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Assessments · Monday February 12, 2007 by Rose

Today we took SJ for his initial speech/language assessment.

Since moving area last year, we had tried to go for a formal diagnosis process – not because I particularly need/want a label for my son, but simply so that I can have more understand and direciton in trying to understand the best way to help him get on with his life.

Part of this was today’s assessment.

It wasn’t quite as distressing as his assessment by the child psychologist a few months ago, but I still found it upsetting to see and hear him struggling to communicate.

He first had to show how he could follow instructions; then do some listening to a story and answering questions; then hold a conversation; and finally talk about some pictures.

The SALT said that, becuase SJ is so bright, he has found ways of coping with his language difficulties that mean at a surface, official level, he is “not needy enough” (or in her words, doesn’t meet their criteria) for help.

However, apparently if I wanted him back in school she could have written us a “strongly worded report” to get him help..

So, help in school. No help at home. Despite her saying that some of his language difficulties wouldn’t be helped by being “isolated” in a home education situation…

She did come to see though the sort of problems he had; when we asked him the meaning of some of the words in the story she had read, he didn’t know what any of them meant. Despite having been able to answer her questions about the story.

She said he has complex language difficulties and she has agreed to see him in 3 moths, plus she is recommending us onto some pilot scheme they are trying later in the year.

The SALT did agree that what we are doing with him at home is obviously working, and noted that he had the confidence to ask US what words meant, but he told her he didn’t like to ask strangers or other adults in case they laughed at him..

I’m going to have a think now on some of her ideas of helping him with conversations; when they “chatted” she soon saw that he was unaware that he should be asking her things (in other words that a conversation is two way) and it was all about him!

All in all, it reinforced my conviction that home education is the only option for him, and that our focus on life skills, conversation skills, and just building his self esteem is the best thing that we could be doing.

Needless to say, SJ came straight home and onto lego star wars – I figure it was best to allow him to let off steam that way!

This afternoon we have a science workshop to go to, and I am hoping to meet with several families new to our HE group.

So you might even get two posts in one day!


Hands Up 4 Home Ed · Tuesday February 13, 2007 by Rose

Ok, so I didn’t manage two posts yesterday!

The science workshop went quite well, with JJ and SJ enjoying it – though SJ did have a meltdown at one point over something. With several other kids in the room on “the spectrum” no one batted an eyelid, which was great.

JJ took some initiative and settled down on the computer to a number of online learning things. I’d given him some links for some games on I Know That, such as http://www.iknowthat.com/com/L3?Area=Paintball. He also had a go on the games on the BBC RAW site http://www.bbc.co.uk/raw/gamesandquizzes/. After that, he spent some time on one of his favourite sites, the Red Box government site (http://www.redbox.gov.uk/). Those politicians had better watch out!

This morning our HE group got together, and the children each got involved in craft, doing their “Hands Up 4 Home Ed” creations (http://www.handsup4homeed.blogspot.com/). Some of the wishes the kids came up with were brilliant; my favourite was the slogan “down with force, up with choice”!

Interestingly, SJ’s wish was “that schools could ban bullying so that kids who HAD to go to school didn’t get bullied there”.

WD wished for more bouncy castles… I think he missed the point somehow!

We’re busy reorganising things in preparation for the next addition to our family, but it is also proving interesting to see how little SJ seems to have taken in from the birth of WD 4 years ago, and we are therefore visiting the interesting subject of biology and how babies are created, and delivered…


Just a normal day · Thursday February 15, 2007 by Rose

Yesterday was quite a typical day really.

What I love about HE is the way that the whole family gets involved with what everyone else is doing.

We went to visit another HE family, who have two boys aged 9 and 3. The kids all played well together; some times they just play, other times they get involved in creating websites, planning cartoons, and other stuff.

In light of yesterday’s UNICEF report about how the UK is failing its children, I find it highly significant that our kids are mixing with children of different ages, and with adults, as well as with their “Peers” and this gives them a huge boost over their schooled friends.

Anyway, we all had a good time, and we came away with a mid-sleeper bed for WD as well (which the family no longer needed) and which WD is delighted with!

The boys also watched some Class TV in the morning, on CBBC, which they all enjoy. In fact, I found it quite amusing that I got “shushed” and told to “wait until this has finished” when I was trying to get them out the door to go and see their friends!

JJ is looking over the Children’s Commissioner site, as he is going to fill in their survey on what he (as a kid) thinks of the site. Should be interesting – he is definately an opinionated child.

SJ is going through another unsettled patch it seems, as we have had a few mini meltdowns over the past couple of days. Some families I’ve spoken to feel that there is a definate pattern to these moods, but I must say I’ve not yet twigged to what, if anything, his pattern is. One thing I do know, in school they would not be able to be accomodating of those “patterns” where as, at home, I am able to work around them.

This has to be better for him. As he gets older he can work through his own mechanisms for dealing with those feelings, but for now, its more important that he is supported and given the freedom just “to be” when he feels that way.


A long end to the week · Friday February 16, 2007 by Rose

Just had one of those magic moments. I was telling WD that sometimes he could be a pickle. Quick as a flash he replied “and sometimes, Mummy, you can be lovely”. I asked him what I was the rest of the time (expecting a cheeky comment) to be told “the rest of the time, you are gorgeous”!

There has not been too many magic moments today though. We usually do our food shopping without the children as the supermarket sights, sounds and smells just seem to overload both JJ and SJ and set them off. However today they all had to come with us and by the time we got home, a huge family meltdown was in progress.

In order to give SJ the space he needed to get himself together, his Dad took him out to one of the nearby motorway bridges so that he could spot “Eddie Stobart” lorries. Alone, in a world of his own, for an hour, he ran up and down along the bridge waving at truck drivers and generally working it all out of his system.

JJ did some more work online, playing some more educational games on iknowthat.com, as well as catching up with his emails. I’ve tried to engage them in writing to e-pals, but they are (like their Dad) very out of sight, out of mind people and they rarely remember.

WD seems to have “gone off” learning over the past few weeks, reacting I think to SJ’s change of mood, which is a shame as we had been making nice progress. He benefits though from quite a remarkable vocabularly for a 4 year old, as he hears the rich vocabularly that JJ has, but has a chance to hear all the defintions of the words as we explain them simply to SJ.

I must say though that NOT putting a 4/5 year old boy into school makes for a very lively child! It’s quite tragic really to realise just how much school changes a lad at that age, by forcing them to be quiet, still, orderly and obedient.


The Weekend · Sunday February 18, 2007 by Rose

Saturday morning we decided to all get out of the house together; so we spent a lovely hour on a railway bridge watching out for trains!

We spotted 5 Eurostars, which pleased SJ no end. Poor WD can’t really see what all the fuss is about and plainly became bored after a short while.

We’d taken some snacks with us (which cheered WD up). JJ and I sat trying to identify as many different birds songs as we could – as the train track runs through the middle of a large wood – and were very pleased to be able to hear a woodpecker.

When we got back to the car, we found that someone had stolen our front number plate! On the way home we talked to the boys about why someone might have done that, and explained how we would need to report it, in order to protect ourselves, should someone then use the plate as a false plate on a car involved in criminal activity (or more likely, in order to avoid the london congestion charges – there’s a lot of that about apparently). JJ and SJ seemed a bit worried that we might get arrested “by mistake”; WD said boldly (remember, he is only 4..) “the police would never arrest me – I’m too cute! They’d just look at me and go “ahh!”

So obviously he doesn’t have a problem with his self esteem!

In the afternoon we had a visitor, someone who had never met the boys before, and was quite bowled over by how friendly and forward they seem. They always enjoy introducing themselves to people, and JJ usually offers his hand in a handshake, which people find unusual in one of “today’s children”. Something I firmly put down to home educating and the self assurance it is bringing the boys.

The rest of the day the boys played on the NSECT website which is holding their attention at the moment.

Today has been a tough day. It is 10 months since my Dad died but would have been his 68th birthday. This has made me quite touchy and emotional, which of course the boys have picked up upon. We are already in the middle of one of SJ’s “low” periods, though to be fair today wasn’t really about meltdowns but just a lot of his more unpredictable behaviour, coping behaviours (pulling faces, repetitive noises and actions etc). This in turn I found hard to deal with, so I got more touchy… and the vicious circle went around again.

I felt at one point, asking him to go into his room for some quiet to calm down, that maybe it should have been me leaving the house to calm down!

We had a dinner guest on top of everything, and because they had to be collected (an hour round trip) I had no help with dinner (which tasted fine, but the gluten free lasagne I’d made LOOKED awful, so more stress…) and so it was not as enjoyable for me as it should have been.

We all (just about) managed to sit down to watch Time Team though, which we all enjoyed, and which I hope to do some follow up work on tomorrow.


Truants and Pancakes · Tuesday February 20, 2007 by Rose

I’m a Local Contact for EO, and in that role, I was recently invited to be part of a training session for police officers and education welfare officers, on the subject of HE in connection with truancy sweeps in one of our local boroughs.

This came about following the appalling experience of one of the mums in our group (or more precisely one of her sons), who was stopped and dealt with in an extremely inappropriate manner, by an untrained PC and EWO last November.

We had not been briefed on what exactly our role in this training was to be (left hand/right hand scenario..) Apparently we should have had an agenda!

I dragged my husband with me, as I had lost most of my voice over the weekend. Also, as he is a trained trainer and presenter, I thought he’d do a better job than me!

We were in fact only down to speak for 15 minutes about Elective Home Education, then for a sergeant to speak about the police powers re truancy sweeps, then for the head of Education Welfare to talk about the EWO side of things.

There were some 8 or so coppers there (all school liaison officers) and 10 EWOs and staff.

We slightly went over our 15 minutes… being stopped after just over an hour! Everyone kept asking questions!

We outlined what HE is, who does it, why, and what are our “attitudes”, during which point Roarke got in some lovely oblique digs at the EWOs.

There were a few tough diplomatic moments, but in the end everyone felt they had learnt something. The Sergeant – who is in charge of the Safer Neighbourhoods Team and all the school liaison officers, has asked for a power point presentation on the subject of HE that he can use to brief all coppers who go out on a sweep.

The EWOs each took our details, including the lady that does any “home visits” and we hope to have some follow up meetings.

It was agreed that we should be notified of any future sweeps – now that there are no more national sweeps at the behest of DfES – so that we can try to diseminate that to the local community. We also hope to be involved in the drawing up of new local protocols for future sweeps.

The sergeant said that in future all local sweeps would be carried out by a schools liaison officer, or a safer neighbourhood officer, and that with the LA they hoped to target the known areas where truants would be (rather than the old shopping centre/walking the streets hopefully that national sweeps entailed). This was so that the officers who could be expected to KNOW the local children would be involved, thus minimising the chances of HE kids being approached.

All in all, it felt like a productive and informative use of two hours.

Whilst we were out at that, the boys stayed with an HE friend of ours who has 2 boys, and the five boys had a good morning. At lunchtime, dh collected them all and, in a return favour, took them on to our group’s regular meeting at an indoor play area.

One of our new families came along to that, he said, which was great. The group has just welcomed its 70th family! I’m so pleased to see how the group is getting on, with more relationships forming, and with more trips being organised etc.

Whilst they were out this afternoon, I came back here and caught up with some work.

Thankfully, having got up at 6.30am this morning to get everything ready, the slow cooker saved the day again and we had our barbecued pork for dinner.

Of course, now SJ has a diary (in his eddie stobart organiser..) he knew it was Shrove Tuesday so I had to make gluten free pancakes for us all.

Fortunately, pancakes is one of those recipes that requires no adjusting in order to make it gf – just a straight subsitution. My recipe is:

Measure out 4 oz Dove’s gluten free plain flour, add a pinch of salt, and sift into a bowl. Make a well in the centre, and put in one beaten egg. Gradually mix it in, adding milk slowly from 1/2 pint. When you’ve added about half the milk, beat the batter for as long as you can (at least 2 and as long as 5 minutes if you can manage!). Then add the rest of the milk and mix in. Leave to stand. I find about 20 minutes is enough.

That makes enough batter for each boy to have 3 pancakes (9 in total therefore), with plenty of jam and sugar!

Tomorrow, I hope to have a slower day (!) and help the lads focus on some things. They saw the piece about the abolition of slavery on Newsround today so that is something we are going to look at.

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Where Did the Week Go? · Friday February 23, 2007 by Rose

Not quite sure how it is Friday already.

The boys have worked mainly online this week. We found some good games for SJ on the iKnowThat site, including this great storybook game.

JJ got to work on some more stuff about slavery, including this site.

SJ’s choice of books from the library this week included some more Usborne Puzzle books, which he really enjoys doing. I found him sitting going through them with WD, reading the puzzles outloud to him and helping him to find the solutions.

WD amazed me today with how well he can copy; he might not be so good at writing letters from memory, but give him something to copy and his writing is very clear, and very well formed. Especially considering we are mainly autonomous in our approach and he has had no formal letter formation practice, workbooks or “teaching” on how to write.

I still long for more time though so that I can sit down with him more often to read to him, and with him, as that was how I “taught” the other two to read (before they went to school).

We also picked up some “Walking with Beetles…to School!’ activity packs from the library, and have been using them in our garden, and on a walk up to the nearby park. You can download the packs from this website under the “Kids and Parents” section.

Still, it feels like it has been a long week, even though I don’t seem to have much to show for it! I think its been because I’ve been so busy with EO and HE stuff for me which has taken over from doing stuff with the boys. We’ve got a nice family weekend planned to make up for it!


Aspies Specialities · Sunday February 25, 2007 by Rose

Yesterday was my nephew’s first birthday, so we went over to my brother’s house for a tea party. It can sometimes get a bit fraught over there as, not only do they not particularly see our point of view with regards to home education, they live in a ground floor, two bedroomed flat. This does not make for an easy time with my three lads!

I also find, when they are more “cooped up”, that SJ noticably gets more and more unsettled. He starts off with just the usual charging around (not good as they have a very nice home with lots of very nice things in it!). As any attempts are made to stop this happening, he settles down into a lot of repetative actions. For SJ this is usually singing made up words/tunes over and over again, or clapping, or “dancing”. If he manages to stay still – or is “made” to by Nanny – then he starts whistling tunelessly and repetatively.

At one point he was distracted by watching their pc as they downloaded the pictures they had just taken, off of their digital camera. My SIL asked him to tell her when it had finished – which I could have told her was a bad idea! We had a count down for the next 9 minutes as once he gets locked into a cycle like that, he can’t seem to break it.

It makes me realise, yet again, how tough school was for him – and how it was only ever going to get worse day in day out. I cannot begin to imagine how he could have coped – or how the teachers could have coped – with that sort of behaviour in class.

No wonder so many aspies get labelled as “disruptive” – especially if they have not actually been diagnosed as having aspergers in the first place.

Even with the best support in the class for him, how could this have worked out? Or in a special school – surely they stil have to impose some sort of discipline, for numbers sake, which must mean that these kids can’t be allowed to have the freedom of expression and movement that they so often need?

Maybe I’m wrong, as I have no personal experience of a special school, but I just find it hard to imagine how it is much better.

Where my husband is out of work at the moment, SJ is clinging more and more to him everyday. He feels that his Dad identifies with him the most, as his Dad seems to also be an aspie.

His family has definately become his security blanket. Is this a bad thing? Some days I worry – especially when you listen to uninformed people who do not understand HE (like some of the comments on Friday’s BBC article…).

But the lad is only 9. We are still repairing the damage that school did to him. Therefore he needs a lot of help to feel able to face the world. He believes he is “odd” and “wierd” and until he can get past that point, he won’t have the confidence he needs to move forward and celebrate his unique abilities and gifts.

In the car home yesterday he was showing off to us how he is learning his times tables. As I suspected, his aspieness is proving a huge bonus in the rote learning of tables! He went through his 2x, 3x and 4x tables with only one minor mistake.

WD then piped up from the back and showed off his addition. The numbers got higher and higher, and we had to try not to laugh as he said “10 and 10 are…[whispering counting 10, 11, 12…] 20!”

Interestingly, at one point SJ said “1×3 is 3” and WD said “no its not, its 4”. So I had to explain to him that “times” is different from “add”. I’m wondering therefore whether to do some visual maths with WD around multiplication just to lock that concept in.


Resources, Meltdowns and Melting Shortbread · Monday February 26, 2007 by Rose

Today I received some great free learning resources that I’d ordered.

First off were lots of the Shout About booklets and resources from Friends of the Earth. The “Mad about” stuff I hope to use with SJ, and the other resources are ideal for JJ.

Even more exciting, I received my copy of VGAS. This computer programme allows you to set up a virtual house, in which you put in all your preferences for how you acheive your comfortable standard of living – it then makes you aware of the cost of those choices in terms of greenhouses gases, climate change etc. Playing the game, you then come across regular challenges – maybe there is a new tax on petrol, or some food scare that means you can’t eat pork, etc. How you respond to those challenges acheives – or loses – you points in terms of how your living affects the environment. I can’t wait to load it up and go through it with JJ!

In a similar vein, try out this online Fisheries programme. Designed to help improve awareness of natural resources governance inr elation to attitudes towards risk, lifestyle, the environment and fisheries. Definately one for your older children.

I’m currently sitting here with my foot up, having just twisted it quite badly coming out of my friend’s house. We’d popped over there to wish her a happy birthday, as the boys had made her cards. Unfortunately, since the weekend when we think that SJ and JJ had gluten (at a chinese) their behaviour has been quite difficult and SJ in particular has struggled. An incident at our friends’s sparked off a full blown aspie meltdown, which was a shame. Good to be amongst caring (HE) friends though, who understand, and who were really concerned about him.

As is the way with aspies though, it was forgotten by the time we got in the car, and he is now happily tucking into sausages and chips! (tesco’s now do chilled sausages in their Free From range, for which I am extremely grateful – especially on a night like tonight!).

We’ve been gluten free for a year now, and every time they have it, I remember just what a difference it has made.

If you are gf too, here’s a great recipe for shortbread which I adapted from my favourite “normal” recipe:

100g icing sugar
100g rice flour
50g butter
50g cornflour

Cream the butter and icing sugar together, then add the flours and a pinch of salt. Knead lightly to a soft dough, roll into a cylinder, wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for 20 minutes. You can then take it out and slice it into 1cm thick discs. Bake for 25 minutes on 160c. If you sprinkle them with sugar before baking they come out even nicer! This never makes enough.. and the biscuits usually disappear within the hour!


SALTs · Wednesday February 28, 2007 by Rose

Today we received through our copy of the Speech and Language Therapy Initial Report. The SALT wrote that SJ is “a pleasant young man who is eager to cooperate, with good attention skills”. Hmm, so she doesn’t side with the Consultant over the ADHD working diagnosis then?!

She also wrote that he demonstrated “literal understanding” and that, although he tried hard, he couldn’t maintain a conversation in a co-operative way. I’d found that interesting at the time because, whilst I know he lacks some social understanding, I hadn’t really appreciated how unable to “converse” he was, until I watched his assessment. He doesn’t see that he is “meant” to ask the other person in a conversation about them, and is happy just to talk about himself and his interests. It wasn’t something I was aware we’d have to work upon.

However they’ve sent through some suggested things to work through with him, including Understanding Stories, Asking Questions for Social Purposes and Ways to Address Literal Understanding. She recommended Jessica Kingsley Publishers: anyone heard of them?

The gluten thing seems to be calming down a bit, as we haven’t had a meltdown now for 48 hours, and I noticed even his repetitive behaviour lessened considerably today. We had another HE family around, with young children (5 and 2) which is always good for SJ. He is so very good with the little ones. He helped them in, helped them with their coats and shoes, and took great care of the 2 year old.

I also received through today our 3 potatoes from the potatoes for schools initiative. Its handy that we got three, as it means we can give one each to the boys, each to its own pot, and see how they grow. There’s lots of resources on the site for them to use.

This evening we had a small group meeting at our house, and I was once again struck by the very mature way that my lads met people at the door, helped with their coats, offered drinks and biscuits (they’d all made some more gf shortbread in the afternoon!). Its something that adults always notice about HE kids – their social maturity is usually years ahead of their “peers”.

It really encourages me to know that SJ is learning these social skills in such a secure environment, as I know they will be essential to him in later years.



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