Monday, 29 December 2014

An Autistic Christmas -14 years on!

Well Christmas is over for 2014 and I've been able to reflect on how far we have come over the last fourteen years.

We've just returned from a week away in Scotland. It's the first time since Google was born that we've been away at Christmas. He knew where were going but he wasn't looking to the change in routine. Even the promise of a trip to see The Hobbit failed to convince him.

As I've discovered on previous trips away, all the sensory difficulties seemed to melt away.Although he took his ear defenders as props, Google  never needed them.He ate plenty of food, swam, played Pool and generally participated in the family banter.

As is usual on holiday, we had one 'sick day' when the anxiety and anticipation got too much and he didn't feel well but that was hardly surprising as he'd managed to endure the hoards of Christmas shoppersin Glasgow, together with the bombardment of carols and twinkly lights.In fact, to my surprise he later managed to endure an hour in the boxing day sales without any complaint or melt down and just walked quietly to the doors of the shop when it proved too much.

None of these 'steps forward' have been 'taught'  through 'forcing' him 'to have a go'. Quite the opposite in fact. We have listened to him, watched his body language and respected his anxiety and fear. In allowing him to be himself Google has learned to trust us with his fear and knows that we will take him seriously.
It has been one of the best Christmases we have had and we came back feeling really relaxed and ready to face the world again!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Judge for yourself- don't believe everything you read!

Land based science working party

Yesterday I was talking to a lady about my daughter's school.

"Ah yes" , she said, "That school has a bad reputation doesn't it?"

Well actually it doesn't. When OFSTED visited the school all the parents (with the exception of one) rated the school as excellent or good in all respects.The school is small. with a high percentage of special needs and it caters for each pupil as an individual ,whether they be potential Oxford and Cambridge entrants or struggling with a life long disability which will make independent living very unlikely.

School Fell race 2014

The sad thing is that people listen to OFSTED and the perameters of what makes a 'sucessful' school keep changing so  numbers dwindle and the future of our small local schools become threatened.Perhaps that's what the government is aiming for.After all they are a drain to the Treasury pocket!

I once read that the optimum amount of people that anyone can get to know is just over 100. In my daughter's school there are 150 and she knows most of them, if not personally, by sight. Bullying is stamped on immediately and when I suggested my daughter might be slightly dyslexic she was assessed within two days.

I can ring up reception and they know who I am and I can send an email knowing that my message will be passed on to the relevant teacher. Parents and children work together as a team and want what's best for each individual child. It's just about as good as it gets after home education. (but then I'm biased!)

So if you're looking for a good school,go and visit and judge for yourself. There is more to an excellent school than just good grades. But then what would I know, I'm just a parent!

Land based science working party

Dry stone walling!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Thinking for ourselves- when Education takes over!

In the light of The Corporation and Bowling for Columbine, Google and I have been looking at the economy and how it works. What the subject would be called at school is debatable. Certainly economics, possibly psychology. What I do know is that he wouldn't be studying it at school as part of the current National curriculum in the United Kingdom

 We have considered the power of large companies over the public and politicians, seen "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" (both American imports)  come and go, and the efforts of small business ' in Britain to fight back with "small business Saturday."

In "Bowling for Columbine" we saw that despite easy access to guns in the USA and Canada,gun crime in the USA is much higher. In the Canadian large cities gun crime was virtually non existent. The conclusion of the documentary was that the news media in America fed fear into  people, promoting negative and tragic stories because that's what brought in the money.
Whether the conclusion was right or wrong it made us think about society and the world we want to live in.

Google commented that he would like to live in Canada and we were certainly left with the impression that it was a country where community has not been lost, where people trust one another, where health care is free and wealth is distributed more fairly.

We also spoke to someone in the village who regularly watches News from France or Russia and Japan to get a more open view of what is happening in the world. Someone called her 'sad'. I call that open minded.

With petitions in circulation daily against injustices highlighted by members of the British public Google and I  have explored the working conditions of several large and 'successful' companies and are having to rethink  how and where we shop.

We've also looked at how food is marketed, what goes into processed food,how the obesity is rising and it is causing us to challenge what we do as a  family. In fact home education is changing our lives.

I've mentioned before that home education has made us more politically aware. Certainly Google follows current affairs with interest and has an opinion on most matters. He certainly doesn't sit back and accept the status quo!

I think that's what's wrong with our current education system.It doesn't challenge teenagers to think for themselves it's simply an exam processing machine!

 This morning I read a free E book about helping our children to develop into well rounded thinking individuals .It's called Re framing Success and it challenges the notion that those with high grades are 'successful"

I'm glad we took Google out of school.It's challenged us to look at what we do and change things when they don't sit comfortably with our beliefs.

So this year most of our Christmas presents are home made of from local businesses.We are trying to buy more fruit and less processed food,I've unsubscribed to some of the companies who send me daily promotional emails and trying to reuse and recycle where we can.

We have a long way to go but no matter how long it takes,each step is a step forward. Education is becoming part of our lives!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

What makes us Happy?

As I grow older I increasingly find that it's the simple things in life that bring me the most happiness, like walking in the countryside,singing,coffee with friends and sharing! In fact a special friend and I have agreed to spend no more than £2 on one another for Christmas ( including card and wrapping paper) I'm having a great time scouring the shops for just the right present! The worrying thing is that my husband thinks it's a great idea and has decided that the i-pad he thought he might buy me has gone out the window!

The best gifts for me are memories. Putting up the nativity and remembering the year when Google decided to put baby Jesus on the roof, or the Easter card ,where if you looked closely , Google's chicken was wearing spectacles whilst his twin sister's conformed to the acceptable 'norm'

Making Sloe gin and watching the sun set over Black Combe as my daughter and I  stood by the farm gate with a box filled with Sloes. Being privileged to participate in a concert in memory of the First world war and struggling to sing the words "Everyone suddenly burst out singing" based on a poem by Siegfried Sassoon as there was such a lump in my throat and half the audience were crying!

And now we are looking forward to a season of concerts in nursing homes, day care centres and public Christmas events.Singing is free and brings lots of pleasure to so many,including those of us that sing! Here's one of my current Favourites "Cold enough to Snow"
I read this,this morning and thought it worth posting! I hope it has as much impact on you as it did me!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Story of Alan Turing

This morning I found myself in the Doctors surgery explaining what a Bonobo was to the nurse Not that it's likely to be something she comes across often in the Lake District, but you never know. It was something ,I told her, that my Autistic had explained to me a couple of weeks ago. "He sounds just like 'Google',she said and lo and behold I had my new blog name for him! So from now on "Google" it is! Google and I went to the cinema to watch The Imitation Game It's the story of mathematician Alan Turing and his successful attempt to decode The Enigma machine during the second World War.  The Imitation Game  has been criticised for being historically inaccurate in many ways , but having read about him after seeing the film,I have come away with a much better perception of how his invention played a huge part in bringing the war to an end, the punishment for homosexuality in the 1950's , the difficulty for women to be accepted as the academic equals of men and an overwhelming desire to visit Bletchley Park and expand my knowledge . The sad thing is that Alan Turing wasn't recognised for his genius during his lifetime and died at the age of 41, having committed suicide. He was only pardoned in December 2013  for his criminal record for being homosexual. Benedict Cumberbatch portrays him as a man with Asperger syndrome, and although the film never says that and there was no diagnosis in Turing's day there has been speculation that he was in fact Autistic. As Google's mother I found his portrayal both heart warming and extremely sad that most people didn't 'get' him. Google however just sighed and said "You think everyone has Aspergers!".I'll leave you to make your own mind up about it ! I gather that there has been much discussion in the scientific world as to whether he was on the spectrum. I don't think it much matters except that we do need to try and understand people better and if a label means that the normal man in the street understands the difficulties and challenges they face and makes compensations for that then it can only be a good thing. I discovered this blog post and found it fascinating If you get the change to see the film I'd recommend it!

Monday, 1 December 2014

A Corporate Christmas- not for me thanks!

Every day I check my emails and delete the daily promotions which are regularly sent to me from book clubs,gardening sites and sports outlets.Friday was exceptional and I was suddenly bombarded by something I'd never heard of called Black Friday.It's an American idea and an American friend tells me that historically it was the day after Thanks giving when family would spend time together shopping and having fun. She says that latterly it has become more like a warzone with people knocking each other over in their bid to get a bargain.So when I hear of similar sights on the news in this country on Friday I wonder why oh why would we want that in our country? Coincidentally I watched a documentary last night called The Corporation ,a fascinating insight into the power of big companies over Government and the populas.The overriding message at the end however was that we as individuals have the power to change all that if we work together! If we really want to change something then we can.If we disagree with Black Friday we don't have to buy into it,after all,the emails I receive daily about special offers and free delivery are not going to dramatically improve for 24 hours only. Sales were far more fun forty years ago when they just happened at New Year,people saved and waited to buy their new three piece suite or car.Now we seem to be driven along on the commercial band wagon and I for one won't be joining them! I'm sure I'm not alone.I came across 'buy nothing day" on Saturday.I intended take part but had already decided to go along to our annual Dickensian weekend and I wondered if the two were mutually exclusive?There would be crowds and stalls everywhere.Instead, I decided to take my camera and focus on the sights and sounds of Victorian Britain.
I had a lovely day, talking to visitors from Salford ,Liverpool and Nevada. Learning about the stall holders and their skills and looking at the decorated windows and listening to carol singers.A real festive treat! And now I'm sitting here surrounded by jam jars making my Christmas presents and enjoying the peace and tranquility of the country side! I may even have a go at making a Christmas wreath this afternoon!
Christmas really is what you make it.For some of us it's a Christian festival with Christ at the centre for other it's family time. It's a mind set.You can enjoy the community of Christmas nativities,carol concerts and craft fayres or you can get wrapped up in the trappings of Christmas ,just as the Corporations intend you to.It's your choice!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Flexibility and the link to Stress with our Aspergers Children

Yesterday we went to KFC for my son.Whilst it goes against all my ideas of healthy eating it got my son out the house and that is just as important for his well being as when we venture out we find new things to discuss and learn about.

My son sat in the car with his set of history books which I bought a few weeks ago. When I first gave them to him he gave them a cursory glance and turned back to his computer but I have learned to just STREW and watch what happens. For the second time this week he asked where they were, tucked them under his arm and got into the car. He spent the whole journey, there and back, just reading.

It took us a while but my son has learned that reading is a strategy he can use to 'block out the world' when it becomes too much for him. It's a socially acceptable way of 'not speaking to people' and it suits me too because I know he's learning.

As he walked to the car I thought he'd forgotten his ear defenders but no,they were safely tucked around his neck in case he needed them ( which as it happened, he didn't)

Whilst he sat eating his lunch I suggested that I would pop over to the pound shop to buy his sister some sweets as she was going to the cinema with a friend that evening. "Would you mind if I left you a minute ." I asked.

His face crumpled slightly and his lip began to wobble, "OR we can both go together when you've finished your lunch?" I suggested.

"I'd prefer that" he said.

So that's what we did and we managed to go into the cinema to book tickets and pick up a catalogue too.

Now whilst that may not seem like much to parents of neuro typical children we have come a long way since the days of being physically unable to get out the car, never mind go to the cinema. I've learned to follow my son's lead and instead of having a list of places I had to go (which granted was bigger when he was too young to leave at home) I choose two or three and go in the exact same order as my list. It used to take a bit of discipline on my part as I'm easily distracted and very sociable but this is far preferable than sitting in car parks trying to coax your son into the car or trying to stop him opening the car door in mid journey and throwing himself out.

I can smile about it now but it wasn't funny at the time I can tell you!

If we remove the stress from our children then they are more willing and able to comply and will in
fact do far more things that you want them to do rather than continually oppose you and fight.

The key is to remember is that they are not deliberately being naughty, they are anxious and scared and if you watch and listen to them you'll be surprised what they will teach you.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A Day out!

We' re very lucky to have a Wild life Park within 10 minutes of our house, which each year during the quiet season opens up its gates for free, or a minimal donation.

Every year we have dropped in for an hour or so to observe the animals and learn about their habitat and eating habits and we've found that by concentrating on only one or two each time and then just 'enjoying' the others for the sake of it, we have gradually built up a little bit of knowledge each time.
Yesterday ,after an abortive attempt the previous day, my son who has Aspergers and who suffers severe anxiety when venturing out, decided today was the day.

The weather was glorious and that meant that despite it being a school day there were lots of visitors with young children or holiday makers so I wasn't sure if it would work.  I have learned to play it by ear.

What I am learning however is that if my son wants to do something then he can overcome all his sensory difficulties and this was one of those days.

The zoo is being expanded and the new additions were the Artic wolves and Snow leopards.The wolves looked majestic as they stood together against the sky line!

Highlight of the day was, I think the white handed Gibbons, which 'whooped' (that's the only way I could describe their cry) to one another as they swung on ropes and balanced on them as though they were sitting on planks a foot wide! We stood and watched the spectacle for a good ten minutes!

The colouring of some of the  birds feathers is dazzling and here are just two of the photos we took between us. The lovely thing about home education is that it is constantly cross curricular so as well as learning biology and geography we were doing art too!

The Gophers with their funny stance came up quite close to inspect us.

and the Capybara (this one reminded me of Arthur), when they weren't fast asleep in the sun, had four large toes!

We learned that giraffes have seven bones in their necks (and each has different patterns) and that there is only one species (but seven sub species)

We also saw this Stork which often sits on a lamp post on the by pass next to the zoo!

We had a really lovely day and once again I was reminded how home education has helped my son so much in his development ,it has given him space and time to develop his own coping strategies and I'm thankful for that. They can't be learned in 'social skills lessons' they have to be applied to real life and I have the time and motivation to give him that. We are truly blessed!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Great Oaks from little Acorns grow!

Isn't this lovely? I discovered in on our travels today in a local park. Carved across the acorn were the words Great Oaks from little Acorns grow.The acorn had split open and a shoot was peeking out.

I think that's how it is with helping our children to learn. As home educating parents we facilitate our childrens' interests, providing them with the 'compost' to take root and blossom into sturdy , confident individuals, who stand firm when they are battered by strong winds.

This is my 'wood sprite

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Learning Challenges and Home education - how to tackle them!

Yesterday the Rosetta Space probe landed on a comet.Well it sort of bounced off again and then landed some time later.It was a historic moment. I thought I'd mention it to my son.It turned out he already knew! Home education has opened my eyes so much when it comes to learning, John Holt was right,children teach themselves!

At the moment I'm reading about dyslexia.My daughter is struggling with her English and whilst it's nothing major I recognized some time ago that the phonics system doesn't work for her. She can't sound things out and The Gift of Dyslexia has shown me why.Dyslexics think in Pictures and if the word represents an object they are more likely to recognize it. If however it's a word like and,or, there it's far harder to picture and therefore much harder to identify. What is interesting though is the similarity to Aspergers. It's the brain functioning in a different way to the norm and often results in a far more creative, out of the box thinking individual because they have learned to compensate for their difficulties. Therefore there is a large percentage of dancers and athletes with dyslexia!
I found that fascinating as my daughter loves dancing and sport. Her problem with language has never been major enough for her not to pass her assessments but it's she has made it clear that she feels that'she can't get her thoughts down on paper' and I've realized of late that she is missing little words out so that her writing doesn't make sense. Even when she proof reads she is seeing a word that just isn't there. The problem is being confounded by her difficulty with punctuation and the fact that the government have finally decided that it really IS necessary after all and that it will be taken into account when exams are marked.(Not that I disagree but it's a wonder that it hasn't mattered for the last ten years since my daughter started school!) Just what is going on?

And so it's time to tweak our educational style! I may be barking up the wrong tree but my gut feeling tells me we're not far off the mark so we are starting at the beginning, routine sight test first then take it from there. I'd love to hear from anyone who can point me in the direction of good tips and resources. Parents always know far more than professionals! Meanwhile I'll let you know how we get on!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Peace in our Time!

I have to keep my eye on the ball. change happens slowly and subtlety in an autistic household.In the last few weeks it has been an increase the range of food my son will eat.Beans on toast (as long as they're Heinz) - I haven't dared tell him he got a mix of brands the other day,Emmental and bavarian ham toastie,smooth fresh orange juice. I know it's down to his mood but it's lovely to see him eating something healthy for a change!

Even the tin of chocolates my daughter won at a raffle is still half full and has been for weeks. Either that means that before I started my healthy life style change I ate all the chocolates or, by me concentrating on eating healthy food it's affecting the whole family!

Another thing I noticed last night was that, after waiting an hour for someone to get his pudding for him, my son finally decided it wasn't going to happen and, having asked my how many slices the chocolate cake would cut into,he cut himself a slice,added ice cream and came through having made himself his pudding!

I have to say,I never thought I'd see the day.He will generally do without rather than make himself some food. Many's the time he will pop downstairs after we've all made ourselves a sandwich for lunch and asked "What's for Dinner?"

The lack of motivation to eat, is in some part due to his intensity of concentration when he is building something on Minecraft or flying a virtual aeroplane which will crash if he leaves it. There is however another aspect, an anxiety or not knowing 'where to start'. I have stood over him many times, instructing him how to make a hot chocolate,or use the ice cream scoop or cut a slice of bread and wondered for how much longer my intelligent fourteen year old will still need that support. The answer I think will be whenever he is feeling insecure.

At the moment his mood is buoyant and he is willing to go out (in moderation), will have a bath when asked and will eat foods he would previously have rejected. I am enjoying the peaceful life,long may it last!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Lest we Forget

This week my daughter asked to go to the village remembrance service. It felt particularly important to go this year as we have been learning so much about the First world war and how it effected the lives of ordinary families in this the Centenary year.

I knew nothing about the First world war until a few years ago. The national curriculum didn't cover it! Even when I went on an exchange visit to Albert at the age of sixteen  a visit to Compiegne was wasted on me. What relevance was it to a sixteen year old girl who had no interest in wars?
Perhaps it's because I'm older now, although I don't think that's it. My interest began shortly after I began to home educate my son. Trips to the imperial war museums in Manchester and London,(which I imagined would be boring) fascinated me. They showed me that there was another side to war of killing and hate. There was the human side,the bit you got to see when you pulled away the veneer of 'glory and patriotism' and realised that ordinary people were the victim of political decisions which tore families  apart, and that in spite of the  fear and shortages  there were those beacons of light who shone with compassion and bravery,not because they did anything 'momentous' like cross the enemy lines ,but because they served in the voluntary services,offered shelter, visited wounded soldiers and wrote letters home for them and carried out random acts of kindness.We can all do that.

Of the books I've read recently  about the First world war there are some that stand out Teenage Tommy is the auto biography of a soldier who enlisted at fourteen, prior to the War . and spent the entire duration of the war caring for the horses.It's a lesson in history.I didn't know for example that villagers in Suffolk used to catch the sparrows nesting in hay stacks by banging pots and pans. The sparrows would rise from the haystack and be trapped in  nets and were then eaten on toast. Another thing I learned was that whilst the Cavalry spent their time in peacetime shining their metal buckles and buttons they were ordered to let them rust as soon as the war started so they wouldn't sparkle in the sun!

The Care and Management of Lies is a very different book. It's a fictional story about how letters filled with love and compassion lifted the spirits of the troops in the trenches. It also offered a warm hearted look at how rural life was affected when all the young and able men went off to war but there was a sad side to it too.

Private Peaceful is another book that made it's mark. I read it to my son a few years ago . I wasn't sure if it would be too much for him to handle. He understood the atrocity of war but his autism enabled him to deal with it factually rather than emotionally.  War Horse was another influence, as was the poetry of Wilfred Owen and the other war poets.It was only recently that I learned that Rudyard Kipling wrote some anti war poetry,his own son Jack was killed in the First World war and his story is told in My Boy Jack

I also went to a presentation of literature and poetry of  The First World War written by women and hosted by  our local library . I loved the story of the lady who travelled from Britain to the trenches just to check that her son was 'OK'. It just shows what ordinary human beings can do when they set their minds to it!

We've been watching The Passing Bells this week, a fictional story of two young men,one English,the other German who went to war. I think it was that which prompted my daughter to go to church today. I'm glad we did .Today I heard a new song " The keeper," the folk song about a young Game keeper who went to war and never returned.

We need to keep remembering that fighting and war are never a solution. We are stronger working together than apart.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Education is NOT school (2) !

Recently my friend was telling me that she had been speaking to her daughter's teacher about a comment in her daughter's school report.It said "It's a pity that x doesn't commit herself to more extra curricular activities "

What this teacher didn't know was that the young person concerned had decided to join a more experienced and professional netball team because she'd often been overlooked when school had picked a team and this local team gave her the opportunity to play on a weekly basis and get more experience.

A similar thing happened to my daughter yesterday. At the moment she has outside activities three evenings a week and she needs 'down time' to relax and organise her homework. She was unimpressed to say the least when it was suggested that she lacked commitment because she wasn't participating every week in dance and wasn't doing drama on another evening.

Isn't it sad when teachers don't think you are learning because you aren't doing it at school? I had to explain that in fact my daughter was doing drama elsewhere, that we were considering a term of choir singing and that she had arranged her work experience with a dance company.

Education is so much more than school! Take last week for example it  was half term and this is what we did:

We joined Explorer scouts in weeding the community garden which they'd created for Incredible Edible in the summer.

We went to school ( please note Mr Cameron,that we went voluntarily and in the school holidays) to work on the raised beds for Land Based science GCSE (which the government is now threatening to scrap) and to get them ready for planting.

I walked along the beautiful Yewdale valley, passing Yewtree farm where" Beatrix Potter" was filmed, meeting two very interesting people along the way and

Absorbing the scenery.

Including taking photos of the leaves and their changing colour due to the the breaking down of chlorophyll, spotting micro climates

Taking photos of Tarn Hows which is a glaciated Corrie

And an Erratic boulder which was in the valley below!

And afterwards we went on a beautiful  walk Halloween Walk

My daughter has gone into school today with just enough indignation and anger to give her the kick she needs to prove that her commitment to dance goes well beyond school or any individual teacher and that she is making choices for herself NOT because she is being pressurised into doing things which are not right for her just now!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Two Right Wellies!

I've just been to feed the hens, went to the welly rack and found two size five wellies (too small) and two left wellies (sizes 6 and 7). My daughter has set off to school with two right wellies as she is going out on a field trip to our local National trust farm.

Well it's raining rain and leaves, and the trees are almost bent double! I have visions of her squelching through the mud in her school shoes (that's if she doesn't slide over into the mud like her brother did a couple of weeks ago in his new jeans and expensive trainers!)

So it looks as if a trip to Coniston is in store. Good job I'm a Home Educating mum!

Anyway it's been a while since I mentioned my Autistic son, he's fourteen now and home educated , and slowly and surely I'm beginning to see him mature. That's why this blog is so usefu.For many with neuro typical children it's perhaps difficult to understand just how important small steps are to the family of a disabled child! Tying shoe laces or learning to ride a bike are huge achievements for many autistic children.For us ,at the moment, one of the challenges is hygiene. We've moved on from hair cutting, which is now accepted as long as we do it at home with hair trimmers ( although last time my son wore his bobble hat for a month after as I'd cut it too short!)

We are however still struggling with teeth cleaning (and haven't yet worked out an answer to that one) But we have made a break through! Now that puberty has set in and he's getting sweaty,he is more open to the idea of regular baths (not THAT regular you understand) but not the one every two weeks if you pin him down under the water for a few minutes kind of bath. It's interesting that he doesn't get upset if you say 'You smell horrible you need a bath', it's a bit like the clip in Temple Grandin's film 'Temple Grandin'  when her boss hands her a can of antiperspirant- you have to tell it as it is!

I know we've moved on because when I suggest a bath he doesn't flatly refuse but waits a few minutes to process the idea and then ,after I forget I've asked the question, announces 'OK'. He still requires prompting and I suspect always will but we'll get round that one as he gets older with alarms or calendars or something!

Leaving him the choice of when he goes out has also made a difference. Now he is fourteen and can stay at home when I pop to the shops, I no longer have to pressurise him to go out, which only caused him panic attacks and me huge frustration at being late, unable to get my shopping or meet other people. I've accepted he isn't interested in socialising a great deal and that he isn't sad and I have noticed him coming out into the sunshine with the dogs recently to sit and play with them on the grass. Yesterday I came home to see him out walking the dog with his elder brother (I couldn't have made him do that in a million years ) and we have a couple of meetings lined up ( a visit from another home educating family) and his brother's eighteen birthday meal (a quiet affair for family and grandparents- he likes that!)

He has been to the pictures, popped round to grandma's and we have talked about planning a visit to Duxford air museum.All very small steps but I'm finally 'getting it' and learning not to be swayed by what others think -my son is doing it his  way and has no intention of being changed by society and that's just the way it should be!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Work to Learn,NOT to Earn

My son is reading Rich Dad ,Poor Dad for Teens.I found it on Readitswapit and remembered how the adult version had so much impact on myself and my husband years ago. I read it in the days before home education,in fact before children. but it starts off by reminding us that school doesn't prepare you for the real world of work and that good grades are not the only way to become 'successful'

Too many of my son's friends don't want to do voluntary work because they don't get paid.They have yet to gain the maturity to understand the experience they would be acquiring. I even spoke to a mum whose daughter had completed her A levels and found a very good apprenticeship telling me that her daughter was only being paid the 'minimum wage' as though somehow her employer was being fraudulent.

My son has always had a different outlook.Perhaps we inadvertently fed him our ideas although I think much is down to his personality. He grabs opportunities with confidence and creates his own 'luck'.

At the age of fifteen he was asked if he could help at our local kennels for a week whilst one of the walkers was on holiday.Every day he was up at 7.30am and back again at 4.00pm without a moan or a groan and came back with stories of all the dogs he'd met and what he'd learned.As far as he was concerned he was doing it for free to help out the owner.At the end of the week he came out smiling from ear to ear  and a wad of five pound notes in his hand.He'd earned his first wages and he hadn't expected a penny! In 'Rich Dad Poor dad' it says you work to learn,not to earn and it resulted in my son's first job and later a great reference when he started to work full time.

From a weekend job he was then offered an apprenticeship after he left school with our local council.He had intended to go to college full time but he applied for this apprenticeship 'for practice' and was offered the job! This job paid for driving lessons and car insurance and gave my son the independence he needed. It was also a valuable lesson in how ineffective management and lack of knowledge in current health and safety legislation can have a negative impact on the morale of the work force. As a first experience of an Apprenticeship the whole experience had the potential to have a very negative impact on a conscientious and hard-working sixteen year old whose endeavours to use initiative and creativity were thwarted at every corner because  of  a deep rooted fear of change.It in fact gave him a huge insight into the lack of accountability, complacency and money wasting going on within local government. His first introduction to Politics!

And so it was necessary to cut away dead wood and negativity, brush himself down and move on. He began completing application forms and received a phone call from the recruitment company asking him if he would consider another,higher profile apprenticeship which hadn't been advertised? Of course he would!

He was interviewed,asked to see the workshops ( a lesson learned from his last job and health and safety experiences) and to speak to someone who had already done the apprenticeship. It seems his prospective employer were impressed.He had never been asked that before and so my son ended up one morning with two offers of employment on the door mat and having a choice to make!

He chose Lake District Audi and has experienced first hand what a difference effective management and private enterprise can make. He has a full time mentor, proper protective equipment without having to wrangle because of cost, and he is just about to embark on his next adventure - an Audi Induction course at Milton Keynes.

And for anyone interested he is still on an Apprenticeship wage (but no longer the minimum) but he has learned so much about working as a team,motivating your work force and looking after employees (he has a Christmas dinner coming up)

No work experience is ever a waste.Paid or unpaid, look for learning opportunities and new opportunities will come along too! And for the little ones who aren't quite there yet, why not try the games on Rich Kid ,Smart Kid which are aimed at introducing children to managing finances. The sooner they start the better!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Being Crafty.!

I used to envy those who have a gift for crafts,my sister is one of those people, whatever she turns her hand to turns out looking professional and good enough to sell.
Being a home educator you can feel a bit of a failure when all around you seem to be making pictures from autumn leaves, making soap or finger painting and generally giving the impression of the 'perfect home educating family'
So many people,when you speak to them about home education will tell you,"I could never do that. I was never any good at maths,or English or crafts ( whatever their perceived weakness).
What I gradually learned is that it really didn't matter. My daughter left guides because she didn't like doing "crafts" and she joined scouts instead. She has just moved up to Explorer scouts and after a weekend away last week she has been making dog collars out of paracord, having learned how to make a survival bracelet at Mersey-moot. It's a bushcraft skill.A way to make a very strong cord and she has really enjoyed it.
It occured to me that, as with all subjects which I as a home educator don't know how to do ,there are always people able and willing to teach them. Every year there is a local lantern procession in our nearby market town.The scouts learned to make paper lanterns from withies,tissue paper and P.V.A glue and there are some great creations made by people from all walks of life,many of whom have very little time in their daily lives to paint or draw or make things just for the fun of it!
I also learned that crafts are not just about 'art'. I love taking photos and am slowly learning how to use the camera. I also have a penchant for car boot sales and love buying and making things for the garden. I've painted old wooden garden chairs, planted up tea pots and fish crates, made wind-chimes out of cutlery.All these things have bought me pleasure and fulfilment and cost virtually nothing. They have also been relevant to me and where I am at the moment. My son on the other hand has turned his hand to lego,minecraft world and digital art because of his interest in computers. There is no linear development in home education as there is in school, you don't learn about Constable one week and Picasso the next but there is a sense of turning your hand to arts and crafts when you need or want to. With my husband it's do it yourself, with my daughter its cake baking, with me it used to be sewing now it's upcycling. We learned in different ways, from parents,friends, books and videos but even though we didn't learn at school we still learned.So don't despair, if you feel you can't teach something,put out some feelers and find someone who can,they're out there somewhere!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The one that got away!

I watched as my seventeen year old son and his fourteen year old sister piled their rucksacks into the car and drove off to Explorer camp for the weekend and realized just how grown up they are now. Both have been camping for several years and now have packing down to a fine art- the only difference this year was they were going together and my son was driving.That meant a few tweaks buying extra equipment but we know from experience it will get used.Next on the list will be a good quality two man tent for wild camping- we are savhing up for that!
So that leaves three of us, my husband,myself and my fourteen year old son with Aspergers.We have a very quiet house!
This week has been interesting.It is the week in which one of my children has started her GCSE options and her twin brother has chosen none.They're both academically able but very different children.
We are going against the flow.We have encouraged our daughter to choose subjects she enjoys rather than those recommended as 'going together'. One of the subject she chose is Land based sciece,a largely practical exam,designed to interest the farm lads who don't want to be in school.There is a risk they might disrupt the class (so far they haven't) but my daughter's attitude is that she'll get on despite that if necessary.In fact most of them have a lot to offer,already one has shown her how to turn a sheep over onto it's back! This week my daughter was allocated a Tup and was asked to check it's health.She learned to age it by it's teeth,checked its ears and feet but before she got to weigh it it took an almighty leap and jumped a two metre high fence - it was the sheep that got away. My daughter has a nick name Bo Peep!
Then there was a trip to the Westmorland show - the high light?Well it seems to have been the Sheep show! A sheep with a Bob Marley  hair style was the star.It did some " Jammin'" (sounds like my idea of education)
As for my son, he continues to monitor current affairs, the scottish referendum,the Invicta games and to make his views very vocal in our discussions.Whatever he decides to do - he's unlikely to become a sheep farmer!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Learning new things!

We all need to learn in order to grow and develop,parents too! That's why education is important but school isn't.It doesn't matter where you learn or when you learn it as long as you continue to search out new things. That's why when you are struggling with home education, as we all do at times,it's good to take a step back and instead of asking  "What should I be teaching my children" perhaps we should ask"What do I want to know?"

Because an interested teacher is a motivated and enthusiastic teacher and that shines through.

Of all the parents of children with Autism that I know,the ones that shine through are the ones that get on and do things in spite of their child's autism. It doesn't mean they don't struggle or get down but they have learned to set goals and go for them and, surprisingly, it is their achievements which improve their own quality of life ( and often that of their autistic children too)

This week, after four years, one friend has published an ebook about autism   Having struggled to come to terms with the diagnosis of not one but two of her children and the attitudes she found towards her when she was struggling in public to control them she decided to do something about it.

Another friend took up running and discovered a passion which she could share with her family.

Yet another writes a fabulous blog about her hill walks with her son Evan in the Lake district. She is inspirational and has shown just how much can be achieved through home education, and yet another has just completed the great North run!

I am surrounded by positive people and it rubs off!

So that just leaves me - what have I learned this week?

We entered Benny and Rusty for the first time  in our local dog show (we didn't win anything, but it's the taking part that counts,right?) But don't worry we'll be back next year now we know the judge prefers spaniels (just have to work on the spaniel fancy dress costumes for our border terrier and black labrador)

Oh, and did I mention I've taken up running? It's a twelve week course called from Couch to 5K and I've just about got off the couch at the moment but watch this space- with all the nudges and winks going on in our family it's like a red rag to a bull. I'll show them!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Following interests makes for motivated children

It's been  six years  since I first started home educating my autistic son . It's been an interesting journey and has not always gone according to plan but I'm so glad I did it , both for him and for our family. As I read the comments of many parents on facebook who are glad the summer holidays are over I feel sad that they are unable to enjoy quality time with their children because of the pressures of work, trying to juggle child care and jobs and the difficulties that arise through having intense periods of family time when you have to cram so much into six short weeks.

Being at home with my son has allowed us to really get to know one another, to realize that we often need our own space, that we are different people and I have had to accept that for this child , at this moment,outside activities and crafts are not for him.

We have however discovered a common interest in history, me in the people, him in the events and the inventions and that's how we came to be at the Bovington Tank museum on Monday.

It all started a few months ago when he announced he would like to visit the biggest tank museum in the world- Bovington Tank museum. I'd never heard of it  so I did some research and discovered it was seven hours away in Dorset.

My son has just turned fourteen and getting him to set foot outside the house is a major operation so for him to ask to go anywhere is unusual. We took the bull by the horns and my husband booked a Premier inn in Dorchester,half an hour away from the museum and the visit was planned.

 I've noticed on several occasions now that when my son wants to do something
 1. He isn't stressed going out
2. He often doesn't wear his ear defenders
3.He eats just about any food given to him and
 4. He sleeps at night.

 For anyone who doesn't live with an autistic person they could argue that we just give in to him normally and that he's perfectly capable of going to bed at a sensible time and eating the same food as the rest of us,but as a friend put it yesterday "they don't know the wall that is autism"

My theory is that motivation overcomes all fear and anxiety enabling my son to do things he would normally find really hard.

What a success! We sat in a chieften tank and learned how they worked,
travelled in an APC,
watched a display of tanks and personnel carriers and learned the science behind tracks as opposed to wheels
 visited a reproduction world war 1 trench , a mock up of an army base in Afghanistan and walked through a hall showing the history of tanks starting with Little Willie and Mother to the present day! My son even completed a quiz sheet as he wanted a goody bag - for a boy who hates writing that's no mean feat. Six hours of pure unadulterated learning, no cohercian or pressure,just a desire to learn more! It has worked for my autistic son and convinced me that whilst school would not have worked for him, home education most certainly has! Interest led learning is the key!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Summer Pastimes!

 This is Leprechaun,and this is Socks.....

My daughter has been looking after them whilst a friend is away. So far this summer she has looked after three cats, six chickens. two dogs, a rabbit and looked after various dogs at the kennels where she works! She said she would quite like to train guide dogs when she is older!

In fact that's the whole point of experience of the real world.It's preparing her for the world of work whatever she decides to do!

Animals and nature play a huge part in our home education journey. I took this photo whilst walking the dogs the other morning.Having a camera with me reminds me to record the small things I see, the things I would miss if I drove past in the car or was too busy to stop and look.

A visit to Grange over sands the other day led me into a community orchard! It had been planted for the enjoyment of the residents and there was an information board about the different types of apple.Just enough to wet your appetite and find out more at home!

Apple orchards in the Autumn sunshine are beautiful places (although you do have to beware the odd apple as it falls from the tree). It's lovely to watch the peacock and red admiral butterflies as they feast on the rotting fruit or to watch the hens staggering drunkenly round their Coop!

We've had such a beautiful summer. Lots of time spent in the garden, by the sea and on the lake with a few lake district walks thrown in for good measure! It will be interesting to see what the next academic year has in store!