Camping

I’m bringing this live to you from a field somewhere. The actual where isn’t important, what’s important is the experience.

D loves being outdoors, he has done since he was a baby. His first camping expedition was when he was 4 months old. He slept on a sheepskin rug between me and his sister and spent the rest of the time in a carrier on my back watching the world go by. 

He’s always more relaxed outdoors, freer and grounded. The pace of life suits him. Outdoor cooking stokes his appetite, and he falls asleep at night before his head even touches the floor. 

It’s a simple pleasure with little demands. He feels able to chat more, to be able to express how he feels on a very basic human level. Like the outdoors ground him and makes him feel part of something bigger. 

He is able to practise climbing trees, getting physically stronger. He is able to collect kindling for the fire, helping him to feel useful, he is able to take responsibility and be part of a group. 

Each time we come I feel him growing like the trees surrounding this field.  It makes the trappings of modern life, the relentless pressure of trying to learn to a confining curriculum, the conformity of it all,  feel very far away.

Here in this field he isn’t defined by all the things he can’t do, but by all the thing he can. 

And that is why we shall return, maybe not here, but to places that carry the same essence, and that feeling of grounding we maybe all need sometimes. 

I want to ride my bicycle

It’s as easy as riding a bike.

Well when you think about it riding a bike isn’t actually all that easy – especially if you have any kind of motor co-ordination issues.

You need to be able to:-

balance
stop
co-ordinate stopping and using your brake
co-ordinate using your brake and peddling and turning
be aware and responsive to the changing environment around you
get your brain to tell your hands and legs what to do at the right times

All a big ask for a brain that is a little wonky.

But my little boy has grit and determination in spades.  And he wanted a big red pedal bike just like his sisters.  So we put a plan in place to work towards that goal.

Phase 1:  Learn to scoot (this took a long time!) – to build balance and awareness

Phase 2:  Practise peddling on trikes (this took quite a while as well)

Phase 3:  Balance bike (D was 5 by now) with brakes – almost daily practise in the local parks and school runs

Phase 4:  Bring it all together for shiny red bike on 6th Birthday.

Result – a (very happy) little boy who is now mobile on his Big Red Pedal Bike. (if still a little wobbly at times 🙂 )

There have been multiple bumps and scrapes along the way.  His shins have taken a battering and his knee caps have borne the brunt of many falls.  There have been many tears most easily fixed with a quick cuddle. But he has got back up each time, got back on and kept going.

Watching him and his sister cycle together around the local park led by our ever ready dog brings a feeling of such immense joy and satisfaction.  For D, in a world where we have to talk about all the things he can’t do with monotonous regularity, here is proof of just what can be achieved with planning, patience and practise.

Ride on.

Do they talk the same language?

So you sit in a meeting.  Some things are decided.  Some words are used. A report is written.

Communication.
Speech.
Progress.  The list could go on.

A few months later, you’re sat in another meeting.  You hear and use the same words again.  But you feel like people are talking past each other.

You receive a report from one professional which is open to interpretation by another.  What does ‘total communication environment’ really mean after all?

Gradually over time you come to the realisation that although you are all using the same words – everyone is attributing subtly different meanings to those words.  After all a speech therapists understanding of communication is going to be very different to that of a teacher and different again to that of a parent.

You see when I say ‘progress’ to my child’s teacher – what I think I’m saying is ‘how are getting on at the job of educating my child’ but what I think they hear is ‘you haven’t accepted his learning disability and still think he’s going to go to Oxbridge and can’t you just be happy that he’s happy’ (ok – there may be a little bit of projection there but I hope you get my point).

Oh the beautiful irony of communication breakdown when talking about communication.

So I’m trying to find ways to make it easier but it’s hard.  You see people are convinced they all speak the same language.  They can’t see how our individual experiences load our meanings of words. Checking understanding should be a key element to all communication.  Maybe it would go someway to resolving what often feels like an adversarial and combative system.

Perhaps paying closer attention to the language could be a powerful agent for change.

The sweet sound of play

It’s Sunday morning and I’m writing this whilst D is playing downstairs.  I can hear him chattering to himself whilst he makes his trains go choo.

This is such a big step forward.  More than a step – it’s a huge gigantic humongous gargantuan leap.

You never think when you have children of the things you take for granted.  The developmental steps that you just assume they will take.  That whilst you know play is good for children – you have never really given much thought to the why.  And you never imagine having a child who doesn’t ‘play’.

He did play – just not in a way you would expect. He has always loved being outside – getting a dog was one of the best things we ever did.  So most of his early play involved being outside.  Mastering his scooter, then his balance bike.  Learning to overcome the limitations of his coordination to climb trees and navigate the bumpy bike track.  These are some of our happiest times with him.  But he didn’t play at home – and rarely independently.   The play he wanted to do was usually very physical – building ramps for the balls to go down, swinging on hoops, bouncing on balls, play fighting.  But nothing that involved imagination.

You see a deficit in imaginative play is a deficit in the mind.  It means that your child’s brain isn’t functioning the way it should.  Imaginative play skills are inextricably linked to brain development.  They form the foundation of communication.  They help a child to role play and therefore start to make sense of the world.  Even before imagination, they build a strong sense of personal narrative about the real world around them.  Going to the shops, playing doctors, buying tickets at the railway station.

Gradually over the last few years we have worked on these skills for D.  Moving from very structured and rote learned role plays, where the interactions would be the same every time – over and over.  And over and over.  And over and over.  The same thing every time – until you wanted to scream internally with the boredom of it all.  Gradually he would let you change something – maybe letting the train go to Grandma’s instead of the shop.  Slowly, very very slowly things started to change.

For a very long time the only books he would read were a very small number of mostly factual picture books.  The same books over and over again. Read in the same way, with you making the same observations.  It was a carefully executed dance.  There were possibly 2 fiction books – one about Chu the panda with a big sneeze and the other Tabby McTat. Both of which have been read in amounts probably getting into multiple hundreds. But we keep going – gradually introducing bed time verbal stories about his day. Talking to him about day to day stuff.    As his understanding of narrative in daily life grew – he allowed us to introduce new fiction books to his repertoire. And with this increase in the number of stories – his sense of play started to develop.  He really is the boy that words built.  First though vocabulary and then through the power of the narrative structure.

You see I believe in the power of the story.  It’s what makes us human.  The ability to be part of a story.  We do it in every aspect of our lives.  We construct narratives about who we are and who we want to be.  It is the basic building block that underpins everything we do.  I’m not talking about losing yourself in a world of fiction or being able to create magical worlds in your head. I’m talking about even just basic things like talking about your day.  Explaining how an argument with your friends has made you feel. Stories are powerful – they construct our everyday lives.

And play is a very big part of this.  So listening to my son pushing his trains around a table whilst talking to himself about what he is doing, shows me that his brain is making sense unprompted of the stories in his head.  He’s going off piste and off script.  He’s really and truly doing imaginative independent play.  He’s telling his own stories.

And there is no sweeter sound I could be listening to right now.

WillyGate

Before I had D I was probably (in fact certainly) one of those people who thought that bad behaviour in children was caused by  ‘THE PARENTS’.  That’s right folks – every time I saw a badly behaved child screaming on a bus, pushing another child in the playground, shouting in a cafe – I would inwardly sigh and hoik my judgey pants just a bit higher.

Until those judgey pants  eventually strangled me.

My child became the one who exposed his penis in the playground.  (and in the supermarket and walking down the street and on the bus)  He had recently been taken out of nappies and suddenly he was free.

Consequently I had to endure the school run walk of shame every morning and afternoon.  No one said anything to me directly – but their disapproval was felt in other ways.  Conversations that stop when you come into view.  Ushering their precious children quickly past whilst on the school run.  Children who stop and point and proclaim ‘that’s him.’

D at this point had no concept of what he was doing.  In fact the squeals and screams and shocked faces of everyone around him caused him to think this was a great thing to do.  Cause and reaction – perfectly normal for a child of his emotional age.  But he was a 3 year old trapped in the body of a 5 year old, in a mainstream school environment.

At home we banished the problem by ‘ignoring and moving on’.  At school and out in the real world we needed a different plan  (because we had no control over other peoples reactions to him).

Luckily he had a support assistant who just wasn’t phased by this development. (The same cannot be said of some of the other ‘adults’ in the school).  And the very simple answer to our problem – dungarees!   Hastily I sourced a few pairs of dungarees and for a few months this was all he wore when out of the house.  This presented a few challenges of its own – being that we were also toilet training at the same time – but it worked.  The penis stayed put and we were all able to breath a sigh of relief.

Putting him back into normal trousers went smoothy over the summer holidays and WillyGate was over. (for now)

WillyGate taught me many things.

(1)     A barrier solution can be pretty effective when dealing with a child whose ability to reason is dysfunctional

(2)    Some adults in educational settings need to grow up and remember not to project ‘adult’ reactions into a child’s world

(3)     Working in partnership can make change happen quickly

(4)    Mainstream settings struggle with special needs children – setting behavioural expectations that are defined by their peer group – not their delayed development. (In fact I wish they were academically inclined to do the same!)

(5)   Look for the simple solutions in life.

(6)    Don’t judge other parents – you don’t know what they are dealing with.

A week in Provence

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Just back from a wonderful week with the family in the South of France.  It was a much needed break and a time for us just to spend time together as a family. It was the first holiday where we actually felt like a cohesive family.  We were able to spend time together as group – not just in the swimming pool – but on actual days out and even to visit historical sights!

Provence was stunning.  The light is just amazing and everywhere there is the scent of lavender on the breeze. And of course life feels so much better with some sunshine.

We splashed together in the pool (M and I even got to sit on a sun lounger for possibly a whole half hour while the children played), we explored the back streets of Avignon (under the guise of looking for the train station) and we even managed a long family meal out at a proper French restaurant (thank goodness for iPads…).

The little boy marched over Roman aquaducts, paddled in the Gard, ran through Papal Palaces and clambered over rocks to a ruined chateau.  There was only one tantrum like meltdown – and that was when we wanted to stop and taste some wine! (boring adult alert…)

A got lots of quality time once the little boy was in bed – it turns out she’s a mean chess player.  And she was a star – looking after her little brother and for the first time really cementing a relationship with him.   Along with asking some really interesting questions about the world around her and trying out new foods.

It’s taken a little while (5 years really…) but it finally feels like we have accepted who we are as a family and have adjusted to our here and now.  I’m sure there are still rocky roads ahead – that’s true of any family – but for now I’m going to revel in the memory of the laughter of my children and the scent of lavender on the breeze.

 

OMG – I made the long list

Some of you know I like to write – occasionally what I write gets turned into short stories – and even more occasionally I might actually share them!

Recently I made a resolution to start to enter my stories into some competitions.

And today – in this most dismal of days – I got a notification that I have been long listed for the International Bath Short Story Award 2016.  This means my story is one of 64 from 1439 entries!!!

I can’t tell you which story as you have to wait until they announce the short list – but it’s a quirky little story that I loved and I am just pleased that someone else loves it too.

It is such an honour to make this long list – words might (for once) actually fail me.

The email was addressed to Dear Writer – that’s me…  I’m a writer.