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!