Sunday, 26 May 2013

A Trip for Blackberry Jam run out of blackberry jam, It may not sound drastic but there really is nothing better than a jar of homemade blackberry jam and our retailer lies way up the Woodland valley at the end of a farm track. The weather was fine and it was a busy bank holiday Sunday so what better day to get off the beaten track to make my purchase away from supermarket queues and holiday makers.

My daughter was taking part in an alternative sports day at Broughton. The square was full of tourists supping beer and buying plants and crafts when I dropped her off but when I finally found a place to park the car I set off along the railway track I followed a few weeks ago and the crowds quickly melted away. 

This time I took my camera because the bluebells are out and I didn't want to miss them. It's a pity they don't do scratch and sniff photos as the smell was lovely as I walked through the woods, Some primroses were still out but it was predominately blue bells, wild garlic and apple blossom this time round.

The walk to Woodland is about 3 1/2 miles and it took an hour to reach the farm. buy our jam and amble along to Woodland rooms to take the pictures I'd missed last time.

I decided I could happily live here and have found the farm I would convert given half a chance - remote but within reach of civilisation should I choose to be part of it! Perhaps when the kids are older and don't rely on me too much for lifts....

Peering through the gate I came face to face with this....Some sort of sheep I think, As it turned to run off I noted it had big curly horns hidden in all that wool.

I turned tail and retracked my steps to Broughton passing verges of Buttercups along the way. I 've noted recently that some of the fields are predominately covered in daisies whilst others host buttercups- I assume it's something to do with the fertility of the soils and I will have to check it out.

Back at Broughton and some of the stall holders are packing up and the tourists are making their way homewards, but my daughter and her friends are happily throwing water at one another, She is £1 richer as she won two races but I'm reliably informed she can't do blind folded bike races!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Leaving School!

Friday marks a milestone in my eldest son's life. It's his last day of school. I've been invited to leavers assembly and I have mixed feelings. Sadness that his education in a fantastic location in the lakes is about to end but excitement that he is about to embark on another different adventure at college.

Although school is at an end with it's teaching to test  and prescribed curriculum, learning isn't. My son will continue to  live life to the full grasping it by the scruff of the neck. He will still be an Explorer Scout, will continue to play the drums and go to the gym with his friends,but he will also be looking for new opportunities to learn. He has already indicated that he would like to take his theory test during the holidays in preparation for learning to drive. He will also be busy with work experience in a local garage and is going camping in Austria with the Explorers. He has even said he will help his dad decorate- all vital life skills which will stand him in good stead when he leaves home. Whilst this son was only home educated for a year it showed him how to be self motivated and to think outside the box and, even when he returned to school,he was able to recognise the failing of the system, the dumbing down of the curriculum and give himself an all round education outside and inside school.

I wondered what it will be like when my Autistic son is old enough to leave 'school'. I doubt he will want to celebrate with a Prom or go sailing on The Gondola on Coniston Lake like his brother.In fact I think it is likely that he will want his normal KFC sitting in the car park or that, at best, we will throw the boat out and have a meal at Frankie and Benny's! But that's a good thing - we can tailor the celebration to suit him.If he had been at school he would probably have been unable to participate in either of the activities that most children would regard as treats because of the noise and social difficulties..

You see, the end of school isn't the same as the end of learning, not if you've really been educated. School wasn't even preparation for a life that starts at 16 - far from it in fact. School is an experience, an opportunity to learn new things. You may not have wanted to learn all they taught you. In fact you may not have seen the relevance of much of it but it provided opportunities. It was up to you whether you took them or not. The next step is about choices, choosing what you are interested in . Your choices may change as you get older but nothing is wasted. You can take with you what you learned and build on it. Education is lifelong learning- taking something from everything you see and do and it doesn't stop when you are 16 or 18 or even 21.It's exciting and vibrant and has nothing to do with tests or textbooks. So whilst my son may be leaving school he isn't starting out in life.(He's been doing that for the last 16 years) and hopefully the most important lesson he learned was nothing to do with school- namely that you never stop learning and that with the right attitude you can do anything you want to..

Monday, 20 May 2013

Blossom Time

It's blossom time in our garden. My favourite time of year. The Braeburn tree (if you could call it that, as it's only 3ft high) is covered in the richest cerise coloured blossoms for the first time this year.

As usual the wild poppies have self seeded themselves......

And the rhodedendron  which survived being uprooted from my mum's garden and travelled by trailer  to ours is well settled in and lights up the garden with its rich pink blooms.

All the blossoms are a different shade of pink, ranging from almost white to crimson.

The borage I bought weeks ago is in flower now although slightly slug chewed...........

and the entrance to the drive is lit up with poppies and bluebells.

In fact even the dandelions add a splash of colour

And finally - the cherry blossom which is just going over and starting to spread over the ground like confetti'.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Stealth Learning

I've heard of Guerilla Learning and today I came across the term Stealth learning. It's the kind of crafty education we parents of oppositional children learn to implement when we realise that standard forms of teaching just don't work. We should have known really. When I started to home educate my Asperger son I read up on the national curriculum, printed off worksheets and bought the 'proper' text books. Teaching my son was draining! Everything I tried to do with him ended up in a pitched battle with me shouting and him swearing at me and storming out the room.
I was worried that the Education authority would find my teaching 'inadequate' and force him back into school which had the most damaging effect on his health and self esteem. My own anxiety made it worse, he felt the pressure and his anxiety rose - even less work got done.
I would wake up every morning drained and dreading the day - what would it bring? Would I end up stressed and disillusioned after battling with him for hours?
I don't know what brought me to my senses but at some point I realised it wasn't working and that it wasn't my fault- it hadn't worked at school either. I began to observe my son. All the advice said to follow his interests. That made perfect sense- it just wasn't what happened at school.
I began to see my son relax.I watched him as he picked up books to read, watched films, chose history strategy games and minecraft,read by researching new games and learned new things by reading wiki and watching You Tube. It was a Revelation.
He asked my why the sky was blue, what were stocks and shares? The recent bombings in Maine were where the Boston tea party took place,Obhama was the first black president, Thatcher the first woman prime minister. None of this was 'taught'.It was absorbed into every day living. I discovered that my twelve year old had a general knowledge that the average 12 year old in a secondary school would never have covered and he could link it across the curriculum.He couldn't understand  why the other day his sister had learned a particular subject for history when in fact in his eyes it was history, geography, maths to name but a few - all rolled into one. His pronouncement when we replied that it was how they did it at school  was that school was 'stupid'.I didn't try to correct him.
Like all systems, the Education system only works if you fit. It's inflexible and cumbersome,unable to match the needs of individuals- it's behind the times and worst of all it is directed by politicians who have never known anything else and who have come out of the system inflexible and unable to think outside of the box. Stealth education may not 'look' like education but in fact parents have to observe their children far more and get to know them far more so that they can 'facilitate' an interest with books and games and trips. If you are interested in stealth learning I found this blog the other day.It was nice to know I was not alone!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Take your chance and make your Choice!

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!
Hunter S. Thompson, “Gonzo

Last night I was a very proud mum. My eldest received his student of the year award from the college he has attended from day release from school over the last two years.It wasn't the tool box he received, or the fact he chose to wear a suit and tie whilst most of his peers chose jeans and hoodies. It was the words of his tutor that made me swell with pride. My son was the person everyone turned to when they had a question.He had the capability to do anything he wanted to in his chosen field and he was well liked and popular by both staff and students.
I was proud because my son has made choices for himself  and has obviously made the right ones for him. He's gone with his gut instinct and is doing something he loves and it's paying off. He's happy and he isn't seeking to meet our expectations or impress his teachers- he is doing it for himself. He is mature and confident and he has set himself a goal!
I am lucky that he knows what he wants to do but home education has taught me a very important lesson.If you follow your interests you won't go far wrong- you need to take calculated risks, grab your opportunities and take a chance. A chance comment might be heard by the right person, an appearance may be noticed- nothing is wasted.
Only recently we talked about the importance of doing things willingly, without expectation of payment and with a smile.My son has secured himself some work experience over the holiday and is really looking forward to it- the experience he will gain will far exceed the value of any payment he will get. It will strengthen his already excellent social skills,enable him to study how a business is run in addition to enhancing his mechanical expertise.
Some may say he's just lucky. I would say you make your own luck. Well done son!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Oh yes we have no bananas!


I've never eaten so many bananas in one day. They tell me they're good for energy and I needed as much of that as I could get for the Coniston to Barrow walk. The weather report was torrential rain. I preferred the one delivered to my 'in- box' which said sunny in the morning with scattered showers in the afternoon. Great start for a fair weather walker but I was counting my blessings it wasn't a scorcher.I just don't do hot weather.

As we waited for our bus up to Coniston the bus drew up with a big sign in the window. It had a smiley face with the words HAPPY BUS .I wondered if that was the eqivelant to happy hour with half price fares? I discovered it was not, we were just supposed to be happy as we embarked on the longest walk we had ever committed ourselves to in our entire lives. In fact we were daunted- I think you could describe the feeling as being excited and nervous at the same time. Bacon sandwices and bowls of cereal were definately off the menu for breakfast if the feeling in the pit of my stomach was anything to go by. As we climbed into the bus I realised that the average age was between 20-40. It didn't bode well when you were twelve and fifty respectively. Had we committed ourselves too much?

" You're as young as you feel' I told myself 

So for yesterday only  I was 20 years old (with a twelve year old daughter)

It turned out that the official oracle rather than my personal one was right about the weather.As we scanned our tags at the first check point the rain came down. We sent off  dressed in orange and black ponchos in a general southerly direction, along the east side of Coniston lake, past John Ruskin's Brantwood towards Nibthwaite. 

After a couple of hours we saw a sign on a tree indicating that we had walked a mile! I frowned, surely that couldn't be right? I took my glasses (which were by that time so steamed up that they were in my pocket) and put them on. To my great relief it was one mile to the next checkpoint. Obviously I should have gone to Spec savers!

After a lovely moist piece of flapjack from our support staff we set off past Lowick church and up towards Kirkby fell. A herd of cows joined us as we climbed, running alongside the dry stone wall, obviously thinking we were the dinner ladies.(Perhaps they wear black and orange ponchos too)

Hoad from Kirkby moor

A man in a rather odd furry hat passed us on the way whistling as he went - it was not a time for whistling. This was a time for gritting your teeth , shielding your face from the driving rain and looking steadfastly in the direction of the South of France.Having said that, you would have thought  that some were already there in their T shirts and shorts.

There was a glimmer of light in the distance and at last the sun decided to surface. My inbox was right after all - off came the ponchos,  moods were lifted and we got a new lease of life as we marched resolutely towards The Black Dog Inn. We were now on our own stomping ground and the end was in sight. Past the Wild life park and down to Dalton Fire station for yet another free banana and on toward Barrow.

 As we reached Furness Abbey a friendly police woman stopped the traffic and whilst the car drivers tapped on their steering wheels and sighed very loudly the dear lady told me on no account to run.

With the end in sight my feet started to hurt and my muscles started to ache but for a fleeting second as my daughter and I passed over the finish line together to collect our medals those feelings changed to exhilaration.  All that hard work had paid off- we had done it and we were home.

And would we do it again- DEFINITELY!

Into the Future - Uncharted waters for Aspergers!

One of the reasons I blog is to remind myself just how far my son has come since we began home education.

 Only months ago he was afraid to leave the house or had a meltdown if I showed signs of leaving (even to walk the dog) all because he was afraid that a high speed jet was going to crash into the house. It sounds extreme, but when you have sensitive hearing then the sound of a jet passing up the estuary (which has a tendency to make you jump out your skin) must be like Chicken Licken and the sky falling in! That went on throughout the winter months, I was stuck in the house and my only respite was when my mum came to babysit each week so I could do the weekly supermarket shop.

This morning I have popped out to do the shopping leaving him happily at home and yesterday I went to an National Autistic Society meeting and he didn't bat an eyelid.We haven't forced him to go out, we haven't laughed at his phobia of planes, instead we've looked at why the jets need to train. Funnily enough they didn't worry him when we were on Anglesey this year because RAF Vallee was nearby and he 'expected them' so it appears to be fear of the unexpected.

It was the jets which led us to introduce ear defenders which he now takes everywhere with him, we have also set up emergency arrangements for when I'm out. My son never answers the phone or the door so we have an old mobile phone on standby and he knows if that rings it can only be me. We also have a list of important numbers next to the home phone and for additional security have programmed them into the mobile so that if he's anxious he can ring me. He has only done it once to see what time I was coming home. 

All theses skills will I hope help him to live independently as an adult. I suspect he will need support but at least we will have some idea because of our observations now, of the support he needs.So many people believe that an obviously  intelligent child with Aspergers can be self sufficient. To an extent they can if the right provision is in place.Sadly all too often it is not.

I am teaching my son to be aware of his difficulties and to ask for help. I've mentioned before that we currently have issues with  food. He is eating enough but if I go out he just sits there until I come home rather than get himself something to eat.The other day I made up a packed lunch and put it on the side before going out. I told my son to help himself if he felt hungry. Sure enough when I came back he had eaten - a useful tip from another mum who has been there before me! 

So things do change, sometimes they get better, sometimes they're just different and you have to set about learning again.One thing's for sure, if your child is happy, and your family is happy then you are using the right strategies and your child is less likely to have mental health difficulties in the future.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Parents - leave those kids alone!

As I parked the car on the drive a few minutes ago, two sheep and a lamb walked nonchalantly past the car and down the drive. X box the hen, who as usual had flown the Coop, was scratching in the grass oblivious to them and ran over to me as I got out of the car hoping it was time for tea.

You never know what you are going to see in the garden. We've had a deer, a pheasant, even a herd of cows!Today for example ,as I was taking compost from the bin , I looked up to see a robin, no more than 2 feet away perched on the rim of the bin watching me, He had a fly in his beak and was obviously not in the least bit frightened. I watched him for a few minutes then got up slowly and he flew down into the bin and tackled a centipede I'd dug up. He continued to come back and forth most of the afternoon as I planted up my planter with pansies and violas.

Planter made from Fish crate found on beach

It saddens me to read that only 10% of children now  have free access to outside space. I take it for granted when my daughter has spent the weekend running and playing around her friend's farm as she was today. My sixteen year old son on the other hand  spent the  afternoon  walking in the countryside with his friend as they are taking part in the Keswick to Barrow walk next week.. Even my autistic son has popped backwards and forwards from his friend's house to ours setting up a pc game for him.

When the children were younger we would often sit by the village beck with a picnic and play in the water .We have eaten fish and chips on the fell-side watching the sun set and walked on the estuary looking for shells. There is no lack of fresh air and outside space and my twelve year old daughter has been cycling her mountain bike round the country lanes this past week.

Village beck

The children have learned so much from being out doors - how compost is made. How a hen cleans itself in a dust bath, where pheasants lay their eggs, how lambs are born - it's never ending. They know where their food comes from,how dependent the farmers are on the weather for their harvest and well being of their lambs and being allowed to roam free and experiment has not only enabled them to grow academically but has also given them the confidence to be independent.

I saw this article this morning - it confirms what I've discovered ,You don't have to 'manufacture; things for your children to do, in fact the more you 'manage your children the less able they are to make independent decisions for themselves.

Whilst you may not be lucky enough to live in the countryside, finding a small plot to grow things together, securing an allotment, visiting the park to look for bugs, star gazing, cooking from scratch after visiting a farmers market or playing in a band together can all create 'freedom'. Freedom not to conform to the way society seems to be going. Freedom not to keep up with the Jones' and freedom to follow your heart. I've discovered your children will be healthier, happier , more mature and independent and I can thoroughly recommend it!

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Wordsworth Country - walking in Woodland

I wish I could show you some photos of where I walked today. But today was not a day for photography. Today I was a woman on a mission. With only 7 days to go before the big day I was clocking up the miles in preparation for my sponsored walk.
The sun was shining and it was an ideal day for walking, cool and bright. I set off along the Duddon estuary , the Shetland ponies had been moved down the hill to the field next to the road and the hens and geese had been let out and followed me along the dry stone wall. 
Turning off the road I walked towards Waitham Hill and past Duddon mosses nature reserve before crossing the railway line and walking towards Foxfield.
The  level crossing was closed so whilst I waited for the train to pass on it's way up to Carlisle I enjoyed the views over the Estuary.
Once over the railway line  I passed the Prince of Wales , famous for it's home brewed beer and walked towards Broughton-in-furness, passing verges of Butter burr which I'd never seen until the other day, and an old Pickfords lorry, languishing in a farm yard,
Walking past Donkey Rock with its Coniston Grits I carried on to Broughton with it's picturesque square and stocks and popped into the Information centre to check my route. 
From Broughton I took the disused railway line which in days past took people as far as Coniston and at the end I continued up another track towards Rosthwaite.  This route was new to me and I can only try and describe the deciduous copses which were filled with primroses and wood anenomes. The bluebells were beginning to come out and it won't be long before the woods are covered in a blue carpet.
At Rosthwaite I stopped to buy some blackberry and apple jam which was displayed at the end of a farm track next to a small honesty jar. Woodland rooms is an old tin shed painted green and I turned right in front of it with the object of walking to Woodland church but I lost the path and found myself meandering back down the valley along hillsides and through woods and past a beautiful Lakeland Farm reminiscent of the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretal amongst the woodland. I startled a deer in the woods and was privileged to watch it as it bounded off. As I climbed down the valley side I crossed over a weed clogged river which flowed slowly towards the sea. There were marsh marigolds in bloom and I heard my first cuckoo at the other side of the valley.
I finally reached the road and met two ladies who were also practicing for the walk and I spent a very pleasant twenty minutes talking to them as we walked back to Broughton where they intended to stop for soup.
I left them and set off down the hill towards Foxfield station, stopping to eat a piece of home made quiche and a bottle of orange juice on a ridge overlooking the panoramic views over the Duddon estuary.
At Foxfield station I retraced my steps back via Waitham and saw two Canadian geese in the field as I passed. Back along the road to Sandside and up the hill to home, a journey of about 16 miles. So I'm all ready for the big day, my legs ache ,but I recovered quickly and psychologically I feel fine so all I can do is give my all for a very worthy cause The Furness Branch  of the National Autistic Society.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

My brother's Autistic Ability.

" Normal is just a setting on a washing machine"- Joshua Muggleton (Raising Martians- From crashlanding to leaving home)

What ME, follow the crowd?

Some time  ago my friend overheard her young daughter explaining her older brother's Autism to her school friend.
'Oh don't worry' she said 'It's just that he has an ability!'
It's great when siblings learn to accept their brother's or sister's disability as part of their normal family life- it's non threatening, occasionally annoying,can get in the way of family time but it's also part of their lives.
I've been thinking about the subject of being normal and I've come to the conclusion there isn't such a thing.Tony Attwood has said that the difference between having Autism and Aspergers is happiness. He may be right, People with low functioning autism may often be unaware of their differences and be happy in their own secure world. People with Aspergers are aware of their differences and are often not, mostly I think, as a result of expectations of other people.
I learned the other day of a young lad who has successfully gone through University having made many friends - most of whom were Assylum Seekers and Foreign students. It was as though they understood what it was like to be different because of their different cultures and beliefs and he was accepted without question!
I am reading Joshua Muggleton's book Raising Martians at the moment.I find that the best way to learn and educate myself about Aspergers is to read what Aspies themselves have to say.So far I've found the book clear and articulately written. It confirms why my son does much of what he does and has once again reiterrated how many children going through puberty can rarely get out due to anxiety  and suffer from insomnia. Once again I ask myself the question whether it's really right for us to be pushing them to go to school with it's inflexible structure and rigid time table .I've convinced that for us at least it is not. It would be my idea of hell to fight my son every morning to get him to school. Instead this morning when I came down he was working on his computer and when I said " Oh dear , couldn't you sleep?" His response was "Why Oh Dear? I didn't want to!"
With a softly softly approach I'm finding that my son is willing to do things as long as I don't MAKE HIM. Yesterday evening for example we went to the local fish and chip shop for tea. Not much for most of us but it was busy and crowded when we got there and I could see my son struggling to process everything even with his headphones on. He was barely audible when he spoke but because I know what he likes I was able to lip read. He sat and ate his tea in silence but he didn't go into meltdown mode or walk out the shop and, after the rush had died down he was able to talk again and even managed a trip to our local supermarket for an ice lolly afterwards. That's my idea of success. Worries about independence and adulthood can wait for now. Although I'm already genning up on the problems we may have to face in the future and campaigning for better support for adults we will deal with my son's specific anxieties nearer the time. Meanwhile we will work with our 'normal'.

Martian's mother xx