Thursday, 28 February 2013

Reflections of the Week

Just some of the lovely places and things I have seen and done in the last week. The weather has been good,spring is in the air and I feel like smiling! My daughter and I are walking to raise money for our local National Autistic society.People are fantastic! I received two donations whilst out yesterday to help our wonderful children. If you would like to help you can sponsor us   here Just enter the surname "Frost" and we are numbers  are 7158 and 7159! This is what our local NAS are doing in the Furness area.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Learning doesn't stop on Fridays!

My eldest son turned down a school trip today in order to go to college which according to him is 'awesome'. It is lovely when your child is happy and learning - that's why home education can work so well because you tailor it to your individual child,

Last weekend for example  was full of memorable moments, It started with my daughter going geo caching with scouts on our local common. Her elder brother meanwhile chose to spend an hour in the gym. He has been going since last June and stuck with it without any pressure from us. He is fitter and thinner and well on the way to being ready for his 40 mile sponsored walk to raise money for his  trip to Austria with the Explorer scouts in the summer.

At community choir on Saturday we practised Disney's 'Beaty and the Beast' and 'The Seal Lullaby ' by Howard Whittaker. Afterwards,having been desperate to go and watch the film Les Miserables my daughter and I finally managed to fit it into our schedule.

 "It's three hours long you know' we were informed at reception ' and It's pretty boring'. 

I informed the young man we had sung the music before and wanted to see it - we were so glad we did-The acting and singing were fantastic and we both declared we would definately go back and see the film again. The film played on my mind all evening and the next day it was so well executed. Later in the week my autistic son watched the Oscar nominations and listened to the cast as they sang one of the choruses.Another piece of the 'musical jigsaw' .

Whilst we watched Les Miserables my autistic son was playing with his friend on the computer- Technology plays an important part in enabling him to interact with his peers and prevents him being isolated. The two of them had even taken the dogs out for a walk in the sunshine!

On Sunday my daughter and I went training for our sponsored walk in May. We walked along the beach to North Walney nature reserve. The beach was empty and the scenery spectacular. As we sat on the beach eating our lunch my daughter declared that it was our best walk so far. We didn't come home empty handed either- we collected wood on the beach as my eldest son is making a computer desk from recycled wood for his DT  GCSE and pulled it along the beach in an old fish crate which had been washed up on the shore!

My son and his dad meanwhile worked on my son's car together and my husband commented how his motor engineering skills had come on in the last year.

As a seasoned home educator I can now appreciate just how much all my children learned over the weekend without 'school' or 'lessons'. Learning didn't stop at 3.30pm on a Friday- it continued as long as we all had open minds!

Friday, 22 February 2013

The Right Learning Environment!

I think children learn better when they learn what they want to learn when they want to learn it, and how they want to learn it, learning for their own curiosity and not at somebody else's order. I believe that learning would be greatly improved if we could completely or at least largely abolish the fixed curriculum in its present sense. I do ... ~ John Holt

Coniston Water

It's snowing in Arizona. I thought it didn't snow in deserts but the cacti are covered in snow and the golf has been postponed. Just another example of how one thing leads to another in home education. Now we will have to look up the climate of Arizona and check its position on the globe to see if it is freak weather or whether this is normal at this time of year! Talking of weather my daughter has spent the weekend asking her dad to help her make a weather vane for school. Despite a lot of chuntering about 'having enough to do’ and  children being given homework within their capabilities (can’t you just tell we hate homework), in fact, working together was a great example of home education although we would have preferred to do it in our own time and when it was relevant to the subjects my daughter was interested in!

To give an example it was  my son's parents’ evening last night and he has been creating a website. According to the teacher the website is really good and quite technical and my son who isn't academic has received a high grade for his work. I was shown the website and I smiled- he'd created a website for the motor mechanic business he intends to set up when he leaves school so of course he was interested in the subject- you would think that the government would learn something from this instead of imposing such narrow subject matter on its students!

We have also  had a productive week on the home front .My home educated autistic son seems to have been motivated by the sunshine and has been far more inclined to go out. I'm beginning to think that it's not agoraphobia I'm dealing with but anxiety when going somewhere he doesn't want to go. Whenever my son knows where he is going or wants to do something he has no hesitation in going out to the car and going out!

Take yesterday for example. It was our dentist appointment. I gave my son the choice about whether he was going. Surprisingly he got dressed but then got the wobbles and decided not to go. A few months ago he wouldn't have let me leave the house but I was allowed to take the others and we had our check-ups! When I got back to the house he opted to come up to Coniston with me to return his siblings to school and then had chips and hot chocolate in a local cafe. There were signs initially that it was hard for him in there. He picked up some leaflets and focussed hard on them so as to blank out his surroundings, but once his chips came he relaxed and I got a great big smile! What more can you ask for? Happy  children in the environment that suits them best. In his case it is definitely HOME SWEET HOME!

Monday, 18 February 2013

History and buildings!

Norman Doorway

Well as I mentioned in the blog yesterday I did look up Bardsea church and was surprised to see it was only designed in 1845 - not even two hundred years old compared with Ulverston Parish Church. I googled our village church St Cutherberts in Kirkby and discovered it has a 'fine Norman doorway' so a walk up to the church was the order of the day to investigate further. I think that perhaps we have a project in the offing, certainly something we can dip in and out of and build up our historical and architectural knowledge as we travel round the local villages!

I could see immediately that the doorway was older than the porch that surrounded it and the door was round rather than arched at the top. The windows on the outside looked different though so I have decided I will have to do some more reading to 'get the picture'. One thing I did learn when I googled the church was that the Tower fell down one Sunday when the bells were being rung.Two of the three bells smashed but there is no record of what happened to the bell ringers!Now I'm on to a roll I'll take a picture of the Norman tower in Ulverston too when I'm next there. My son tells me that the Norman period was around 1000-1100 AD. Not bad for a twelve year old! What did intrigue me was that one of the windows in Ulverston was apparently designed by William Morris. I'm not sure if its THE William Morris (I've never really read much about him) so that's another avenue to pursue. It amazes me that a chance comment can lead to so much 'education'!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Open your eyes and see! Don't just look!

As we sat in the Fish and chip shop , eating tea, in between dropping my eldest off at scout camp and my daughter off at scouts, my autistic son was studying the old prints of our market town on the wall. He pointed to the picture of the Parish Church with it's norman tower and we noted that it was built over 1000 years ago - quite mind blowing to think that centuries before I was confirmed there people were worshiping in the same building. My son explained how to recognise Norman Architecture  by the shape of the tower and arched windows and once again I realized how much we learn from things we take for granted in our day to day lives. As a result I have taken pictures of the church at Bardsea today with it's steeple and granite stone with the intention of researching its historical background. Our brains are like a computer which links together information we've already learned with the new things we experience and because they were of interest to us the information is retained.

Similarly having visited Donkey Rock in Broughton this week, with its example of Coniston Grits I realised just how much we have seen on our home education adventure. Limestone pavements at Birkrigg, Erratic boulders in scotland and the opportunity to view geological sites at Humphrey Head and Whitbarrow Scar. We even found fossils on our own beach down the road. Unschooling really is a wonderful way to retain a love of learning and makes you appreciate the fantastic things around us if we just open our eyes!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Half Term Education!

It's half term this week. I always look forward to having all the children at home because it's the opportunity to escape routine and  really enjoy life without any constraints. I've always said that it is times like these when my children are truly "educated" and when I look back over the week so far I can see how productive autonomous learning really is.

Yesterday my eldest son invited his friends  round to practice for a gig they are playing  in March. The garage was full of teenage boys laughing and joking as they drummed and strummed and sang. Some of them are doing music as a GCSE, some are self taught musicians but they all shared a real love of music and were swapping ideas and difference experiences. As they chatted in the kitchen munching pizza I  found it heart warming that instead of sitting in front of computers screens all day these lads who were from different schools were doing something they loved and helping each other to learn and progress!

Meanwhile my daughter and I are in training for a twenty three mile sponsored walk in the Lake District . We are raising money for our local NAS. Neither of us has walked that far before but we are determined to complete it. We had planned our route to Broughton, a walk of around 5 miles each way. The weather was kind and it was cold and bright as we set off  across the marshes.Unfortunately the batteries in the camera quickly went flat  so we resorted to my mobile phone and ipod to record our journey. Although less effective than the camera , we managed to capture the two black sheep which stolled ahead of us up the road, and the white sheep which stuck it's head through the fence to say hello.

On our way to Broughton we passed Donkey Park , We discovered it was a geology park which contains Coniston Grits 400 million years old from the Sillurian period. I had passed many times in the car but had never noticed the quarry or indeed heard of it.

On reaching  Broughton we stopped for lunch in The Square Cafe and then set off on our return journey. My daughter's knee was beginning to throb ( an injury suffered following her recent school dance performance) so at Foxfield we checked the train times and discovered that the next train was due so on we jumped and travelled the four minute journey home to Kirkby! Even reading the train timetable was an education for my daughter who rarely has the opportunity to travel on public transport in our rural area.

Yesterday my eldest set off for Explorer camp in lake Windermere. Last time he went the tents were flooded by melted snow. This time he is living in the lap of luxury- a wooden lodge with a kitchen. He is part of the staff for the weekend ! Meanwhile, I have had hordes of young teenage girls sleeping overnight in our garage (not as bad as it sounds!) and , as for my autistic son - well he has enjoyed the company and been content to join in as and when it suited him.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Learn from Experience!

"We learn something from everything we do,and everything that happens to us or is done to us.What we learn may make us more informed or more ignorant, wiser or stupider,stronger or weaker, but we always learn something." Instead of Education by John Holt.


My sons' fingers have been rattling over the keyboard this evening. For someone who has trouble putting pen to paper because the effort involved in forming the letters interferes with his ability to concentrate on what he needs to write it's amazing.His writing suddenly becomes eloquent and fluent and in accordance with his intelligence, whereas his hand writing is still immature and unformed. 

I suppose we could have concentrated more on neat handwriting but I can't see the point. My son is capable of filling in forms and signing his name if he needs to, but in this day and age the majority of what he needs to do can be completed by computer. Similarly with maths, it's more important that he understands the procedure required to calculate a problem rather than actually working it out in his head when calculators are freely available.

Technology is moving so fast and that can only be beneficial for Autistic children.Today I read about the Grace app for iphones  which enables non verbal children to communicate what they want by using PECS or pictures. It was designed by a mother of two autistic children to help them. (Mothers can be very creative when they have to be).So many parents I have come across have invented ingenious gadgets to help their children when they have been unable to find  resources on the market.

One mum has started a business making weighted blankets, another trained to do sensory profiling, many parents turn to blogging which opens up new opportunities to educate and learn about autism.In fact some of the most intelligent people I know have autistic children. They have had to learn to 'think outside the box' which can only be good in a society where our education system is no more that the government telling its teachers what it thinks we have to learn. Thank goodness it doesn't bother me one hoot whether the government continue with GCSE's or the new scrapped idea of a Baccalaureat- you can't improve a failing system!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Karate Kid!

Putting up the new trampoline with friends last summer!
My son is in the kitchen making himself a bagel. It may not sound like much but if you have been following my blog recently you'll know how big a deal that is. In fact it's his third today.It's lovely to see him enjoying his food!
It's been a good week. A week of firsts! My son asked to come to Asda this morning. Now firstly it's Saturday, secondly it was likely to be busy and finally he didn't need to come as my husband was at home! I explained the likelihood of it being busy (which it was) but that didn't deter him so off we set, myself, my son and his twin sister!
On the way there he sat reading "The Barmy British Empire" ( a subject with which he is fascinated at the moment). Once at the supermarket we discussed strategies if it became overwhelming. My son and his sister set off in search of the computer games whilst I scooted round to buy our essentials. After about 20 minutes they found me and my daughter said her brother was ready to go back to the car so I handed her the keys and off they went. I completed the shopping and went back to the car to find him happily absorbed once again in his book.
My son has ventured out several times this week. As usual we managed our weekly visit to KFC. Luckily we have managed to maintain this through out his period of anxiety and it has been a godsend sitting in the car park eating our lunch whilst we discuss what he has learned in the week. He also managed lunch at Grandmas on Sunday and went round to play on the Xbox with my friend's sixteen year old whilst I took my eldest to his college interview. He does seem to have an affiliation with children senior to him.Finally he played on the trampoline yesterday. The weather was lovely, mild and sunny - my son seemed to spend most of the day in his bedroom but when he came down he said he had been learning Karate and he showed me his moves. He also explained the mentality behind the moves and showed me a video on You Tube this morning aboult the Shanolin Monks who practised it! I suggested we went into the garden to show his dad and surprisingly he agreed.He then decided the trampoline would be a good place to practice his moves. Despite having his ear defenders in case of 'low flying planes' he took them off and didn't seem to be bothered by the sound of traffic outside the village or the bird song. The excercise did him good too. I found him asleep at 9.30pm and he didn't wake up until 8.00am the following morning!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Food, Glorious Food - Not if you're Autistic!

Pancakes provide calcium and protein
I've just finished making pancakes.It's something my son eats and , from my perspective, has some nutritional value in the eggs and milk it contains.

It's not always easy to find the right food. This morning when I came downstairs, my son, who had been up all night , said he was hungry and would like some toast. What he meant was pre-sliced processed toast. When I told him that we only had fresh bread left but I could toast a couple of slices he replied that he only liked 'square toast'. 

This isn't at all unusual with Autistic children.The other day we were at Grandmas' for Roast dinner. After pudding she handed out some peppermint creams which had been a Christmas gift telling us all that they were from M and S. After a few minutes Grandma noticed that my son hadn't yet eaten his mint.

" Don't you like it she asked?"

 " No", he replied,  "I don't like M and S!

What he meant was that he doesn't like the smell of the M and S stores, in fact he refuses to set foot in them,  and that had effected his decision not to eat the sweet. If Grandma hadn't mentioned where the sweet was from then he would no doubt have eaten it.

Only last night I made lasagne. I usually use a jar of white sauce. but our stocks were out so I made my own. My son loves lasagne but when I gave out the plates he refused to eat his because it 'looked different'. Feeding my son can be frustrating - What he likes one day he will hate the next!

Some Autistic children will stop eating a particular food simply because the packaging  or a minor ingredient has changed . Re-branding can be a nightmare for parents of autistic children!

I also have to remind my son to drink. He can go all day without drinking anything and despite being warned it could lead to kidney infections it doesn't seem to make any difference. If I ask my son if he wants a drink and he says'I don't know' that generally means he will drink it. It is only if he says 'no' that I know there is no point giving him one.

In discussion with friends, I've learned that there are dealing with similar issues.. Some children don't like lumps and will physically vomit if they find one in their food. Others will eat the middle, but not the end of a banana.

Vitamin powder in orange juice and drinks like Complan can add essential vitamins and minerals if your child will eat them, We have found that my son enjoys Nesquik milkshake. One thing I'm sure about though is that it doesn't help to make a big issue of it. If the only thing your child will eat is Mars bars then it is no good banning them, you are purely removing one more foodstuff from your child's already limited diet'

 Some children eat the same thing day in and day out. We are fairly lucky my son loves spicy food and will eat curries, chinese meals and spicy chicken. Other children will only eat bland food like pasta and noodles- so there is no fixed rule. You just have to suck it and see! One of the most helpful books I have found on the subject so far is Can't Eat, Won't Eat by Brenda Legge. Her son would only eat Kit Kats which can be a problem if school bans chocolate from the childrens' lunch boxes!
If anyone has experience of some simple foods which have been successful with their Autistic child then please feel free to share them in the comments section. You may be providing another parent with a life line!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Good Night, Sleep tight!

Well after another couple of weeks of non sleeping my son seems to be pulling it round again.He went to bed at 2.30am this morning. We are learning to treat it like jet lag. His sleep patterns get out of synch and then he has to gradually turn it round an hour at a time day by day.
We refuse to let it get us down, it makes home educating together harder as I'm often asleep when he's awake but we use our moments together and I leave books around for him to read when he's not tired. Despite lack of sleep the questions still keep on coming."What's a pleb mum"."What do you think of Gay marriages" "Religious views have caused a lot of wars"- it doesn't stop my twelve year old from being inquisitive.
As I think I've said before we have already discussed , shopping at night and working from home when he's older- he may have to  consider night shifts if these sleep patterns continue but it won't be the end of the world.
An interesting question about sleep came up on one of my home educating forums recently. I was pleased to see that most of those parents whose advice I respect and who have more experience than me had adopted a similar attitude, adapting the environment to suit their child, rather than trying to force their child to sleep. In fact one parent came up with a brilliant idea. Like my son, her child was missing meals because he was asleep at mealtimes so she now made him a packed lunch which he ate about 2.00am!
The parents who were struggling were the ones who saw their child's behaviour as 'deliberate' - getting out of their responsibilities and 'mucking up family time'. They were stressed and angry and it was getting them nowhere. They felt guilty as parents because their children were on screens too much and not going out the house. One lady said her child hadn't been out since Christmas
It is horrible, you feel like a bad parent because your child is going against everything you are taught is right to be a good parent. I have been in their shoes (and not all that long ago). I too have posted for advice. What I do know is that my son IS NOT doing this on purpose. He wants to sleep.Putting pressure on him will only cause us all stress so we have to work with where were at in order to get where we hope to be.
 I learned yesterday that screens emit a blue light similar to daylight which tells the brain that it's still day therefore it makes you feel awake. It is no good ordering my son to switch off all his screens because it isn't good for him .He will just get angry and go into meltdown because I'm trying to 'control' him. However he will accept scientific facts so I have dropped that in in conversation for him to mull over. One thing I have learned is that I'm not alone.This is a very common problem, particularly with Autistic children in their teens and we need to do what we can to help them, NOT force them. What I have realised is that we haven't had many meltdowns recently, despite the blip in sleep patterns and my concerns, my son seems happy because we are not trying to turn him into something he's not. A family is there for it's members NOT it's members for the family!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Radio Rental- I must be Crazy!

This is the life! Home education at it's best!
A few days ago an email popped up in my  inbox inviting me to participate in a discussion about Autism with Radio Cumbria.It was totally out the blue and it suddenly brought to mind the power of blogging. If the truth be known this blog started out as a record to remind me how far my son has come since his days at school.  It was a memory jogger when preparing his educational report and an encouragement on bad days. Now it was being used to educate people about autism! I was overwhelmed but knew I couldn't let a chance like this pass me by.
There was a flurry of emails. a telephone call and ,because it's not easy for me to leave the house and I didn't have a baby sitter.we arranged a telephone interview at home for this morning. The local NAS support group as usual were right behind me (I wouldn't be without them) and one of their representatives volunteered to join in!
So this morning at 9am  on the dot the phone went and off we went. My son was on dog duty downstairs as I was terrified they would bark and that people would think they were listening to 'One man and his dog'! He did brilliantly ,leaving me in peace for a full hour whilst the programme progressed.I had imagined it would be a few minutes but the producer had other ideas. If I'd known I would have asked for my name to be in lights and for a large fee to be paid!
All in all I think it went well.The NAS representative was superb and we expelled a few myths about Autism between us. If  it hadn't been for Home education and this blog the opportunity to advocate for my son and others like him would never have occurred. It's also something new to add to the Home education notes. Not many little boys get the chance to be featured on radio!
Afterwards when the phones went down and I was shaking like a jelly my son asked me what I had said - he said he was glad that I was talking about sensory problems and the difficulties at school. "People need to learn" he said!

You can find the interview over the next few days on BBC iplayer on this link :

Friday, 1 February 2013

A Square Peg in a Round Hole!

I'll have this one Mum!

Aww isn't he cute!
Whenever I go out I take my camera with me. It helps me to get a better view of life.Even on grim dark days when the rain is lashing down there is the potential to see something beautiful like the heron which swooped up in front of me from the brook or the fossils on the beach.Even the snow in the crook of the tree branches can create a good picture or the swirl of the water in the stream.

It started as a way of recording our home education. Every year I have a report to prepare for the Local authority to enable them to check that I am educating my son in accordance with his 'age and ability'. Although I also have a journal, the photos often bring activities vividly to mind, like the January morning in Scotland when we crunched our way through the snow to a farming museum. It was term time and the museum was virtually empty so the lady curator had all the time in the world to talk to us about how the farm had developed in Victorian times. or the day we lay on the grass in the sunshine studying a mole as it used it's legs like shovels to tunnel itself into the soft soil.

Although there is the option to have a visit from a home education officer, for many Autistic children  the mere thought of a visit by a stranger can cause extreme anxiety and my son is no exception. The very mention of anyone at all linked to the education system would  bring back memories of his time at school . His reaction to strangers can be unpredicatble to say the least. If stressed my son can become completely mute and seem to be unable to reply. He has explained that his senses are overwhelmed and it's as though he is in a bubble. He can see peoples lips moving but is unable to hear them.

To anyone with little knowledge of autism he can seem rude and unresponsive. At other times he can become abusive and violent if confronted or pushed.We were in the dentist surgery one day and my son was waiting in the reception area. The receptionist arrived after I had been taken in to see the dentist so was unaware of my son's condition. She started to pass the time of day with him and was told in no uncertain terms not to talk to him. By the time I came out he was quite agitated as she had continued to ask questions in an attempt to ascertain if he was a patient.

Then there are the times when my son's disability is completely hidden. Times when he is comfortable in his own skin because he is accepted for who he is and he knows it. We have friends who don't push him, don't question him and don't confront him. With them he is a happy, chatty little boy. When we went to buy our puppy earlier this year he was so excited that he happily chatted with the owner, explaining he was autistic and home educated. Learning about the kennel club and reading Rusty's family tree he came back home having learned without being 'taught' because he was happy and ready to listen. That's how it is with him- if you manage the stress then the learning will come.Unfortunately the school environment, with it's noise and lack of routine was never the right place for him to learn. There was too much to overwhelm him and he needed the one to one support that home education can bring That's why it has been so successful,we are changing the environment to suit the child,not the child to suit the environment.