Thursday, February 26, 2009

Following on ...

...from yesterday, I like this article by Libby Purves.

School was back today, after a week of half term and three staff training days. So how did I arrange to spend the day? Attending a National Autistic Society branch committee meeting this morning and giving a talk to parents of newly diagnosed children this evening!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Brightening a sad day

Today has been a sad one in the world of special needs and I would like to send my condolences to David and Samantha Cameron on the death of their beautiful son Ivan. The loss of a child is something no parent should have to bear and as someone said on an internet forum today, we will all be hugging our children a little closer tonight.

But the day has been brightened a little by receiving this Best Blog Thinker award from Sue Guiney. Thanks Sue!

Now it is my turn to pass it on. As my blog is about both special needs and writing I would like to pass it on to bloggers representing both areas. So firstly I give it to Casdok at Mother of Shrek, for probably the best blog on autism I have read. Secondly I would like to give it to Graeme K. Talboys at grumblog, whose wisdom has influenced my writing over the last couple of years more than he probably realises.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When is inclusion not inclusion?

According to the Daily Mail, the BBC has received nine complaints about new CBeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell, who has part of one arm missing from a birth defect. The complaining parents apparently claim that she frightens their children, but what are they doing to take this wonderful opportunity to educate their children in diversity and disability? Nothing, it appears, except pass on their own prejudices.

Disability is a fact of life. For far too many years it was hidden away, but we have moved way beyond that. The education system in the UK positively encourages integration. In any school in the country you will find children with disabilities, both obvious and hidden. So these toddlers who are being 'frightened' will encounter disability elsewhere soon enough. Children are very accepting, they usually only need the simplest of explanations that another is different. It is so often the adults who are not understanding.

The BBC does a good job of showing disability, from Something Special and Balamory on CBeebies, through various mainstream disabled journalists and presenters...Frank Gardner and Gary Donoghue on the BBC news, Ade Adepitan on CBBC to name just a few. None of these appear to be there as a form of PC tokenism, but rather on account of their ability to do the job well. I know, from having met staff who run the CBeebies website, that they also have a strong commitment to make it as disability friendly as possible and welcome suggestions to improve it.

Back in the 1960's my father, as Head of a tiny, three teacher village school, appointed a teacher with one arm. He realised right from the start that there might possibly be one or two things this man would find hard. But he had a track record as a teacher, he was even able to teach football which my dyspraxic father couldn't, in fact there was very little he couldn't manage. The children were not in the least frightened or traumatised and it must have taught the children of that isolated rural community a very important lesson on diversity.

The BBC must continue to show and praise disability. Perhaps it should also make some programmes to educate those ignorant parents too.

Update: The BBC has a very perceptive piece on the whole storm in a teacup here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar, Oscar x 8

What a fantastic evening for the Brits at the Academy Awards last night. Success at last for Kate Winslet, but most of all Slumdog Millionaire sweeping the board.

Although I've not seen the movie we have a special interest, because Dev Patel, one of the stars, is a local lad who went to the same schools as son 1. What an amazing role model, showing that an ordinary kid can achieve huge success, just a couple of years after leaving school.

In other news, Hubby and son 1 are both ill with chest infections, and in Hubby's case a sinus infection too. We even had to take son 1 to the out of hours doctor at the weekend, as he has had so many chest infections in the last six months and had hardly recovered from the last severe one. I'm sneezing and son 2 has yet to succumb...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Family planning

So how do you decide how many children to have?

A report on the BBC website suggests that parents should take the future of our planet into consideration when planning the size of their family.

But that is probably not top of most people's agenda. The majority of my friends have one or two children, either by choice or medical necessity. But I have other friends and acquaintances with three, four or even five kids. They do say that after the second child, another makes little difference.

I loved having a baby in the house and I have to admit that after son 2 was born I instinctively wanted another. But Hubby was adamant that we stick to two, as we'd always agreed. There were of course many good reasons for this. A third child would have necessitated a bigger car, a bigger house, a bigger mortgage, not to mention increased day to day running costs of another to feed and clothe.

But above all there were other practical reasons I could not ignore. I knew from a very early age that all was not well with son 2. By the time we might have been thinking about another pregnancy, we were already caught up in assessments and appointments and his behaviour at home would have endangered a baby. So another pregnancy would have to be postponed until he started school, by which time I would not be far off 40. Although genetic counselling told us the risk of another child with autism was only around 6%, a 40 year old who has already had two premature births is not a good prospect for a healthy full term delivery.

It was actually the fear of another premature birth which put me off the idea for good, because I knew I could not go through the trauma of a critically sick newborn again. It is only recently that I have felt able to write about that time of my life. Some of you may have seen my poem here. And I have decided to do a piece of life writing on son 1's earliest days for my next OU assignment.

I may have conquered those baby demons at last.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Babies having babies

A lot has been written over the last few days about the baby born to a fifteen year old mother and allegedly fathered by a thirteen year old. Most people, quite rightly, find the whole scenario rather shocking.

Teenage pregnancy is nothing new of course. I can well remember the scandal in the very small town where I grew up, when one of my classmates dropped out of school at fifteen to have a baby. The UK currently has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe, so something is going wrong somewhere.

What I have found so scary about this particular case is that the girl's parents apparently allowed boys to sleep with her, in their home, when she was clearly legally under age. Not just one, but allegedly at least three.

Now we can't always control what our teenagers are doing outside the house, but we can within our own walls. I don't claim to be a perfect parent, indeed I doubt that one exists. But parents need to know how to set and enforce boundaries, otherwise how else do kids learn to be responsible members of society?

There are many parenting courses available, in fact before Christmas I attended one on parenting teenagers, run by a local voluntary organisation. The sad thing was that everyone who attended the course was in fact already a good parent, simply striving to be even better. The sort of parents who really need such help wouldn't attend, however much social workers or other agencies refer them.

Next week I am going to be speaking to parents on a course based around understanding autism. The same thing applies, the parents who attend the course are the good ones, who want to learn how to understand and help their child. But what about the others, and how might a young teenager cope with a child with autism?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Write what you know... the conventional wisdom.

I know that my own writing is definitely strongest when it is based on this principle, because even when fictionalising the material the emotional truth shines through.

I am now faced with deciding what to write for the next OU assignment, which is a very big one in terms of the overall assessment marks. We can choose from fiction, life writing or poetry. So having discounted poetry as far too risky, I am left with a choice of the other two.

I am lucky enough to have experienced plenty of possible material in my life. But do I go with life writing or do I create fiction from my own experience?

Answers on a postcard please.

Monday, February 09, 2009

A nasty shock

The snow last week seems to have done something to my brain. Or my memory.

I looked on the calendar this morning and realised, to my horror, that next week is half term. Now it only seems a few days ago that son 2 went back to school after Christmas and of course having him home for three days last week seemed almost like a holiday anyway, certainly to him. So, another week off. And three inset days immediately afterwards.

I've got piles of work to do...OU assignments, the novel, some additional voluntary work and some other important stuff. And very little time to do it.

Time to stick my head in the sand, I think.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Lisa - an inspiration

I've blogged before about how the early death of one of my dearest friends from cancer gave me the motivation to start writing, to try to realise my dreams before it is too late.

Now I have another reason. Yesterday Lisa Ratcliffe, one of the Novel Racers, lost her exceptionally brave fight against cancer.

Unlike many of the group I had not had the opportunity to meet Lisa in person, something I regret very much. But I regularly followed her inspirational blog. I often lurked because, during a time of my own family crises, I just could not always find the right words to support her as she tackled her illness with such optimism, still finding time to enjoy life to the full. That is something I also regret, though Lisa knew my thoughts were with her.

In her final blog post, just a week ago, Lisa sent out a vital message: writers - write! It is one I intend to follow.

A JustGiving page, to raise money for Cancer Research UK in Lisa's name, has been set up here.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Snow, snow, go away...

The sun is shining today, as it was yesterday. Quite a lot of the snow has melted, but there is still plenty left.The side roads and pavements are treacherously icy.

Life in London, however, is getting back to normal. The buses got back on the road yesterday. The tube lines were all running a good service when I checked this morning. After taking the tube yesterday, Hubby decided to drive today and I presume he got there, as I haven't heard otherwise. He needs to be there as the credit crunch is biting the business very hard, indeed there are very real fears it may not survive this month.

Son 1 is back at college. The college officially opened late morning yesterday, he went in specially for one class, only to find it cancelled. Today he hasn't come home, so I guess the class is running.

Son 2 is still at home. We will hear today whether his school is reopening tomorrow. There are special circumstances surrounding the closure of his specialist school...extra health and safety concerns regarding severely autistic kids with no sense of danger and also the fact that most of them have long bus/taxi journeys to get to the school from all over London and the Home Counties. We live 12 miles away and are probably one of the families closest to the school.

So it is a strange week. I should be writing, but can't with son 2 to keep a close eye on. I am too scared to drive to the supermarket in the evening, but thankfully just a couple of weeks ago a Tesco Express opened within walking distance.

They say we may get more snow in the next few days. I just hope normal service will be resumed soon.

Update: The school has just called to say that it has now been risk assessed, so he can go back tomorrow, as long as the council runs the transport. If it's not safe for the school bus, then it's not safe for me to attempt either!

Monday, February 02, 2009


So it rarely snows in London. But when it does, the city grinds to a halt.

This was the scene outside my front door at about 8am this morning. Son 1's college is closed today. Son 2's school is closed for at least three days. Hubby is at home too, because it is not safe to drive the 14 miles into Central London on what is a very hilly route, the tube station is shut and there are no buses running in the whole of London.

And spotted in our garden early this morning was a fox, knee deep in snow and looking very pissed off...