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!

Monday, 16 September 2013

All the President's Men!

I found a jigsaw of American presidents in the charity shop the other day and I thought I’d buy it.The idea was to use it in home education.As it happened, I sat at the kitchen table piecing it together whilst my son would amble through, see how I was getting on, read about one of the presidents, find a jigsaw piece and stick it in, then  amble off leaving me to it!

I’ve found that's how education works.You can’t plan learning, at least, not ‘real learning’. It’s possible to learn for tests by memorising facts but they only stick if you're interested.

Despite my son not sitting down to complete the jigsaw with me (my plan) it has already led to various discussions. We have already discovered where New Hampshire lies in relation to the other states in America (relevant because his cousin's have just moved there). We have discussed the Boston Tea Party, which it, transpires he knows more about than me. Then there have been the Wars of Independence- it seem’s I have a lot to learn!

Whilst mulling over my jigsaw, I began to see a possible project on American presidents for this years history. It suddenly dawned on me that we had in fact unwittingly already started it as my son had recently watched two documentaries about the assassination of JFK  and also part of the recent film about Lincoln. I realised that I knew that JFK died in November 1963 and that Lincoln had also been assassinated. None of these facts had been ‘learned’ they had come randomly like the jigsaw I was putting together now.

Then yesterday an  email appeared in my in box from a self education website called It contained an oil painting of Abraham Lincoln and in the corner of the painting was a map of the state of America over which, the artist had said Abraham Lincoln spent many hours pouring over. The map was one of the earliest to reveal statistical information and the darker the states were coloured in the more slaves there were. From it Lincoln was able to see which states were most likely to resist emancipation.

I had just finished reading my email when the post plopped through the letter box and there on the door mat was a travel brochure from New Hampshire, complete with a more detailed map of the state. I learned that the poet Robert Frost had a farm there, that Thoreau wrote about it and I realised that this project was getting big. I had moved from history to geography, to literature and I hadn't even finished the jigsaw! Who know’s where it will lead- we shall pursue the path to it’s natural conclusion. What I do know however is that we will have learned WITHOUT any teaching!

The bigger picture.

Monday, 9 September 2013

The Best things in life are free!

Well the forecast was torrential rain, so to look out the window   and see blue sky and sunshine was a bonus. Months ago my daughter and husband registered to do a sponsored cycle ride for the National Autistic society. Way back then we hadn’t appreciated we would be on holiday the week before and my daughter would have just gone back to school. Planning therefore, to say the least, had not been great. The day before she had no sponsors and we couldn’t remember the starting time or indeed where it started. It didn’t help that the internet was down and we couldn’t check.

As my husband wheeled the bikes out the garage he noticed my daughter’s bike had a puncture so there was a mad rush to borrow a bike so that they could get to the ride for ten o’clock  which was, I thought, the starting time,

Fortunately my memory was correct. Off they set to complete the round trip of 13 miles, taking in the coast road, the country lanes of the Furness peninsula. Furness Abbey and back to the start for bacon butties.

I met them half way. They were having a great time and discussing plans to cycle more now that my husband has retired. I reflected on how such a simple past time could bring so much pleasure. Families were out together in the fresh air, keeping fit and raising money for people less privelidged than themselves and it cost them nothing but a few hours of their time.

It is so easy to assume that exciting activities have to cost money. When we were in Portugal last week, we enquired about the cost of going to the water park. For the five of us it would have cost more than £100. We opted instead to go down to the beach where the children rode the breakers and were washed up onto the shore by their strength. The waves, said my daughter, were so much better that the simulated waves at the water parks they had visited in Florida. The scenery was captivating too!

It’s the time of year when dog walking goes hand in hand with blackberrying too. I’ve spent the last couple of days filling plastic boxes for freezing and picking plums and damsons from the trees, all of which are free and will remind us of the warm days of Autumn for many months to come.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Put your 'Lucky Knickers' on!

Yesterday, at 52 , my husband retired. On the day he gave in his notice my son was offered an apprenticeship and yesterday as my husband was retiring my 13 year old daughter was being offered her first job.

Whilst government statistics show that unemployment is up and that many graduates are unable to get a job, that hasn’t been our experience at all.

 I’m not suggesting that those who are unable to get jobs aren’t trying but I do think that with confidence and strong social skills it is possible to secure work.

Last summer for example, my son who was then fifteen ,offered to help at our local kennels during a particularly busy holiday week. He didn’t offer expecting  payment,he just wanted to help the owner and he reckoned that he would gain something from the experience. When, at the end of the week he was paid, he was so chuffed with himself!

A year later and he has been asked by the kennels to provide emergency cover and will now be working at weekends until his apprenticeship starts in October.

Then , last night , I received a text asking if my thirteen year old daughter would also  like to help  as the kennels were full?

 Despite the early rise she was really excited at the prospect of having a ‘real’ job and earning some money and she jumped at the chance and will now be helping out more regularly when her brother goes to work. Not only will the experience help her confidence to grow but she will learn the value of filling in her time sheets and planning her time,

Neither of these opportunities was sought out. They were simply the result of two youngsters seizing opportunities when they came along. My input as a facilitator is simply to ferry them backwards and forwards which means an early rise for me at weekends!

Some people would call it luck- but the more I see ‘lucky’ people the more disagree. "Lucky people" are usually those who are positive and prepared to take risks.

When the government was criticised recently for introducing a scheme for giving youngsters work experience I thought the critics very short sighted. They resented the low pay being offered to youngsters and regarded it as slave labour. Had they turned it on it's head they would have recognised that in reality youngsters were being given the opportunity to learn skills   which they could add to their CV’s when seeking work.

 Youngsters need to appreciate the opportunities too – the school system doesn’t help them. Recently, whilst talking to a friend of my son he told me that  he couldn’t understand why someone would want to work in a local business for free.He'd failed to notice the relevance to that young person of the work experience in a field he wanted to pursue.

So far the experience in this household has been that it is life skills which count far more  than academic qualifications. It’s about who and what you know, how you handle people and about being open minded and flexible.

As one door closes another often opens. My husband may have retired from the Fire service but he is now about to embark on a new venture- his own fire risk assessment business. It’s a gamble but a calculated one. He has been slowly and patiently setting up and planning for the last two years to the point that he realised that he was paying so much into his pension fund that he really had to earn very little to bring his take home pay up to its current level. It’s an exciting time and something which ,with hindsight, he should have done years ago. But you can’t have regrets, you just learn from  experience and we are trying to teach our children that they don’t have to be an ‘employee’ as schools and job centres would lead them to believe. They  can be their their own boss with the sacrifices and responsibilities that entails and above all they can be successful (and by that I mean happy rather than rich!).

 So in this family anyway, we will be putting on our “lucky knickers” and keeping our fingers (and legs crossed) that the elastic doesn’t snap! (Although even if it does we will no doubt bounce back!)