Daily Archives: July 25, 2015

Introduction to X-box and the Fens

Day 9

This morning started with the simple joy of watching Pepper, the dog, go through her elaborate stretching and rolling on the mat. Such commitment to getting limbs gloriously extended rather put my abbreviated Pilates to shame! Jane and I shared breakfast and we decided that last night plans stood the test of a night’s sleep and daylight so we talked some more. It is a great to have the chance to bounce ideas around with enthusiasm with a like-minded couple. Thank you for your generous welcome over the last two days, Jane and Alan.

At 9 am we visited Olivia and Andy, 6 year old Harry and his little sister Sophie. Harry whizzed about taking it all in then eventually shot off to bounce on his trampoline. Sophie kept a close eye on proceedings eyeing up the pen and paper hopefully but leaving us to talk. Harry is a delightful child, much loved and at times clearly loving life and enjoying himself. At other times he gets anxious, frustrated and confused and that leaves everyone feeling uncertain. Mum and Dad attended a course call Cygnets run by Barnados and found it very helpful in understanding what the diagnosis of autism spectrum meant. However after the course there was nothing and they have been struggling to know what to do in practice on a daily basis to help their son.

Olivia has started a Facebook page The Autism Prism so that Mums can share experiences and strategies without being judged. Olivia and Andy are doing their very best to get on with supporting their son every day. Setting up such things requires courage, time and effort when they may be in short supply. They are doing a great job but it is hard without some support and encouragement. We discussed how exercise and movement breaks are going to be really important in helping Harry to stay focused at school. Coping all day is leaving him cranky and easily upset, we wrote a list of movement breaks that could be included at school such as taking the register to the office, moving piles of catalogues, putting litter in the bin and shared running activities. The school has been trying sensory circuits which are a great idea but are cancelled when there is pressure on staffing and they do only provide one movement break at the start of the day.

day1509aHarry certainly needs more if he is to focus and release his energy in productive ways. Dad is going to try companion cycling, Mum is going to include him in her early evening jog, and an indoor trampoline for wet days is planned. We also discussed the problem of repeating instructions and directions countless times with little effect. This is frustrating for all and it is difficult to remember Harry needs visually supported communication even though he can talk.

Dad valiantly drew his first visual timetable even though he was self conscious about his drawing, This strategy can really move things forward. Never underestimate parents they are more motivated than anyone else!

It makes an immeasurable difference that Jane will be on hand to offer more support once the new build at The Park House School is completed. For parents to have ready access to professionals is a gift Jane.

We then travelled into Peterborough, cheating by accepting a lift from Jane in order to get to the next visit in time. We met Archie and his Mum and Dad in Whittlesey. I was amazed at the welcome even though they were preparing to go to a wedding. Now there is flexibility! Archie gave me the once over, had a go at some prompted conversation he clearly did not find at all thrilling then went off happily with Tom to play on the X-box. This left us free to discuss things that are tricky for the Harry in his daily life. We considered the complicated problems that can arise from wanting friends and the misunderstandings that can arise from Facebook and Instagram.

Messages sent to Archie this way had caused serious distress and the need to explain the difference between face book friends and real friends and develop this concept over time is going to be very important. Archie is very keen to be in the ‘in group’ at school but accepts the opinions of others as gospel and will immediately change his views to those of peers he admires. We talked about how we can visually represent different people having different views and create the chance for Archie to see how people have different views and that he can make a choice. For parents this vulnerability in your child is hugely worrying and strategies are not going to be fool-proof but being very explicit and overt about how they as adults make decisions, choices and form opinions will really help.

day1509b

Exercise as a form of stress busting came up again and this does work for Archie but he adopts hobbies for brief periods then loses interest so ringing the changes is going to be important. I had my very first go on an x-box, Archie filled me in on the critical detail and we were off and racing. I did notice that I had a horse ridden by a cat and he had a motorbike but to be honest I was never going to win. We decided we would celebrate the result either way!

day1509cTom and I walked on, we had a brilliant day, walking across the fens, stopping to eat the generous picnic supplied by the family Adcock and taking our time to stop and look at anything that caught our interest. There was a striped caterpillar, a front garden strewn with small filled water bottles and extremely curious lamas who investigated us at close quarters.

We walked in to March and found our overnight stop at Ye Olde Griffin Hotel, a huge sports pub full of customers at 6 pm. When I asked about the hotel bit I was directed to a small hatch round the corner where I was addressed after a period of time by the same person I had asked in the first place!

As I was about to sign on the dotted line the lady muttered, ‘ disco tonight till 2 pm ok’? Too late to do anything else but we have ear plugs and are so foot weary I guess it won’t make any difference!

 

A day at Park House School

Day 8

I woke having slept deeply with a vague feeling that I was cheating as today is a rest day — what to do with myself then apart from watching the rain?  Breakfast seemed like a good idea and both Jane and Alan were happy to pitch straight in with discussions about special schools, starting new ventures and talked with great passion about the children both past and present at Park House School.  We explored the buildings and the setup which is designed to meet the needs of a very challenging group of young people who have struggled in a variety of placements before coming here.  The children have social communication difficulties and tricky life experiences, the philosophy is that all children are special some just need a bit more help.

day1508aAs we talked staff gradually arrived to spend a couple of hours with me to think about the attention autism programme and how it could be adapted for children who are working 1:1 and how it could be used as a framework for teaching things like art or cooking.  We thought about how a 1:1 art session could begin with the bucket routine with the equipment for the session being lifted out and named.

  • Stage 2 would be, for example, the teacher making play doh worms with play doh and a garlic press.
  • Stage 3 could be the children opening other pots of play doh and taking a turn to feed the machine.
  • Stage 4 could be an individual kit with play doh, garlic press and a plastic knife.

It would work so well and ensure that the children who are now working regularly in attention autism sessions use the skills at other times to build their vocabulary and a bank of shared experiences.

Staff were open minded, ready to question and discuss, some had brought guests from other schools and parents were happily included. It was a truly engaging session and a joy to be a part of.

Lunch followed with family and staff mixing and discussions ranging from the latest miracle cures in autism, feeding strategies for the twin babies that were cheerfully passed around and tales of rowing. The sharing of great food always helps but robust free range debate is just so interesting.

This evening we sat over cheese and biscuits sharing stories of our own school lives and then began to hatch a plan for running a slightly different version of the Walking and Talking Autism project next year or maybe it would be an addition to it. More on this as the ideas evolve but this evening it all seems completely doable.  What fun it is to share ideas that may seem outrageous initially and would involve working in new ways, trialling new collaborations and skill sharing.  Let’s sleep on it and see what the master plan looks like tomorrow morning, cold light of day and all that sensible stuff!

And outside?
Rain, rain and more rain!