Tuesday, 24 March 2009

School Meeting and an incident in the playground.

Today I and J's daddy met with Mrs F the school's SENCO and had an update about how J is doing in the classroom. After the past few weeks with really positive responses from J to the phonics flash cards I was quietly confident that J's performance in the classroom had improved. I was right to feel confident as "everyone has noticed a huge difference" - finally it appears that J is settling down and beginning to concentrate - the school's investment  in 15 hours of one to one time a week for J  has paid dividends and he is starting to move forwards.  Reading has improved and so has writing as J can finally see the point of concentrating on it. Other aspects of his time in the classroom have improved too - he is sitting for story time on the carpet and eagerly participating in listening and responding in an appropriate fashion. I am so relieved.
Sop what about the Statement? Mrs F has said she is torn between not wanting J "labelled" but equally wanting to "protect the one to one hours which are working for him". A Statement of Special Educational Need would lay down J's educational requirements in a binding document - this means the hours he currently gets would be protected until he reaches the stage where he no longer needs or requires them. 
There are still concerning aspects - in the main J's sensitivity to certain sounds. A trip to Colchester Zoo today was almost cut short when J refused to enter the toilets because of the hand dryer. Thankfully the nice man cleaning reached up and switched the dryer off - J then went into the toilet happily. It was the disabled toilet - we always use the disabled toilet so that the dryer is under our control and nobody else will enter and use it while we are there. Today though even this was not good enough for J and only the fact that it was switched off enabled him to use the toilet.
 So just as I see enough signs to deem J's behaviour "spectrum like" something else happens which turns this on it's head. Two days ago at school J was running around in the playground before classes started for the day. As often happens there were younger brothers and sisters running around and just before we were dur to go round to the classroom J and one  of these smaller children collided - neither had seen the other. Being much smaller the other child promptly fell to the ground banging his head - J's facial expression was shocked and then traumatized and he ran off - sitting down by the back wall he sobbed hysterically. I tried in vain to comfort him and explained that this was an accident and that accidents happen to all of us  sometimes but J would not be comforted - getting up he started shouting "I want to go home, take me home Mummy". I had to physically restrain him from leaving the playground and eventually carried him (no mean feat believe me) into the school's reception area where the other child was sitting with his Mum and a cold compress. J was absolutely hysterical by this time - even the other little boy's Mum saying "it's okay - he's alright" and "don't worry" would not calm J down.  The school were great (as always) and Mrs M (J's one to one worker) came round to help comfort him. The school dinner lady also helped by telling J that he could "choose lunch off my special menu". By the time I left he was still crying but was calm although I was most certainly NOT. I arrived at work drained and emotionally shattered - thank goodness for my lovely colleagues who understood. Half an hour later I rang the school to see if J was okay to be told "oh yes he's fine and has even been into assembly". 
I think I can safely say that J does not have the "detachment from empathy" that many autistic children show. So back to the sensory integration delay type diagnosis then....

Friday, 20 March 2009

Mother's Day and Lego Star Wars

This weekend is Mother's Day and a time I give thanks for my wonderful J as I am so aware that there are many women out there desperate for children who don't have the luxury of their own J. I am so grateful for J because even if he does turn my hair gray sometimes he also manages to move me to tears occasionally as well. Yesterday J's school held a Mother's Day assembly and for the first time ever J was saying something on his own. Not that he told me this of course - oh no I had to find out from his class teacher the wonderful Mrs N who said "oh you MUST stay for assembly because J is very good". Cue a frantic phone call to work "I am going to be late". Thankfully the colleagues in on a Friday are all mothers themselves and totally understood.The assembly was beautiful and the children were fantastic. J was the other side of the hall (surrounded by teaching assistants as is usual) and frantically waving to me with a big grin on his face. The other classes sang songs and read poems about how wonderful Mums are. And then it was the turn of J's class - they sang a song and then J and several others stood up, they were all holding paintings done of their Mum. One by one the standing children said "Thank you Mum for...." and then it was J's turn - loudly and actively he raised his voice and shouted loudly but clearly "I LOVE YOU MUMMY". Oh I was sooo proud. Finally all the children sang a song called "You Are So Beautiful" while two little girls handed all the mothers there a daffodil. Not a dry eye in the house and a testament to the hard work of all the staff and children in putting it together. Mrs R the school's head can be rightly proud of her school.

I have always had an innate dislike of the realistic and graphically violent computer games which involve one player (or more) shooting, maiming and killing other characters. The ones my brother owns are horrifically realistic looking and the scary thought occurs that in the hands of someone unstable they could very much muddy the waters between fantasy and reality. In the hands of children the negative psychological impact does not bear thinking about. I have always been grateful therefore that J shows great interest in the computer but little actual obsession with game playing although he does like the ones on the Cbeebies and NickJr websites. I rest easily with those though as they are very much aimed at young children AND in most cases feed into the National Curriculum in some form or another. Many of J's class mates own DS Lite systems, Nintendo Wii consoles, Playstation 2, 3 or an XBox. J owns a VSmile console aimed at 5-8 year olds. It's robust and takes J's rather ham fisted handling with ease unlike a much more expensive DSLite console. The games are all based around learning and J enjoys them on an occasional basis.
Recently though when J's Daddy was here we went out for an evening to some friends. Their son who is 11 very generously gave J a Lego Star Wars computer game. This was a massive hit as J is currently very interested in Star Wars - and I suppose Star Wars is fairly simple to a 6 year old - there is no gray area for any of the characters - they are either goodies or baddies. I won't mention that from the the moment J received this wonderful gift he spent the rest of the evening saying "can we go home" as he wanted to load the game onto the computer NOW!
The next day the game was duly loaded and J and his Daddy spent several frustrating hours trying to work out how the characters moved and what to do. It was the cause of some friction between them and several arguments ensued. I tried and failed to act as peacemaker but eventually left both "boys" to it and reflected upon who might actually be the child!

Anyhow - Lego Star Wars is wonderful. Not only does the character the player adopts actually appear invincible - returning to the game almost as if he never left but the "baddies" when fought break into wonderfully clear lego pieces - not a drop of blood in sight and no suffering either. J though is obsessive - Lego Star Wars is the first thing he thinks about when he gets up in the morning and the first thing he wants to do when he gets home from school. I am letting him play and as the week has gone on the time at the game has decreased. For J it's wonderful and something he can talk to his friends about when they rave about their various adult consoles. Lego Star Wars is a hit on most of these consoles too if the games in the Argos book are to be believed - it appears as a best seller on all of them. So I am guessing that more than a few of his class mates know exactly how wonderful the game is. And for J who can find social situations difficult it gives a very valid means of communication and helps him socially.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Phonics flash cards.

As I have posted before, one of my biggest anxieties about J is that he struggles with reading and writing. The writing I feel will come with time but reading is such an important life skill that to see him struggle is a big worry. Without the ability to read so much else will be closed to him so I have always encouraged books and we have many favourites that J loves. These books are read again and again to the point where J knows the story back to front and can "read" the story to me by sheer memory. School books though are a different matter - lots of joy in looking at the picture and telling the story based upon what he sees but when I ask J to try and read the words he loses all interest in the book and wanders off to do something else. After the conversation with J that I posted about in my previous entry I felt desperate.
Some time ago I bought a set of Phonics Flash Cards from my local supermarket - they were inexpensive, bright and colourful - the perfect way of engaging J i felt. Wrong - he showed no more interest in these than in the books and so they went away.
This week I got them out again and to my surprise J showed enthusiasm - we took the cards out and I encouraged him to choose one and he did. He then sounded out the letter and read the simple words on the back by sounding them out. I was so proud and gave him masses of praise. J's Daddy is here for a few days so he was able to give big encouragement too. With the promise of a trip to the bowling alley today if J read another card we were off - J went through several cards. J gets the simple words easily but struggles with the trickier phonic sounds, the cards allow for this though and I feel that if we spend a bit of time each day using the cards we will be well away.
This morning he is at the Bowlng Alley with his Daddy and I will meet them at 1.00pm for a trip to the cinema to see Bolt - the latest Disney adventure about a dog who thinks he is a superhero. Personally I think the only super hero in the cinema will be J who struggles but is getting there anyway. Am a really proud Mummy this week - and I will be taking the phonics cards in when I meet with Mrs F (SENCO) and Mrs N on the 24th March so that they can see how he is doing - might suggest putting them in his book bag each day so that he can use them in school.

Friday, 6 March 2009

"On the spectrum somewhere......."

It has been a difficult time for J (and me too). As I have posted on this blog, J finds certain aspects of his school life difficult and confusing. J's school have been fantastic about this and have put in lots of one to one time with him out of their funding.
This week J has been upset about school - I had a heartbreaking conversation with him on Monday evening (accompanied by lots of tears from him) about school work. It's "too tricky", "they keep making me do tricky work" and even worse "I'm no good". Hearing your child describe themselves so negatively is terribly sad.
The application for a Statement of Special Educational Need goes in very soon and the school's SENCO says that there is more than enough evidence in the application for it to be accepted. Following this (as I understand it) there will be a Statutory Assessment which will include J being seen by an Educational Psychologist etc. I asked Mrs F (the school's SENCO) outright what her opinion of J was. I acknowledged that she has no medical training but said that I would value her opinion as she experienced lots of children with special needs. Mrs F was a bit non-committal at first (understandably) but eventually said that she feels J lies "on the autistic spectrum somewhere". I would not disagree with this as the autistic spectrum is very wide (there is even a female school of thought that ALL of the male species lie "somewhere on the spectrum" - and I wouldn't necessarily disagree with that either). Where J lies within the spectrum though is open to debate. I don't feel he shows typical signs of Aspergers Syndrome as he is actually very sociable (but can find social situations confusing) and obviously he is not severely autistic (verbal diarrhea as opposed to little or no speech).
Mrs N (J's class teacher) has been off for two weeks following a family bereavement, now she is back I am awaiting an appointment to meet with both her and Mrs F to look at the application for the Statement and to discuss how J is doing.

I await their opinion with interest. One thing that IS apparent though is that I need to be around for J much more than I am currently. To do this I will need to reduce my work hours significantly. Reducing slightly would be fine BUT would just make me worse off financially. Amazingly it seems I will be better off financially if I cut my hours in half as this will mean I get rent and council tax paid. Amazing that working such reduced hours will make me financially better off - says a great deal about the level of wages paid in this country.