Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Stories and sharing

I read to M, J and A most nights.  I used to read to all four, but L is a bit too old now - he backed out around three years ago.  As the others grow older the stories we share have been able to become more complex too.

For a very long time we were "stuck" with Roald Dahl books.  I say stuck not because they are bad books, but because we read each of them soooooooo many times.

Another author who has been a firm favourite is Enyd Blyton - from The Wishing Chair to The Enchanted Wood, we've been on all those adventures a lot of times too.

J is very fond of Humphrey the classroom hamster, and he has a couple of books we've read, but we've had lots more from the library. I'm glad these are still being written because they are great little stories, with a strong element of "morality tale" to them.  J in particular likes books and TV programs that have an element of "social stories" to them.

A social story is a way of helping children understand people or their surroundings better - they have always been around in the form of books about "my first visit to the dentist" or similar.  They provide a framework for the reader - sometimes it's foreshadowing how things will happen (dentists / doctors / moving house etc), other times it's more helping them to understand emotions or how to react to things (death of a pet, funerals, divorce etc.)

Reading to children does so much good.  The obvious things - spending time, sharing stories, creating connection - are all there from just a few months old.  But there are far more subtle benefits too.  Reading a good book, or listening to one being read, will teach a child more grammar (by osmosis) than a month of lessons.  There is just no substitute for hearing words in context, and you get an instinctual "feel" for how language should be used.  When we read about the "inky black shadows" I don't need to explain the use of metaphor - it is self evident.  A good book will expand vocabulary too - there are lots of times I have to pause to define an obscure word, but never the same word twice.  By listening to stories, the children learn the ebb and flow of language, the rhythms and resonances that define a well crafted story.

At 11 most people would say that M is too old to be read to - but I disagree.  He thoroughly enjoys the stories, and it means that whereas he is not a voracious reader, his mind is still being expanded, and he is visiting new worlds without coercion.

At the moment we are reading the first Redwall book, by Brian Jaques.  I thoroughly enjoyed the set when I was a child, and it looks like M, J and A are going to as well.  The books revolve around the abbey of Redwall, and the mice that live there.  These are anthropomorphised creatures - with clothes and weapons - living in an almost medieval way .

Last night one of the main characters died.  J was in tears and hid.  A short while later we discovered that a second character was not dead (he's been missing) there was laughter, bouncing on beds cheering and "happy dancing".  All three of them have really grown attached to the little mice :)

There have been books we've read, notably Micheal Morpurgo books, that are just too sad for the  children.  Reading to these guys means I need to do some homework before I start!

So, there we are - what are your favourite children's books?

Monday, 21 October 2013

The end of group assessments :(

We've come to the end of J's groups assessment.  For the last five Fridays he has happily sat in a room with four other boys and done "stuff" whilst various professionals helped and observed.

I haven't been able to record here as much of what went on as I wanted, for one very simple reason ...

At the meeting about the assessments J was asked to make sure he respected the confidentiality of the other children in the group.  He was told it was a rule, and he signed a piece of paper. 

Anytime I have asked how things went I get a vague answer and am told it's confidential!  He has really taken that word to heart and is doing his best.

I can give you a general idea - from what I have picked up, what M did, and what CAMHs told us would happen :

  • Week 1 - getting to know each other, setting rules, general free play.
  • Week 2 - specific games, drawing our families
  • Week 3 - imaginative play, one to one role play exercise
  • Week 4 - physical games
  • Week 5 - trip to cafĂ©.

Each week they would sit and share one piece of news about their week, and they had a snack of fruit and water too.

The activities are chosen to give insight into what the children find hard, and they are observed keenly at all times.  The way the kids go into the group and come out is also observed, as are their interactions with parents at those times.

Just like last time I hope J was able to show himself as he truly is, and that the observations give the team a clear picture of at least some of his differences.

Now we wait - in 4 - 6weeks my husband and I will be back, and we will meet with two or three of the team that ran the assessment group, one of them will read through their "write-up" of the assessment, and discuss in depth anything we want to know more about.  At that point we will be told what they suggest happens next.

When M went through these sessions I had no idea what to expect, so I hope recording this here is able to help someone!

**Edited to add**

This assessment group is in part replacing the school based assessments that some children have - though the other children all go to school - and was looking at social and communication issues common in ASD, ADHD, and a few other conditions.


This weekend the children's Scout group had a camp.  The Beavers - A - went on Friday evening, went to Duxford on Saturday, then came home Saturday afternoon.  The Cubs - J - and Scouts - M - were dropped off on Friday evening and picked up on Sunday afternoon. At least that was the plan . . .
First order was packing.

A was no trouble at all.  She was really buzzing - it was her first night away from home.  I asked her to go and find the bits and off she went - all I did was make sure it was all there and pack the bag. 

M needed a bit more prodding.  He finds some clothes intolerable, so packing for him needed to be a bit more supported.  He also has trouble remembering more than three things at a time - so he went up to his room a lot more times ;)  We managed to pull together three days of clothes he was pretty sure he could wear (what he can tolerate varies depending on how stressed he is.)  The bag was huge, adding an airbed didn't help!

J.  Well, what can I say?  Last year there was a disastrous incident for J.  He went to camp as a not quite invested cub.  He was in the same section as M, but hadn't been for long.  This was his first camp - the Beavers call them sleepovers and they are only one night.  He had coped OK with the one nighters.  Somehow this was different.  Perhaps it was just too much all at one time - Uncle N had been visiting, and he was going home after J was dropped off.  L and J's Dad were going with Uncle N to go to a gaming convention. 

Whatever the reason, about three hours after J was dropped off (last year), when his Dad (and the car) were well and truly out of reach J melted down completely.  The leaders called me and I could hear J wailing and screaming in the background.  By then he'd been going for over an hour.  So they brought him home.

The next two days were tough - L and his father weren't due back until Sunday afternoon.  M was to be picked up on Monday.  J wanted to be with me at all times - holding on as if he thought I was going to disappear.  There were lots of tears, a few screams, and a very claustrophobic weekend for me.

J flatly refused to even think about going to camp for a long time, but in July when we picked A up from a day camp he noticed things he wished he had been able to try.  His "no" was softening. When the discussions about this weekend came up, he wanted to go - so we booked and paid for the camp for him.  Then (once we'd said yes) he was less sure.  We had lots of surface worries - little things that were masking the real issue.  We had lots and lots of long conversations, but in the end J didn't go.

When we dropped M and A off the Beaver leader said to me that she was totally different to M and J . . . I thought "Well, yes.  She's NT", but that's not the sort of thing you can say out loud really.

I was pretty sure she would cope fine, and I was right.  She had a great time, and was perfectly happy when she got home. 

I wasn't sure how M would cope - he hasn't been away from home much, and not since his night terrors became such a big thing.  As we dropped him off he was clingy - not helped by the fact that A had to be dropped off half an hour after him, so basically we all sat around doing very little for ages. M yo-yoed between us and the Scouts, not seeming happy or settled.  When it was time for A to go in she bounded in without even saying goodbye to me :)

So the camp happened.  The kids are now home, and everyone is happy :)

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Lego club, and a small victory

Today was the first meeting of a new local club - a Lego club.

Organised by a very lovely and enthusiastic local home educator, we met in a library and the boys built!

We all had a list of blocks to bring, and herein lies my downfall :(

Somehow I managed to misread the list and didn't bring enough blocks (specifically we were short of blue blocks).

Can you see it coming?  I didn't . . .

I had prepared for A, J and M to build - L wanted to stay at home because he has a late evening planned. 

We took a big crate of Duplo for the younger ones to play with, and once things started A decided she would rather play with that.

As it turns out I am relieved that she did - she had a great time, and the boys were able to use the bricks I had prepared for her.  I think she enjoys being the older one in a group, and she was thoroughly enjoying building a farm with the younger girls :)

M and J sat together, and I plonked myself in between them hoping to be able to help them both. 

The session began with a short presentation about Mario and his history.  Then the lady leading the group showed us - step by step - how to build an 8-bit Mario.

At the first step we found out I hadn't put enough big blue blocks in.  M was very cross - lots of "I can't do this now!  You've ruined everything."  J was tearing up, collapsing in on himself. 

The lovely lady leading the group reassured them that we could improvise.  M was still cross, J still quiet but we got going.  I used a few techniques I am building up - a head rub for M, back rub for J, lots of praise, forewarning of problems before we hit them, helping them work out what to do rather than leaving them to it and finally pointing out that not many other people had all of the right blocks either.  It helped a lot that the other lad on our table also had problems with missing blocks.

I was worried that we were headed for a big disaster - not being able to follow instructions precisely is a HUGE trigger for both boys.  They feel the weight of expectations keenly, and it often causes meltdowns.

We were moments from a proper collapse from both boys - probably not helped by lack of sleep last night - and somehow in spite of it being a "perfect storm" moment we managed to skirt the edge of the pit and have fun :)

Both boys are pleased with their Marios - and I am too.  All in all a good day :)

Sleep . . .

Sleep is an issue for lots of parents.  I had hoped that now our youngest is almost 7 it wouldn't be a problem for us.  I was wrong.

Right from the beginning L had no real issues with sleep - as a baby he liked nursing to sleep, later he liked to be cuddled, but beyond that he developed good sleeping habits pretty easily.  Now, at 14 1/2, his sleep patterns are changing, but he is responsible enough to be handling that pretty well.

He stays up once the younger three have gone to bed, and the three of us (His father, L and I) watch a couple of TV programs, often including the news, then he goes to his room.  Watching the news with L is great - I can almost see his world view expanding before me, and we have some very interesting conversations.  I love that our relationship is a happy one and we can talk through the controversial stuff.  I love seeing him form his own views and work out how to put them across.  Sometimes we disagree and I love that too - he is very much his own man, I could no more make him think as I do than I could make him shrink to shorter than me.  Once he has gone up to his room he plays on his PC for a bit then goes to sleep.  I trust him to do that in a sensible way.  I'm not actually worried about what he accesses online - I don't think he'd go looking for anything dodgy, and he relishes the freedom to learn about things on his own terms.  There have been a few mornings when he has found it hard to get up, but generally our lives can accommodate that.  He is now moderating himself, because he hates "loosing the morning".  If we have an early start I tend to remind him of that before I go to bed, but I don't police his bedtimes.  So far it's all working well :)

M has always been a different kettle of fish.  He would sleep anywhere if he was tired.  And he had a pre-programmed bedtime - 8 pm.  Until he was about 3 1/2 he would fall asleep wherever he was, whatever he was doing, at about 8.  Often on the floor playing, or on the sofa watching TV.  That faded, but he has always been easy to get to bed.  A story, drink, kiss and tuck in.  The trouble starts after this.

M has night terrors - they have always been there, to one degree or another, and I suspect they always will be.  A night-terror differs from a nightmare in several ways - with a nightmare once the person is awake they might be scared, but they are pretty easy to soothe, and mostly lucid.  A couple of words and a hug and the person is back to sleep.  With M's night terrors it is never that simple.  When he wakes he is not really awake.  He is usually shouting, distressed, and still trapped in whatever is going on inside his head.  There is no reasoning with him, we can't touch him because that often upsets him more, we can't play along, all we can do is watch and try to keep him safe. 

For about three months earlier this year  we had a night terror every night - most nights we had two.  He'd be screaming, pacing around the dinner table for about 30 - 45 minutes.  We tried a whole host of suggestions - waking him just before the night terror usually happened, talking it through in the day time, providing funny endings to typical dreams, more physical activity, less activity, no TV, no computer, general "are you happy" conversations - nothing had any effect.  Eventually I read about "deep pressure therapy" and that struck a chord - M likes to be well wrapped, likes shoes done up too tight, likes to be under pillows - so I looked into buying a weighted blanket.

 Unfortunately at £100+ it wasn't an option.  So I made one :)  It worked - from the first night we had a dramatic improvement. Now, don't get me wrong, M still has night terrors, but it is once a week, or one every two weeks, not two a night.

J has issues too.  He always found it harder to fall asleep, and for a long time he would "yo-yo" - I'd get him to bed, and within minutes he'd be up for one reason or another.  In the last year that has (finally) disappeared :)  But he has issues with "little accidents" at night.  I have no idea how to counter that one - he doesn't drink much, doesn't have a night time drink, goes to the loo last thing before bed . . .

Lastly is little A.  Where we used to live we only had two bedrooms, so until she was 3 there was no choice but for her to share our room.  When we moved it took us a while to get things sorted, and she didn't go to her own room until she was four.  For the next year she was on the middle floor of the house with us - and the living room.  She loved to stay up and watch TV, and if we put her to bed she would also yo-yo, so we'd let her stay up for a bit then get her back to bed. 

The trouble was she didn't want to go to bed . . . for a long time she would stay up, happily singing, playing, chatting until midnight.  I have a video of her making up dance routines at 00:15 one night.  It took some getting organised, but by moving her bedroom to the top floor and by repeatedly shooing her back to bed we've managed what seemed impossible :)

Bedtime for A, J and M is now a couple of chapters of a book - currently Redwall - then discussion about what we are doing the next day, then toilet for M and J, then tuck in and lights out.  Most nights they go straight to sleep :)

Then we wait.  If M is going to have a night terror it is almost always before midnight.  If we get to that point it is "safe" to go to bed :)

Why is all this on my mind?  Well, to start with M had a bad night last night, but to follow up I saw this on Facebook : Go to Bed- it's an article discussing research linking irregular bedtimes and behaviour issues.

I know that when I am very tired I find it harder to cope with life's craziness.  I see no reason to think that my children are any different.  But I feel there are problems with the article - there are lots of confounding factors that haven't been taken into account.  The first, biggest, question is WHY.  Why the irregular bedtimes - does the child resist sleep (lots of SEN children do), is the home a chaotic environment (already known to affect behaviour), do the parents have difficulties that are preventing more organisation (parental difficulties are known to affect behaviour), is the family over programed (ie doing too many evening activities.)

The article states that regularising bedtimes improved behaviour - but what else has changed as well as bedtime? If the family time more organised, less activities, are the parents being supported and helped?

Looking at my own children I can see a couple of things -

reducing M's night terrors hasn't improved daytime behaviour.

J is no calmer when he has a full nights sleep.

A is happier now she gets a good nights sleep.

L is a grumpy teen ;) regardless of amounts of sleep.

I think, therefore, that for an NT child, getting enough sleep matters.  For a child with additional needs getting more sleep won't "fix them." 

That's all fine and dandy, but so far three people have pointed this article out to me as a way to help my kids.  Because that is what they have read into it - get your children in bed at a sensible time and all their issues will melt away.

That just leaves me feeling a bit like shouting "if it was as simple as putting them to bed on time I'd have done that years ago!"

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Learning when to push

Tuesday was another interesting day here.

Last week I heard that a local youth group had spaces - L has been asking me to help him find new ways to meet people, so I asked him if he fancied it.

He did, so I asked if he could fill the space.  The youth worker confirmed the details, and he was all set to join them this Tuesday for Kayaking.

But then the worries set in.  Being a big brother L has not been many places on his own - usually either his father or I are there, or his younger brothers, or more recently other people he already knows.  This was a first for him - a new group with no one he knew, no ice breakers or brothers to be with, just him.

For the whole week we had grumblings.  On Thursday L managed to get a friction burn / graze on his forearm which was pretty bad and was weeping a lot.  He felt that was a good reason not to go.  We gave it time, and by Tuesday whilst it hadn't healed completely it was coverable and much smaller. He still wasn't happy though.  We had some pretty deep discussions, and "unpacked" his insecurities a bit. 

It was actually refreshing to be able to discuss it rationally with him - L is level headed and calm about a lot of things. I tried to deal with things by running through why I felt this was a good thing, and why at 14 1/2 he was ready to branch out a bit.  He was still not happy about going, so I listened and empathised, without agreeing to him not going.  I had to push him fairly hard, and he outright told me he wasn't going, he thought I was bullying him, he felt I was being controlling.

We set out together to the place the group was going to pick him up from, and he was resigned and grumpy.  He went though.

When I got a call from him later to go and meet him at the same spot he was happy.  He'd had fun, felt able to mix with the others, chatted to one of the youth workers about dyslexia, and met another home educated lad.  He'd also found he wasn't bad at kayaking :)

Chatting later, he was glad I pushed him to go, but hated that I had at the same time.  He's looking forward to next Tuesday, and I think we have a success :)

At the same time M bought home a task from Scouts last Tuesday - find a famous historical figure from our town, learn about them and present the information to the group this week.  I had reminded him three times in the intervening week that he needed to do the leg work, but unsurprisingly we found ourselves with two hours to go before he had to go out manically trying to pull the info together. 

Should I have pushed him earlier?  Perhaps.  But he resisted every reminder and suggestion that we do it together.  He needed to feel it was urgent before he was ready to begin. Should I then have just left it? I don't think so because he would have been miserable if he hadn't done it, and the piece of writing he produced was pretty good.

There are lots of people who advocate being totally child-led, in both the above cases that would have meant I just left the boys to it, L wouldn't have broadened his horizons, and M would have felt stressed that he wouldn't get the badge. I don't think either of those would have been ideal, so encouraging them was the better choice.

It's a fine line to walk, but I think that sometimes supporting these kids means pushing them to step beyond the comfortable. 

What a difference a day makes . . .

A week or so ago I wrote about J's writing.  I was concerned because of his lack of consistency and the difficulty I had working out what he had written.

Here is a page in a workbook he did last week :

As you can see, some of it is readable, much of it is scrappy.  The sizing and spacing is way off, some letters are reversed, all told it is not the writing I would hope to see from a nine year old.

The next day, after a long discussion, we started a cursive writing practise book.  The exercises began with forming letters properly - something we have been through a huge number of times - but because J could see that he would pretty soon need to be joining those letters together, and because we talked through the fact that to do so he would need the "flicks" in the right place, and his pen in the right position, he was happy to start again.

As he worked through the letter forming all was going OK.  He was looking at what he needed to copy and working well.

When he came to the page where he had to do "the first join" we had a problem.  He couldn't do it.  As so often happens the feeling of failing caused him to meltdown, and there were tears and frustrated shouts very quickly.

I was taken aback, the previous pages had been done smoothly and calmly.  I had been sorting washing (in the same room) rather than standing over J, so I moved straight over to comfort and calm him.  I encouraged him to try again, and as I did so I stood behind him.

That gave me a perspective I hadn't had before, and I realised that he just couldn't see the tip of his pencil as he wrote.  He couldn't even see the letter he was writing - somehow he was holding the pencil in such an awkward manner that he was blocking his own view.

It was clear that he was in no state to carry on writing.  So we put the books away and had a long cuddle instead.  Some days there is nothing to be gained from pushing on when the child is stressed, and this was clearly one of those days.

So, I spent some time hunting out resources and ideas, I asked on some Facebook pages, and I thought a lot.

The next time we sat down to work I began by talking - I told him what I thought might be a part of the problem - the way he held his arm - and I told him I had some ideas that might help.  I have learnt that with J I have to make sure he knows that things might, or might not, work - otherwise he feels let down and angry.  We used a big lever-arch folder to lean on - creating a slope - we used a special pen and we paid attention to where he put his arm.  This is the result :


For ease of comparison, here is one of the previous days pics too :
We still have work to do - but the difference is amazing.  J is so happy with the improvement, and so much more relaxed about writing - literally in just one day!
Keeping his arm in a "new" position is tiring for J, so for the moment he is practising writing and then I am recording his answers for Math, English and Science work, but in the days since I took these pics he has been doing a bit more each time.
So far, so good.  For now . . . 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


It is hard to underestimate the power of support.  No, I don't mean a good bra ;) I mean the strength that is gained by spending time with other people who really *get it*.

Before we decided to get J and M assessed I did a lot of reading.  I learnt a lot about ASD and related conditions - I felt that I needed to know what was wrong before I began the struggle to get a diagnosis.

Somehow though, even though I was pretty sure I knew the issues - to a degree - I didn't feel comfortable reaching out and finding other people locally that had children with ASD.

I wish I had reached out earlier, but it took CAMHs taking us seriously and agreeing there were issues before I felt genuine.  I thought other people whose children had a diagnosis were more "official", that our experiences wouldn't count.

It's not true folks!  If you suspect an issue, look on Facebook for a local support group, then go and meet them!

We have met with two groups locally, and I have had online conversations with people in two or three others, and not once have I been shunned because we don't have a diagnosis yet.  I have also now made friends with a good number of local home educators whose children have difficulties and differences.

The best bit is what we have found - understanding.  I never realised how much that would mean.  The understanding that when something goes wrong it's (usually) not malicious, the recognition that sometimes the boys do *odd* things, that sometimes they need a bit more time, or space.

It makes me think of :

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . ."”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves    

Only in this case it's sharing the adventures, quirks and oddities of our children.

It is good to hear that other peoples children do the things M and J do - the things that drive me mad - because that shows those things are a feature of their issues, not naughtiness.

It is great to get to know home educators whose children have oddities too - in some of them I can see what would have happened if M and J had gone to school, in others I can see issues developing that we have overcome, in yet others I can see what might be coming our way.  In every case it is an awesome feeling to listen, to share and to be listened to, because this can be a tough road.  With a good support group around us it needn't be a lonely road.

Each of us has a different perspective on our children, different experiences to share, different challenges to overcome, but together we really are stronger.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Just another manic Monday

Today has been crazy - manic is just about right!

We had a disturbed evening on Sunday - J was complaining about stabbing pains when he needed to wee, so after a bit of time checking symptoms on the NHS direct website I called them, and off we went to the local out of hours service.  J was excited about going somewhere new, terrified he would be admitted to hospital and left on his own, and suddenly happy and relaxed.

Apparently the most exciting part of all was having to pee in a bottle!  As it turns out his sample was all clear, so home we went with instructions to call again if things got worse.

Getting J checked out was absolutely the right thing to do - he isn't ill often, and was very distressed by the pain.  The flip side of it was, though, that we had to leave the other three at home.  Thankfully L is old enough that at times like this we can rely on him being able to watch the others for short periods of time.  M was scared - worried about what was wrong and could he catch it.  A was also scared - we ended up going out half way through her bedtime routine, and she was very sleepy.  L managed to keep them calm, and we were only gone for an hour.

When we got home the younger three had their story and went to bed. I read to M J and A together, and at the moment we are partway into Redwall - a story I loved as a child.  The rest of the night was disturbed because I was worrying about J - would he sleep, or be yo-yoing in pain? Somewhere around three he came down to us and snuggled into our bed - at which point I relaxed :)

This morning we were all late risers - usually M and J are up just before 8, with A following before 9.  My husband and I tend to get up between 8 and 9, and L(well into his teen years) gets up when prodded hard enough . . .

As nine o'clock rolled around no-one was really functional.  Not normally a problem but Mondays we do Multi-sports which starts at ten . . .

We made it on time, just, and M, J and A had a fun hour of basketball. As far as I can tell all went well.  Then we came home, for a short relax, before finishing preparing for Book club, and having lunch.

J didn't feel up to coming to the book club, and I thought it was best not to push him.

All three kids managed to read and enjoy their books, but getting them to record memorable quotes was hard.  Still, they got there in the end, then chose new books to wrap.

The session went well, though I spent a lot of it chatting to another mum who has a lot of experience with ASD, and it's good to feel the connection. She also has a lot of advice and talking to her helps me work through how I feel about stuff.

M had a couple of sticking points, firstly he wanted to talk about the book he got last time (which everyone was encouraged to do), but he didn't feel able to.  He got stuck in a bit of a loop - he felt he *had to* to be part of the club, but felt too shy to be in the spotlight.  We resolved it by him talking to the person who had lent him the book, and to the organiser, but not to the group as a whole.  At the end of the session they each got a new book from the surprise pile.  M didn't know who the book he had came from (the club secretary records who has lent which book to whom), and that made M feel worried that the book wouldn't "get home" (his words.)

Right now M is upstairs chilling at the PC, J is using the Wii - which seems oddly appropriate.  A is playing with her local friends out front - avoiding the two "mean girls" that are being unkind, and learning all sorts of things about human nature.  L is siting here working out square and cubed roots.

All that is left to get done is feed the horde, and get L out to his friends for his weekly game night.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

All observations are useful

I wrote recently about J and writing - how he has no consistency and struggles.  Today I *think* I saw part of the reason why.

We were working with the cursive writing book, and started with a page of letters that have "descenders" - I used to call them tails, but it was j, g, p and so on.  As he copied them he was focusing on what he was copying.  He had no real issues, other than getting the relative sizing right - by the end of each line his letters were much better.  He was excited when he realised that g is a c with a tail, and so is p . . .

Then he wanted to move to the next page - the first with joined letters.  Normally we do one page and stop, but as he was eager we carried on.

The page began with a joined i and n. J tried, and couldn't get it right, as I moved in to help him I stood behind him rather than sat beside him as usual.  From behind I could see that his hand completely blocks his view of what he is writing.  Somehow his pencil grip just obscures the writing entirely.  So all this asking him to pay attention to how wide the letter is, how big the flick is, has been pointless as he just can't see until it is done.

Now I know what is causing at least part of the problem, but I have no idea how to fix it!  A quick google has turned up no advice at all.  I'll ask in a few places, but it's not something I have ever heard mentioned as an issue.

Still, as a wise man (OK, character in a TV program . . . same difference!) once said, having defined a problem the first step towards a solution is the acquisition of data.