern as no matter how hard I try his food is 'wrong'. I am considering a nutritionist with experise in Autism, have been to the supermarket today and bought several ready made curries as a back up when we are eating lasagne or chilli and other meals he professes not to like. I have spoken to other parents and learned that it seems to be a common problem with teenage Autistics and I can only researcgh and experiment and find out more about it. My son has learned to make a milk shake today and we have bought a variety pack of cereals for him to eat whenever he is hungry as hunger is no doubt contributing to his bad temper and anger. I will share my experience as we learn together how to keep him fit and healthy and how we cope with his anger issues which to date have not been addressed by the professionals supposedly in charge of my son's mental health due to lack of ressources and inappropriate expertise in our locality. One of the books recommended is Can't eat , won't eat by Brenda Legge so I'll maybe do some reading and see what I can learn!

* I have decided to include reference to my son's anger as it is a common problem with many Autistic children which is not being adequately addressed in many area of Britain and often leads to exclusion from schools'

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Home educating Autistic children

The most important degree for a parent of learning disabled children is not an M.A but a MAMA as we advocate as no one else can for our special needs children.

Joyce Herzog  Author of "Learning in spite of labels"

Today I thought I would share a list of blogs which cover Home Education and Autistic children. Recently more and more parents with whom I am in contact are asking about home education as they come across difficulties with mainstream education in England. Some children are reluctant to go to school, some are being bullied,many have mental health problems and have even attempted suicide and many are being excluded because of their aggression.All because the teachers are unable to cope and the children have insufficient support. A recent report showed that whilst by and large inclusion has worked for many children with physical disabilities for Autistic children it has not. The enviroment is often inappropriate, the schools too large and the support inappropriate or too little, All the blogs are the opinions and experiences of the parents involved and may or may not endorse my own ideas, But all Autistic children are different and each needs to be taught in the most appropriate way for their needs so hopefully you will find a blog that helps your child and your family.HAPPY LEARNING!

Computer programming books! My son's latest interest!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Home is the base for Education.

Our school
Although I have opted to home educate only one of my children home education  is far from being my second choice. For me home education has become a liberating experience and  has freed me up from an obsession with good grades at school and not being able to procure a job without them. The major reason my other two children go to school is that they need time away from their Autistic brother, time when they can be themselves rather than carers and time when they can form their own friendships and interests away from home. For a short while I had two children at home,it was an easy choice and one which I would have no trouble making again if necessary. My eldest son was unhappy at school, there were signs of underlying bullying which were not being dealt with and my son was frequently being sent home from school due to being 'unwell'. For a son who has a 100% attendance record things didn't ring true so we opted to remove him from school for a year.Only the other day I asked him what he had learned from the experience. He was able to spend lots of time practicing his drums each day and he is now an accomplished player. He matured and experienced 'real life' and he was given load of opportunity to make new friends both through scouts and Young Carers which introduced him to climbing, indian cookery, kite surfing, camping skills and all manner of activities which he was unlikely to have much access to at school.
Home education gave us a breathing space to establish the right learning enviroment for my son. It became clear however that his brother required so much one to one that my eldest was having to place second fiddle and we considered ways in which he could 'learn' other than at home with me. One of the options was to use a tutor. We certainly went and talked to one but personality played an important part in our son's learning . We wanted vibrant , enthusiastic tutors, un fettered by the 'system' and we found instead disillusioned teachers who had removed themselves from the system in order to 'teach' in what we felt was a typically 'schooley' way. Our second opportunity was a small secondary school in the lakes with just over 200 pupils. My son was offered the chance to spend a fortnight there to see how he like it. He was not committed to stay but he agreed that a fortnight would give him time to get a feel  for the place. Within days it was obvious that he felt at home, the number of children suited him and the ability to offer the children opportunities as individuals was soon evident . He went from an unhappy lad in a huge main stream school to one with a huge social circle of like minded friends, to a school where outings were frequent and where extra curricular courses such as out door pursuits centres , planting trees for the Diamond Jubilee and catering at a local school were available. The school was still subject to the constraints of the national curriculum but my son is happy and knows its limitations. He is also fully aware that he has what it takes to succeed and has become confident in his abilities and opinions regardless of peer pressure. His grades don't matter, the fact that he tries his best does. This year he has opted to go to college one day a week to study Motor engineering and he has identified the type of learning environment that suits him best. Not for him sixth form college with its A levels and academic subjects, vocational courses are more relevant and motivational to him. He has got his own car which he is working on at home and a trials bike and reads everything mechanical in his spare time, his catering skills far outstrip those of his peers, he will be perfectly able to fend for himself when he leaves home! Our home is where he is 'educated', school is the campus where he is educated 'off site".

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Don't judge a book by its cover! OR All is not as it seems!

Measuring the hen enclosure
I came home from ferrying the children around today and to my consternation realised that my autistic son who has Aspergers syndrome had spent virtually the whole day on the X box with his friend playing their new Minecraft game. He was so engrossed he had missed his lunch and forgotten to drink the drink his sister had given him.
Having extricated him from his game I suggested he leave screens for a while and we ate tea as a family and spent the evening together. At bath time I was talking to my son about his brother who had walked 36 miles in a sponsored walk that day. Although he had just fallen short of the full forty miles it was his personal best. His previous longest walk being 16 miles for his Duke of Edinburgh."Oh" said my son. "He did more than half again then". I asked how he knew and he explained he had been doing maths all day in calculating the amount of bricks he needed to build his Mansion on Minecraft.It transpired that he had been practising his number bonds to help him calculate more quickly and discovering that his building looked more ascetically pleasing when it was symmetrical which meant using even numbers rather than odd!
My son has always felt that maths is his weak point and he commented that "he supposed everyone else his age would already have worked their bonds out". I pointed out that whilst they would have been taught to memorise them at school a lot earlier than him they would not have fathomed out for themselves how to achieve the answer they needed and that the whole point of home education was to learn for yourself how to do things when you needed them,
We then discussed John Steinbeck and the book that his elder brother is doing for GCSE. I explained that this was an example of something the government insisted children be taught although it may not be relevant to them in later life. I explained that I had been looking into the historical context of the book which was set in California in the 1930's.My son immediately told me about The Depression, the fact that it was the run up to World war 2 and that Roosevelt was the president. We also discussed the effects of the industrial revolution on the farm workers. It seemed that my son already knew more than his elder brother about the impact life in the 1930's had on the author without him opening a revision book or writing an essay.Yet again his general knowledge dumbfounded me! What could have been regarded as a wasted day at first glance had borne much fruit!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Why bother teaching anything when they can teach themselves?

Cooking counts as maths too!
This morning my son was explaining how you could ascertain the direction with a watch and the sun.He had been reading a library book on survival skills on the way to the supermarket. I tried to show him how to do it last year in the garden but he switched off and refused to listen because it was maths! The legacy of school is that the word 'maths' builds up an insurmountable problem in my son's mind and when at school he would hide under the desk or pull the plugs from the computers out of their sockets!
My son then went on to explain that the compass is split up into angles the main pointers being 90 degrees,180 degrees,270 degrees and 360 degrees with the angles also being marked every 45 degrees. He has talked about angles before when teaching himself to skateboard so I've experienced  his way of learning maths and it never fails to surprise me that in many ways formal maths lessons are redundant. I jumped at the unexpected opportunity to explain that the angles inside a triangle added up to 180 and that the angles inside a square added up to to 360 degrees. All this he took it between a burger and a pepsi , as he tucked into his wicked zinger meal at KFC!
Maths is a subjects which at the very least would have caused his face to glaze over or at worst would have caused a meltdown if I'd broached it but because the subject interested him he had fathomed the details for himself.
Once  in the car I glanced over to find him reading about map reading skills and contour lines and once again I found that my growing faith in autonomous learning was being reinforced. The book he is reading is written for the Royal Marines and designed for adults but the content appeals to him so he's reading it!
Every day conversations are an opportunity to learn too. Only this morning my son turned to me as he was watching t.v. One of the characters in an American tv show referred to a 'test monkey'. "Oh he means a guinea pig, mum", said my son showing me he'd taken in the new idiom he had learned yesterday. Words are fascinating and we are always discussing their meaning.Seeing a lad on a mono cycle one day  resulted in a discussion  of what 'mono' meant and a competition to see how many words we could find beginning with mono. We did the same with the word 'sub' when my son asked the meaning of  subversive.
If you are teaching an oppositional child you have to 'find' the right way.It may not be conventional but your child has the benefit of one to one and you have the luxury of as much time as you need and the flexibilty to change tack if your method isn't working! Don't give up!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Rigidity of Mind and how to overcome it!

Following interests can overcome inflexible attitudes!
One of the biggest disabilities for autistic children is overcoming an unexpected situation.It's as though their brains come across a brick wall which they are unable to climb over or get round  and they become 'stuck' unable to move forwards.
Only this morning my son woke up very excited as the long awaited Xbox version of Minecraft was being launched. I could tell something was wrong as soon as he walked in the room, his face was grumpy, he wouldn't speak and I knew I was in for a long day.
When he finally told me that the game wasn't available yet, I suggested that we go ,as planned, to the shop to buy his Microsoft points so as soon as the game came out he could buy it. I received a tirade of abuse because he wasn't going to 'waste' his money until he knew how many points he needed.
Now I have two other lovely, polite well mannered children and it's really hard to stand there being sworn at but I've learned over the years that non reaction is the best way to deal with his oppositional behaviour. Despite the inappropriate swear words, they are his way of expressing anger and frustration and a better way of dealing with it than physical aggression so instead I held my tongue and will deduct a pound from his pocket money next week as agreed with him several months ago. Taking money away from my son hasn't stopped him swearing  but it is the most effective punishment as he loves buying things.Furthermore he accepts it as a consequence to swearing!
I asked him in which country the game was being launched and he decided that it might be America  so  I suggested they were several hours behind us. He immediately relaxed again and went to view the update.When he came back he'd discovered  he needed 1600 points.
I again broached the subject of going out to buy them and was yet again arraigned for 'not listening'. Instead of a reply I received a lecture on 'not listening' and still didn't know whether I was going shopping or not! After much prodding on my part and a lot of shouting on his part we finally understood each other. He knew how many points he needed and I was taking him to buy them!
We drove to Asda, bought the points and, as I'd pre-prepared him for a stop at the store so I could buy coffee that was al-right too! As I went into the store I asked him to consider if he wanted to stop at Macdonalds for an ice cream.No reply to that, but he did ask if I would buy him a drink. I came out the store with a drink and a chocolate biscuit. He took the drink and said " thank you". He put the biscuit on the back seat. He hadn't asked for that!
Had he been several years younger we'd have prepared a picture schedule to show him where we were going. He's too old for that now but I do have to stick rigidly to where I've said we are going. Macdonalds wasn't in the plan so although most kids would have jumped at the chance it was outside my son's comfort zone today. Whilst I can't deviate from the plan I've learned that  at least  it enables me to go out. That gives me more freedom than I had when he refused to go anywhere . I've also discovered that  a bi-product  of time spent in the car is  productive reading of  library books or listening to audio tapes something which my oppositional son would refuse to do if asked!
Rigidity of mind can be frustrating but with creative thinking there are things you can do to minimise the impact on your family.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Interest led learning and Teenage Boys

It has been a bank holiday weekend and by and large we have had a beautiful weekend. As I watched my eldest son as he serviced his car with his dad, replaced the windscreen wiper having bought it himself, and obtained a discount ,  I wondered why I had been nagging him to revise for a Religious Studies exam for which he has had no instruction as his class clashes with his day at Kendal college where he studies Motor engineering. He has absolutely no interest in the subject and will drop it like a hot- cake next year but the government say it is compulsory. I suppose that I worry about the effect to his self esteem if he 'fails' (or should I say the Education system 'fails' him yet again). I have to say he doesn't seem to be bothered. He went off to Explorer Scouts last night to make wooden planters for the Town council, a valuable lesson in woodwork and no doubt this voluntary work will help towards his silver Duke of Edinburgh award. He's also taking part in the 40 mile Keswick to Barrow walk on Saturday to raise money for scouts, an endurance test to say the least but a super achievement if he does it! He's has spent the weekend with his friends at the pictures then finding their way back by train to his friends house, a Heavy Horses riding centre in the beautiful Whicham Valley where he saw the horses and they sat in the barn with guitars singing before finishing the evening with pizza and cider! It is things like this that memories are made of! Sunday was spent with more friends playing football in the all weather pitch at the local leisure centre and then at the local park. Fresh air and sunshine and not an X box in sight! As I see my son growing and maturing I continue to marvel at his social skills and empathy for everyone he meets and I'm aware that whatever academic qualifications he ends up with, it will be his social skills which make him a success!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Learning Autonomously!

Present from Australia.
I'm not a teacher.When I first started home schooling I worried I might not have the necessary qualifications. I read all the books I could about Home education including  John Holts How Children Learn, Dumbing us Down  by John Taylor Gatto, in fact every book I could get my hands on. I'd been thinking about it a while before an incident at school suddenly forced our decision to pull our son out of school so I had some idea of what Home education was about but nothing was prepared. New to the idea of self learning I initially thought I'd have to teach lessons. I bought a guide for each of the main subjects for KS2 and planned what we would do each day. I hadn't planned for oppositional defiant was a disaster. No wonder school didn't work. My son refused to write, went ballistic if you mentioned the word "sums" and it took half an hours argument to achieve five minutes work. I noticed in contrast that when watching a documentary about history or natural history my son would happily sit for an hour absorbing the information and would then tell his daddy all about it when he came home at tea time. It was a time of observation and learning. At the hardest times when I gave up trying, stopped worrying about my Local authority and took my son to the park I noticed him asking about the things he saw. We found ourselves talking about, politics, history, in fact anything we happened to come across. He didn't know he was learning and he was happy.
I began to discuss the post we received, the postal voting forms, the referendum, the census. We campaigned on local issues to our local MP and we started correspondence with a relative in Australia and another young lad with Aspergers in Bedfordshire. It was an eye opener.My son would ask questions about subjects we didn't think he knew anything about. He would tell us that he had read about it in a book we'd borrowed from the library or seen it on "The Simpsons". We often looked at one another in disbelief. Only the other day my husband told me that the computer programming my son is currently learning was stuff he himself learnt at university. My son is only eleven. He's not a genius, he has a "spiky profile" which means he's very strong on some subjects,less so on others but as with many Autistic children he has very specialised interests which can set him in good stead for the future and home education allows him to follow these interests. Here is an article I found today about autonomous education or unschooling ,as they call it in America. It's well worth reading!

The Innovative Educator: Why an innovative educator cares about homeschooling / unschooling and why you might too

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Let your Autistic child lead the way!

I hoovered round my son today. That may not sound like very much but to a mother of an Autistic child it's quite a feat. For many years my son has vacated the room at the sound of the hoover. Today he was wearing his new ear defenders to see if they worked. They did and he was thrilled!
Next week he has asked to try them out in Morrisons and I'll report back. I wonder if we should have tried them earlier. When he was five years old he used to complain that the playground was "too noisy" but we didn't know he was Autistic then and didn't know what he meant. It is only in the past few months that his sensitivity to noise seems to have increased and with it a greater tendency to crave routine and hate unexpected situations. I thought Peltor ear defenders might help him.
Blogs and websites can be a great resource when finding out about Aspergers. I've recent joined the Face book page of Autism UK and found that the help and advice of adults with Aspergers has been invaluable. The explanation of the sounds and sensations in supermarkets has made me think again about encouraging him to go into supermarkets. If it really is that bad why make life hell for him when in reality he can order his shopping online if he wishes later on. It's really not a matter of life and death if he never sets foot in a supermarket .Too often we are encouraged by the Health professionals to    'force' our children into uncomfortable situations to 'integrate' them into society. School is a case in point with many children being forced day after day into a school enviroment until they reach the point of school refusal. There is a view among many Home educating parents that forcing children to 'fit in' is not the right way. If we listen to and support our children they may one day ask to try something which previously they would have struggled to try. Many parents have seen their children mature and ask to do things, albeit later than their peers, when they feel they are ready rather than forcing them to do it because the charts say they should be 'reading' or 'speaking' at a certain age!
The real 'professionals' are the adults with Aspergers who have been there before us, Those who were bullied and tormented in school, who were labeled 'disruptive' because they were misunderstood but who have now succesfully made a life for themselves despite the setbacks. We need to listen too, to those who lost all their self esteem or became depressed or ended up in prison because of the lack of knowledge and support so that we can do something about it. That's why support groups are so vital.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Getting out and about with your Autistic Child!

For many the idea of Home education can conjure up pictures of summer days on the beach, trips to museums and concerts and out of term time holidays.
In realitity to the parent of an Autistic child this can be far from the truth. For parents of very small or severely autistic children getting out just to go to the shops can be a nightmare. There are issues of safety if your child doesn't appreciate danger, sensory issues of light and noise in public places leading to meltdowns and the problems of protecting younger siblings when your full attention is focused on your Autistic child.In fact life can be very isolated without the stimulation of day to day conversation.
Despite the drawbacks however, one of the benefits of Home education is that your child is in fact sheltered from the barrage of noises and smells which would overstimulate them in a school enviroment and prevent them from learning whilst you are in the position to offer them opportuniries to learn at their 'teachable moments'.
In our case, my son who has Aspergers has until recently been perfectly able to go to museums, parks outings etc but at the age of eleven and with the onset of puberty I have recently found him increasingly reluctant to go out.There always has to be a definate purpose, it has to be something he wants to do and more and more there needs to be a routine. Consequently it has become harder to act spontaneously when the sun is shining , and emergency appointments such as a trip to the dentist or to pick his siblings up from school for example have become a nightmare.
Only yesterday we agreed to have lunch in Morrison's cafe. There was to be no shopping afterwards (which he hates) simply a hot meal and go somewhere fun afterwards  (non specific) BIG MISTAKE . He got to Morrisons quite happily, walked into the cafe, turned round and walked out! Despite wanting to be there he couldn't stand the noises, the lights and the stimuli. We sat in the car and I suggested that I collect some food from Morrisons and have a picnic in the car.He screamed at me that I wasn't listening , he didn't like sandwiches. What I established later was that he was telling me he didn't want a picnic because he had a set idea in his head that he was eating in Morrisons and his brain wasn't flexible enough to look at alternatives when his plan didn't work out.
It took over an hour before he had calmed himself down enough to decide he would go to Macdonalds instead and even then he imposed a rule that he couldn't visit KFC the next day as he normally does because he would have eaten fast food twice in one week!
It can be very difficult to decipher the signals given off by your Autistic child but the advice of older Aspies can be a revelation and support groups on Facebook or the internet can be great when trying to understand your child's actions.
I learned that supermarkets can bombard the senses,overloading you so that you can't hear what people are saying and you go mute with panic. This is what happened to my son. We have ordered a pair of ear defenders to see if that will help him deal with the situation and I have decided to shop when my husband comes home in the evening so that my son can remain at home.I forsee that happening for some time to come however flexibility and adaptation are one of the greatest strengths of home education! I will keep you posted on the ear defenders!