A few weeks ago, i wrote the blog in this link:
The plan was NOT to appear to be an expert on AUTISM or ASPERGER’S, but i am a mum of a very capable, happy, confident and well integrated boy who has aspergers.
Fionn has had a lot of media exposure because of how positive he is, and the way he doesn’t fee he “suffers” from and “autistic Spectrum Disorder” – more that he has aspergers and that he has a difference.- rather than a disorder.
I do NOT plan to tell you that AUTISM is this way for every child, simply this is how it is for Fionn, and i want to share bits of insight we gained along the way to where we now are.
The Blog (above) really talked about Fionn’s diagnosis, and the fact that we realised that this child was ours, our responsibility, and that we had to be the lead in any team that were involved. We had to figure out the way of best negotiating Fionn’s way through school, the way of feeding into a system of qualified experts, by now having realised that we were, by learning from time with Fionn, experts by experience.
This second blog took us through the first years of formal primary School, making friends, and discovering that we were not reliant on the Assistance that some experts offered, when we needed help with generalising learning.
But WE LEARNT …
t was a turning point. We had figured out a way! We were NOT writing off our son.
Everything that we had tried to do he had learned….so far so good….and now there was no doubt.
EXPERT by EXPERIENCE was the real expert. Our confidence grew together…
to be continued….so here we have the next installment.
The Upper Primary School Years
at this stage we had a lot of progress made.
- Fionn had managed to mix with other children – although if anything unpredictable happened he still got upset and confused.
- Fionn had a super classroom assistant, Lorna, who although he had not 100% yet trusted her, was able to read his body language and know when he needed help – either socially, emotionally or with curriculum.
- We had now established a routine where we had seen the importance of giving the school an annual summary of “Fionn’s Aspergers” specifically – and it was very helpful for us, and also for them!
- We had also seen the first of his specific “learning difficulties” – the lack of ability to know that 2+2 is ALWAYs 4 …to form generalised rules…which we could see would have implications for English Language later…as well as maths.
- so basically our awareness and sense of “WE HAVE TO” be involved entitlement grew as we were years down the road of diagnosis, and were having no updated educational guides thrown at us, by ASD services!
- we also had a close and supportive working arrangement with our school – as makes sense! Obviously the less Fionn has crises the less we need to be involved, so teachers were generally very keen to help…perhaps the more inspired would have taken him on-board anyhow. But those of you who have a child in a large class of mixed ability, with other children who had behavioral difficulties, other SEN children, and children for whom English was a second language, can imagine how a quiet, implosive, worrying child, with very subtle evidence of confusion and anxiety, with a very short attention span, COULD get missed?
so we continued.
we found several learning difficulties which amazed me – some things that in the text books on ASD were easy..he found hard, and proof that the books do not fit all children! A lot of the things we discovered, i have to say are common sense…or perhaps that is because you are USED to your son/daughter and that’s why its obvious to you?
- he loved reading. that DID NOT mean comprehensions were easy. To him they were not reading! We again had asked the school if Fionn could be withdrawn from some areas of curriculum and do 1:1 work with his special needs assistant. Comprehensions were an area we needed to reinforce.
- We had to make him read though the passage underlining important facts and words . that was NOT obvious to him.
- To make him read an unknown word, and try to understand it because of context it appeared in?
- or to read a word and try to “word-map” – i think that’s what its called where you look at the word, and try to see does it resemble any others that you know.
- To explain to a very determined fella that “He has two.”…is not the type of FULL SENTENCE that gets you marks!
- And at times if the language used was an historical novel extract, to explain why there WAS a point in doing this homework too!
- we did have to compromise – if a homework ever ended with “colour that in” – well just forget that battle!…”what has THAT to do with English?”…especially when you do see that point and always hated doing that stuff yourself! (traits? me?)
- and on days when he just was not in the form , or very tired, he could dictate, and i would be the scribe.
- again we had teacher variance. Some allowed answers to be filled in on sheets, others written in full in the exercise book, so was an ongoing negotiation in terms of effort!
- Graphs. Data Handling as it is now known…such a visual concept. Such a difficult topic for Fionn. Which bit went on side or bottom? How did you know the scale? How many squares for that?
- 3D shapes…he could NOT visualise these at all!. It needed us to label the faces – front, back, right, left, top and bottom…and we didn’t find that out immediately. Even 2Dimensional geometry was not easy –
- properties of regular shapes – parallel side, equal opposite angles, axes of symmetry…so MUCH to assign to memory.
- And to be honest we had discovered that the more he could FIGURE things out rather than assign things to memory, the better.
- So in terms of maths, a lot of topics were better figured out and he needed to be taught to “think mathematically” – what am i being asked, than rely on modern methods.
- Again maths topics covered in class, he went out and spent
- Tables again. Multiplication tables were fun. But now that we knew the method…almost blinkered, in a room, just he and me….
- We first did 10 times
- that meant we knew 5 times
- 9 times was 10 times take away one?
- 2 times was easy
- so 12 times was 10 times then add 2 times.
- 4 times was 10 times…so then 5 times…take away one times.
- am NOT sure if this makes any sense to anyone except me?
- Division tables… were NOT automatically seen as the reverse of multiplication tables, but WHEN he realised that, we had made great progress!. It meant he COULD make connections in learning.
- Worksheets…don’t clutter them, or enlarge them
- Processing complex tasks.This was and still is an issue…another one which he and Lorna spent 1:1 time on.
- we noticed it in maths first.
- if a problem had several sections to it, and they were marked a, b, c, etc fine. but if a problem required Fionn to figure out well First i need to, then i need to, and then i can….he was STUMPED.
- this took a while to convince some of the staff on- as the problem was NOT mathematical…it was in PROCESSING!
- but we kept at it. i made he write above the question 1, 2, 3…and then do it in parts…
- Lorna did the same thing.
- But it was a problem for him…..especially in an exam situation – as they are now very often on PC.
- if Fionn is at a PC, with a blank page and a pencil beside him, he will not KNOW to use both the page and pencil to work out on, then input the answer. The paper method and the PC method are entirely different species to him!
- We had one test which really upset him in p6. He had a very good teacher, and when i went in (as soon as Fionn had come out in a state) and asked him was there any old PAPER copy of a test with the same type of concepts covered, we was only too happy to try this out. So was Fionn. The differential was 21%.
- but this is NOT always an option…and especially in those KS1 and KS2 computerised tests, so you can guess beforehand how this is going to work out..but grit your teeth and at least accept it is the layout of test failing the child, and he DOES know the mathematical concepts!.
- Friendships and mixing. Although Fionn had now the ability to mix with other children of his age, and had learnt as he puts in maybe not to “make conversation” – this means, when you join on to a group, do NOT jump in feet first with your favourite topic of conversation, but listen for a bit, and then join in with what the group is talking about….or if you aren’t comfortable with the topic, then move on.
- When haw was 8 or 9 Fionn decided that he needed his friends to “get him” -as in understand him. It was Primary 5 – and he was aware that his differences made:
- him untidy,
- twitchy (having now been established as having a sensory version of ADHD- which personally i disagree with calling ADHD – it , to me, is a sensory lack of information. There is no attention being sought!),
- hum a lot,
- become upset at times – much differently than others
- get up and down to sharpen pencils.
- sit with one knee up and one leg underneath him.
- So we spoke to the Principal – who although he had doubts – allowed Fionn to do so, so they both meat and agreed a list of things it was necessary to divulge.
- They agreed a group of about 10 friends and they had their meeting…it went very well – although the Principal did say was like a support group as once he mentioned Fionn was different as Fionn had “asperger’s syndrome” they were all offering information on conditions of people they knew!.
- Most of the meeting information was not new, BUT the group chosen did keep a closer eye on Fionn…when they could see signs of him upset, confused, on his own…
- Team Sport: Fionn has hypermobile joints. So we have always tried to encourage weight bearing exercise. Tennis, trampoline, climbing frame in his early years and more recently kicking a football against a wall to de-stress. So he HAD the football skills, and some of the integration skills to play sport.
- Once again – this was NOT an easy change.
- if someone shouted at Fionn missing a ball in playtime we had to examine that – does that mean they HATE you? did they shout like that to anyone else? does it ever happen on TV?
- eventually he accepts that it is only a roar of “Fionn” wrt THAT kick. …so instead of eating the sleeve, developing a tummy pain, needing one of his friends to take him away, what could he do, if he wanted to still play football?
- at first trying NOT to get upset and listen to the rest of the match – it has moved on! they are not still shouting at you? so head up! and back into the game and make up for it!……and it began to change.
- as the football became more competitive we looked at Fionn’s skills .A STRENGTH that he had, although it wasn’t always seen as that, is is extremely high pain tolerance. So Fionn as a goalkeeper- would have 2 advantages. He would DIVE completely for any ball, PLUS he would have less physical contact.
- He was the school goalie…even at competition level.
As always with Fionn, life was about learning what he needed to- academically and socially appropriate material for his age. By the end of Primary School, his Class all knew about his Asperger’s Syndrome – to Fionn that give him a safety net.
He was achieving marks appropriate to his age.
His educational profile having peaks and troughs as am sure most asperger’s children’s do – as many of the scores say as much about the process as the ability.
But he was a happy, confident child… He belonged in mainstream…and had integrated more fully than we had imagined. And it was NOT rocket science. It was learning to know Fionn, interpret Fionn to the world, and the world needed translation for Fionn. He was a POPULAR child…and his quirks and traits were not used to bully or exclude him.
to be continued
the northern ireland Cup winners
Fionn and Lorna…his SPECIAL special needs assistant x
Fionn and the girls at leaver’s assembly 🙂