Friday, 13 September 2013

Back with a Bump

I know..I know....I have neglected this Blog...but it's been the Summer Holidays and a lovely one at that, and everyone's been happy and at home and relaxing and being happy with 'who they are'......ahhhh, happy days!  But by the final week, my kids were actually quite excited about going back to school to show off their new bags & see their friends....

It's now the end of the first full week back to school.


I am frustrated by the lack of communication as usual.
My daughter is being excluded from her 'friends' as usual.

Nothing changes.

Last night she was in tears telling us that when she approached the girls in her class, they turned their backs on her and told her to, 'Go away, I want to talk to my friends.'  There are the usual two 'top dogs.'  Isn't there always?  Then all the sheep hang around them, adoringly.  My daughter tends to jump from group to group (not knowing where she belongs).  Most of the time, she tolerates it....but sometimes, it gets to her.

I watched a programme on T.V last night - 'Educating Yorkshire', and I was appalled at what I saw.  The school bully, a girl (surprise, surprise) was systematically and sneakily bullying a lovely boy, who took it and took it and took it and took it, until he snapped one day and went for her.  He was put on an 'anger management programme' and had to apologise for his 'behaviour' ('How dare he hit a girl!'  Even though she was bigger and stronger than him). She behaved appallingly, to other pupils and to teachers, but they were all scared of her, and she got away with her nasty and vindictive behaviour over and over again.  The poor boy, went on, trying his best, but was bullied again...he finally lashed out again (good for him) and was excluded!  'Excluded for being bullied' his lovely 'geek' friends said to the Head when they mustered up the courage to stand up for their friend...but they were ignored...The bully wasn't ignored, she was listened to, helped and pandered to.  It made me sick.

Now I am not for one moment saying my daughter has to put up with anything like this, but children do...and they are ignored...and the bullies with all the 'social or family problems' are listened to, helped and pandered to.  It's the quiet ones who burst one day that need to be listened to, it's the one's that are a little bit different that need protecting, and the bullies, they need educating in how they are making people feel, whether it's because they are saying horrible things or excluding their peers.  Why are we not teaching children to respect each other?  You don't have to like everyone...and goodness knows, I am always telling my daughter, 'not everyone will like you, don't try to make them.'  But can't we just be civil and at a push....kind? 

Flexi-School starts on Monday.  It's been lots of work & I am really looking forward to getting started.  My daughter can't wait.  She said this morning that she is so happy that she is attending on Monday.  Apart from the educational side, flexi-school will give kids who may not 'fit in' some respite.  A place where they can be 'who they are'.  A place where I will insist everyone is kind to each other.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Bee & the Analogy

Working on my whole ‘multi-sensory’ approach strategy today, I was sitting in my office with the door open.

A bee flew in & buzzed annoyingly (& noisily) around the light.  I put up with it for a while, thinking it would lose interest in bashing itself against the light, but it didn’t, so I tried ‘encouraging’ it out with a white board, ...still no joy.. I could see that it was trying to get to the light, so...I turned it off...and the bee fell to the floor, then flew out – good as gold!

This reminded me so much of the children that I teach.  They keep trying to get to the light, bashing their little brains up, when all they really need is for someone to try a different approach....let’s turn the light off, given them some breathing space & try again!

Then the bee came back & stung me! (only joking!)

Monday, 20 May 2013

What a Few Days!


What a few days!

I am so excited and motivated!

I am so overwhelmed by the emails & messages & tweets I have received from people who don't know me - but have taken the time to congratulate me for what I am about to do - thank you!

"I have just seen an article in the local paper about your new flexi school and would just like to wish you luck in this endeavour. Students with dyslexia have so much potential and with the right guidance and help can achieve anything their hearts desire."

"My son ******* has Dyslexia and in Australia that is a tragedy with it only just being recognised (not funded) as a learning disability in 2010. We were living in the US where they had dyslexia ADHD schools which were fantastic.  I just want to say congratulations for starting your school."
"I have just read your article.. Wow!! I'm so excited for you... "

I am getting inundated with media interest:

  • KMFM Medway 100.4 FM / 107.9 FM news bulletin on Tuesday 21 May 'every hour on the hour'
  • Kent online
  • And today, a request by the news editor from Radio Kent for me to do a slot with Julia George on Wednesday 22nd May from 10am!  We chatted for ages and I am so looking forward to talking to Julia and finding out more of what the public think about my approach.

But the best thing of all?

My daughter came home absolutely over the moon, with her SAT's Reading Paper result written on her hand!

She had got a 3a, "My teacher said that I should be very proud of myself,' she said.  I couldn't quite remember what '3a' meant - was it that good?!  When we got home, I looked at what she had got last year, it was 2b - so she had gone up 4 SUB-LEVELS!!  Brilliant!  I also looked at the year before - she had also got 2b; so had made no progress in a year, but massive progress this year!

Now, I am not for one moment putting it all down to what I have done, she is a year older, she has a great teacher this year who she loves & who really 'gets her,' everything has really started to fall into place this year for her - BUT 4 SUB-LEVELS?!! after not progressing at all in the previous year - well, there is surely no doubt flexi-schooling works......

.....I wouldn't be so bold as to say that, but I recently got a report from a specialist teacher at KCC, who assessed another child I flexi-school.  In 7 months he had gone up 19mths in reading accuracy; 15mths comprehension & 12mths reading rate, scoring within the average range.  It also stated he had made "accelerated progress".  The child himself told the specialist teacher he was now improving "big time".

This particular student has gone from being a frustrated, angry boy to a happy, confident young man, who embraces new challenges.  I am so proud of him.  And, of course, my daughter.

All sunny days have to have a black cloud on the horizon, and my black cloud came, once again, in the shape of my son.  I was so excited about my daughter's results and my amazing day that I twittered on thoughtlessly in the car on the way home from school.  When I looked in the wing mirror, I saw his sad face.  I knew immediately the poor little thing felt totally left out, and I had been a fool.  He said to me later, 'I want to join in, but I have nothing to say...'  I spend a lot of time talking dyslexia; but I assured him I was mum first, to him & my daughter...I am just a thoughtless one at times - another lesson learned!!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

That'll Teach me for using my kids as Guinea Pigs!!

So....I am very excited as I have been kindly funded by my parents to buy the Lucid visual stress & Dyslexic screeners for 4-8yr olds & 8-11yr olds.  I waded my way through the COPS manual (Cognitive Processing Screener for 4-8yr olds), and said to my 6 year old son (who has no dyslexic tendencies as far as I am aware), 'I need you to help me out, would you do this fun, computer test so that I can practice how it works?'

He was well up for it - computer?  That's all that he needed to know.

So, we started the test & I was shocked at how difficult he was finding things.  He has always been extremely quick and able at most things; he can read efficiently and write pretty well...his maths is shockingly good at times and he certainly doesn't have trouble sequencing days/months/time etc... I have always been pretty sure that he didn't have my daughter's dyslexic tendencies, but now, watching him complete these tests, I wondered if I had been severely mistaken!

Perhaps I had concentrated so much on my daughter that I had completely missed my sons needs.. He was struggling pinpointing the rabbit jumping out of the hole sequence, couldn't recognise symbols and was saying blue was green & red was yellow!  Was he colour blind & I had never noticed?  Was he suffering with visual stress? Was he dyslexic???!!!!

We had to go to the cinema, so we left it & watched 'Life of Pi' (wow - what a mind-blower that is!), then we returned. 

I looked at the results of my son's tests in detail & realised that there were many inconsistencies; he had scored high on some tests & very low on others that tested the same things..

I said to him, 'Were you doing what you could do; or were you doing what you thought the children who I would be assessing would do?'

He looked bashful & I decided bribery was the answer - 'If you tell me the truth, I'll give you £1.'

'The children you are going to be assessing,' he said.  'I was pretending to be them!'

The little monkey is such a good actor I was totally convinced!  I re-ran the tests that had given me scores that concerned me (5-10%) & he scored 80-90% !!!

We laughed - a lot! And he got his £1 (in fact he got £2, his dad was impressed with his cheekiness too!)

The good thing is - the screeening tool works - even if children don't answer totally truthfully; it shows the anomalies.

The bad thing is - my son is a better actor than me!

I just had to share this amazing piece of writing from a mum like me...

I received this email the other day, and I just had to ask the lady who sent it if I could share it on my Blog, I am so glad that she said 'yes'.  Her clever words are yet another reminder of the pain and frustration that parents & children go through when they experience learning differences, and another reminder to me as to why I am getting to be a complete obsessive bore about all this stuff, and confirmation that I should be!

Thank you to the lady who took the time to write this, I do hope that one day we will 'move mountains,'....If anybody wants to join us - please get in touch!


Dear Narinda,

I’m a friend of ***********, who told me about you and I nearly  e-mailed months ago, but for some reason never pressed the send button!!! So here we go.... I spoke to ***** again today who reminded me of your blog and I’ve been catching up on your latest entries – including the last few months of 2012. I’m not really sure whether I’m looking for help, or just needing to sound off, but my husband and I are going slightly crazy, and round in circles, with regard to how best to help both of our sons – a couple of points in your blog struck home... I hardly know where to start...
Our eldest son was confirmed with dyslexic difficulties at the beginning of year 4 (he’s now nearly at the end of year 5) – we had constantly asked the school whether (in their expert educational opinion) our son showed signs of dyslexic difficulties since Year 1. We were repeatedly told no (looking back it was painfully obvious that he did have). When we eventually got the ‘nod’ from his class teacher in year 4 (and it was literally a nod from her when we mentioned the D word – she never actually said it) we took action immediately – contacted a Dyslexic Consultant, who carried out a full educational assessment and bingo, what do you know? My son has slow processing skills, phonological processing issues, and a poor working memory – on the other hand – he was almost ‘off the scale’ with ability in certain other tests (noticeably pattern recognition) – his overall assessment for ability? not average, not above average, not even high ability, but in the ‘superior’ range!! Obviously the fact he struggled desperately to read and write, meant that his school attainment of ‘just below average’ was far short of where he should have been. Not that we ever doubted it, but now we knew with certainty we had an amazingly bright and gifted son, who was being educationally crippled by a system which couldn’t or wouldn’t help him. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – I think we did a bit of both. (Your point about struggling with emotion during school meetings is a point well made!) We were angry at the school, we were angry at ourselves for not trusting our own instincts, and we felt so guilty for how demoralised our brilliant son had become in those unhappy years and how much he had had to put up and cope with, needless to say, let battle commence........
We have had meeting after meeting with the school, we have met class teachers, senco teachers and the head teacher (the use of plurals here is not a mistake – the constant turn-over of teachers at this school is an ongoing headache – particularly when you are trying to work with the school to help your children... but that’s another story). Whilst the school were relatively quick to put my son on to the ‘standard’ ‘one size solves all issues’ programmes which they employ to help children who are ‘behind’, it was and is apparent that this does not really help him – he gets by on his underlying ability, which causes us and him such frustration because he’s forced to learn with his wings clipped, he’s certainly not able to fly... My son weathers school, he doesn’t and never has, enjoyed it. One of the big no no’s we realised for him (after nearly a year of him hating it) was actually a system which you have found helpful – as you say every child is different. My son hated Toe by Toe with a passion, and our Dyslexic Consultant actually said to the school (she came to our first meeting with us) that for children with his particular issues Toe by Toe is like torture. Stupidly, we allowed the school to use the programme (basically because it was the only help they had to offer), but eventually after several terms (3ish?), we asked them to stop, My son was extremely unhappy, hated doing it, didn’t like being made to say sounds and made up words which made no sense, and felt stupid and demoralised being made to do it. When he stopped it, he became much happier in himself straight away. However there was no system to replace it so he has once again had to find his own methods of coping and trying to keep up. My son is now coming to the end of year 5, his reading and writing is about a year behind where the Government say it should be (they have sats at the end of this term, so we’ll get another idea of where he’s at soon), although his maths is OK. None of his results are anywhere near reflective of his overall high ability.
At home we paid for, and embarked on, a home reading system called ‘easyread’, have you heard of it? It did without a doubt immediately boost my sons confidence with reading, for once he actually wanted to try – it basically removes words and letters and replaces them with pictures representing sounds, words are slowly incorporated over time, gradually training the brain to connect sounds to words. It’s fun, its daily, its short sessions, and there are rewards aplenty. We felt it really worked, at least in the first few months – the system takes about 12 to 18 months to complete – but the school weren’t interested in working with it – I don’t think they even looked at it, (I offered to do a lesson in school with my son with the TA present, but it didn’t happen) and at the same time he was being forced through Toe by Toe, inevitably his frustrations at school led to him fussing about the ‘extra’ work at home – even though it wasn’t hard for him, even though he liked the regular prizes through the post, he kicked back at the principle of having to do more than other people, at home he was desperate to switch off & do something different, and I can’t say I blame him. One of the main points stressed by the makers of the Easyread system is that children have to be relaxed and happy to benefit, and to learn, because the higher functioning levels of the brain which need to be accessed in order to learn are shut down by stress hormones – a stressed child simply can’t learn (how many schools consider/remember this fundamental fact!?). So we backed off, we haven’t yet finished the course. My sons reading is still very poor. Likewise his writing and spelling....
In the meanwhile, my husband and I have considered just about every option, looked at different schools (including private – even though we would have to bust a gut to meet the costs), considered changing state schools – but how can you really know if it would be any different? (guilt trips about taking our boys away from their friends) and there aren’t any spaces locally anyway. Offered to fund the cost of dyslexic support for our children at their current school – this was met with a flat refusal – ‘it wouldn’t be fair on the other children who couldn’t have the same help’... how about, ‘it’s not fair that my children aren’t supported with the right help in the first place...... ?’ Our most recent offer - for me to provide the support for my son, in school, myself – again a flat refusal – it would be ‘inappropriate’. We have considered home schooling, but unlike yourself, with no experience of teaching ourselves, we felt this just wasn’t possible. Again referring to your blogs, can you see where all of the above has already been mentioned? KCC special education?
“Moving schools, educating at home or seeking private education...these are the usual routes.”
I could not believe my eyes when I read this!!! Why oh why are our primary schools so ill equipped to help dyslexic children? Why is the system so inflexible? We are unable to help our own children in the state system – we are effectively barred from doing so..... so go private???? (even our consultant recommended this), in fact we have looked at several private schools, very cautiously because we did not (as others did) arrive in our extremely posh £40K Range Rover – rather our reasonably elderly, but presentable, Ford Galaxy.... anyway, and we were absolutely amazed to meet other parents, just like us, specifically seeking private education because their children had dyslexic difficulties, not because they would have considered it otherwise. For us, this is still an option we haven’t ruled out......
There is so much I haven’t said here, neither have I mentioned that we took the initiative with son no.2, who also has dyslexic difficulties (diagnosed Dec12), and got straight on with the assessment, a year earlier than we did with son no.1, based on our own feelings because school weren’t going to suggest it. However, based on our experience with son no.1, son no.2 (currently in yr3) hasn’t got much to look forward to at this school...
If there’s any possibility you want to hear more of our story (there’s loads I haven’t mentioned), please me know, I’d love to speak to you, because as parents we’re really unhappy.. you feel that you’ve let your children down.... we just don’t know where to go from here, my son doesn’t enjoy learning, and son no.2 is heading in the same direction. Son no.1  wants to take the 11+ not that I think Grammar is the answer to the problems – heaven knows we’ve had that discussion – but with his high ability and potential – particularly in maths (providing he can read the questions), why shouldn’t he have the choice? The school haven’t even been able to tell us if he would be eligible for extra time.... he has a tutor (yes I know this is a contentious point with many people), but she totally understands the situation, based on past history, I’m ultra sensitive to whether my son is happy or not, and I’m very happy that he actually enjoys his once a week sessions, he loves doing well with the extra help, he loves the praise and he loves being good/outstanding at something.... so we’re sticking with it – no pressure on him, but we’ll give him a fighting chance if he wants to do it. Credit to him that despite his experiences at school, he still wants to try... which school would ultimately be the right secondary education for him we really aren’t sure...... but what we are determined about is that it will be a better experience for him than his primary school experience.....
Thanks for reading this (if you got this far!!) and keep going, what you’re doing is so needed, and so right – we need to drag KCC education into the future..... I have loads more examples of things we have experienced which back up your view point and experiences, if everyone gets together we may just move a mountain!


Friday, 26 April 2013

Oh No – Now I have to learn all about Dyscalculia Too?!

I have known since the Dyslexia issue came up, that my daughter had problems with maths too & that this was a common issue for 40% of dyslexics – but her reading was my priority & that is what I concentrated on.  This issue is all but nearly solved now – reading is not an enjoyable experience for my daughter & still tires her out – but she can read anything, and does.

However, although I have come some way with her maths using numicon, I know I haven’t really solved her issues.  This was brought home to me yesterday when my daughter told me that she had ‘gone down in maths,’ ‘what do you mean?’ I asked, ‘I was 3 last term & I’ve gone down to 2c or something’ she said.  ‘But it’s alright, the teacher said I’d just made silly mistakes.’  At first I tried to put it out of my mind, I’m hugely busy at the moment so it’s just a bit too much to deal with & in any case, maybe she had an ‘off day’.  But I know in my heart of hearts that’s not true.  It’s just another example of the teacher misunderstanding the issue...I don’t think she said ‘silly mistakes’ to be mean; in fact, it actually shows that she believes that my daughter is capable of more – BUT ‘Silly mistakes’ is a bit like ‘just needs to read more’, or ‘needs to concentrate more’.  My daughter makes ‘silly mistakes’ because she DOES NOT KNOW HOW NOT TO!  What seems ‘silly’ to most people, are just how a person with dyscalculia sees numbers and methods of numeracy...So, here I am, back to the internet, books, training courses.... to find anything I can get my eyes, ears & brain around to help my daughter & my tutees in their struggle with dyscalculia – aghhhhh!!

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Rocky Balboa & Visual Stress

Yes I know, it's a strange analogy, but it kind of works...I watched the Rocky VI special features tonight & Sylvester Stallone said how he wanted to make the film because he wanted to leave behind a legacy saying that age was not a barrier to achieving.  He was so passionate in his words & belief, but I remember when the film was being promoted how he was slated for 'being past it,' and 'ridiculous'.  But HE believed in it, and justly so, it is a good film, with convincing acting and a good storyline, and it finished the Rocky legend....

I think that the fight, barriers and criticism that Sylvester encountered when making this film is comparable to the fight, barriers & criticism that parents encounter when they raise the fact that their children may not be able to read due to visual stress.  A lot of people don't believe that it even exists, a lot of teachers do not know what it is; much less what it means, most sufferers have no idea that they are, in fact, suffering, and it would seem that the government deny it's existence in order to save their precious money.

I find this attitude very strange; in a world where we know how different brains can be, that vision is completely different for different people, and where thousands have been helped through coloured overlays or tinted lenses, that has been scientifically proven and used in many Schools, how can its value be denied?

I only happened upon visual stress by accident.  My husband was a trainer and was asked at a training day by a delegate, if he could change the background of the slides to red, otherwise he couldn't see the writing.  Upon arriving home, my husband questioned that maybe this was the problem that our daughter had...we looked into 'irlens syndrome' screened our daughter and realised the questions that she answered (just on the back of an Irlens pad of paper) strongly indicated that she had visual stress. I had not heard of it before this, and I was a teacher AND thought I was pretty in touch with educational issues - not at all it would seem.  After asking my daughter's school about this, I got nowhere, they did not really believe me and my daughter continued struggling...

I did more research and contacted my opticians.  Luckily my local Specsavers had an optician whose nephew had visual stress, and she had recently been on a screening course.  After screening she said that my daughter should definitely be assessed properly & told me about an opticians nearby - Leslie Warren in Sevenoaks that did the full colorimetry assessment.

So we went & my daughter had a full colorimetry test.  The results were incredible.  My daughter was asked to read letters that the optician pointed to and she consistently read the letter 2 letters on from where she was pointing - THAT IS HOW FAR THE LETTERS WERE MOVING ABOUT.  When the right tint was found, she read the letter the optician pointed at SPOT ON.  And what's more, she could READ.  I was in tears in the opticians (and I am not an overly-emotional woman!) The results were unbelievable - I NEVER though my daughter would read - and how could the poor thing when the words were rolling off the edge of the page and jumping about?

So I paid £80 for the test, and a further £350 for the glasses, and my daughter has gone from strength to strength.  This is not solely down to the glasses, she has had flexi-schooling and a lot of extra help for her specific learning style...BUT she would not have been able to do any of this, (and go up 3 National Curriculum Levels in only 2 terms, when the yearly expectation is only 2), if it wasn't for her glasses.  She CANNOT read without these glasses, and if she had not had them, she would NOT be reading now.

Please tell me, why it is that the Government say that they want every child to leave Primary School being able to read, write and do maths at a certain level, BUT they are unwilling to provide these children with the glasses to allow them to do so?  I am short sighted...I got my glasses on the National Health.  I could have walked up to the board to see my school work if I needed to in order to access education; these children cannot do this.  They have no hope of understanding text without these glasses and yet they are denied them.  People say that the understanding of dyslexia and related issues has improved.  It has not.  We have the knowledge, but not the acceptance.  But our children are lucky, there are many fine parents and fighters out there, and we will fight on, until, as Rocky Balboa says, 'We did it, Adrian!'