Monday, November 18, 2013

Better To Home School Than One School

I was trying to overlook some of the comments such as :

"We've got over 2000 students and it sure is nice to have the seniors out of here this week,"

"There are the temporary classrooms for next year since we are so overcrowded and the building of the new school has been delayed yet again by budget restrictions,"

and "Argh, only one sports oval for 2000 kids,"

as quirkly British humour that I just didn't quite get yet.

Expectations at Soul Dance studio!

Except he was quick to point out that he was British, almost in a don't blame me, I'm not the idiot who came up with this school system, I'm just the idiot who couldn't find a better job when he emigrated here kind of way.

And, if this, like some of the embarrassingly ludicrous stuff I was shown and told while working with the US military, was supposed to be top secret and worthy of my trust stuff, I apologise. I haven't blabbed on the US military – except to Lori – and trust me, it is nothing new or surprising, what happens when you stick a bunch of jocks in isolation with guns and people they've been told are the bad guys – but I don't think Narangba Valley's reputation will be hurt by my one and only dissenting opinion. (Two if you count the farrier, but then, somehow noone ever does!) 

Saddling up for PE!

DISCLAIMER:  IT IS ONE OF THE BEST SCHOOLS IN THE STATE.  It has an awesome reputation, excellent NAPLAN results, schools of excellence in academics, sports and the arts.  Really, I have nothing against this school.  IT IS A FINE SCHOOL.  It just didn't show me that it would be the place for my daughter.  I blame the system, not the school.  (Man, I am turning into such a wuss!)

I'd like to think that there is a big warning written all over my childrens' One School records from a previous principal at „our old school“ warning anyone who opens the records that they, under no circumstances, want this mother in their school.

Something along the lines of: WARNING: THIS WOMAN IS GOING TO HAVE EXPECTATIONS!!!  

Because this would explain the lack of help. Was he trying to discourage us from sending our daughter there?

Crafts?  Home-Ec?  ICT?  Whatever.  My daughter made a hay-net.  Without me.

Sadly, I don't think this is true. For one thing, I think parental expectations are just that low to begin with. Secondly, he was so proud of that damn computer program.

As if Australia's ability to get all of their schoolchildrens' academic records inputted onto a computer program amounted to its ability to give them a decent education.

I cannot be the first to consider One School to be Done School.

"They're proud that they've got the second names of all the family members in there?“ as Damon asked.

Not that it isn't a tough family to keep straight!

How would we be able to monitor Ryan's progress? One School.

How would we be able to communicate with the school? One School.

How would her teachers be made aware that Ryan needed special help?

He kept swinging that laptop screen at us, as proud as a child at Christmas with his new toy.

For starters, Ryan has a medical diagnosis, not an education one, he said.

Okay, I said, let's get her the educational one.

Ah, that's just a lot of paperwork and a big hassle and that's all my job and let's just get her in here and deal with all this – 2000 kids you know – and then we'll worry about that once we settle down in 2014.


Whalewatching.  Science.

(In retrospect, I think it is just that an overcrowded school of over 2000 kids with an already excellent reputation doesn't need to bother to impress us and doesn't particularly care whether our child attends or not.  We either take it or leave it.  They don't need us.)

Okay. Strike one. So, how does this special education centre work? Are there classes or groups?

See that room?

Uh huh. 

She can sit there if she has to.

Sit there?

Yeah.  If it gets too stressful she can come here to get away.

Damon and I must have looked underwhelmed.  

Or do her homework, he added.

Homework. Okay. I grasped for something tangible. Her psychologist recommends no homework, or minimal homework.

Tuck Shop!  (Lunch at Tickle Beach.)

He whipped out the school diary – at least it wasn't bloody One School – and showed us the assessment expectations – for every child, in every class, in every year, for the entire school for the entire year.

So much for tailoring education to meet ANY individual's needs.

What about a mentoring program, you know, other children in the special needs unit, who can mentor each other.   Ryan, as very high-functioning, would be perfect for that.

No. Don't have that.

Dead silence. I mean, where do you go with that? One of the top special education centres in the state doesn't have programs for the kids to help one another? Where is all the extra money they get (20,000 per kid/per year) going? AFL stadium? Dance costumes?

No Mom.  You never looked like this.  Even at 14.

We must have looked – again – underwhelmed – because he then mentioned that, if there were problems, she could drop a class. But she would have to speak up or how else would they know she has problems?

What, your bloody One School program wouldn't tell you that?!

I guess my shock made me miss the next comment – that or Ian's temper tantrum when Damon wouldn't let him colour outside of the lines (and, to be fair, on his hand, arm and shirt!) - but Damon told me later the guy looked over at him and asked

 „Is that one having an autistic moment?“

Understanding of autism as a developmental disorder (they act like 2 year olds!) - A. Sense of humour – British and therefore incomprehensible to us. Sense of place – in a special needs centre with a family of an autistic child seeking help for that child AND with said autistic child present – F. I actually find it funny, but it doesn't bode well for how seriously they are going to take my daughter's needs.
At least the 2 year old comes with a disclaimer!
But I hadn't heard it. Things were really quite civil – although he did not offer us tea – since I was getting calmer and calmer as every check was checked off. No. They were not going to do ANYTHING for my child. Guilt of staying home and riding and gypsy dancing absolutely ZERO!

So I tried some more. Again, how will the teachers be prepared to help her, how will they know she needs help. I guess he saw One School wasn't impressing us by that time – like a teacher with 8 classes of 30 students a day is going to take it upon themselves to look at the computer program of each of their students – because he brilliantly told me that the squeaky wheel gets oiled.

I actually squeaked.

But SHE has to do it, he said.

But she won't, I said. She will not throw chairs, she will not cause fights, she will sit in the back of the room, unnoticed unless we help her.

Oh, we like the quiet ones, he said.

I bet.

THESE are the ones you wanna watch out for!
(Two Saracen Knights - costumes courtesy of Soul Dance! - and one zombie.)

So, is she coming to Transition Day?

Uh? We haven't received an invite. How will they know she is coming?

Silly me. On the One School of course.

Could we SEE an invite, just to uh ,know what to bring and......?

Holds up a pen.

Hey dude, do you have alternative religious choices at your school?!  And what about surfing?

Okay. And when?



9 – 11.

Was I supposed to know this?

Or was he just in a rush to get us out of there before the bell rang?

Christmas pageant.  The wise kings?

As far as interviews go, it was a perfect success. We left absolutely confident – without a doubt – that our expectations and our daughter's needs – would not even be attempted to be met by this particular school.

As described, this school program was a one-size fits all mold that they were quite proud to have gotten onto a computer.

I laud them for their data entry skills. But how much you wanna bet we show up for Transition Day next week and noone knows – or cares – who she is?  (Update:  No, they did not have her on the list .  But, they did get her name off the computer and give her a pass into the school anyway.)

Thank you so much, NVHS, for making it so clear, that as fantastic as your school is, there is no place in it for my daughter, that her needs and my expectations will not be met there and  that she will be far better educated at home.

Ryan's costume for Bohemienne Dreams, the community dance troupe we have joined.  Now she can dance at community functions during weekdays, guilt-free.   You think you miss opportunities not going to school?  Think of all that you are missing while you are stuck there!!!

Although I got younger siblings still keeping their options open, so don't breathe easy yet!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Excellent School, but Not Special?

I have nothing bad to stay about this secondary school in Narangba. And it wouldn't matter if I did. It is reputed to be one of the best in the state. (Note: the state we are talking about is Queensland, Australia, which might make one question the level of competition perhaps?!) Suburban soccer moms and yoga moms are raving about it. Families talk about moving just to get into the catchment area. (Then again: we've seen the alternatives!) The Australian government has given it hundreds of thousand of dollars for its Australian Rules Football Academy of Excellence and its state of the art drama, dance and music programs, including television and film capabilities with ties to the Brisbane Academy of Dance and the Australian Youth Orchestra. (Don't quote me on these: some artsy fartsy elite programs somewhere that are supposed to be a really big deal anyway.)

Kurwongbah State School:  F1 AND Choir Champions!
(We LOVE Kurwongbah:  Tough Consumer Satisfied!)

Today Ryan went for Transition Day - just to gather information and keep our options open for later - and another Mom told me it was Top 20 in National Scores - state wide or nationwide she wasn't sure but still, this school is supposed to be phenomenal, the kids look well-dressed and respectful, the programs on offer are varied and it fits the ideal a parent is looking for in a school for their child.

One brave farrier, with a shy daughter Ryan's age, was brave enough to break a gold brick in the wall of excellence. „If you ain't a guy doing AFL or a girl doing dance, you might as well be invisible there.“

It's the same comment I've heard about North Lakes. Both schools have over 2000 kids. They have schools of excellence. Kids shine.

Looking Good in Choir Uniforms

But this one – Narangba – is also supposed to have a special needs program catering to the visual and hearing and speech impaired, the physically and intellectually challenged and those on the Autistic Spectrum. Awesome. It has a place for Ryan.

I felt a little bad – after calling up one day last term, right after dropping her off barefoot and in her pyjamas at the neigbour's house to walk home alone – not taking advantage of the opportunities apparently being laid right at our doorstep. God – or the universe or Shiva or The Force – must have dropped us in Naranbga for a reason, right?

Ah, the universe has such a wicked sense of humour.

After not hearing from the school for a full five weeks of enrolment (already knowing by now, after being ignored by two secondary schools previously, Pine Rivers and Bray Park, that if you aren't enroled they won't bother to work with you), and after receiving the bill for materials for 2014, I finally called for an appointment with the special needs department.

The Ugly Truth Revealed!

If the goal was to meet with parents in order to set expectations so low that absolutely nothing is requested of the school for the following five years, then he did his job well.

Really, I would like to write a recommendation for this man, because, as a school politician, he was tops. He made it absolutely clear, from the start, what would be expected of Ryan for the next five years, how little we could expect from the school in terms of support, and how well we would all continue to get along if we just didn't bother with pointless individuals meetings like this anymore.

This, mates, is what happens, when we make schools a competitive business (rather than a cooperative institution); nationalise, standardise and computerise the whole curriculum; and leave it in the hands of bureaucrats.

Our license plates say Qld: The Smart State.
But if you have to constantly remind everyone, right?!
Not funny enough for you?

Wait until you hear about our interview!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Home Schooling: Year One

I've promised I wouldn't write anything about education unless I could make it into a comedy routine.

It's either laugh or cry, right?!

Maths sucks even if we use the Horse Land catalogue to learn about percentages~

Home schooling Ryan this past year hasn't always been a joke though. In December, 2012, about eight weeks into it, I had an autistic meltdown at the Asperger's Centre and was informally diagnosed with ASD. During Ryan's assessment interview. I bawled my eyes out while she held on to Ian. Way to make it about me, ay?!

In March we had such clashes over maths – the unfairness of having to do it, for instance – that I had to drive her to her dad's place of business for the day to remove the temptation to physically beat her. Really.

I did NOT put that into yearly report for the Home School Education authorities.

„Have not had urge to beat daughter since March, 2013.“

"Who me?"  Dressed at Gabriella Montez, from High School Musical, for Halloween.

Although it is a HUGE achievement and one most parents will relate to, I am not sure it is one I want on our government record.

I did drop her off at the neighbour's house sometime last term, barefoot and in her pyjamas, and make her walk back home. I just needed her out of the house for five minutes. The goal had been to drive her to the end of the road to give her something to think about on the way home but then she didn't have her water bottle, or her shoes, or clothes, and the neighbour IS a police officer and I thought it might be frowned upon.

Said neighbour is also a mother and thought it was a fantastic idea.

But mostly things have been good and I have a happy, well-adjusted teenage girl where a year ago I had a frustrated, depressed and misunderstood child.

Quirky but happy with Meka and Opa last month

This is good since I don't have much to threaten her with anymore. The horse is in the backyard and we are paying to feed it so it has to get ridden. We don't have a second story to throw her down. She's too smart to get in the car with me when I am angry at her. And I've tried the „well I'm sending back to school“ trick twice now. The first time, at Kurwongbah, they were so nice to us I just figured it really wasn't fair to enrol her when I wasn't expecting it to help.

And the second time, last week, at Narangba Valley State High School, well....

You really have to laugh and let it go.

You have to laugh.

And laugh and laugh.

And home school.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

On Happiness, Gratitude and Surrender

Something I have been noticing since Ryan started working with her second-hand, off the track, borrowed from a neighbour, thin and for the most part untrained Standardbred mare.  With borrowed tack and equipment, a small riding ring at the bottom of the paddock made by Andrew and a friend riding their dirt bikes around in ovals for an hour. 

Nothing pisses off a dissatisfied person more than when you are more satisfied than they are with less than they have!

Nothing pisses a competitive person off more than when you aren't competing with them and they feel you are beating them anyway.

Nothing pisses off an unhappy person more than someone who is happy with so little.

Ryan is so grateful for all that she has.  She doesn't worry about what she doesn't have or about what others have that she doesn't.  She is so happy with what she has: a friend in the paddock to ride and train.  This includes throwing volley balls around and chasing her around fields and all sorts of whacky stuff but the horse seems to be responding to and trusting Ryan more and more every day.

Nothing pisses off people who believe that life has to be hard more than to see someone enjoying theirs.

Nothing pisses off those of us who are struggling to attain our dreams more than a person who is already living them every moment. 

Animals live in the moment.  So do people on the spectrum.

Nothing is more mysterious than a curse (or a disease or disorder) that is also a gift.

She lives in the moment:  Buddhist scripture, Tao, Hindu and New Age Christian.

She doesn't care about possessions.  She knows that no living creature belongs to another and that she has what she needs from the earth at this present moment:  Native American, Indigenous Australian and other pre-industrial societies.

She is the creator of her own life:  Hindu and New Age.

Let me tell you, nothing is more annoying that struggling to make the world better for your special needs child, or to make your special needs child better able to face the world than the gradual awareness that she was born knowing the spiritual beliefs you have been working towards your whole life and that she is, in fact, already creating her own world. 

That she has done so, quite happily, with no interference from you!

And that you still aren't brave enough to completely surrender and follow her lead.

Round Hole

Ryan did, in the waiting room at the psychologist this week, manage to fit an oval peg into a rectangular hole, in order to save herself the trouble of having to figure it all over again from the beginning.  (She was cleaning up a puzzle Ian had started and left.)

This struck me as utterly appropriate.

Ryan DOES fit into round hole, just in her own way.

She DOES have her OWN set of autistic traits.

1.  Profound interest in one subject to exclusion of all else.  And, no, it isn't computers or the phone book or train schedules or numbers.  And, no, Luke Jackson, it never changes.  Never ever ever ever ever ever.  Did I mention never ever?  This debilitating trait is one of the most common traits of GIRLS with Asperger's Syndrome.  But since the obsession is often with socially acceptable topics - especially for girls - such as animals (including HORSES!), this is often seen as quirky but not particularly worrisome.  Add to that the fact that girls often obsess over reading and over characters and relationships, that they appear to have empathy due to an obsession with the cast of Harry Potter or Saddle Club, or are fixated on rock bands and movie stars, the obsession is often overlooked.

2.  Executive Function Disorder.  This is a new one for me, thanks to a book recommended to me by Ryan's current psychologist aptly enough titled "Understanding Executive Function Disorders."  This is where Ryan comes across as slow and lazy and unorganised and disinterested and immature and unable to get her act together.  This is what we were seeing all those years in Germany where she couldn't work fast enough in class, get her work organised, get herself together.  She is unable to start a project, to finish a project once it is started or to see the steps it will take to see a project to completion.

Yes.  Home schooling a child with Executive Function Disorder is a supreme joy.

3.  Inability to generalise from specifics.  This isn't as bad with Ryan in terms of behaviours - she knows how to share and how to deal with novel situations and how to work things out with people unlike a lot of people on the spectrum - but is bad in terms of academics and especially maths.  Her lowest IQ score, noticeably impaired in the lower 25%, was in taking concepts she already knows and applying them to novel situations.

So that, as hard as home schooling is, I question whether a traditional schooling system can give her the attention that I will.

4.  She is happy alone.  Perhaps even happiest alone.  And while this may not be a problem, it certainly is unusual. 

Ryan is lucky.  She really is.  Adults, especially creative, intelligent women, adore her.  She has a sweet, gentle nature that draws people to her.  (Ironic, isn't it?!)  She will be fine as an adult.  She is planning on turning her love of horses (sounds so much nicer than obsession doesn't it?!) into a career working to retrain troubled horses, she and I are working on her executive function skills (which are remarkably better when they involve horses!)and no, I am not giving up on maths skills!  She can write a great story when she wants to.   And when it involves horses.

And she is happy alone. 

As long as she is happy I don't care whether she's a square peg in a round hole or an oval peg in a rectangular hole.

Because you know what?

Ryan isn't playing that game anyway. 

She isn't a peg at all.  And she's out of the box!

Square Peg

Ryan doesn't fit the classical picture of high-functioning autism.

She's been reading - being forced to read (by me) - Luke Jackson's book "Freaks, Geeks & Asperger Syndrome", written by a 13 year old boy with Asperger's.  We - meaning I - thought it would be a good way for Ryan to learn about and understand her autism now that she has been diagnosed.

Uh yeah.

Trying to get one autistic child to empathise with another autistic child ranges right up there with getting a playgroup together for autistic children to socialise with one another.

What, about this whole autism spectrum thing, are we parents not getting?!

An earlier counsellor with ASD herself described Ryan as "exceptional special needs."

This is not bragging.  This means that Ryan really doesn't fit the mold even within the special needs, specifically the Autistic Spectrum Disorder, category.

She doesn't flip out with sensory overstimulation.  She has certain peculiarities about clothes, but not to extremes.    She is a picky eater but not as bad as most ASD children I know.  She doesn't flip out or become violent.  She doesn't rock or moan or collect string or play with batteries or keys.  She doesn't need to cover her ears to go out.  She isn't in any way obsessive compulsive.  She isn't violent.  She doesn't disrupt the classroom.  She can handle a fairly varied lifestyle.  Although she vastly prefers routine - especially at school - she can handle change.  She doesn't have problems sleeping. 

She doesn't fit the profile of the typical nerd either.  She doesn't memorise the phone book.  She isn't uncoordinated and clumsy.  In fact, she is quite good at anything athletic, including dance, having been asked to formally study ballet in Germany, try-out for the gymnastics team as well as join the swim team here and qualify for districts in long distance running.  What she is is supremely indifferent.  When I showed up at districts with Andrew, the teacher asked me where Ryan was.  Later that day I asked her why she didn't tell me she had qualified.

"Well, they made me run in PE class but I didn't see the need to do it again."

Swim team? 

"Well, I'm swimming as slow as I can and they still tell me I'm too fast for classes and have to go on to squad training."

Ballet?  She didn't like the pink tutus.

Ryan is her own person, with her own personality within her disorder.  This is what makes all of us, not just people on the spectrum, unique.  Although I wish she was more determined in her academics, it is her easy going attitude that probably makes the autism easier on her than on most.

She is very comfortable with who she is.

She doesn't feel like an alien.

She doesn't feel like the rest of us are aliens either.  I asked.

She doesn't feel different or think about why she is different or worry about why she had such a hard time at school both socially and academically.

She just is.

Other people really piss her off.  Especially boys with Asperger's Syndrome.  What a bunch of losers.  What are they going on about?  And what's the big deal?  Get over it and move on.  Deal.

Regular people piss her off too, mostly girls her own age.  Make-up and I-phones and hanging out in groups and who is wearing what and who owns what and who wants to be friends with who.  Don't get her started.  It's all too stupid to contemplate.

We went to a party recently at a friend's home from dance class.  Her friend, a 14 year old girl, ran out excitedly and introduced Ryan to her other friends from school, including her boyfriend.  Then the went off to play Truth or Dare.  They were playing in the open, on the lawn, within view of the rest of the party and with younger siblings running back and forth, so there was no concern.  I was profoundly curious, though, as to how Ryan would like the game.

She came back quietly, bored and disgusted with the whole thing.  They had dared one of the boys to dress in girls' clothing and wear make-up.  This was a huge deal, involving much giggling and teasing.  Ryan just found the whole thing stupid.

Being a teenager is going to be hard for her because she already knows who she is.

As we contemplate sending her to secondary school next January, the problem becomes her arrogance and her LACK of behaviour problems.

She isn't going to get noticed as a special needs child because she just isn't needy enough.  Or special enough, perhaps.  Her social problem isn't really a problem.  She is happier alone.  As long as she isn't bullied by kids who find this arrogant and intimidating, she will stay by herself.  And, as long as she isn't causing a problem in the classroom, who is going to care about the seemingly dumb, quiet girl in the back of the classroom?  She will do as little as possible to get by unnoticed.  She will happily convince her teachers that she is dumb so that she doesn't have to work so hard.

And she will slip by,  the picture of the stereotypical GIRL with Asperger's Syndrome,  underachieving and ignored.