What are schools really saying when they reward 100% attendance? 

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I sat at the back of the hall at my daughter’s school end of year assembly smiling as the choir sang, the oldest class performed and finally the awards were given out. As a parent it is such a proud moment to hear your child’s name called out and their achievements recognised. Awards for academic achievement, endeavour, sports, star of the year and citizenship had me cheering, smiling and clapping. Then one final reward which made me so angry I actually wanted to get up and walk out: 100% attendance! 

 
What? You mean they actually reward children with a certificate for not missing a single day at school? Yes it is actually common place and, in my opinion, absolutely awful!

 
To put this in context the average attendance in my local authority this year is over 95% so hardly a huge issue. I do understand some children are absent for reasons that are unacceptable but is this really something to penalise the child for or is this not something that would be better dealt with via education of the parents or guardians?

 
So what are schools really saying when they reward 100% attendance?

 
1. They are telling children ‘we want you here even if you a sick’. 

Surely this goes against all health and safety and human rights of the child and others in the school? This is telling children that coming to school comes before their own physical and mental well being which is appalling. The entire point of education is that the welfare of the child should be central. By rewarding attendance you encourage children to come even when contagious to other staff and children or when they are in no fit state to learn. Stop and think…if an employer put attendance of higher value than human rights would we not be calling our union and going to the press? Then why do we praise schools when they do this?

 
2. They are telling children ‘school comes before your own family.’

Yes children are put down as ‘unauthorised absence’ when they are off due to a family funeral or when there is a family crisis. A few years ago a good friend of mine lost her entire home and possessions in an awful house fire and as a result of being homeless and having no access to uniform or a roof over their head the children lost out on attendance awards! That, to me, is saying to children that even if you have no home, no clothing and no bed to sleep in you should still come to school. In other words, we just don’t care about your home life as long as you attend, even if you are in no state to learn! 

My own family had a sudden death in the family this year and as the immediate relatives it was down to us to make all the funeral arrangements and deal with the estate. The problem was the relative (my children’s gran) lived over 400 miles away. Did school really expect me to say to the undertaker ‘I’m so sorry but as this is term time could you keep the body until the next school holiday?’ Life does not run to school timetables and children are part of wider families where death, hospital stays, separation and unexpected events happen. Do we actually want to live in a society that places school attendance above the welfare of our own children?

 
3. They are telling children ‘turning up is just as important as learning’ 

That sounds good doesn’t it. They will claim this is an award ‘that all can achieve’ wether they are academic or even have additional support needs. You don’t need to be sporty or overly confident or even the ‘teacher’s pet’ to get attendance so what’s the problem? The issue here is that children come to school not simply to have their name ticked on a register as having attended but to learn and develop. We are supposed to be preparing children for the future but what employer would want someone turning up to work doing nothing? If a child has managed to keep up with the pace of learning and tried their best all year is this not of much more long term value than just being there?

 
I get that schools want children there. I understand they are accountable to the local authority for attendance. I understand they want to be seen as inclusive and have awards for children that struggle academically or do not overtly shine out in any subject, but why pick attendance?

 
Make school a safe haven, a place of significance and fun where children want to be. Educate parents on the importance of helping your child to attend as much as possible. But please, do NOT reward children for coming in when unwell, for putting school above family or for just merely having their name ticked on a register. 

 
I thought we were all about having the child at the centre or getting it right for every child or whatever else they wish to call it?

 
Oh and while I am here: not one of the staff members in her school this year would have gained an attendance certificate so why should the children not be treated the same? 

What Happened When A Child Refused To Have My Autistic Daughter In Her Team


It’s two days before sports day at my daughter’s school and gym lessons are all about practicing for hurdles, sprinting and egg and spoon races. The children are excited, eager and raring to go…all except one child who finds any sport a challenge.

She is small, quiet, slow at running and finds balance and jumping difficult. She has fallen too often and takes longer to master even the most basic of physical skills Everyone in her class knows this but today it seems even more obvious.

The class is divided into teams to practice the skills. Although no mention of competing, timing or winning is even said the children somehow know this is practice for the big day when trophies and awards are given out. The teacher numbers the children and sends them to their respective areas.

And then it happens.

Miss can I swap groups?”

“Does she have to be in our team?”

“It’s not fair we always have her!”

“That’s it! I’m not taking part if she’s on my team!”
And at that one child walked off, refusing to take part in the lesson simply because my autistic daughter was on her team. 

My 8 year old won’t tell me how she felt about that but I can image. As her mum I want to cry. My daughter may struggle with social awareness at times but even she totally understood she was not welcome or wanted and she knew exactly why. 

She knows she is different from her peers. She knows her physical skills are delayed and that she often needs adult help to participate, yet every week she tries her best. But how much can one child take?
What would you do if you knew no-one in your class wanted you in their team? 

Naomi ignored them. She carried on as if nothing had happened while the other child sat and watched. She needed assistance at the hurdles and at anything related to using balls but then as the teams moved around activities the teacher noticed something very special.
When Naomi’s team came to sprinting they were a child short on her team. The child who finds running hard took it upon herself to not only run for herself but also on behalf of the very child who had refused to join in because she did not wish to be on a team with my autistic daughter! The teacher cheered her as she pushed herself to not only run twice for her team but also do several other tasks twice over because her team was a child down.

There was no race to win today. There were no prizes. The actual sports day is not for another two days yet. However, when I collected my daughter today her teacher called me back to speak to me.

She never told me about the child who refused to join in because my daughter was on her team. Instead she told me how proud she was of my 8 year old who excelled herself in the sports class today on so many levels.

It was my daughter who told me what happened with the other children and how one girl refused to join in because Naomi was on her team.
How silly was that mum! She thought she had no chance of winning because I am slower than others but you will never win anything unless you try.”

I don’t need to be upset about the fact my daughter was bullied today because she is different. I am not even angry the child was allowed to sit out just because she felt so aggrieved at having to do sports in the same team as a child who struggles.

My daughter proved today she is much greater at sports than anyone realised. She showed sportsmanship, team work and resilience beyond her years. What she lacks in physical ability she made up for in strength of character.

Too often we look down on others because they seem weaker or less able.

At bedtime tonight my daughter summed up her day like this:

“It was good mum! I tried my best and did extra when I could to help. That makes me a winner…right?”

Yes it does!

My child became a winner…that’s what happened the day a child in her class refused to have my autistic daughter in her team! 

Sometimes the hardest lessons in life show us what we are truly made of.

I hope the child who refused to join in today has learnt from my daughter. I know I have! 

The crisis of carers paid just £1.79 an hour.


I went to renew my car insurance recently only to discover my occupation is ‘unlisted’. I was forced to telephone them and ask what I should list myself as. They decided I was either ‘unemployed’ or ‘stay at home parent’. I am neither of these! I am a full time carer but no-one seems to know we even exist!

 
I gave up a managerial position to care for my disabled son. I have a degree education and had a good career in sales. I was a home owner, had a fairly new car and I was valued. Then I had a disabled child and now all I am deemed worthy of is an hourly rate of £1.79. In reality I get much much less than that!

 
I feel utterly disgusted at how unpaid carers are treated in this country. Are people aware that carers allowance is only given out to those caring for someone 35 hours a week or more and that it is a weekly amount of just £62.70? I wish I was only working 35 hours caring but assuming this was all I worked I would still only be paid a measly £1.79 an hour! Would you work for that amount?

 
Would you work permanent night shifts dealing with someone with challenging behaviour, who is completely incontinent and has night seizures, and still have to work 12 hour days as well? Would your union not have something to say about this? What about if you had no breaks and were often attacked at work? What about if you were denied any holidays or even time off for ill health? What if sick pay was non existent? What if all your employment rights were taken away from you?

 
When I became a full time carer it appears I lost all my human rights.

 

 

I have no union to protect me and no manager to put my case to. I went from being a someone to a no-one the second I became a carer.

 
I am considered nothing by society who view me as a ‘benefit scrounger’, ‘lazy’ or nothing more than ‘unemployed’. People scoff at my ‘profession’ like it is a joke.

 
Let me tell you my job is no joke!

 
I deal with life and death with a child who has severe complex needs. I make decisions on his welfare and health needs daily that should really be made by neurologists, doctors and oncologists. I co-ordinate his care without a secretary and attend meetings without back up. I sign forms as his ‘representative’ without legal support because no-one else is bothered what happens anyway.

 
If my son should die and I updated my CV employers would simply see me as having taken a ‘career break’ or ‘time out for family’ rather than viewing my current situation as a serious job. Why? Because caring has no prestige. It is seen as worthless, less than, of no value and not beneficial to any career. Even if I wished to use my experience to take up full-time employment in the care sector my current work is of no use as I have no reference or company or courses I have completed.

 
Even the NHS view me as simply the one who pushes the wheelchair or who hands his appointment card over. When my son reaches a certain age it will be expected he will attend appointments with me waiting outside despite the fact he is completely non verbal and unable to understand what is required of him. I will have to go through a host of hoops and bureaucracy to prove as his carer I even have a right to be with him, yet anyone can have an advocate or friend with them and they are fine?

 
I gave birth to a disabled child. I gave up my career to be his carer. Apparently that means my career has hit a brick wall and I have waved goodbye to my self respect and self worth. My job title no longer even appears on a drop down list and my hourly worth is now reduced to just £1.79 an hour.

 
This is the crisis of carers in Great Britain right now.

 

 

Does anyone realise this is going on? 


The difficulties that get overlooked when your autistic child is verbal


I am blessed with a daughter who has a large vocabulary and clear dictation. She can read fluently and make up complex sentences. She can remember accurate facts about things and repeat these readily. She can make choices, recall events and express her opinion.

As a result of all of the above it is assumed (wrongly) that her autism is mild, has limited impact on her life and something to be of little concern about.

People are too quick to assume if a child is verbal that everything is fine. 

Let me assure you that just because an autistic child can speak it does not mean their autism is mild.

Having speech does not mean a child necessarily understands what you are talking about.

Having speech does not mean there are no learning difficulties.

Being able to talk does not mean a child can effectively communicate.

Most of my autistic daughter’s speech is something called ‘complex echolalia’. She remembers sentences and phrases from things she has read or heard and uses them to allude people into thinking she is coping socially. This is a common coping mechanism in girls with autism. They become adept at hiding their difficulties by quoting from others be it from movies, books or friends. It took a highly skilled speech therapist to diagnose this in my child but once pointed out it was so obvious. When she was younger we could pick out phrases from Thomas Tank engine, or Peppa Pig or sentences from well read children’s books I would read to her at bedtime. Her vocabulary was not being used independently but more ‘cut and pasted’ from one situation to another. This is much more common with autism than people realise.

Your child may appear to be talking but is it spontaneous language or an echo of something they have heard many times before but do not actually understand?

People assume because my daughter can talk that she is socialising. ‘She chats to friends in the playground’ is a common phrase used by schools to assume a child with autism is socialising well. What in fact she is doing is listing every  ‘shopkin‘ she owns in alphabetic order or inappropriately telling another child they smell awful today! It is talking and it is to another child but it is not social reciprocal play and she is not making friends!

Many also assume because my child can speak that she can not possibly be anxious! That is a myth. Anxiety can manifest in so many ways and if asked a direct question my daughter will attempt to answer even if her anxiety is making her feel physically sick. Anxiety in verbal people with autism can actually make them say things that are considered rude or hurtful or even cause them to repeat the same phrase or question over and over. These are ‘coping mechanisms’ to help them cope with the extra stress of certain situations.

It is assumed because she is verbal that she understands emotional and intention. That is like saying because a baby can walk they can do ballet or play football! It is dangerous and worrying that even teachers assume because a child has the physical ability to speak that they are able to cognitively answer complex emotional questions like ‘why did Billy hit you? Or ‘how do you think I feel about you saying that?’ A verbal child with autism may still struggle with emotions and verbalising events that have happened. They still struggle with seeing things from other perspective or being able to break down facial expressions. We need to remember they still have autism even if they can speak and not make assumptions based solely on the fact we appear to understand what they tell us.

My daughter can speak but don’t expect her to tell you if she is in pain or where. Don’t expect her to understand metaphors or euphemisms or jokes. She can not grasp double meanings and understands language completely literally. ‘The sky looks heavy today’ to her means it is about to fall down! Don’t stop her half way through her lists or even her sentence as you interrupt her echolalia and therefore her brain’s ability to decipher the world around her.

I am eternally grateful she can speak. I have a son who is entirely non verbal at 8 and I know the pain of never hearing your child talk.

However, I also know the pain of seeing my child’s difficulties ignored just because she is verbal.

We must look at autistic children individually. We need to look past the words they speak and see beyond the sounds we are able to understand. Under the surface of speech lies so many other difficulties that require ongoing support. 

If you know someone with autism who can speak never make the assumption their autism must be mild. There is so much more to autism than just being able to talk. Words hide much more than we ever think. 

Four things my severely autistic son has taught me


Having a baby is the most wonderful, humbling, exhausting experience I have ever known. I thought it would be a challenge but I would learn and gain so much.

 
Then one day my baby was diagnosed with severe autism.

 
Everything I had ever known about parenting suddenly changed.

 
I went from being the teacher to becoming the student and despite my son having no ability to speak he has taught me more than any speaker, any book or any course every could.

 
Here are five things my severely autistic son has taught me about life:

 
1. If you enjoy something, repeat it! 
All too often in life we are told to ‘move on’ or ‘grow up’ or ‘you are too young for that!’ My son has no concept of age appropriateness nor is he affected in any way by peer pressure. He enjoys a ride on a train to the same station to see the same elevators over and over again. He watches the same videos on you tube over and over. He presses the same button of the same toy repeatedly and still laughs.

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Isaac has taught me that if something fills your heart with joy never be ashamed to relive that. Life is to be enjoyed over and over and over again. I need to go back to finding joy, just like him, in the simplicity of life over and over again.

 

 

2. Stop worrying about other people!
Isaac has no awareness of others. He is not afraid to get on a roundabout even if a group of older children are in his way. He is not afraid to flap, spin, laugh and clap even if others don’t join him. Bullying goes right over his head. Comments from others don’t affect him. He could not care what he is wearing, where others are going or wether he is included or not. He does not aspire to be politically correct nor does he want to lead the crowd. Instead he is blissfully content being who he is, exactly how he wants to be.

 

I want to be more like that.

 

Life is not about doing what everyone else is or pleasing others. He is different, and happy to be so, and there is a lesson there for all of us.

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3. There is other ways to communicate without using words.
I talk far too much. Most of us do. Isaac can not talk at all so he relies on other, much more basic ways to communicate. He sits beside me if he wants a hug, he screams if he is unhappy or scared, he takes my hand to lead me, he finds photographs of things he wants.

 

To most his communication is too basic, too rudimentary, to learn anything from. They are wrong. Speech is not a ‘higher’ level of communication but rather a way to communicate that is actually too easily misunderstood. We can say we are happy yet our body language says otherwise. We can say we love when we actually don’t. My son simply shows me in beautiful and simple ways. They say actions speak louder than words and perhaps we all rely way too much on spoken and written language when a simple hug or smile would convey much more?

 
4. Don’t worry about the future, just enjoy today!
Isaac has no concept of ‘future’. He lives in the here and now and at 8 is just about coping with the basic idea of ‘first and then’. He has no worry about politics, or religion or current affairs. He has no concerto of wars, shootings or terrorism.

 

He lives in the moment.

 

He eats food and enjoys every item with no consideration for cost or sell by dates. He is as content to eat an out of shape vegetable from a low cost supermarket as he is eating out in an expensive restaurant. As long as he gets to eat he does not care! He never stresses about money or where it will come from neither does he desire anything of any real value. He will play with a coat hanger flapping it for hours without any idea that most would view it as trash. While we may not be quite as able to ‘live for the moment’ as he is we certainly could learn from his care free lifestyle and worry much more about today than the future. First today, then tomorrow could be a motto for us all.

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Isaac will most likely never read, or write or live on his own. Does he care? Not an ounce. He has zero idea about toilet training and he is not in any way worried what anyone thinks about that. He wakes up every morning happy. He laughs at the same you tube clip that he laughed at yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that too! He drags me to the cupboard for food and is neither brand aware nor cost aware.

Life is simple. Life is fun. Life is about today. He dances to his own beat and I am proud of him.

 

He brings me delight every day. He has so much to teach us.

 

He may be severely autistic and non verbal but the world is a better place for having him in it. 

 
People tell me he needs to be more like us. I disagree. We need to be much more like him. 

 

IMG_1466A version of this blog first appeared here

I put him to bed some nights and cry


Loving my son is easy, living with him is not.
Some would say he is controlling, a bully, self centred and aggressive. These would all be correct.
He is also frustrated, anxious, stressed and agitated.
No anger course, or therapy or counselling will help him.
He is 8 and can not speak. He is still in nappies. He has no sense of danger. He can scream for hours, smear, attack and demolish all in one day.
Yet he can laugh a deep laugh that is so contagious he makes everyone smile. He can flap and find utter delight in lift doors opening for hours.
He is the apple of my eye and the delight of my heart but some nights I put him to bed and cry. 
I cry for the life he is missing out on: The lack of friends, the inability to read and write, the fact I have no idea when or if he will ever be toilet trained. I cry because he is misunderstood and judged so much. I cry because he can not tell me anything like how he is feeling or what he likes. I cry because he is so vulnerable and that scares me. I cry through exhaustion having to constantly guess what he wants and why he is so upset. I cry through years of sleep deprivation, lack of support and the stress that something as simple as an open door makes him throw himself down the stairs in distress.
I put him to bed and cry because I do not want him to see my tears. I never want him to feel he disappoints me. I never want him to feel rejected or unloved. 
But I need to let the tears out. Pretending this is ok is not helping anyone.
My son has severe autism and it is very hard. My son has neurofibromatosis type 1 and that scares me. My son is vision impaired and that worries me.
His list of diagnosis and difficulties is comprehensive. He requires 24 hour care and relies on me for everything. He will need care all his life and his condition is progressive and unpredictable.
He brings me great joy but caring for him exhausts me.
Loving him is easy, living with him is not.
I love him more than words can say but I put him to bed tonight and cried.

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Why I cried when my child had a meltdown on a busy train

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Isaac was so excited. He had watched so many trains come and go from the busy platform while he flapped, clapped and laughed at the doors opening and closing and the whistle blow as each train pulled away. He loves trains and even more so when he gets to ride on them.

Our train was due next so I held his hand and gathered up our bags. I knelt down beside him and told him we needed coach B and we would sit at a table. I was unsure if he understood as at 8 he has complex autism, learning difficulties and a brain tumour. I had already prepared him though and just the day before we had been on the same train for the journey down. He had loved that journey and I was sure he would love this one too.

But as I helped him over the large gap and headed for our booked seats on the busy train I had no idea of the huge meltdown I was about to face.

The seats we booked were not where they should have been and instead of a table of four we were instead booked to sit on a row of two with the other two seats behind. No amount of explaining would work and Isaac sat down in the aisle of the busy train and screamed.

He screamed and he screamed. He banged his head and bit himself. He shook and kicked his legs. He could not cope with such a simple change as a different seat. It was awful.

He was scared. I was scared. He was crying, his sister was crying and I was crying inside. It was like a scene from a horror movie with all eyes on the train on me and my son and I had no idea what to do. My son was a danger to himself and others and was causing an obstruction on a busy train that was unable to stop.

I sat on the floor beside my traumatised son and tried to calm him as a member of the train crew approached us. Through the noise and distress of my son and his sisters crying I somehow managed to explain to the assistant what the problem was.

Immediately she did everything she could to help. She checked every carriage on that train for a feee table but there was none available. I tried to see if Isaac would sit on some fold out seats near a window or perhaps even stand at the door. I had told him we would be sitting at a table together and that was all his brain could process. One little change had disturbed him so much his body was in crisis.

And then a stranger offered to help. With tears in her own eyes she came down to where I was and said she could see the distress of my son and would he like her table seat. She was not angry or frustrated, or even annoyed; she showed compassion and gave up her own seat to see my child happy.
I thanked her and we sat at her table and immediately Isaac began to calm down. Everyone was looking at me and I was waiting for a stare or rude comment or cheeky remark. We got none of that. All I saw were people moved by what this lady did and by seeing a child with special needs so upset.

I was so touched but more was to come.

IMG_1108As the train employee returned she handed me a bag. She apologised for the booking mistake, gifted us a whole bag of food from the buffet trolley and called ahead to our destination and booked assistance for us. She then asked what Isaac enjoyed doing and when I said he loves pressing buttons she lead him through the entire train and let him press buttons at doors, toilets and even on her ticket machine.

IMG_1107She turned Isaac’s distress to utter delight. As I walked through the carriage and past the passenger who had give up her seat I looked at her and cried. She too has eyes filled with emotion as she watched my son laugh as the toilet door opened when he pressed the button.

Yesterday I witness kindness on a scale that changed me. I saw not only autism awareness but autism acceptance and compassion. Instead of stares I saw smiles. Instead of rudeness I saw understanding.

My child is not badly behaved or spoiled. He was highly distressed over a simple change that I had no control over. He was told something would happen and that didn’t go to plan. He could not voice what was upsetting him and he was scared we were on the wrong train since we had no table.

I cried when my son had a meltdown on a busy train yesterday because I hate seeing him so anxious and scared, but I also cried at the actions of complete strangers and simple acts of kindness that I will never ever forget.

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I found this bag this morning as I was sorting though our luggage. It reminded me again of yesterday and why I cried when my son had a meltdown on a busy train.

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