Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Projects abound!

Now we've been back for a while, life has resumed in full flow.

Of course that means barely a moment to sit and think, let alone write or plan . . .

Before we went away I tidied up a lot of our resources, and took a lot of books off our "downstairs bookshelf".  Mostly the books were pre-readers, or very early reading schemes - somehow we seem to have collected quite a few books from random reading schemes.  Sometimes I've actually bought them, a large chunk came from my mothers school, some were gifts from well meaning relatives.  Now I have four children who can read (!) we don't need the "A is for . . ." books.  So they all migrated to the loft.  They took with them a whole pile of board books, for very similar reasons.  That made space on some of the "upstairs bookshelves" for story books that had been downstairs.  That meant I had space on the shelves for some more of the educational resources I have collected - we have lots of project packs, work books, and reference books.  Until now most of the resources have been hidden away under the stairs.

As I got them out I reminded myself just how many enticing things we had, and as the younger three came and got in the way they all spotted things they wanted to explore.  I've decided that having these packs isn't enough, we actually need to *use* them! 

So I filled a shelf with books and packs that were about the right level for one or other of the younger three, and let them browse.

A decided that she liked the look of a pack I'd sent off for in 2003 from the Cats Protection League, and we're three or four sessions into it.  We have another from Battersea Dog and Cat home, sent off for years ago, which we may or may not move onto, depending on how enthusiastic she is.

J wants to finish off his Solar System lap book, then move onto a Mini beasts pack we got from our local scrap store.  He was fascinated to see how much his writing has improved since we began the lap book in November. 

M has started the First class project pack from iChild - down loadable here, though we have a hard copy.  This one is a bit odd - it doesn't go into enough detail for M, so he's asked to learn about several things as a result - notably the British Empire, the second World War, and the Industrial revolution.  I'm pretty sure we have several books that cover those, so I guess that we're lining up future projects there :)

I'm torn now though - is this Autonomy?  I think so, because all three asked to do their respective projects, I didn't suggest them, or even ask them to choose one.  I guess it's not unschooling though, because all of these packs are designed to be used in a classroom setting, so it's very much a case of "Introduce, discuss, activity, conclude."  For M that's not enough information, he wants to go off at a tangent, to follow his interests and talk about *everything* - in that he reminds me of L - for A the structure is novel, she is focusing on stories, and whilst her writing is still emerging, she is enthusiastic to get her thoughts down on paper - much more so than any of the boys at her age.  J likes the structure, sticks to the facts and the task at hand, wants to do it, and get it done well, but there is no distracting, no related conversation, no tangents.  He is very much about getting down to business and then getting out of the kitchen.  I was a bit surprised that he wanted to do a project, but he did, he does, and we'll see if it gets completed.

There are lots more books and packs under the stairs, lots more on the shelf.  Will this be a one off?  Or is it a bit like strewing - a Montesorian principle involving providing interesting / intriguing activities and leaving them to be discovered rather than imposing on or inviting in the child.  I know strewing works with J and A, especially with art supplies, but it has never worked for L or M.  With both of them if I want to interest them I either need to say "hey, look at this . . . " or start doing it myself, where they can see and then be prepared to work along side them.

So, at the moment we're being bookish.  I wonder if that is in reaction to a cold wet winter, outside looks so foreboding, and forbidding, and even ASD kids can only spend so long buried in Minecraft before they long for something more.

Monday, 10 February 2014

I wasn't sure this day would come

Wins come in all shapes and sizes.

Last night we had a huge victory - might not seem like much to the outside world, but to me it was enormous!

L is very dyslexic - the lady who assessed him last year said his was the worst case she has seen in 25 years of assessing kids.

It took him a long time to learn to read, longer to become confident, and even longer to actually read spontaneously.

Now he's 15, he reads a couple of science magazines - both aimed at an adult market - he reads bits of role playing rules books, but never ever fiction.

Both my husband and I devour books.  Our house is full of novels, factual books, role playing books and any other sort of book you can think of.  To have a child who hated reading just felt odd.  Wrong.

Over Christmas L, his father and I listened to an audio-play, a new version of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. L likes science fiction, in terms of films / TV programs / games, but Neverwhere isn't *quite* Sci-fi.  I wasn't sure how he would take to it.  But Gaiman is one of my favourite authors, so *I* wanted to listen to it, even if he didn't.  It took a while for L to get into it, but by the end he was thoroughly enjoying it.

We decided a few more audio plays might be a good way to introduce high quality story telling, so we've been looking for some more to listen to.

A few days ago I read "Fortunately the milk" to the younger three - it's a truly fantastic book.  It's a children's book, but well written and full of good humour.  Suffice to say it's also by Mr Gaiman, and L was in his room, sneakily listening.  After all he's far too old to be read to any more.

Last night we watched Coraline after dinner.  Another Gaiman story . . . L declared it "awesome."  I pointed out we'd seen another Gaiman film (Stardust) a while ago.

This morning L told me that Neil Gaiman was his favourite author, and that maybe he (L) might like to read some of his shorter stories . . .

And so, there we have it. A victory :) L not only has a favourite author, but also has some books he might like to read. 

You might think it a small win, insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but I'll take the smiles where I can find them thanks.

As a happy addendum, L today hit the books with renewed enthusiasm.  He feels he's getting somewhere with IGCSE biology, and has hit a patch of his IGCSE Maths that is deceptively simple.  For Mr L, right now, life is good :)

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Setting the record straight, and talking about pee!

So, as well as our holiday there have been a couple of developments for the boys.

Firstly, that letter . . .

Just before Christmas we had an appointment for J with the Neurodevelopment clinic, discussing our concerns (again) and working out the next step.  I wrote about it here.

A few weeks later we got the write-up of the meeting.  Now, whilst the meeting was infuriating - a mixture of them minimising what I was saying and obsessing over small things - the report of it was so much worse.

The report had factual errors - it listed J as having had "a few surgeries to fit grommets", he has never had poor hearing, we didn't discuss surgery or grommets . . . It went on to state that J was cord wrapped at birth - again factually incorrect, he had a true knot in the cord, which as it tightened cut off his blood supply and stopped his heart. Cord wrapping is not even close.  There were others too, but you don't need me to go on and on.

Along side this there were points that were minimised - J gets stressed in the car if we go more than about 40 mph, go around sharp bends, over bridges or flyovers, overtake, drive in the outside lane or go down a steep hill.  I listed all of those points in the meeting, but it was recorded as "J gets upset when driving at excessive speed."  I told them that J will not eat meat with any texture, will not try new foods or eat cooked vegetables.  This was recorded as "J loves raw vegetables".

Finally there were a couple of points that got whole paragraphs that they just didn't rate.  J struggles to play hide and seek - this comes up maybe twice a year! - he finds it hard to stay hidden if the seeker is close, and will often leap out and say something like "here I am" or "You missed me!".  Really, it's not that huge a thing. 

So, after fuming, reading and rereading the letter we decided it just couldn't be allowed to stand unchallenged.  There was very little in it that felt like our J, and if it stayed on his file as it was then anyone reading it would get a totally incorrect picture of him.

It was time to sit, be calm, and dissect the report.  I went through, sentence by sentence, and underlined all the parts that needed work.  Then I wrote a firm but polite letter, thanking the team but telling them I was disappointed to see so many errors.  I told them where to look (ie paragraph one, line one) quoted what was incorrect, and then told them the correct version.  My letter ran to three pages . . .

At no point was I rude, insulting, or aggressive, I simply took the approach that there had been a series of mistakes that needed to be rectified in order to keep the file accurate.  I really did feel like being rude though!

We haven't had a proper reply yet - the doctor is on annual leave - so I don't know how much of it they will accept, or this is the beginning of a long running dispute, but I'll keep you informed.

We also had an appointment for J at the urology clinic.  J wets the bed, and has tiny accidents in the day.  We spent a long time talking about things with a lovely doctor, and J has been given some "homework". He needs to drink a lot more - about 2 litres a day - to pee standing up, and to make sure he shakes . . .

It was a pretty embarrassing time for both J and I, spending an hour talking about pee isn't my idea of fun, but the doc was very straight forward, very helpful, and gave us a lot to work with. 

It looks like J's bladder is a bit irritated, due to him not drinking much, so he has cranberry juice to help soothe it.  It is also possible that because he has never drunk enough his bladder hasn't "learnt" to hold much, and gets stressed easily.

So for the last two days we've been watching J, and encouraging him to drink more.  Yesterday he drank more than ever, and just about managed to get to 1 litre.  We have quite a lot of work to do there it seems.

And, finally, we got the date for M's ADOS assessment - 4th March - not too far away.  I expect that we will get the appointment for J soon as well.

So, there we have it.  Bullets bitten, letters sent, pee discussed and appointments made.  A busy few weeks really!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Home again, home again, Jiggety jig

Well, we're back :) Time to get life back on track and re-embrace our "normal".

Last week we were at one of our favourite places - ConCeption, a gaming convention on the south coast.  It was awesome :)  As with everything in our lives, this particular chunk of awesomness was coloured by the children's quirks and additional needs, but not always in a negative way.

When we go away M and J feel a need to plan.  That's pretty normal, but M in particular takes normal and magnifies it about 100X.  M's planning started back in October, and he has been telling friends about what would happen for a very long time.  In order to try and get this under control at the very start of January we wrote lists - what they both wanted to pack, what they wanted to play, even (in J's case) what they would wear on the way down.  Since there was some writing involved A decided to hop onto the band waggon - although her list was much shorter, and didn't actually get looked at once she had written it.

When it came to the time we wanted to pack, this was the easiest year yet.  We have now fully embraced M's sensory issues, so most of his clothes are ones he is happy to wear (this does change depending on his stress levels, but now we never buy something for him without his trying it on and approving it.)  So I was able to say things like "six pairs of trousers! Go!" and they did!  It was a bit chaotic, lots of clothes everywhere, I had to go through and fold things, quietly checking for holes in knees of trousers as I went, but all four children managed to sort things themselves.

The biggest issue we had was space - with six of us, a weeks clothing, and *lots* of games, the car felt far too small.  There was quite a bit of negotiating about which games would be taken, which could fit into the same box and how we could keep them from getting damaged en route.  In the end we took far more games than we played, but far less than M wanted to.

For the first time in years not only Uncle N, but also Uncle M were there.  Uncle N always comes, staying in the same lodge as us, but having another adult about really changed the dynamic, and made for an almost stress free week :)

This is the perfect convention for us - for the first half there are very few children older than about 3 around, and those that are there we have known all their lives.  We often have the pool to ourselves, and the soft play is similarly exclusive.  That means that M, J and A get to relax when it's not at all busy, they get to do things without having to wait or take turns, they get to be in control.  From the Friday night onwards more children arrive - again mostly ones we have known forever - and the kids play well in groups, having already explored and done most of the things they wanted to do.  It's very interesting to see that all four of the offspring slot back into the social groups naturally, they know the other children well enough despite only spending one week of the year together, there is a tolerance of each others differences and very rarely any upsets at all.  We had no tears / complaints / grumps this year, not from our guys or any of the other children.  It really is a very relaxing place to be.

J and A played their first convention games that were not run by one of "us" this year - they played the Pathfinder Kids Track - and they both loved it.  There were two games, each lasted four hours, but had several breaks.  The guys running it were well prepared, very enthusiastic, and there were three of them to the two kids :)  It was great to see both of the littlies really getting into things, and one way or another they both played every day we were there :)

M and L played standard Pathfinder games with their dad and Uncle N.  They both cope fairly well at a table with random adults, and had a blast.

For M gaming like this is perfect - there are rules, which give his socialisation shape and form, he knows his character well, which makes him relax and feel able to contribute, and he is actually a very good tactician, which makes him an asset to the table.  L is shyer, finds it harder to speak up to strangers, but once he relaxes he shines.  Playing games like this helps both boys with reading / maths / writing, because there is a need to do all of those things quickly and independently.  It's good practise, even though neither of them are learning anything new.

L sometimes finds M too much (he's not alone there, TBH) so we organised a game with Uncle M running, and L, Uncle N, My husband and I playing.  L came out of his shell, and really enjoyed himself.  It helps that Uncle M is a really good GM, and that we were all having fun too.  One of those games where everyone hits the perfect notes and it just takes off.

On the Saturday morning M played a solo game with uncle N, using the Savage Worlds rules set, then in the afternoon I ran a game called "Little Wizards" aimed at children, and it was chaotic!  I'll write up the story and post it later.  J and A both played, as did 6 other children. 

On the Sunday I ran an interactive game (again for children.  Do you see a pattern!)  These games are generally called LRP's, and instead of saying "my character will do XX" you go and do it.  Mostly they are based around "talky" situations, and it is a great opportunity to get into a character and have fun.  Again J and A played this whilst the other two played Pathfinder with their dad and uncle.

Sunday afternoon J played a very old game called Star Wars D6, based in the Star Wars universe, with a very simple rules mechanic, I played with him as uncle N ran the game.  It took him a little while to settle, but he had a blast.

At some point M bought a new game - Cosmic patrol - and read most of the rule book in the down time between games.  As with most RPG rule books this one was pretty long - novel sized - and needed to be concentrated on.  M was his usual dedicated (obsessive?) self, and determined to read it before we left, I don't think I could have convinced him to read that much, even with the best novels we have here.

Monday morning came around too soon, and we had to say goodbye not only to the uncles, but also to the holiday park.  Both M and J cried, but that was to be expected, they hate leaving places / people.

On the way home we stopped at Marwel Zoo, but that is another post (with pictures!)

There is so much more to say, but I'll have to cogitate on it a bit longer, however -

we are back. 

Life resumes. 

J is off to the hospital tomorrow for an outpatients appointment . . .