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!