Tag Archives: school

The label “autism” ? Yes, please.

In my son’s school, ‘anti-bullying policies are broadly advertised and in his class; Nemo sits close to a wall full of coloured-in versions of the “do the HIGH FIVE” hand.

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Now after their first ‘bullying awareness’ lessons at in prep, I have spent a lot of time explaining to Nemo that not every grimace, every funny voice, every joke made by the boys is meant to tease him. Nemo often pushed children away that were trying to make friends, in a silly kid kind of way.

But this has now changed. In the last 2 weeks, some boys in his class have taken to “test and trigger” his sensitivities – on purpose. The result is that my son, usually inclined to yell and flee from stress has now repeatedly tried to smack them to stop it, including to the head – and he was suspended for a day this week (no one was hurt, they were still laughing).

Now there are a couple of reasons why the dynamics in his class has changed (teacher changes, new students, a long term)  and I understand it is beyond the control of the school. I accept the disciplinary action, sort of.. (I have not grown up in Australia – suspension for a 7 yo?! ) Until recently, I was quite happy with the support by teachers and special ed’ dept. We had great results.  Nemo was less anxious about school, confident and stable in class.

But the school’s response to this acute problem, let’s call it “budding bullying”, is flawed by the fact that they have a policy that does not allow them to “single out the children with special needs” – to avoid bullying. It is obvious, Nemo is different, he has some special arrangements in class, gets one-on-one time and so forth.. Still, they believe saying ‘this child has autism’ will lead to more bullying. I have come to think that I totally disagree.

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I believe children, especially young ones, have a natural need to be ‘like the others’ and belong. But they also have a much greater flexibility to accept differences, when they get help to understand them.

My son doesn’t look different. But his social behaviour is a wild mix of toddleresque outbreaks of love or anger (this can change fast!), and an odd übercool teenage attitude that is a lack of understanding of polite, friendly gestures or clumsy copying of others in the wrong social context. He has autism.

I am not spruiking his autism to my son as a special gift but he knows it’s nothing to be ashamed of either. It’s not “a label”. It’s our reality.

By teaching only generally about “everyone’s different weaknesses and strengths”  – “yay, we are all different!” – the school is maybe respecting the wish of other parents, but certainly not mine. My son’s “difference” obviously does not appeal greatly to the kids (he has no real friends) but also, they do not understand him at all. They are not educated about autism. If they were, of course, some kids – the present and future bullies –  will still tease him. But the OTHER children, those that say nothing, those that I still think could be his friends, would they not be able to support, even defend him better ?

I do not care about the bullies. They will come and go. I am certainly not naive, this is just the start. But I do care about education. Acceptance ALWAYS comes via education. We instinctively fear what we do not know or understand. Ableism is just a form of Xenophobia if you will.  We fear what is strange.

I am still pondering how to tackle this, but something needs to happen. I want to work WITH the school, not go full frontal. But I think that long-term, the outcome of an initiative with information about autism is in the interest of all the children. It’s the same with the continuous calls for “autism awareness” vs actual integration and acceptance. Most of us are quite aware of autism. For real acceptance though, society has to learn about it too.

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About fairness, ENTITLEMENT AND EQUITY

There are elections around the corner here in Australia, and one popular (somewhat populist) term we frequently hear is that ‘everybody should have a fair go’. When you are the parent of a child with special needs in a mainstream school, chances are you often wonder about what is fair when it comes to the conditions and outcomes of the education of your child.

In the beginning, I felt often somewhat guilty for my disruptive, distressed child and his autism amongst all the other ‘neurotypical’ kids. I wondered if their parents who said “oh you’re Nemo’s mum? Yeah, Clara talks about him..” were maybe secretly wishing he was not in their kid’s class, bringing disturbance to their own child’s learning progress.
Admittedly, in the beginning of Year 1, Nemo’s presence in school was chaotic, loud and confusing. Even for me.

So I wondered if it was fair on the other kids having to “put up” with my son who got an over-proportionate share of the attention of their teacher and got allowances for behaviour due to his autism that would have brought on disciplining for them. And while my personal premise was ‘as little intervention as possible’, he still had regular assistance from the SEP team, in class and in one-on-one sessions.

A friend of mine, also with a child that has Asperger’s and part of the education system herself, then said to me “He has a right to all that. Integration is an entitlement, you know. “  – An entitlement? Ok… but if that is so, you as a parent are still quite challenged to stay behind it all so that the help your child has a right to, does happen, when it’s needed and how it’s needed. “You are your child’s advocate! “ I learned.

Recently, in the context of studies in age care, I read a paragraph on equity : Equity, different to equality seeks to equal the outcome of a process, rather than the simply giving the same amount of service to everybody. Equity takes into account the actual needs of the individual, and the outcome provides a fairer, more equal outcome for all.

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“Equality for All” was a virtuous demand at the times of, say, the French revolution, we accept today that actually, we are not all equal. While it’s still a work in progress, we have come a long way with the support of people who are disadvantaged for by ethnicity, gender and disability. Disadvantaged not always because of their actual capacities, but because they are not getting ‘their fair go’ to actually show what they can do.

Like the first cavemen that decided to provide food for a limping former hunter whose idle play with some rocks might then have led to the discovery of flint stones, our society – in theory – recognises the value and potential of those who at first view seemed simply ‘weak’ or incapable.
My son, although he may not be destined to bring the world a similarly ground-breaking discovery as fire, now needs support to cope with the environment in class, certain learning processes, handwriting. He gets more and different help than the others but he is, I am happy to say, now socially and academically stabilized. In return, the children in his class may have learned about difference and acceptance. Integration, I believe, is a two-sided process.

So from guilt over entitlement, from advocacy to equity, I have learnt to see that the outcome is all that matters. Our learning never ends, and I know there is more challenges ahead for both him and me as a parent, but my son will get his “fair go”.  I’ll  make sure of that.

probably a milestone in autism (self) acceptance here

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Ol’ pirate brain is taking over..

I picked up Nemo the other day from school after “a good day” (according to him and the teacher). After some wild play with others in the bushland close to where we park the cars, we chatted in the car. VERY good day indeed.

We were already home in the garage when he told me that there actually was one “incident”. He told me :

“There was this boy and he was asking me if he could play with the frisbee with us, but it’s not my frisbee so he has to ask K. He kept asking ME so I yelled at him and he said he will tell on me for that.

So I explained to him about my Asperger’s.

I said my brain cannot do just a little exited or angry, it always goes big and loud, I cannot control it! It’s a problem in my brain, it’s my Asperger’s. Then he did not tell on me. It was ok.”

This means A LOT. I told Nemo I was SO PROUD of him. Not only had he actually managed to control himself after getting upset. But he also (am quite aware mostly so not to get into trouble, but still) EXPLAINED, in his words to the child why it happened ! I asked him if he said sorry at all and he said no. Fair enough. Nothing really happened, right. But this still is so BIG!!
(Awesome’s comment to this was also that it would have been a bit wuzzy from the boy to go tell for a yelling, but never mind.. )

One major problem lately has been that Nemo, well aware of his difference, was rejecting the long awaited help in class from the special needs teachers. He also had a few episodes of (minor) physical aggression with kids and was altogether not very receptive to the term Asperger’s. This could also be because one of our friend’s kid (his age) is on the spectrum but is very different and Nemo can’t really handle him as a friend (or only for a limited time). He refused to share the descriptive – “I am NOT like Noel!”

What happened there in school, the explaining of his condition (he told me he did this 2 other times before!)  is a MASSIVE step towards  finding a healthy, accepting attitude to his own condition and I am very VERY thankful he has shown the maturity – at 7 yo – to get there.

This was a very good day and it ended with a very good evening too – he even fell asleep much better than before. One little incident, big consequences.

Aspergerer – The search for the causes of Autism

causes puzzleI understand that people wonder and want to know.

After being a ‘rockstar’ toddler on the playground, my son – who used to get along with ANYONE – suddenly got into trouble through social awkwardness. He was ‘not fitting in’. He struggled to make any friends and it got complicated, to say the least. Of course I wondered if my parenting was to blame, my own difference as a foreigner. I am not exactly a people person, abuse ‘survivor’ and all.. So I do have a bit of baggage – was I passing it on ?

We moved on to prep when he was 5 and things got worse. I now wondered if the the fact that he had no real siblings closer to his age ( teenage step brother and sister were living with their mum) could have made my son too egocentric to function well with his peers. And maybe my own, sketchy set of rules at home had badly prepared him for the discipline in school?

When we encountered aggression and even more difficulties to mingle, I finally wondered if there was a possibility that he had purely and simply inherited the A..hole gene that could be present from the side of his birthfather’s (aka ‘the Mistake’)..
Yeah, even I know A..holes are complex beings and oh, they often have reasons (blahblah) but being not exposed to that type of behaviour, I had hoped, should have protected my child from becoming like that himself.. but, you know.. you STILL wonder! And genes work in mysterious ways..
But I have long completely discarded this possibility.

When I started looking more into behaviours of children on the spectrum, I felt, even before his official diagnosis, that things were making more sense. I was almost glad.

At this point, it is easy to get VERY distracted by reading/researching all these things on the internet that are – as science stands per today – NOT proven and completely irrelevant for dealing with the problems in your child’s daily life.

I have easily read 100 different theories about what *I* could have done to caus the autism of my child. Some I might actually have done with or without knowing. Environmental factors, food, drink, the vaccines.. well, you know the range is pretty wide.
Some of the causes are so obviously stupid and based on quacks and self-declared specialists, still, if you look, there will be a portion of people on the internet that follow this or that theory.

So instead of dealing with the NOW and the FUTURE of THEIR child, they get lost in the cause of XY and contribute to the cacophony of disinformation.
This is what makes it so difficult for anybody today to understand what we actually know about Autism FOR SURE, how we can help children and grownups with ASD and what research would actually be most beneficial in the fight not AGAINST Autism but for those of us who have a life WITH Autism.

Oh, I still wonder from time to time. I am back to thinking genetics play a big role (my father and my brother both qualify for what people usually call ‘autistic traits’ ) but I also have the advanced age birthfather, the temporary lack of oxygen at birth… So I still don’t know.

What I do know now, though, is that I don’t have to know.
Even without knowing exactly where his autism comes from, there is still an incredible volume of information out there and so many methods how to make our life with Autism work and allow my child to be happy. Finetuning what and how much should be done at home, at school and elsewhere, now and in the future, looks like a big enough task.

The causes of autism.. ? I’ll leave it to science to figure that out.

Postcrossing – we signed up again !

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After a break of about 3 years, we have signed up for postcrossing again, and, with Tornado being a bit older, too, I am hoping to make it an ongoing project.
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We were quite exited about our very first destination – a school class of 7year olds in Ohio, USA. Smile All the other cards go to Europe (DK, FIN, NL, D).

I did not go much out of my way and bought my first 5 postcards at the post office. I know!.. Australian Animals..bit of a cliché..but they DO live here and the kids and the lady in Germany who is obsessed with Koala (..uhm “bears”?) will love it! It occurred to me too that, for postcards of the Redlands, I will either have to go to Cleveland or Wynnum, or – even better – I will have to have some of my own photos printed. (See here on my Flickr for shots from the suburp’s burb) BUT : as I know how “Perfectionism kills the project” – I will see that for later.  Now I  just have to drop off the cards and wait for our first postcards to arrive !

And a special thanks to Amanda from Homeage whose posts about her postcrossing activities reminded me of how much fun it is to randomly connect with strangers around the world with not too many strings attached… (Oh wait, blogging is a bit like that too.. lol)

"Australyaday"–what it means to this expat in Oz

I should really blog about my first impressions of my son’s first days in prep school. In an Australian State School, which for me, who has gone to primary school on the other side of the world (and not in uniform!) is a very exiting – and exotic – world. For him, it’s just new and part of growing up, he is doing what all his little mates are doing and he seems to be integrating really well. All good. But tomorrow is a day off, of course, as it is “Australyday” – and he told me all about it. Oh, I know…

 

Picking up my son from his first day in school (managed to get there late! that’s how we SAHMs roll…), I found  Tornado sporting a sticker with an Australian flag and the words AUSSIE GROWN. Yeah well, I thought, not really..!
Not at all even, but then again : when you make your first steps and you speak your first words in a country and have all your friends there and your family, by blood or by adoption… how could he not consider himself Australian ? He knows that I am not, but he just assumes he is. Continue reading

Budgeting (State) School – got your booklist?

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I know..! No need to shriek how much I would pay for a private school.
Because honestly, I don’t care. Although I am sure, there are some awesome schools out there, I am by principle against the idea that your wallet should decide over the quality of your education.
Having grown up in a country where private schools were much rarer and going to your local primary (state) school was the norm for everyone, it is hard for me to comprehend how a country would allow schools with religious or other elitist concepts be responsible to train and care for a part of their youth, while others have to “make do” with the free State Schools. Continue reading