I occasionally feel the need to tally what we do. Being off radar has its own responsibilities and one of these days some sort of grey bureaucrat is going to find me out and demand to see towers of dusty leather bound documents which detail, in perfect latinate script, our achievements on an hourly basis for the last year. Hold on, this might be a dream I had…
Nightmare or not it really doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on what you do. An article in the Daily Mail (my guilty little secret indulgence, an addition caught off my very erudite friend S who seems none the worse for it and is exceptionally good at quizzes) this week slammed a woman in Scotland for “un-schooling” her children. There is a slight misunderstanding here. I think un-schooling means the period immediately after you take your children out of school, during which they get the whole mainstream education bugs out of their system. Autonomous education means allowing the child to direct the curriculum, trusting that abandoning any sort of structure will in fact be freeing rather than plain lazy. Anyway, the Mail rather typically found a couple of polarised views and dressed it up as news. It made for interesting discussion at the home ed group Christmas party yesterday though and, as you saw, some uncomfortable dreams for me. The majority of the children in our group are raised on a mix of styles. Some old fashioned learning; arithmetic, spelling, times tables, fractions etc usually ‘taught’ alongside workbook work and web based support backed up by much more project work, in much more depth, than schooled children experience. Most home educated children do more craft, reading and self directed specialist activities than school children. They visit places of interest and interact with people of all ages on a more regular basis. They travel more. They cook, shop and manage their days more independently.
I smiled yesterday to watch the receptionist at the party venue reach for a calculator to work out 3 times £9 and caught the glances between the 8 and 9 year old home educated children who were waiting nicely (rather unlike the school party who arrived in a crashing wave of swearing and shouting a while later) They didn’t say anything and as we walked away one said to the other – “Did you round up or just know it?”
‘Un-schooling’ in action!
Being off radar for over a year now I felt the need to remind myself how far we have come without ‘ support’ and although we are still, of course, made painfully aware of the difficulties Jake faces we also have a sense of autonomy which helps us to feel much less disabled. Being mainstream was incredibly costly and we spiralled further and further into needing more and more. It was a revelation to think that we could simply stop.
Since he was born Jake has had; neonatal intensive care team, several children’s social worker teams in two states and two countries, a lawyer, a children’s advocate, specialist paediatrician (USA ) early years intervention psychologists, full time one to one school support team, behavioural intervention team, educational psychologist, behavioural psychologist, specialist paediatrician (UK) and various casual carers and support workers. He was medicated at birth to ease withdrawal and prevent fitting and then again from 4 years to facilitate his inclusion in mainstream.
Now that we have stepped out of mainstream there is just us and an environment that suits him. I am, of course, often scared that we are being dangerously naive to think that this will be enough and I worry that we are somehow doing it wrong. However, just as often I am sure that we had no option and that this approach just needs a little faith, a deep breath and just a touch of anarchy.
The BBC reports this morning that women who breastfeed for at least 6 months are being offered an incentive of £200. The news is not clear if the incentive is to encourage them to take part in the research or simply to breastfeed. Reporting on these issues is usually inaccurate, going for impact rather than accuracy but it does remind me that not so long ago I stuck my head above the parapet supporting the notion introduced by Project Prevention that offering incentives (spookily, £200) to women who were likely, through addiction, choice or circumstance, to have babies that were damaged by alcohol and drugs in utero to delay their pregnancies until such a time as that eventuality was unlikely. The response was huge. A piece on Woman’s Hour generated the biggest response in weeks. I was dubbed a eugenicist, a Nazi, a decimator of Women’s rights and freedoms to choose. I was also aware of the thousands of comments on websites and chat forums that understood and supported the idea that with choice comes responsibility.
Offering incentives to encourage desired behavior is not new. In its widest form it is how society includes people. It is how wages work, or ‘no claims’ bonuses, or sticker charts. I was taken aback at the vitriolic response to Project Prevention, although the organisation had a naivety that did not cross the Atlantic well the response to them could easily have been to do with the outrageously inaccurate representation of their aims and objectives in the media, limited research would have made the inaccuracies obvious, research that not many commentators undertook. A key objection was bribery of vulnerable women.
I am not claiming that a research fee of £200 is bribery. I believe that women are much more capable of making their own decisions than society (or its self elected observers) ever gives them credit for (yes, scandalously, I believe that drug addicts and alcoholics can make their own choices and can weigh up the pros and cons of an offer or an incentive just like the rest of us, even though we are only poor defenceless women) I am simply considering the irony of this mornings news as I begin another day dealing with the effects of drugs and alcohol in utero.
We have started writing poetry. Jake’s vocabulary is so good, and his world vision so frequently unique, that it seems like a good idea. He says he can’t write poems and that he doesn’t know what one is. That seems to me to be a perfect place to start.
Here is his first:
Carrying a whole island, like Atlas,
Smooth swimming pool
Touching the ground
And the sky.
I don’t actually think that this applies to us, particularly. At least not in comparison to other issues. However, it is always interesting to see how FAS is reported and how wide the effects of pre-natal alcohol probably are.
Canadian news site tele-management reports yesterday that:
Psychiatric disorders, in particular mood disorders, are common in children exposed to alcohol in the womb, according to a recent US study.
Prenatal alcohol exposure is a serious medical and mental health problem, with almost one in 100 children thought to suffer from foetal alcohol syndrome and alcohol-related neurodevelopmental deficits.
Although much is known about the neurodevelopmental deficits of prenatally exposed individuals, there has been little research on their emotional functioning.
To address this, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) studied 23 children between the ages of five and 13 years who were referred to UCLA’s Fetal Alcohol and Related Disorders Clinic because of heavy exposure to alcohol in utero.
Intellectual and psychological functioning of the children were assessed using items from the Child Behavior Checklist, the Fetal Alcohol Behavior Scale, the Child Symptom Inventory-4 and the Conners’ Rating Scale.
Research team found that 87 per cent of the children met criteria for a psychiatric disorder. Twenty-six per cent were diagnosed with major depressive disorder or adjustment disorder with depressed mood and 35 per cent met criteria for bipolar disorder.
Although the mechanisms underlying risk for mood disorders are unclear at present, the team point to recent findings showing structural damage to specific areas of the brain in children prenatally exposed to alcohol.
“There is a need for training in how to recognise the physical and behavioural phenotypes of children with prenatal alcohol exposure so that appropriate treatment can be initiated early,” they conclude.
Teaching children with FAS/FASD/FAE is such a minefield. I couldn’t agree more with this from an interesting series on FAS in the USA:
In the book “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder:Management and Policy Perspectives of FASD” by by Edward P. Riley (Editor), Sterling Clarren (Editor), Joanne Weinberg (Editor), Egon Jonsson (Editor), it states “The distinctiveness-but also the potential-of students with FASD must be recognized and addressed in all educations systems and in all communities. Failure to do so will be at the cost, not merely of students with FASD and their families, but of contemporary society.”
I hesitate to share this, without sleeping on it (which is how I usually make decisions – no wonder I have insomnia!) but I guess I can always delete…
After my positive post earlier we had a dreadful evening. I knew that Tae Kwon Do was always going to be a challenge and I knew that this week probably marked the end of the honeymoon period that defines the first stage of any of Jake’s relationships. I could see by the set of his face before we left that he was too jittery and I pointed out to him that I thought he felt a bit out of sorts and that he didn’t have to go. He assumed the face of a person thinking about something for a moment and then decided he would be fine. Fair enough.
I came back to collect him deliberately early as I wanted to peek through the glass door to see how things were going and there he was, curled up, in a small and scruffy ball, crying quietly. The rest of the class was continuing around him. All parents know these moments. What is the right thing to do? Rush in with tissues and hugs, stride in with firm admonishments to get up and get on with it? I did neither and as he saw me watching he shuffled uncertainly to the door. I guess he didn’t know the protocol either. He was adamant that he hadn’t been naughty, or told off. I came in and sat with him to see the class through and then we left. He says he was feeling sad because his rabbit had died. Which would be valid if he had ever had a rabbit that had died, which he hasn’t, and was clearly not even part of what was going on. We drove back to Brownies to pick up Moll through some filthy weather, the noise of the rain and wind crashing over the bleak and quiet gloom in the car. I am not one for over-talking these things.
Sitting in the car park: “Come on in, there’s a raffle, it will cheer you up”
“I can’t come in. I am shy of everyone now. I will just get it all wrong. Plus, they will all think that I am Molly’s little brother because I am too small and I can’t stand it. I know I am small because the boys at rugby said I was. And you were right about Tae Kwon Do tonight. I should have stayed at home. Just leave me here in the dark.”
Molly won the raffle and was delighted with her prize, and the fact that I had made it back in time. We raced back to the car through the rain and there he was, still sitting in the dark. He had been afraid to turn the radio or the lights on in case that would have started the engine. Poor Jake. His world spins on a sixpence and makes absolute sense one minute and falls apart the next. Thank goodness this sort of thing only happens occasionally now. I shudder to think of those days at school when this was the norm. I am so sure that our ‘reset’ programme is the right thing and so pleased that we can spend the next days making sense of this evening rather than adding layers of failure.
And how proud I am that he can recover so well. I think we will take a little step back though now. A couple of weeks to regroup never hurt anyone. Told you I was an optimist.
It is sometimes hard to know if ones own sense of achievement is ever really valid. Have you just quietly moved the goalposts? Dropped your standards? Do you employ selectivity as routine when judging your own success? I guess so. It’s a bit like weighing yourself when balanced on one foot, or smiling when being photographed so as not to look like an axe murderer on day release. On the other hand, not recognising when you are doing a good job would turn you into Ruby on the Great British Bakeoff which is remarkably irritating.
So, in the interests of full disclosure, the fact that I am often optimistic about how things are going for Jake and I in our ‘reset’ bubble does not mean we don’t have dark days. We do. On those dark days stories about children like Jake getting things badly wrong weigh heavily. On the other hand, here I am writing in relative peace (gale force winds and singing plasterers notwithstanding) at the same table as Jake, who is also writing in relative peace. Doing something he said he didn’t want to do. And is doing anyway. Quietly. Successfully.
Optimism, I am told, can be as irritating as gloomy pessimism but, cautiously, I am genuinely optimistic. Finding a place where Jake can behave well has, for now, saved us all. The school two come back with tales of bad behaviour from other children (of course!) that have warranted school sanctions and Jake listens, knowing that he used to do all of those things, and much worse, on a daily basis. Now he can feign the shock and horror that the tales require. And so can we.
I can’t explain the dinosaur in the shin guard. Maybe there is no need to.