R moved into a new class with a new teacher again this year.  Despite reassurances from the school that the new teacher was good, I was worried. R made absolutely no progress at school last year. Her new targets, which were set shortly before the summer holidays, suggested that, in the view of the teacher at least, she was actually going in reverse.  A new teacher might mean a fresh start for children but too often for R, what this has meant is starting at the beginning all over again. Four years at school and her targets were still pre-reading skills.

Still, the signs looked good.  R was clearing enjoying the new class.  It was clear too that new teacher was trying, even if her home school diary suggested that R’s work was “inconsistent”.  Then two weeks ago, R was asked to look at pictures of her classmates on request for homework.  She refused point blank.  I tried, G tried, I tried again.  She completely refused.  G dug out some old flash cards (with words) that we hadn’t used much for years.  He held up two cards and asked her to look at a word.  She got every one right.  We sent them into school.  Her teacher tried and she got them all right for her too.

We had a meeting last week.  It was the usual crowded affair: head teacher, deputy head, educational psychologist, teacher and SALT. And we made a breakthrough.  We described again the motor planning issues that R has but this time we also described Susan Norwell’s approach: if the task is cognitively demanding then there should be very little motor demand made on R.  What emerged from this meeting is that the tasks that R had been set at school in the past have usually required substantial motor planning (even matching is demanding for R).  When we work with her at home, we never make this demand and she has always achieved more at home than at school.

Her new teacher has taken on the new challenge.  Two days later, when I picked R up from school, she told me that they were doing arithmetic together.  Her teacher kept making mistakes with her sums and R,  she said,  hooted with laughter every time she did.  Then today, in R’s home school diary, she wrote that R had spelled Wednesday for her, with only 2 mistakes.  I couldn’t be prouder.

I can write

We have always believed that R is smart. Even when she was scoring a big fat zero in the IQ test, our belief in her abilities was unshakable (the educational psychologist was stupid, not R). Not only that, but that R is articulate, if only with her eyes. We have all become quite expert at interpreting R’s eye-language but, unfortunately, few outside our home understand much of it at all.

We established quite early on that R could read some words. On visits to our local museum, R would tap the text, demanding it be read, clearly indicating that she understood that words conveyed meaning. I mentioned this to her home visiting teacher, who brought along a few flash cards on her next visit. R surprised us all by pointing immediately to her name and then to each of the other words on request.

Progress has been slow since then. In fact, R has been bringing home Level 1 books from the reading scheme since she started school three and a half years ago. And while I don’t really blame the school – its very hard to know whether R is comprehending the task – I can’t begin to imagine just how dull this must be for R.

R was lucky enough to have a high tech communication aid – a Tobii eye gaze computer – funded by the education department. We were hopeful that this might help to accelerate her pace of learning but neither we (nor the school) have received much support to help R use it. She seems to find the limited array of symbols offered to her uninteresting. In its current set up it is inflexible and apart from as an MP3 player, R doesn’t generally care to use it at all.

But R has apparently decided to take things her own hands. She has a couple of alphabet toys like this one that she is fond of. Mostly, she likes to press the music button. Over Christmas, she started pressing the letters more often, and it quickly became clear that the letters she was pressing were associated with things that she wanted: D for Daddy, M for Mummy and so on. The Peppa Pig alphabet toy has “i for ill”, which she used to indicate how she was feeling.

Today, G asked if she would like a snack. “Y”. Would she like an apple or banana? R pressed “P”. Anyone that knows R, will understand that this was not a slip of the hand but in fact stands for “Pringles”. G said no. And R said “W” (why, *cross face*).

All of which is almost worthy of the blog post, but then this happened.


Orange is for The Amber Spyglass

amber_spyglass_coverThe children have been back at school for a week. A new year and a new term. It’s a big year for EB who will join F at high school after the summer. It’s a great school by any bench mark. F is being motivated and challenged and pushed on in every subject (not just the academic ones either) and he is thriving. EB is going to love it too, I’m sure.

Watching F and EB progress at school only serves to emphasise just how slowly things move in R’s. R enjoys school and she is very happy there and there is no question that it’s the best option available at present. A disastrous placement in a mainstream nursery confirmed that to us. But still, the gap between what R is learning and what eight year olds in a mainstream setting learn is growing – depressingly – ever wider. This week, R’s switch conveyed the news that they were learning all about “Orange”. R has been secure in her colours since P1 at least. That she should be revising these once again in P4 makes me despair.

U, a colleague of ours, has been the source of many books and audiobooks for our children. Her choices are never obvious and always interesting. A while back, U gave R Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, read by Johnnie Morris. To my admitted surprise, it turns out that R enjoys many of them. The best part is that she doesn’t like them all. “How the Whale got its Throat” makes her chuckle; “How the Camel got its Hump” is always greeted with complaints. This is true regardless of the order in which they are played.

Since the arrival of our children, we have listened to a lot of audiobooks. Long journeys, such as those that we regularly make to Germany, Austria and Switzerland, require audiobooks for entertainment. These days, I tend to pick classic children’s novels that F and EB may not perhaps (read: would never in a million years) choose for themselves. So at various times we have listened to The Borrowers (we all loved this), The Railway Children (ditto), Anne of Green Gables (ditto), Emil and the Detectives (in German, to the undisguised disgust of the children, though they enjoyed it all the same), Ballet Shoes (only EB and I liked this one) and so on. R’s tolerance for these varies and, particularly when she is unwell, she frequently prefers to listen to stories that she already knows well. We all know The Enormous Crocodile by heart, complete with the full range of Stephen Fry voices.

Before we left for Christmas this year, U presented the children with unabridged audio copies of Phillip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials. For anyone who hasn’t read these – do it now. I am not a fan of the fantasy genre (I am not afraid to say that I don’t like Tolkien) but these are terrific. They are brilliantly imagined but very convoluted and demand your attention. So, not perhaps everyone’s first choice for an (allegedly) cognitively impaired eight year old.

We didn’t dare try the books on the way to Germany because R was so agitated and it wasn’t until we were half way to Switzerland that we put on the first CD. And then there was silence in the car. Everyone, including R, was rapt. No one slept. We listened to the story without interruption all the way to Switzerland and then all the way home. We reached the end of book two just as we arrived back in Glasgow.

What this means of course, is that we are all desperate to find out how the story ends, and so R’s current bedtime story is the final book in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass. The cover is a lovely burnt metallic orange. A perfect example for her colour homework, I think.