Tag Archives: home education

It’s Been Non-Stop (As Always)

1 May

No, I’ve not fallen off the edge of the planet; it just seems that way.

It’s been absolutely non stop since last summer, when the children went back to school and Teen Boy went off to college.

Small Girl’s return to school went badly, to say the least. I could not understand what had upset her so badly, but every afternoon and evening, and then the mornings, started to go back to what I thought of as the Bad Old Days, before she had full time support.

She was unable to verbalise anything specific, and I decided it must be “just” a bad transition after the good summer we’d had.

Oh no it wasn’t! I found out after almost three weeks – when we weren’t talking specifically about school – that her PSA (Pupil Support Asst) had been taken away from her! With no notice, and nothing home, not even an email to inform me of this massive change.

The effect on Small Girl was nothing short of catastrophic. Her ability to function in the mainstream environment depended entirely on having her own adapted curriculum and dedicated support from this lovely woman who could read her moods better than anyone outside of the family.

Obviously, I raised merry hell at the school. The poor head apologised that we hadn’t been told (What? You honestly expected a child who you know becomes non verbal under stress to pop out this wee gem at home time?) and then we got the bad news that the LEA had done this across the entire Highland Region. It wasn’t the decision of the school, and in fact they couldn’t cope, i.e. expect to fulfill basic requirements with the additional support they currently had. I said, well no, of course you can’t because my daughter’s full time support has suddenly been axed. Not allowing for anyone else, this was a serious issue.

The biggest problem we had with this withdrawal of support was the very real risk to SG’s physical safety; put simply, if she’s very upset she’ll do a runner. Highland schools are not on lock-down like a lot of English ones seem to be, so it’s the work of seconds to be out the doors and over the fence, straight onto the main road, down the hill, and – God forbid – into the sea (which is a huge draw for a lot of autistic children , SG being no exception.

So, we did the only sensible thing; we kept her at home. I could have decided to take the education department to a tribunal for endangering the life of an autistic child (among other failures) but in the end I thought it simply wasn’t worth the energy it would cost me, and the detrimental effect it would have on her, being effectively in limbo while we fought on. I wrote a letter requesting permission to de-register her from school instead.

There was a nasty moment when we got threatened by some suit at the council, so I promptly sent him a sharply worded email setting out in detail exactly how they were breaking any number of laws by their persistent failure to provide a safe and nurturing environment for my disabled child, and that if they wanted to argue, they could bring it on. I said she was being kept at home as being in school was detrimental to her mental and physical well-being.

I got the permission to de-register a lot faster than the maximum six weeks – what a surprise!

Anyway, since then we’ve been de-schooling, which mostly consists of a lot of cuddles, stories and play doh, with visits to the library and the parks. Small Girl has also done a fair bit of what I’d term “school work” in various work books, and on line, but she’s still scarred from the build up of years of sensory overload, so we’re taking it slowly.

And what of Small Boy? Well, he’s had a tempestuous year so far, I think it’s fair to say. His anxiety is still off-the-charts bad, and my state of alertness to the possibility of a meltdown (and omg they are spectacular in their violence and length) puts me on a level (or so it feels) of a bomb disposal cat who’s used up eight lives. My sleep is fractured as I never seem to be able to switch off, I get a ton of headaches, and I am often grumpy AF, but as we head towards the last ten weeks of his school life, ricocheting from day to day, and his insistence that he can manage the four hours a week he is timetabled for, I am excited to know that from the end of June he will be finished with primary school, and from then on, the education of both my youngest will no longer be anything to do with the education authority. And I’m looking forward to learning all manner of new and interesting things alongside these two amazing kids that we won’t allow the school system to break.

Mental health is often precarious in autistic people, whatever their age, and frankly no wonder. The pressure to conform to neurotypical standards is high, and even some of the special schools just don’t “get” it. They might be able to mask, but eventually the mask will slip, and the fallout is bad, often resulting in self harm, low self esteem and more. If Scotland refuses to accept that the ethos of mainstream for all is damaging, then I can’t use my children as a weapon to prove how badly wrong the system is, not if I want them to stand a chance of being mentally sound and proud to be autistically authentic.

I’m no saint, and I often get it wrong BUT unlike teachers who spend so much of their time keeping control rather than imparting knowledge, and then, in Small Girl’s words “making us sit down and do maths” I can hopefully make them comfortable in their own skins as they branch out into learning what enthuses them. Am I scared? Yup, you betcha. Do I think I can do this? Yes I do. Because what I want for them is not a string of letters after their names (I mean, that would be cool) but rather for them to have enough confidence to face the future being proud of what they’ve achieved. If they are polite, and kind, and know how to cook meals and load the washing machine, and sing along to Korean pop music, as well as add up and read, then I’ll consider they’re doing all right.

So that’s us right now. In limbo with Small Boy and his final few weeks of school, and sort-of still de-schooling with madam. But we’re all still here, and the good days outnumber the bad.

bikes

Here they are last weekend, enjoying being outside for once. At the risk of jinxing it, we finally have some half-decent weather.

 

We’ve Kind of Been Here Before

3 Jun

Since I last updated here, it’s all gone a bit wrong (again).

Small Boy has been out of school since two days after the start of the summer term. It was almost impossible to get him back to school after Easter, but the crunch came when I had Small Girl at a Camhs appointment and I spent 3/4 of it talking about SB. I had the light-bulb moment where I thought we’re damaging him, leaving him every day somewhere we have to drag him to screaming. The screaming is communication; all he can say is help me, and we’re not listening. We need to change this.

I drove SG back to school for the afternoon session and he appeared at the staff room door while I was letting SG’s PSA know she was back on the premises. He had seen my car, and that I hadn’t driven straight off. He didn’t speak, just looked straight at me with tears shining in his eyes and wrapped his arms around my waist. I told him to collect all his belongings and to wait for me by his coat peg. Then I told the staff that the only sensible and kind thing I could do was to remove him until further notice. I assured them it was nothing they had done wrong (it really wasn’t) but it was hurting him, and my job was to protect him.

The relief on his wee face was a wake up call if ever I needed one. I sent a text to Hubby to inform him of what I’d done, and not to be surprised if he called and heard SB in the background. And then we waited.

The first two weeks were the worst. Somehow I’d got it into my head that away from the hyper-stimulating environment (or whatever) of school that he would quickly bounce back and “be himself.” That didn’t happen. He was rude, angry, aggressive, even violent, and my heart sank as I wondered if I had somehow made a bad situation worse.

But I hadn’t, and my instincts were right. One day I got a smile, a genuine one. Then he asked a question – about the platypus as it happens – and we spent half an hour on Google, learning everything we could about the strange and frankly terrifying critters, and now, several weeks on, I can almost say I have my boy back.

He’s still angry, and frustrated, and horribly panicked about any kind of change to his routine, but the absolute terror has mostly gone from his eyes. School are continuing to be wonderful in their support, and there is a team dedicated to trying to “fix” what went wrong. The only problem is that without the input of specialist services that deal with mental health issues, specifically those of young autistic people, we might not get much further. And guess which service we are still waiting on? Yes, you know it.

Without knowing just what he can’t cope with, there is no way we are prepared to attempt to put him back into full time schooling, just to see the very same thing happen all over again. The stumbling block is that being only just 11, he has no idea what his triggers are. Having Teen Boy around is helpful, as we can take a stab at the worst of the probables, but they are not definite. TB has told us it was several years later that he finally managed to start filtering out the worst of his sensory issues, so it might be that part of what we have to do is wait until SB can do the same. Which doesn’t help much with school, but I refuse to rush him. He is autistic, and I will not shove him into a mainstream neurotypical pond and demand he swims like the NT fish because he can’t. And why should he? If he were blind, or in a wheelchair, the system would know it had to adapt for him. But because you can’t look at an autistic person and see the autism, for some reason it’s acceptable (well it’s really not but other people think it is) to squash and squeeze and push them until they are stuffed into the same round holes as everyone else, no matter that they are perfectly content to be square pegs.

Well, this mumma says no! My square pegs require square holes, and if it takes yet another fight, bring it!

In the mean time, SB is coping with one hour of practical science once a week, one to one with a PSA, and for some reason, 90 mins of PE too. Rather him than me *shudders*.

For another time, I’ll write about our tentative journey into home education.

 

Thoughts on Home Education and more

17 Feb

Apologies in advance as this is going to turn into an epic post. I need to get it written down though.

It’s been in my mind on and off (more on) in the last few months that I might end up having to home ed M at some point.

When I had the youngest two children I was fairly sure that I would not be putting them through the school system, at least not in primary school. I have no issues with the local primary – in fact the contrary – but I wanted to give myself and the children the chance to take 100% advantage of the life we have in the country and not to be restrained by clocks and timetables. I did however mean to take full advantage of the nursery hours offered as it’s the simplest way for a small child to socialise with local kids and I thought they would both enjoy it.

B immersed himself in nursery life with gusto, and truly looked forward to going every day. M seemed to enjoy it but the telltale signs of anxiety (as I now recognise them) started to show at home. Had I withdrawn her from nursery they may well have stopped, but I still think keeping her there and fighting for someone to listen about her increasingly strange behaviours was the only way she finally got a diagnosis, and honestly at the time the thought of autism hadn’t crossed my mind.

Anyway – by the time it came to put B into school I felt I had no option as I knew by then I would struggle to cope with M at home all day and no chance of respite from her. It sounds awful putting that in print but I was utterly exhausted from the everyday battles to achieve anything without screaming tantrums. I didn’t think I could justify keeping M at home and sending B as he might well have felt “shunted off.” B settled brilliantly into the education system which was a huge relief, but M missed him desperately and turned even more to me. 

We had been rudely dismissed as poor parents by the paediatrician who we had begged to be referred to. We got the referral through the health visitor (who I am convinced thought we were making everything up). The paediatrican never spoke to us, arranged a meeting or even wrote, which now of course I would be fighting, but at the time I was also waging a war with the education authority over schooling for my older boy and had no spare energy left. I did call his secretary and beg him to call me even if he didn’t have time for an appointment but to no avail. He did however agree to visit the nursery to observe M. He stayed for an hour and sent this by letter

“…..stop trying to medicalise normal childhood development…….” Basically, because he saw nothing in ONE SINGLE HOUR there was no case and we were over-protective and attention-seeking parents. 

Reeling from this, I was unable to launch a counter-attack until some time later. Finally M got her diagnosis in the autumn of 2012, after having been both at school and then at home for a prolonged length of time due to being a bolt risk. 

She now attends school full time, with the support of a lovely PSA. She just about copes in a school with a total of thirty pupils, and I mean just about. There are plenty of times and activities that she literally cannot deal with, both in terms of anxiety and of sensory overload. Which leads me to think about secondary school.

The special needs provision in our area is absolutely dire. This is a fact. My highly intelligent older boy has to travel 150 miles every Sunday to an out of area school that can give him the education he deserves in an atmosphere he can cope with. There is a school thirty miles away that has an autism unit attached, but after a visit there a few days ago it is sadly apparent that even though the staff there are both delightful and dedicated, there is no way that M would cope. There is one main room, largish, and in that up to six pupils can be accommodated. There are a couple of tiny side rooms leading off a corridor, one of which has no window, and this is the sum total of the facilities. In one corner of the large room is a kitchen area, where the staff make their coffee. This is also the room where the “cooking lessons” happen. Just from a sensory point of view this would be totally unacceptable for M, and I imagine it must be a big distraction for anyone trying to concentrate on another subject.The “teaching” seems to happen by giving work to them and expecting them to get on with it – but apparently “sometimes” a teacher actually comes to the unit to provide a specific lesson. 

Obviously I was only there for an hour and a half but half the children were part time, there was no sign of any teacher, the kids that were there were glued to computer screens (doing work not games I might add) and the whole atmosphere was very much along the lines of “out of sight out of mind”. I have a friend whose child is going to this school in the summer and I asked her about why she was so pleased with it. Turns out her son will be using the unit as his escape at break times as he will be accessing mainstream classes. I can see that working for him, and then the base would be a safe haven for him from the social torment of 1000 children roaming the school, but as for M it’s totally unsuitable.

So, on to another possibility. The flagship special school in the city. To start with, I notice from their website that it takes 90 pupils. That is three times the number that M is currently struggling with. To her that may well prove to be an impossible hurdle. I don’t yet know even if she could access the curriculum there as no-one has called me back. I will wait till next week and call again. I know that when we inquired about it for ds1 we were told he would not get the right education, and at the time we were happy with the answer as it meant the authority had effectively given us the green light to go out of area.

Which leads us to ………….nowhere. There really is nothing else. Nada. Rien.

M’s extremely high levels of anxiety would contra-indicate any school day where she wasn’t home in the evening so out of area is not on the agenda.

Home education it is then. Or right now it would appear to be the only possible outcome. I was planning to debunk a few myths about home education in this post but I think now I will keep them for next time.

If you’ve stuck with me then thank you for reading.

 

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