Monday, 30 December 2013

Book deals on Wheels!

I wonder if any one else reads several books on the go? I have my 'car' book, my 'bath' book and my 'bed' book.

This morning whilst waiting for my daughter to finish her shift at the kennels I found myself engrossed in The Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth - in particular the poem Michael by William Wordsworth. I'm fascinated by Lake District authors and have dipped in an out of Beatrix Potter, John Ruskin, Arthur Ransome and Wordsworth from time to time - there have been smatterings of information in our studies on Victorian and local history and I have even followed Wordsworth up to Loch Achtray near Callendar in Scotland and marvelled at the distance travelled by horse and cart in rough and mountainous terrain.

My car book travels with me everywhere. It is on hand when I wait for my daughter to finish her dance class, when I pick up my eldest to finish work, in fact anywhere where I find myself waiting around for someone (which happens a lot)

Although never a fan of kindle or ipads for reading. I'm coming around to the idea after straining my eyes under the dim lamplight in the car park during the winter months. I plan to download Shakespeare on toast' and Mary Poppins

My bath book is about travels in New Zealand A Land of two halves. It is a country I've always longed to visit although so far I haven't been impressed by the descriptions of the Eastern coast of South Island. Having circled the coast we have just reached the North Western coast and things seem to be improving.

Meanwhile my 'bed book' is a fictional story How to fall in Love         by Celia Aherne, daughter of the former Irish Politician Bertie Aherne. It lasted two evenings. I'm not a great fiction reader but I am a definate fan of Celia Aherne.

I learn so much from my 'travelling books' and they fill those inconvenient gaps when you only have ten minutes or so before your next task. It's a great way to set an example to the children too, so if you don't already have some books 'on the go" Why not give it a try?

Friday, 27 December 2013

Cooking for Kids-the sooner they learn the better!

I left my daughter to her own devices cooking flapjack in the kitchen this afternoon. She managed beautifully.I meanwhile, experimented with goats cheese and red onion quiches as we are having a buffet for New Years day next week.

Cooking is a skill that all children should have- if it is second nature to pop on the pasta and make cheese sauce to pour over it when you get home then, hopefully, they will be less inclined to use convenience foods and take-aways when they fly the nest.

So many people only really learn to cook 'real food' when they give up work or move to the sticks, well away from shops and supermarkets. Cooking is something people did in the 'olden days' before the invention of supermarkets and convenience times when mothers didn't have to juggle work, child care and after school activities. In the best seller I don't know how she does it the main character , a successful stock broker and mother. is frantically baking at midnight so that the non working mothers won't look down their noses at her when she turns up to nursery with her shop bought cakes. It made me smile- we've all done it. Only the other day my friend posted photos of TWO birthday cakes she had made for her daughter and iced at MIDNIGHT. One was for school, the other for home. How stressful!

For me the opportunity to learn to bake came when I gave up work and found myself with more time.Having our own hens encouraged me to make use of our new supply of eggs. I suddenly discovered that home made sponge cakes were so much yellow-er and wholesome than those you could buy in shops. I experimented with quiches and home made bread and discovered how delicious they were and made home made French onion  and spicy carrot soup.They were yummy.

I've graduated since to apple and blackberry crumble, jam. lemon curd and this year .for the first time. I made Limoncello for Christmas presents.

I still have a long way to go on the baking front. I don't do multi tasking when I cook and I certainly don't want a  kitchen /diner.Talking and cooking just don't mix unless you like charcoaled meat for tea. I can however do a mean Chicken fajita, or a Chilli con carne or curry which is  a great improvement on twenty years ago. Also Eton mess,flap jack and refrigerator cake no longer cause the mental anguish of former years!

I have learned shortcuts or cheats for emergencies too. Shop made muffins covered in home made icing or melted chocolate can be a life saver when the children have an unexpected cake stall or fund raiser and my daughter has made a beautiful rich chocolate cake from a box mixture then decorated it herself for birthday parties.

Looking back I wish I'd learned how to cook years ago. That's why I'm encouraging my children to cook whilst they are still at home. Hopefully they will learn to eat healthily and save money at the same time.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas holidays- End of school term or just the beginning?

Last night I watched Seven years in Tibet with Brad Pitt. It had been sitting in a drawer for months since I'd found it on the shelves in a charity shop and I decided to take over the TV for an evening and watch it. Once again I was amazed at the information you can learn when you are not 'trying to educate' either yourself or others. My eldest son came in to join me and we found ourselves talking about the invasion of China into Tibet in 1951 and the exile of the Dalai Llama to India. I've just spent half an hour googling Wikipedia for more information on a subject about which I had very little knowledge.

I was delighted when my Autistic son decided to join in and dress the Christmas tree .  At thirteen he still secretly gets excited at the thought of presents and Christmas generally and had  been asking when it was going up for several days.He still didn't want his photo taken as he put up the decorations!

On the other hand his twin was quite happy for me to take pictures of her as she made crackers! We discovered that the Christmas cracker was invented after a log rolled out of the burning embers onto the hearth next to a sweet maker called Thomas Smith who came up with the idea of putting a 'cracker' in his packages of sweets.There are lots of Christmas ideas on the Victorian Farm website.We also learned that during the second world war people made tinsel from the Chaff scattered by the Luftwaffe to break up radio waves and that what we know as Christmas carols were in fact originally hymns which were not necessarily associated with the Christmas period. It suddenly occurred to me that since we began home education journey we no longer think twice about researching further into subjects which we find interesting.It's not about 'learning" because we "have to". It's a natural inquisitiveness as we are interested and there is no pressure because no one is making us do it.

We put up a Christmas card my son made at school a few years ago which embraces the spirit of Christmas.

and arranged the tiny Nativity on the stove which my sister bought for the children when they were little and which is still a firm favourite!

and of course no Christmas would be complete without a walk in the fields to collect Holly and Ivy for decorations!

Wishing you all a very Peaceful Christmas!

And if anyone wants to know what I want for Christmas , well this home educating mum just about sums it up!

Friday, 20 December 2013

Oh the weather outside is Frightful

I always love this time of year.It's dark by 4.00pm so the hens are in their  coop by 3.30pm where it's warm and cosy and I can then shut the cottage door on the wind and rain outside and relax with a book , some craft or baking.

We're lucky that the walls of our cottage are a foot thick so with the doors closed and the burner on the house is warm and comfortable ( a bonus when we have snow and come rolling in from sledging on the back field in the winter)

This week has been a mixture of present wrapping, writing Christmas notes and reading Christmas blogs for inspiration. We've been to watch "Saving Mr Banks" at the cinema which has inspired me to re-read the Mary Poppin's books and today a friend prompted me to list the ten most influential books I had read as a child.Wow that was nostalgic and I 'll write about that another day.

 It's been busy in the run up to the end of school term. I've sung carols in our local Costa Coffee, and in our town Christmas concert, and  my daughter has been  ice skating in Blackburn on her school rewards trip.
It's a busy time but over the years I have discovered the magic of making Christmas special if you  avoid the commercialism and value what is important.

On Tuesday I spent an hour with special friends at a Christmas coffee morning in aid of the N.A.S. Home made  cakes and chocolate jigsaw pieces ( a symbol of  autism) with coffee and chat. I came away with  books to read over the holiday period and yummy cakes for the family.

 My daughter designed a Christmas jumper for school - a combination of snowflakes and Christmas berries were sewn to her cardigan to create a cheap and simple Christmas sweater.

We had a lovely early Christmas meal with grandparents at the weekend as they will be away for Christmas. My autistic son loved it - calm and relaxed without the pressure of presents and noise and loads of guests. He happily pulled crackers, ate his turkey and chocolate cake then sat with his dad and watched the rugby.He even asked tonight when we are going to put the tree up.

"When school breaks up we will do it ", I said.

Then yesterday it was the school carol concert at St Andrew's church Coniston. In the churchyard are the graves of John Ruskin and Collingwood. We are so.lucky to live in such a beautiful setting! The service was lovely and my daughter  played bass guitar. Then to round it off I popped into the village Honesty shop and bought some Christmas decorations which the pupils had made to raise money for our local Hospice. They will take pride of place on our tree when it goes up tomorrow!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

An Autistic Christmas -Making your own traditions

Well it's that busy time of year again. Life is a series of concerts,performances and Christmas meals in our household and with all the practices leading up to them it can be a tiring time.

My daughter has been rehearsing all year for a Christmas dance performance which came to fruition on Friday. As I watched her in her Michael Jackson costume of trilby,Shirt and tie, blazer and black shorts I realised that she was growing up and to put it quite frankly - in her element!

She has it all to do again next week but this time it will be a mother /daughter affair as I will be singing with my choir at the same performance!

A couple of years ago it stretched to three of us.My eldest played the drums, my daughter played the flute and sang and I sang in the choir!

Dad and my autistic son stayed well out of it! And that's how it is most Christmasses. Whilst three of us rush round like whirling dervishes (and my husband attends the odd Christmas meal), my autistic son needs 'sameness'.

When he was little he used to get so excited in the run up to Christmas that I remember him shaking as the 'real'  father Christmas walked past in a local procession. Luckily, because we had twins and couldn't keep up with who had given them what , we started a tradition of opening presents at intervals throughout the day which kept the suspense going and meant that they had time to study each present properly and play with it before they got on the the next one.

Again luckily, and quite by chance.we decided when we got married to create our own traditions rather than follow the traditions we had both had as children - mainly because they were so different we would have fallen out over it.. When the children were born we started a tradition early of not having a huge 'family' Christmas, we felt that it was a time for the children, not a time for driving up and down the country rushing from relative to relative. It turned out our intuition  for a calm, family time with no pressure was right.

We discovered early on that in the aftermath of Christmas my autistic son went into a huge depression for a couple of days, was horrendous  to deal with and needed to be left alone. We now know that he couldn't cope with all the Christmas parties, nativity plays and changes in routine which school threw at him and home education has allowed him to 'be himself' without judgement.

So whilst I go singing in an old peoples home today, my son will stay at home as he no doubt will at our Christmas concert next week. He will manage an early Christmas meal at his Grandma's as he knows the set up and there won't be too many people and he will manage a trip to the cinema to watch The Hobbit if we time it wisely when everyone else is at school or visit the early evening performance.

And as for presents- he just wants money - and believe me he won't be too happy if he gets lots of presents and no money as he is saving up for a gaming computer.So money it is and no surprises, because surprises knock you sideways when you are Autistic.

But we are lucky- we will have a Christmas tree, and crackers, and a proper Christmas meal unlike many families with a child on the spectrum.So spare a thought for those whose children don't understand,those who become 'creative' by having pictures of Christmas trees on the wall rather than the real one, virtual advent calendars because real ones are too scary,fish fingers and chips because that's what their children always eat and who feel alone because they would love to have a child who dressed up as a shepherd ,or sang in the nativity without becoming overwhelmed by the noise, the lights and the change to their routine.

But all is not lost,if you can change your own expectations of your child and harder still change or ignore the expectations of those around you who don't understand then you and your child can have a very peaceful Christmas. If anyone has found ideas which work for their Autistic children,please do share them here. You never know you might be making a huge difference to just one family!

However you spend it though have a peaceful and calm Christmas in your household from all of us!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Going it alone- I'm doing it MY way!

Yesterday's question of the day was " What does desolation mean mum?"

We discussed how the world might look if subjected to a nuclear attack- the vast wasteland, I explained, would be barren and desolate. Desolation could also mean 'alone' and 'sad'.That made more sense to my son  in the context he had read it. I suggested that the word must have been derived from the French word desole (sorry)  and quite possibly came from a latin word before that. 'Or perhaps it derives from the  Germanic language' piped up my thirteen year old son.

All this took place in my car whilst parked in a local car park eating our weekly KFC and it's a typical example of how learning takes place in our home.

It started me thinking about  how we each learn.There are five of us,Mum (me) Dad, Eldest son (just turned 17),Twins (one of each  aged 13).My daughter is in main stream secondary and her twin who has a diagnosis of Aspergers is home educated. We are all very different.

I was the classic academic student at school, went to university, got a law degree then worked as a lawyer for 25 years before giving up to home educate my Autistic son. I have  changed my views on the education drastically but in a very liberating way since having my three children.

 My husband on the other hand went down the college route to university, got his degree in Engineering and worked for a time  in engineering before switching to  the fire service at 26. He has just retired and has set up his own fire risk assessment business (again I think due to his changing perception of what education is truly about and his confidence in his ability to learn throughout life)

My eldest son decided against university. He wanted to get his hands dirty and engage in 'real life' ,as he put it. He has just left school at sixteen,has secured an apprenticeship with our local council doing motor vehicle maintenance (his passion) and day release in a local college one day a week. At the moment he is focussed on a career in motor sport but who knows, that may change as he learns and gains experience in other fields, His ongoing education is therefore currently linked to his passion for cars.He spent the weekend watching a local rally through Grizedale forest and, as of last week is learning to drive. His motivation and enthusiasm is infectious.

My daughter's passion is dance.This week has been packed with practices for a performance on Friday. At thirteen she is looking ahead at how she can expand her experience. her brother she has  developed a confident 'can do ' attitude,being ready to grasp every opportunity with both hands. I meanwhile run the taxi service.

My youngest son is very different,partly because he is Autistic, and partly because he just 'is'.
He is in many ways, self taught.He thinks outside the box and sees the details. Things the rest of us miss,like where a jigsaw piece should fit or where there is a glitch in continuity in a film- the detail in fact. He has the single mindedness to keep working on a job that matters to him until he has perfected it.He doesn't give up and he focuses on the job.

And me- well I'm continually learning all the time too.Learning how to perfect my craft of writing, learning better music technique with my choir and learning how to motivate people to get on and do things for themselves rather than rely on government to provide them with the help and funding they so desperately need.

Home education it seems has opened my eyes and given me a lot to be thankful for!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Motivating your Aspergers Child to learn

As I begin to write this I realise that it is going to be quite a challenge. Any one who has a child with Aspergers will know what I mean- particularly a Home educating parent of an Aspergers child.

The guidelines state that you have to educate your child in accordance with age and ability. Easier said than done if your persepective of education is that of someone who has only ever known 'school'. By that I mean the UK education system sort of schooling.

When I look back to when my son was at school I witnessed the motivators used to encourage my son to 'work'. The teachers bribed him with stickers, offers of half an hour on the computer,time with a book- in fact they tried just about everything to get my son to sit still and write something or read his reading book.

But getting a child with Aspergers motivated like that isn't so simple- the problem is that you need to KNOW the child, REALLY KNOW them.Unfortunately school dynamics with their changing teachers and teaching assistants don't lend themselves to having such an intimate relationship with each individual child.

I remember my son coming home from school with a reading book he had been given.It was well below his ability level ,in fact an insult to his intelligence. He was about seven at the time. I spoke to his teacher and she told me he wouldn't read out loud to her and she hoped to encourage him by giving him an easy book to read so that she could then monitor his reading level. I explained that just because he wouldn't read did not mean that he couldn't and that he was refusing to read this at home because it was too easy and boring. She insisted that it was the appropriate way to go and I returned home feeling frustrated that she hadn't listened to me. My son looked at it and refused to even consider reading it (and when you have a son with ODD there is no point in even arguing with him as he just won't do it). Instead I explained that the teacher had not listened to our views and that we would not read the book because I knew he could do it. Instead would he like to go and choose a book he found interesting. My son came back with his latest encyclopedia, cuddled up with me on the settee and happily read out loud for half an hour.

The trouble with school is that the teachers have to teach what the government want children to know and not many children have much interest in what adults think they 'should' be learning. Children want to learn about hurricanes and earthquakes when they see something on the news or about authors when they read one of their books or plays. The school day is  not that flexible and whilst,some children, particularly girls ,will do what you ask in order to please you , with boys it is much less likely,especially when they are autistic. It's not so much a question of pleasing others rather than "What's in it for me?" 

There have been all sorts of attempts to get young boys to 'engage' with the national curriculum when all they want to do is run around outside with a football . It's not they don't want to learn. It's just that they don't want to learn what they feel isn't relevant to them.That's not to say that the subject will never be relevant but why not teach them when the time is right not because the government have decided that they learn such and such a subject in year 7.

Every child is different and what suited my son may not necessarily be a motivator for someone else's child but I found that he was learning  maths skills from Minecraft, lego or the Kerbal Space programme. and his interest in the planets, skateboarding.and rifle shooting

His reading ,writing and spelling came on leaps and bounds when he began reading books which appealed to him (even books designed for adult readers) and he was able to communicate with on-line friends by typing.  He wasn't  a read/cover/memorise /spell sort of person.He was a whole word learner.He asked me to spell a word and he learnt it.

His love of films covered history, literature,science, geography and shopping covered business management,commercial rates, stocks and shares,even politics.

In fact ,  another parent ,when asked today  if she would use jigsaws as a motivator for her jigsaw loving child once he had finished his 'work' wisely replied." No I would go out and buy jigsaws covered in maps, and flags and animals and presidents in fact every educational jigsaw I could find until his interest in jigsaws had subsided and he was onto his next interest"

Motivating any child, particularly one with Aspergers needs practice and observation.You can't be complacent,no sooner will you find a motivator then your child will focus on something else. There will be 'fallow' periods when they appear to learn nothing and then sudden bursts of excitement as they talk you to death about their latest special interest. There's some luck involved as well. Today for example I came home to find my son sitting reading his encyclopaedia instead of being rooted to his computer. There had, he explained, in my absence been a power cut.

 Seizing the moment I produced two books on military helicopters and the special forces which I had just bought in a charity shop. He snapped them up and read for an hour! 

So don't despair. Our children WANT to learn but it's on their terms not ours.And who knows,,if we follow their guide we may end up being parents to a modern day Einstein!

Recommended reading Motivated Minds Raising children to love learning

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Learning in the Real World

Yesterday, after one month as an apprentice car mechanic, my son replaced a bulb in my headlight. At Halfords it would have cost me £18, at our local friendly village garage about £6. This time it cost me 49p, being the cost of a bulb, charged to my son’s trade card. I explained that having a practical skill like this could in fact make him better off than earning a five figure salary but  having no practical skills.

One of the things I learned when I gave up work is that you’ve more time (an extremely valuable commodity) and if you have the practical skills , things that most people have to pay for such as car repairs, decorating and creative projects are free, other than the costs of the materials. You actually save yourself hundreds, if not thousands of pounds.

Several years ago, my husband bought a college DVD plastering course on E-bay. He sat through the night watching it over and over again and then he started on his wall. That DVD (which cost a few pounds), and my husband’s motivation have now saved us the cost of plastering two houses.

Not all is going to plan in the Frost household however (MY plan that is). My efforts to set my eldest son on the road to living in the real world are so far failing dismally on the laundry front. Having explained that now he was working in the adult world I was going to stop doing his washing and hand over the responsibility to him in order to prepare him for independent living,it doesn't seem to have sunk in.

 A week ago I suggested that his laundry pile was mounting up. One week on I am tripping over a smelly pile of underwear in his bedroom. It’s as much as I can do to bite my tongue but what I've learned is sometimes setting up your children for failure is the right thing to do. If my son  has a date and finds that all his shirts are smelly and creased then he it will be his problem not mine. I'm determined not to fall out over it but it’s hard. I keep telling myself that in the scheme of things it’s not really important. Health, happiness and friendships are and, as he is not in any danger, he will find his own way.

I have learned to have the same attitude with   my autistic son. I've found that there’s a name for it – peaceful parenting. Peaceful it certainly is, far preferable to having family disputes over every trivial thing.When you have a family full of teenagers it’s worth knowing about. I didn't realise I was doing it at first but when you have an autistic child with who normal disciplining techniques don’t work you have to try something different! Ross Greene’s book "The Explosive Child" was an eye opener and turned all professional advice on its head. No wonder my son was constantly angry at school, throwing chairs across the classroom and getting angry that he was always in trouble. He saw the world in a different way and he wasn't understood.

Four years on and things are far more peaceful. We don’t push him beyond endurance to do things he feels he can’t do, We encourage him and support him if he wants to try  to do something such as going out or visiting friends , but if he doesn't want to go then we don’t force it ‘because it would be impolite’ or someone would ‘appreciate it’. We tell it as it is and most of our friends understand that it’s not personal or rude, it’s just Aspergers.

Last night we went to Grandma’s. My Autistic son asked to come.He could have stayed behind with his big brother but he wanted to go out. Because it was his choice he was happy and chatty and enjoyed telling his grandparents what he had been doing, and when he was ready to go we went.

A rare family moment outdoors with my Autistic son

So it’s not for me as a parent to tell my children what they will learn, or what career they will follow. My job is far harder than that. I need to sit back and just watch and listen. As I see an interest I need to facilitate it. If a book or a film or an activity is rejected I am not a failure, it’s just not the right time .The right time may not materialise although it normally does. Patience is the key.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

A Dumbed down Education- not for MY KIDS Mr Gove !

As the government continue to slowly squeeze ‘non essential’ subjects out of the curriculum in the mistaken belief than grades will be improved I breath a sigh of relief that for me realisation of what is going on in the education system did not come too late for my children.

As I left school, more than thirty years ago now, the government introduced the national curriculum in a bid to improve standards. My reintroduction back into the education system did not happen again for another twenty years by which time it was a totally different animal. I watched as my sixteen year old played guinea pig to the constant ‘improvements’ brought in by changing governments.

Fortunately for me I had one child who didn’t ‘fit in’- he didn’t sit comfortably in the round hole that the government had created for him. The teachers tried to accommodate him but the education system was already not flexible enough and after four years of meetings, assessments, and a diagnosis of Aspergers we as a family came to the conclusion that the system was damaging both him and our family and we removed him from school.

That was my ‘Damascus’ moment- from that point on we were on our own and whilst it was scary it was exciting too. I started by buying age appropriate text books- they were all the same. I hadn’t appreciated that every child in every school was supposed to learn the SAME thing. It crossed my mind that we were breeding an exceedingly boring generation? But were we? In actual fact ,for those children who were unable or unwilling to learn those subjects. there grew a lack of interest and motivation, a decline of behaviour in the classrooms and lower grades. As a home educating mother of a special needs child, I began to read up on education to establish what suited him best. Hardly surprisingly it soon became clear that if children were happy and the curriculum was tailored to their individual needs then they were likely to do better than their schooled contemporaries.

Over the years I began to step further and further away from the national curriculum as it became clear that my son was school years ahead of his contemporaries in history, IT and geography (as these were his specialist interests). Literature held little interest to him but his command of the English language and his spelling were excellent (without the need for spelling tests or comprehension assessments). Maths was more difficult as four years of being taught that he was ‘dumb’ at maths had shattered his self esteem so much he refused to attempt it.

I backed off and left him to figure things out for himself when he needed to. I reckoned that he didn’t need to be able to do things at the same time as his peers and that he would do it when he was ready. My gut instinct paid off. Whilst he would still not see the purpose of doing some types of calculations and certainly would refuse to sit down to a GCSE exam today unless he felt there was a purpose to it, he can now see how maths is relevant to every day life. He has a logical brain and has been teaching himself computer programming, is designing a virtual aeroplane cockpit, he can work out the costs of items he wants to buy and the change he should get, he can design symmetrical buildings on Mine craft and bridges on his physics games which stay up and hold weight.

Everything I learned from watching my Autistic son affected the way I view my other two children’s ‘education’ at school. They enjoyed the social aspects of sport and music and school trips but the government was gradually eroding these away too so we looked at ways my children could follow their interests outside school. My son learned the drums, my daughter flute. Explorer scouts and scouts enabled them to do the outdoor pursuits there was little time for at school because the government didn’t place enough importance on them. They canoed, took climbing courses, did expeditions, made rafts, swam, took part in triathlons and they did all these things in the rain, hail and snow at times. They learned to cook, to read timetables, to dance and read books and when my eldest left school last year he secured an apprenticeship at his first interview on the basis of these interests, not on any grades.

As I watch him go off to work each day, one month into his apprenticeship, I see a spring in his step, an eagerness to learn and grow and a maturity to speak him mind when things aren’t right and get them sorted.

This year my daughter has to choose her options for GCSE. We have told her to choose what she enjoys doing- education should be fun; it’s a lifelong thing and won’t stop when she is sixteen. She did mention car mechanics ( I think she was joking) although it would come in handy!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

I'm late, I'm late for a very important Date....the pitfalls of being a mother of teenagers

Like many mothers of teenagers I often feel like I'm meeting myself coming back.Just as the White rabbit in Alice in Wonderland flies around, pocket watch in hand,checking the time. I with my rather more modern version,seem to spend my life reacting to various beeps and alarms from my mobile phone. Beep, six thirty , time to get up, beep, beep, seven forty , time to leave the house , and so it goes on.

As they've got older it's become worse. Gone are the days of nursery where they had no option but to sit in their High chairs and wait to be picked up. Nowadays, asking to be picked up at Harry's house at 5.00pm ,will probably turn into being collected from The Leisure centre at 7.00pm, all in the space of half an hour between you dropping them off and returning home for a quick cuppa before you set off again to pick up another child.

Living in the country doesn't help either. A cancelled train can mean that a simple trip to the nearby town can turn into a day's excursion or even an overnight stay.

Two nights ago a bus driver turned my daughter off a bus as it had too many passengers.In the dark in the middle of the Lake District  is not a comfortable place to be for a thirteen year old. Luckily a combination of good life skills, common sense and considering all eventualities in advance meant that she was able to get herself to a friend's house until the troops (alias mum) could be called.

Another day my son had a two hour wait at the station when his train was cancelled. He considered his options. First he looked up the bus time table- the last bus had gone at 5.30pm (perhaps the powers that be think we country bumpkins hibernate after 6,00pm) or he could phone a friend. Unfortunately the latter was out so he sat and waited, and waited, and waited.....

Then there is getting to work in the morning. My son's new apprenticeship is a great success.Unfortunately there are no buses and he isn't old enough to drive yet.But the county council for whom he works have a great scheme where you can claim travel expenses. I was delighted. You see, it's my petrol which is used to get him to work and back each day. We hit a snag- he can only claim if he is driving the car-which seems strange considering it's illegal in the UK before you are 17.

We found a loop hole- he can apply for a free moped from Inspira to get to work.Considering winter is nearly upon us, the road is unlit, floods regularly, and is not a priority for gritting and has had two bike fatalities this week alone that is not a solution I plan to embrace.

And so it would seem that for the next few months at least I am destined to be a taxi driver and sit around in dark car parks reading books as I haven't time to go home before it's time to pick up again.

They tell me the next stage when my son is driving is even more wearing on the nerves- we shall have to wait and see,,,
He can wish,,,,,

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

If there are any Williams present please raise your right hand!

Today I read a post which had been posted on facebook. It was an innocent post, supposed to make you laugh about a granddad in the supermarket with his toddler grandson. The grandson was having a tantrum, asking for sweets, throwing items across the shop and the granddad calmly and patiently repeated to William that they would soon be out the shop.

Once outside a fellow shopper congratulated the grandad on his patience and tolerance with William's bad behaviour. "Oh that's not William" he replies 'I'm William".He described his grandson in more colourful language and said that he was in fact called Kevin.

To many of us who have had young children the scene is comical, at least with hindsight. But for parents with children on the Autistic children this is not just a passing phase and many have to deal with it on a day to day basis.

What struck me was that the author of the piece referred to the grand child as 'badly behaved'. How many parents of Autistic children  have been subject to this misconception and been at the sharp end of judgemental attitudes from passers by who know nothing about us!

For parents of Autistic children have learned not to prejudge. The apparently 'bad' parent or grandparent may be having to deal with an Autistic child who through severe sensory overload is no longer able to cope with the lights and noises in the supermarket- the buzzing lights, the ringing tills, the tanoid and of course the dreaded fire alarm.

I have been in that place where my son has lain down in the supermarket aisle with his hands on his ears , unable to move or to speak, people circling round with their trolleys and me thinking "How on earth do I get out of here?"

I have been in that place when the fire alarms have gone off when I have been at the till and I've had to explain that I won't be able to return to the store after we have been evacuated as I promised my son we would pop into the store fore 15 minutes and now that 15 minutes has expired.

I have been in that place where my son has laid down by the freezers and customers have whispered and nudged one another as I paid at the tills.

So please spare a thought for parents of children with unseen disabilities- they may be having a bad day and just need a smile or a word of encouragement. Don't assume they can't discipline- they are doing their very best.

I have seen the best and worst of people. There was the man who stomped up to me outside the supermarket to tell me my son was being badly behaved. When I explained he had Aspergers the man replied, "Even Autistic children know how to behave". He clearly was not an expert on Autism.

Then there was the man, who on seeing me in the car park, sitting on a kerb waiting for my son to self calm asked if there was anything to do to help. I thanked him, explained there was nothing to do but wait and he smiled and left me alone.

Sadly there is still a long way to go before people understand Autism. They are not dealing with it on a day to day basis. They are not hearing the voices of parents heart broken because they can't get help for their child and they are not immediately thinking when they read an article like this that it's not funny to many people having to deal with this from day to day.

So to any Williams out there I salute you, you are doing a sterling job when you grit your teeth, breath deeply and get out the supermarket unscathed! And for those of you who turn round and do it again the following week- you deserve a medal!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Letting Go!

This week has been about letting go. It's hasn't been easy to do but I want my children to be independent and successful and I think it's essential. I have to admit I'm a bit of a control freak.It's only since my younger son received his diagnosis of Aspergers that I have been able to analyse why. Essentially it's a coping mechanism to ensure that I'm not asked to do more than I can cope with. If I have a plan and do things in advance then the majority of the time things run smoothly. I absolutely hate it when  a last minute emergency (many of which could have be envisaged) is thrown in my way, as I'm already juggling so many balls that I'm likely to drop one whilst catching the unexpected 'crisis' that has been thrown at me.

Having been blessed with an oppositional child  has shown me that you can't always be in control. Whilst my other two are compliant and obliging ,he certainly is not , and I soon learned that the harder I pushed the more entrenched he became as he struggled because of inflexibility of mind to do the thing I'd requested. We had battles, he swore, even physical aggression at times. I soon learned that what I worked for my other two did not work for him. I learned instead to pick my battles and only insist on things being done where it was a question of safety or health.

Over the last three weeks our routine has changed beyond all recognition.My husband has become self employed. my eldest son has entered the world of work and my daughter has started a weekend job.

Suddenly I have found that I have gone from having a  relative lie in in the morning and  leaving the house at 7.40 to get the school bus to having to be out of the house at 7.10  each morning, even at weekends.

It has meant that my daughter has had to sort herself out in the morning and get herself out the house on time as I am already on the road taking my son to work.

I have been surprised at the way they have both buckled down and organised themselves.I have tried to resist the temptation to interfere as they will need to learn that if they don't get up on time or pack their lunches then they will miss the bus or get no lunch.

I have already introduced my son to doing his own laundry. He started as soon as he finished his GCSE's at the beginning of the summer. I couldn't believe how much easier my job became. My teenage, fashion conscious son was contributing at least half of the laundry created by a family of five. Now if he doesn't iron,he goes out creased or if he can't find an odd sock , he can't blame me. He is slowly learning!

My daughter meanwhile is, as I write , sitting on the couch writing out her time sheet for her employer. She has learned to keep track of her time and is now financially independent. She is learning business skills too- something she isn't taught at school.

It's been a busy three weeks but we are enjoying the challenge of change!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Big Stink - Aspergers and hygiene

"Is there any bath water" asked my son a minute ago. I nearly fell off my seat. For anyone who follows my blog regularly knows, getting my son to water is like asking a Dodo to fly- it just doesn't happen.

However over the past two weeks I have noticed a change. It began one day when my son asked his older brother if he could use the computer.

"Not until you've had a bath" said my eldest "You stink"

The youngest, who is now 13 (and has Aspergers) acknowledged that he is now beginning to get sweaty but was worried that bathtime was 8.30pm and it was only 11.00 o'clock in the morning,

I grasped my chance. "Well you could wait till 8.30pm", I acknowledged "but that's a long time to wait to go on the computer", "If you changed your routine today you could be on the computer in 10 minutes"

That seemed to settle it, in no time at all he was in the bath and clean without so much of a condescending look, a grimace or a swear word.

And so things have continued. He doesn't bath every night you understand, but anything is better than nothing at all. He has meekly gone for a bath three out of five times this week without so much as a murmur and tonight tops the lot!

I'm finding that the less I push. the more my son seems to mature. It's always a couple of years behind his peers when it comes to the social aspects of life but it does happen,when HE is ready!

So perhaps tomorrow he will clean his teeth? But I won't hold my breath.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Calculating the Cost of Aspergers- a lesson in Maths

At my son's request I bought him a scientific calculator yesterday. For a boy with whom I've done no more than basic maths I'm not quite sure why, but I am happy to wait and see.

School did a lot of damage when it came to maths.My son used to pull out the plugs of the school computers when the maths lessons came around because he dreaded it so much. Then he sat under the computer desks and hid.

It was years before he recognised that he wasn't a dunce or stupid, he just couldn't understand the point of doing something that had no relevance to him. Why do twenty questions on the same subject when you have got the first five right?

At first we tried work books and sheets but the opposition was immense and the effort required by me to ensure he carried out the task was draining.

I soon learned to let go and stop controlling. When we were in supermarkets we would discuss whether 50% extra free was better or the same as BOGOF. We would check the tiny labels you find on the shelves giving the price per gram or unit so that we could establish whether  a Box of Washing powder with 84 washes was a better or worse buy than the same make smaller box. The results were sometimes unexpected. A certain brand of yoghurt was cheaper when you bought 10 separate units than if you bought a pack of six. This was the sort of maths my son could understand and his fear began to lessen.

I introduced pocket money of £5 per week and he quickly learned to count up in fives. I paid him to help with the decorating and paid the minimum wage and he used his calculator to work out what I owed him.

He calculated the cost of the components required to build a computer. He learned angles on his skateboard or whilst playing pool and by using a compass and coordinates by reading maps.

He saw graphs and statistics whilst watching the news and reading books and taught himself to decipher the information presented.

Grams and kilograms were learned whilst cooking and shopping. Miles and kilometres whilst travelling along the motorway and, he finally cracked the time when I realised that, whilst he struggled with analogue, he could read digital clocks.

It was trial and error.We started comparing prices online, getting free delivery, buying in sales and charity shops and my son learned the value of money.

He played online maths games too for a while, particularly the Woodland school website. I began to notice him figuring out problems for himself. I didn't always know how he had reached his answer but he was often right and even if he wasn't he would often self correct when he realised there was something wrong with his answer.

He learned the order of the months when he wanted to find out when a favourite X box game was due for release. The list went on and on. The common element was that when it was relevant to my son he learned it.Furthermore, once learned he didn't forget.He was like a little computer and as he added each fact to the mix, his brain processed it and filed it in the right compartment.

He is no longer frightened by maths.It's not his favourite subject but he knows he can find out what he needs to know and he is comfortable with that and as for me I'll be interested to see what he comes up with next!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Mind blowing Education - Does our education system impose a Strait jacket?

Today I am really excited. I couldn't wait to post this article which was shared with me today.It isn't my normal blog post but it says all I passionately believe about home education and self led learning.

Most of all it gives hope to all of us out there who worry that our children are not learning enough, will not be able to go to university or get a job or be successful.Every child has potential- we just need to nurture it.

The part about maths hit me the most. as I have recently taken a free  online Maths course with  Stanford University .The professor is Jo Boaler who wrote The Elephant in the Classroom .The fundamental message was that if you want to make maths fun you have to create problems and allow the children to work things out for themselves without instruction (as that narrows their minds and hampers the flexibility of thinking.)

Yesterday my son was watching an instructional video on You Tube about sniping. I asked him what three columns of numbers meant.The first was distance. the second was height  and the third was ...................He explained that the further away you were from a target, the higher  you positioned the Scope'. I said I couldn't really see a pattern in the numbers other than the height numbers went up the further away the target.

That he explained was because as the bullet got further away it got slower and started to descend so it was important to point the rifle over the target in order to get an accurate shot. His explanation was a lucid and a simple explanation of both the physics and maths. No one had taught him but he was comfortable with the concept and has found in computers a learning medium which suits his learning style!

I am just delighted we found out what it is before it was too late!

I hope you enjoy and are as excited by this article as much as I am!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Living in a Cardboard Box

How many friends do you have who live in a cardboard box? That's what will happen to you apparently if you fail your English GCSE! It astounds me the pressure that teachers place upon their pupils in Years 10 and 11 and the worst thing is that they seem to believe it themselves.

I want to say to them "but what about Richard Branson, or Winston Churchill and Thomas Edison", but no matter how much I have tried to explain that I don't think good GCSE's necessarily make for a successful life (well not my idea of success anyway) it falls on deaf ears.

The frustrating thing is that actually these teachers represent a 'system' which has had an effect on them as much as on the pupils they teach.In a way they are right.If you are expecting to work for someone, get the Job centre to find you a job and want to earn pots of money then you will have to prove how good you are and if your potential boss has been through the state education system and succeeded academically then he is likely to look at your grades. 

Recently my son was looking through a list of apprenticeships. BMW were seeking apprentices and had strict conditions regarding the grades they required.I had no particular problem with that,in fact , I'm sure they have more than enough applicants from which to choose. What I did have a problem with was that the application form had nowhere to enter hobbies, interests and outside achievements.These I think are more revealing of the type of character you are interviewing than any test grade. I was left with the impression that the company must be very narrow minded.

Only the other day my sixteen year old son went to a garage with his dad and was talking to the company director during a test drive. He explained that he was about to start an apprenticeship in vehicle maintenance and repair. The company director said he was seeking an apprentice as he had already unsuccessfully employed three from the local college with no motivation or interest in cars.If my son found that his apprenticeship didn't work out then the garage owner was interested in employing him.That was purely on the basis of meeting my son a chatting to him about his interests.

The company director explained that in interviewing his employees he was looking for a) an interest in cars b) motivation and c) a qualification in motor vehicle maintenance, C was by far his lowest priority.

My son's new employer said the same at interview. They now employ a private firm to train their apprentices as they have found that the students from the local colleges often haven't the necessary practical skills they need.

So whilst I was very proud of my son when he accepted his GCSE certificates and educational vocational award on Thursday I am far prouder of his maturity and wisdom well beyond his 16 years and his determination to do his own thing rather than follow the crowd!

I will let you know Mr Teacher if my son  is living in a cardboard box as you predict at the end of the next academic year! I suspect that he will not although I wonder whether your perception of educational success will have changed. I do hope for the sake of all your future students that it has!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Ugly Duckling or Beautiful Swan?

According to my son (Aspergers with Oppositional Defiant disorder) I have OCD. All because I tried to interest him in some stamps which I bought at a car boot sale the other day in an effort to motivate him.

In fact they were fascinating. As I sorted them into groups I found a set on the American Presidents which links in with the jigsaw, books and films about American history which I have stealthily introduced over the last few months.There were stamps of film stars, flying pioneers, landscapes. animals and plants and several people I have never heard of. A  great conversation starter for the price of  a pound!

Apparently stamps are 'boring' and 'old fashioned'. Or at least they were until my son learned that his Grandad used to buy mint sets of stamps which may be quite valuable now. Ah then his ears pricked up!

I wonder ,with the privatisation of the Post office whether stamp collections will become a thing of the past?We will have to see.Certainly they will be antiques  I found a stamp in my British collection franked 1932 bearing the head of King George. There is so much to be gained from studying stamps- history, science , biology, geography, even art.

I have not given up. I have painstakenly put my stamps in order in my stamp album and will wait and see what happens.

It is interesting to observe how my son learns when he is ready. He has been building a Japanese building on Minecraft and, a book which he rejected several days ago about buildings from around the world suddenly came into it's own when designing an original piece of architecture. He read an extract out loud too. Not a simple children's book but a non fictional adult account of Japan with extensive specialist terms and vocabulary.

 You just never know when he will be inspired- it's just a question of continually providing new resources and watching what happens. I refuse to give up or be down hearted or to worry about the fact 'that we are not doing enough'.If my son was at school I am acutely aware that the teachers would spend most of the time 'managing' his behaviour, which would be exaggerated due to his sensory difficulties with noise and lights.

 Sensory problems are such a huge part of autism and often not recognised.If my son withdraws into himself or suffers a melt down and explodes he will not learn.He will be excluded from school, as with so many other autistic pupils or put in isolation- exactly the thing that he most craves so that he no longer has to deal with the over stimulation of senses which he has to deal with at school. The noise and smells in the dining room, the bright lights in the classroom with their continuous buzzing, the school bell and the fire alarms.It is all a terrifying prospect.Oh and course there are the teachers who don't understand autism. Those that bully, or shout or punish children for not being organised- all of which could have been avoided if knowledge and understanding of the individual child had been there.

At home my son is settled and  happy.He joins in family conversations, comments on documentaries, films and the news. In fact he has valid views on most things . He is not stupid or dumb. In fact far from it. He is far above average intelligence and often makes us take a step back with the things that he knows. He will turn into an individual with his own opinions and ideas,untainted by the views of others, having reached his own point of view through research and reasoning. I am happy to watch him grow and to nurture his individuality.He will not end up 'a failure of the system' but as a success who overcame it.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Robyn Steward NAS Ambassador for Aspergers

Today I was privileged to hear NAS ambassador Robyn Steward talk about Aspergers. At the age of twenty seven she is working with the NAS to spread awareness of the condition.In her own imitable style (she wore a purple trilby and purple dock martins) she explained that she learned to tie her shoe laces at the age of 21 after seeing a pair of yellow dock martins which she really. really wanted. Motivation was the key.

I asked her whether she felt it worked better for her to be self employed rather than working for a company with structure and expectations and she said without doubt as she was 'a pain in the backside' and difficult to work with, The thing that struck me was that she understood herself and also how difficult it could be for NT people to work with and understand her. One of her coping strategies when she felt stressed was to ring her parents. Luckily, she said, she had two so that when she got too much for one, they could pass the phone to the other!

Robyn had a real sense of humour and her straight talking, honest way of speaking was refreshing. When asked for advice about what to do when a certain child became 'mad' her first comment was 'I assume by mad you mean angry'. She had learned her limitations with regard to understanding language and had asked for clarification to check she understood,

I was encouraged that here was a young person with the same condition as my son living independently with support of three hours a week because,she admitted, she was a 'hoarder' and very messy.

Despite a difficult time at school (she was finally kicked out), then being sexually abused by a trusted professional (in her late teens) because of her difficulty with soctal cues (Discussing bananas and hob nobs in a sex education class at school simply isn't enough for autistic pupils who need to hear it directly and factually without embarrassment),she was not afraid to speak out in order to help others who were unable to speak for themselves

For those who haven't met her Robyn has a  website and she is well worth listening to!

Thank you Robyn and good luck with the tour!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Making the most of Autumn!

It's been an unseasonably warm Autumn day.As I sat on an upturned water heater which used to heat a former Victorian greenhouse, a coffee in one hand and a bowl of blackberries in the other the sun beat down on my back.

Blackberries have been in abundance this year,So have the Victoria plums and damsons and, in an effort to make the most of the harvest , I spent the evening making blackberry and apple jam. As with many rural communities, the apples were a gift from a friend as our apple tree hasn't produced much this year and what there are, are  perched in the highest part of the tree!

This year I am determined to make the most of  the harvest and turn it into gifts for Christmas. I am the laughing stock in our house as my shopping list contained a request for Vodka, an essential ingredient for Limoncello which I intend to make. The family thought I had turned into an Alcoholic!

There has been a scent of Autumn in the air .There are rose hips in the hedgerows .The elderberries and sloes are almost ready to be picked too. One morning this week there were spiders webs everywhere glistening with rain drops.

As the fallen fruits ferment under the trees in the orchard they are covered by butterflies and wasps.

I've  discovered four types of fungi in the garden too. It's one of the advantages of having a 'wild garden' there is always a suprise!This is the Shaggy inkcap, so called as it withers and turns inky black as it ages.

Anyway we all seem to be enjoying the sunshine. My daughter is under canvas this weekend. It makes a change to have sunshine instead of the snow and flooding of last winter,and this cheeky chap certainly seemed to be relaxed as he sunned himself on the wall!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Ex Libris a Home schooling mother!

I have been admiring my new library.Well it's a book case really but a VERY LARGE one! I found it at our local charity shop and it was perfect for the stashes of books we have got piled under the bed, the sofa, in the entrnce porch even the window sill. As I started filling it I was surprised at how much space seemed to be left but as I have added to it from the little hidden piles in every room the spaces have gone and I am going to have to be strict with myself. When the book case is full the rule is 'one in, one out' (That's the theory anyway!)

As I was going through my hidden stash I uncovered a book about Abraham Lincoln. I learned that the man was 6ft 4" at a time when the average person was only 5 ft 6".It put things in perspective.We  often forget how man has evolved. It reminded me of another book on my 'to do ' list " The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England". I started reading it a while back .The descriptive prose had me breathing in the pungent Medieval air in the towns and eating the food. One of my main recollections of the book however was how much smaller people were in Medieval days and because they died much younger then. village leaders were in their  20's and 39's rather than the 40+ we have come to expect today.

One of the things about living in the country is that we are accustomed to frequent power cuts as the overhead powerlines are buffeted by the wind and rain off the sea. Yesterday the power was turned off for maintenance and we found ourselves without power for most of the day. Unable to access the computer my son snuggled up in a sleeping bag next to the bookcase and took down an encyclopedia of British History.

I thought that the books in our library reveal a lot about us. There are history and gardening books,books about the Lake district and barely looked at craft books (I love to look at the pictures but lack the confidence to make very much). Now that they are on display I plan to overthaul our books (something which I routinely do at the start of each homeschooling books) to make way for books on our new hobbies and interests. My son has suggested that one of our first jobs should be to categorise them like in a 'real' library. That will be a lesson for another day!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

When is a holiday not a holiday?When it's a lesson.

The British  government in their wisdom have decided that head teachers have little discretion regarding holidays during term time. Instead they have a duty to tell the local authority when a child takes ten working days off during term time On top of that parents may be fined.

Once again the government are showing how very little they understand about the process of education and how little trust they have in a parent's ability to know what is best for their children. It may surprise them to know that it's not just about getting a cheaper holiday (although that in itself is a valuable budgeting lesson!). For some parents it's about getting time to spend time together as a family, or for people like us, being able to take an autistic child on holiday when it's quiet or educating your children about other  people and cultures.

You learn so much on holiday. This year we  went for a family holiday to Portugal and, as usual ,I kept notes of the things we saw and learned during our stay.

The first thing I noticed when I woke up on our first morning was the smell of pine through the veranda window and the squeaky chirp of some colourful green, red and yellow birds with beaks like a buderigar. These, I was reliably informed by our hostess, were Love birds roaming free in the wild.

We saw storks too with their great matted nests of sticks on the top of wooden posts

and Cattle Egrets on the backs of horses as they grazed in the fields.

Lemon trees and black grapes grew in abundance and hibiscus and bourganvillia grew everywhere.

We discussed how the fruit and flowers had waxy leaves to  help them  retain moisture in countries where the soil was barren and dry in summer.

Portugal is also the worlds leading producer of cork and the bark of the cork trees was cut horizontally round the trunk and the bark removed and piled up in timber yards.

As usual the  holidays enabled us to read books of interest rather than 'prescribed books. Whilst my son read about pirates I enjoyed Driving over Lemons a story about living on a small holding in Andulucia and Remembrance, a fictional story about the first world war..

We experimented with the local food too, visiting local food markets

and trying the local produce we saw (although we didn't try sardines!)

Sport and P.E were covered by daily swimming sessions in the pool and frequent trips to the beach to jump the breakers! We even invested in a body board!

And art involved my autistic son experimenting with his bridge camera.

So you see, we actually learned such a lot and got to spend precious time as a family together so that we could recharge our batteries and return refreshed and ready to learn even more!