ASD and School Progress

Matthew hasn’t had the easiest of school years again this year. His reading has suffered in particular and while I think that he has struggled with some of the fundamentals, he has always suffered a crisis of confidence. He’s started to become quite paranoid about reading in front of others. He’s now getting good support from the school’s SEN teacher who has him for reading in smaller groups. He’s finally engaging with his reading again and that’s a big positive for him.

This week though he had a big moment. Each week, the school has an assembly where the school gathers and the Head Teacher/Depute Head addresses the school about this, that and the other. Occasionally there’s a little awards ceremony. This week the new Head Teacher finally arrived at the school and was present at assembly. Lucky for Matthew really, as he didn’t realise he was going to be presented with a certificate for his hard work at the “Sumdog” maths challenge the school has going on this session. For a boy who has been lacking confidence this last year or so, this was a fantastic lift for him. For a boy who hasn’t seen too much positive encouragement at school, to be recognised in a public way like this in front of the new Head Teacher was a great moment for him.

We told Matthew how proud we were of him. Daniel was naturally jealous – the learning experience seems to come relatively easy for him though – but it was important for Matthew to realise that we’re all proud of him for putting in the hard work at school, and showing just what he’s capable of. It didn’t end there this week though. Matthew has had one-on-one reading time with the acting Depute Head, and she put a note in his school/home contact book to say how brilliantly he was getting on with his reading. Jane told him what had been said, but Matthew just sort of shrugged it off. I think he just hasn’t seen that kind of feedback that when he gets it, he just doesn’t know how to deal with it. It means a lot to us though that his efforts are being recognised, and that he’s being properly supported at last.

It does seem that we’re really moving forward with Matthew and school. We’re having a problem with his ongoing rudeness – that’s something to address another day – but it does feel that we might get back him back on track academically and recover some of the ground he has lost. He’s finally enjoying his reading, and that’s a big change. Recognition of his hard work will surely help him focus his mind once again. Its finally been a good week for Matthew.

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Bullying Dealt With.

Last week we had the rather unpleasant situation of Matthew being bullied at school – again – to deal with. Jane saw a group of boys “playing” with Matthew that involved them surrounding him and kicking him. Incredibly they were doing it in plain sight – there were parents with P1 children around but crucially Jane saw it all. She told them (in clear terms) that kicking another person was no game, and took Matthew round to the main exit, and into the school. Jane sent me a message about it, and I emailed the Head Teacher, preferring to put it in writing. We’d not had much satisfaction with reporting previous bullying – the previous Head Teacher decided to move Matthew to another class (exclusion was mentioned in a meeting) after he’d snapped and thumped a bully who’d been at him for months. None of it was taken seriously, and the bully was treated like the victim. It was suggested we meet with this boy’s parents about it – I said no chance, as I didn’t want a lecture about how evil Matthew was.

Anyway, the current (sadly only acting) Head Teacher sees things very differently. She replied to say that this behaviour wouldn’t be tolerated, and would speak to each of the boys involved. Jane identified two of them, and when Matthew’s teacher spoke to him (after the HT had discussed it with her) Matthew named some of the others. The Head then took them out of class and spoke to them very sharply. For the first time, a report of Matthew being bullied had been addressed to our satisfaction. I’ve no doubt the HT was – and is – very serious about it.

I bumped into her today while taking Daniel into school, and she told me – a week on – that she’s keeping an eye on the situation, and that she had been VERY short with the boys, telling me that “staff don’t usually hear me raise my voice like that” I was quite happy hearing that. She said there’s a time and place for being more than firm, and that was a time for it. I suspect that the lads involved have been chastened by the experience of getting a roasting from the Head Teacher, and any of their “friends” that didn’t get caught will be in no doubt what will happen to them if they’re caught doing something similar.

It does seem to have settled down. Matthew has been reassured by the Head Teacher that if anything similar happens again, he can come indoors and report it to an adult who will bring it to her. I think he knows he’s been taken seriously, and that the matter has been dealt with to the point if anything happens again, he will know that if he reports it, it will be dealt with severely.

Its unfortunate that Matthew has suffered at the hands of bullies, but this time round the school has dealt with it superbly and left the perpetrators in no doubt that there will be consequences to their actions.

Matthew’s School Struggles

On Friday I had a meeting with Matthew’s class teacher and his SEN teacher. It was quite positive and productive, so we will go forward to a full-on meeting with them, the Head Teacher & Education Psychology with something to work on. Its been a year coming though, and the worry is that Matthew is losing valuable time with his struggles. Matthew is typical ASD – if there is such a thing. He finds it very difficult to vocalise how he feels so a year ago when he managed to tell us how he felt he was struggling with his reading, it rang immediate alarm bells. If it got to a point where Matthew is worried and can tell us about it, its bad.

His teacher at the time told us she had no real concerns and that it was just a confidence thing, but as the months rolled on – and Matthew again vocalised how he felt he was struggling – it looked to us that it was more about lacking the fundamentals and not about confidence at all. We decided a review meeting with the school was in order after a playground chat with his teacher when we were told Matthew had been put on to more basic reading books. It was an alarming turn of events. It would seem that the school now share our concerns over Matthew’s spelling and reading, although his numeracy skills still appear to be strong.

When he is reading, you can tell he’s not reading to the end of the sentence with his eyes, and he’ll either tail off, or will simply make up what he thinks should be there. In spelling, he’ll often transpose letters, and fault that the school have started to notice. I know the last few weeks have been very stressful for Matthew – his flapping has become much worse since the turn of the year – but I think his struggles at school are leading to generally increased levels of stress for him. He’s not particularly enjoying the learning experience right now although the space project they did before Christmas really engaged him and showed how capable he really is.

This school session has seen Matthew get much better support than he saw in P3. His SEN teacher is excellent and is aware of his difficulties and will be seeing him for the next two years at least, which is encouraging. It may be a year down the line, but it would seem that all acknowledge that action is needed to arrest Matthew’s decline over the last year. The frustrating thing is that he’s very capable. Application has always been an issue for Matthew. His class teacher has noticed Matthew applying a range of avoidance tactics to get out of doing work he finds difficult. That’s a problem we regularly face at home. Recently Matthew has been forgetting to take his homework book. I asked if an adult could remind him towards the end of the day, but as I was saying that it dawned on me that he was deliberately leaving it at school knowing full well that it would mean he’d not have to do his homework.

Its all a sign that he’s not happy at the moment. He’s been shaken by Jane’s post-op illness, but its been going on a lot longer than that. He’s isolated at school – he’s now admitted to his teachers that he has no friends at school – and I wonder how much that is affecting him academically. The school think he’s capable academically – I agree – but are more concerned about his social interaction. I think the two are linked and that perhaps if he can create bonds to some of his classmates then he may be more willing to engage in his school work. Its a bit frustrating that in his school reports, there are references to “circles of friends” – that’s never been the case in our experience, but at least now we’re arriving at a consensus.

Matthew is getting helped in class more now, and that’s all to the good. We need to move that on – when we do, I’m hoping Matthew will really re-engage again, and his time at school will be a lot easier for him.

Backward Step

Over the last year, we’ve noticed that Matthew’s reading has deteriorated somewhat to the point where there’s no doubt in our minds that Daniel – 2 academic years behind Matthew – is the better reader. Daniel confidently whizzes through books. He was itching to read as soon as Matthew started in P1. I think that Matthew’s ASD possibly gets in the way. Reading is a skill we don’t need all the time, but we know we’ll need it down the line. For Matthew, learning something that he may or may not need tomorrow is strange. Still, he’s stuck at it, and when he concentrates, he has proved to us that he can do it.

But about a year ago, we noticed a decline, and brought it up at the parents consultation (whatever happened to Parents’ Evenings?) in P3 with his previous teacher who told me that she had no real concerns over Matthew’s reading and that it was merely that he needed his confidence lifted. I don’t think that really answered my concerns at the time, but the teacher was with Matthew 30+ hours a week, and at some point you need to trust their judgement. It was hard to assess Matthew at home really, as we read with him before bedtime, and he’ll regularly be too tired to actively read. The thing was that it was words he’d learned in P1/P2 that he was stumbling over. On top of that, he would either take a wild guess at a word, or just say what he thought it should say. He’d get very frustrated at being constantly corrected. It was frustrating for us too, as we remind him to sound the words out if he doesn’t know them, or that they were words he knew.

This school year, Matthew had the same teacher that he finished off P3 with, so we hoped some continuity would help Matthew academically. On meeting with his new teacher, I was quite impressed with some of her methods, so hopes were high. Matthew has also seen a lot more of the SEN teacher this session. She is an excellent teacher, and Matthew responds well to her as he likes her. He’d be working with her on his spelling initially, so all was good. However, reading continued to be a problem – one that again was raised at parents consultation. His teacher again said that it was a confidence issue and that there were (once again) no real concerns although he’d have more time with the SEN teacher.

Then yesterday, his teacher came out with Matthew at the end of the day to have a quick chat. She told me not not worry, but that they had put Matthew back a couple of stages because he was struggling a bit with his reading. It had been discussed with the SEN teacher who would work with him. All of a sudden it had gone from no concern to him going back a stage and reading with the SEN teacher. We’d raised our concerns without them being fully answered to Matthew struggling enough to be put on more basic books to lift his confidence as it became apparent he was going silent during reading, a sign he was having difficulty. I wonder why this wasn’t done a year ago. The break in SEN support in P3 – a very difficult year for Matthew – has really set him back, and it feels like he’s lost a year with his reading as a result.

But he’s now getting good SEN support, and his teacher and SEN support have taken some action, and we’ll do our best at home to help Matthew move forward again, but for now it seems like a backward step.

School Fund Taking

Today Jane was up at the school to see Daniel in his nativity play. The Head Teacher advised all in attendance that there were donation boxes by the door, and although no one was expected to give, there was a heavy hint as “there were overheads” – such as the sheet music. Just as well Daniel had bullied Jane into looking it up on the internet a while ago – £36 for the lot. So, to ask parents, grandparents, carers etc to put their hands in the pockets to me was just an exercise in gouging parents to benefit the school fund and not really just to cover costs.

Its alright for a Head Teacher on probably £50k+ a year to ask people to put their hands in their pockets, but its ok when being afford to heat your home, feed your family isn’t even a thought. The reality – even in an area as relatively affluent as Aberdeen – is that many families are struggling and their first – and only – priority should be to themselves. Handing money over to schools – on top of tax already paid – isn’t easy for everyone. I’ve posted before to the effect that some parents can afford it easily, and there’s social pressure on those less able to do so to contribute. It seems that the effect of local deprivation is ignored. Is it assumed that everyone here is employed in highly paid jobs in the energy sector? Its not the case, and the economic situation dictates that some things have to be sacrificed, and for people on lower incomes, or caught up in circumstances beyond their control, handing money over to a school fund isn’t high on their list of priorities.

I know the school fund is used to help deliver the curriculum, and does at times directly benefit the pupils, but unfortunately there are other priorities for families. Maybe if the grasping weren’t so naked, I’d maybe have less objection to constantly handing over cash to the school. But I’m a typical taurean stubborn bull. The more I’m asked, the more I’ll refuse.

No Routine, Here’s Trouble

Today Matthew’s school had a little Christmas Fayre to raise some cash for the school fund. Parents were invited along to buy some of their offerings, and as Matthew (and Daniel) had worked hard on their projects for the fayre it wasn’t to be missed. It was absolutely mobbed and of course the change from the normal school day routine, unfamiliar people in a unusual setting for them was a recipe for disaster for Matthew. His teacher caught Jane at one point and told her that Matthew had “been a nightmare” that day, and maybe she could calm him down. Jane was still in a bit of shock when she got home, to say the least.

Sometimes I wonder if the school listens to anything we say. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve said that Matthew reacts badly to any change in routine.. He’s uncomfortable around strangers, and feel closed in with too many people around. After what seemed like progress with Matthew – he’s had a lot more SEN support this session, and he’s really benefited from it. But to suddenly be called a “nightmare” by someone who had been supportive and understanding was a bit of a surprise. Maybe it was the overcrowding in the school this afternoon that had people on edge. Matthew certainly would have found it confusing and difficult to comprehend.

We’ll hope it was just a one off reaction to a difficult day for Matthew. He had told me he had a sore throat this morning – Daniel had been laid low for a few days with a little bug, so its possible that Matthew has picked something up, and he’s just a little fragile at the moment. Its been a busy term for him and he’s been throwing himself into the current class project which he’s loved. Perhaps its all been building up. But the school has seen it before where he’s suddenly had a slide where he’s found school really tough. Thankfully, term end next Friday, although with the panto visit next week amongst other activities being out of the ordinary form Matthew it could be a long two weeks. I suspect that the Christmas holdays are coming at a good time for him.

Its hard to say what really went on in class today, as Jane was caught in the passing when the school was absolutely mobbed so we weren’t able to get any more on Matthew’s day. Asking Matthew is fairly pointless as he won’t give much away when he’s had a bad day. In our experience when he’s stressed when he’s come home the only thing we can do is leave him to sort through what had gone on in his head and let him tell us about it in his own time.

I hope that the school holidays settle him again and that when the new terms gets underway in January that Matthew will be a productive member of the class as he’s been all of this session so far. I also hope that today isn’t the start of a lack of classroom support for him. We know he can be difficult but we’ve told the school what he can be like when he’s on a slide. Its up to them to take it seriously and help Matthew through any tough times he has.

Back to School

After a weekend of being knocked out by the cold, Jane kept Daniel off school yesterday, as it was obvious he wasn’t back to full strength – or anywhere near it (https://theworldofneil.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/the-best-laid-plans/) Daniel doesn’t like not being at school as he has this fear that he’ll miss something even though he’s ahead of the class and can probably afford a day or two off.

After a few days of taking it easy, it was obvious last night that he had more-or-less recovered from the weekend, so barring a relapse, the plan was for him to go back to school today. Well, the relapse didn’t appear and while he maybe wasn’t quite 100%, he was easily well enough to go back to school. But (naturally) in contrast to yesterday’s displeasure at missing school (he had a bit of a paddy about it!) as soon as we got to the playground today, he started agitating about needing to go home as he wasn’t well! He may not like the thought of missing school, but when he gets over the initial angst at not going, he loves a day off with Mummy! I guess that’s what he was railing against this morning – not the prospect of going back, but the thought of missing out on another day at home with Jane. In there somewhere I think he’s saying that although he loves school, he still loves time with us more.

Jane briefly spoke with Daniel’s teacher as they went in this morning to tell her that he wasn’t fully back up to speed, but he was more than well enough to be at school. She’ll look after him ok, and knows him well enough to know when he’s up to it or not. Thing is, once he’s passed through the door into school, he’s with his friends and a teacher he likes and respects, so he’ll enjoy the day now he’s there. I don’t expect we’ll get a call asking us to take a poorly boy home. Seems that Daniel being able to completely rest on Saturday plus regular doses of Calpol got him back to the land of the living fairly quickly. Its the first day he has missed this session, which after a session where he missed a lot of time due to regular chest infections is a real step forward for him.

He’ll be buzzing again when we pick him up from school no doubt, and moans about going back this morning will all be forgotten. Its a real mixed blessing when Daniel fully recovers from being ill, but despite the challenges a full-speed Daniel presents, we’d have him no other way.