Thursday, 13 October 2011
The High and Lows of High School Part 1: The Highs.
I am writing two posts today to reflect on our experiences of high school so far with A. As with all major changes in life we have experienced some highs and some lows as we settle into this new way of life. The highs have been spectacular and the lows have been worrying and are connected to this new age that he is approaching rather than the school.
After years of fighting, pleading, harrassing and challenging the eduction system here in the Lothians, I am at a loss for how to describe our experiences with A's high school in these first few short months of term. The school are going above and beyond to make sure that he is properly supported and have enrolled in in additional support programmes. I am so proud of how well he has handled it all.
He will be taking part in a peer mentoring programme where he is paired up with a sixth year pupil to talk through any worries that are troubling him. In addition to this extra shoulder, the senior pupil takes him out at lunch time once a week to do an activity that mainstream pupils might take for granted, a little thing that makes a huge impact on an ASD kids life. They go out for a smoothie or a hot chocolate depending on the weather. This may not sound like a big deal but it is incredibly hard for an ASD kid to negotiate such a transaction on their own. To have the correct amount of money, to have enough money, to settle on a choice of flavour, to remember to pick up their change and the smoothie when prepared. These are all things that we take for granted but A doesn't automatically follow this routine. He often wanders off before the drink is ready, order something really expensive or walk off without his change. The mentoring programme gives the kids the independence of not having an adult on their backs all of the time. I really cannot believe how lucky we have been to receive this.
He will also be taking part in a new programme called Toe by Toe, a reading programme designed to enhance and build confidence in reading for pupils with additional support needs (ASN). Toe by Toe is a reading manual which contains a highly structured synthetic phonics approach to decoding words. It was developed by Keda Cowling, and is based on her experiences of teaching children with dyslexia to read. It has been created so that anyone with a moderate reading ability will be able to teach others to read. Toe by Toe has proved an excellent resource for the peer support approach adopted by Shannon Trust. Ideally learners will have the same mentor every session which is good for building confidence and positive relationships. Learners benefit enormously from this one to one support which is difficult to provide in a busy classroom. In addition to this programme he will be taking part in paired reading sessions featuring a book of his choice with fourth year pupils in the school library.
The school also offers a specialised spelling programme for pupils with ASN but I had to make a choice as it is timetabled at the same time as his reading programme. I worried for a few days about making the right choice and approached the school to tell them I had made a decision about what programme is best for him. When I contacted the school, they said that if I was happy to, they would send the spelling programme home with A so he didn't miss out on the opportunity! I was flabbergasted at their out of the box thinking and dedication to making learning as positive and as productive for A it it could be!
Out with the additional support programme he has joined an animation club which he absolutely loves. for years he has been making stop motion animations in his bedroom.It appeals to the autistic mind, the logical organising and repetition of the activity. I am constantly amazed at his concentration when doing this. He is also embracing the artistic side of this group, which is something that he has always struggled with. He is even joining in with a Manga comic group who reproduce their favourite characters from their (age appropriate!) series like Naruto. He has joined a computer games group which he really enjoys and is constantly making new friends.
I am active within the school. Joining the Parent Council and a new Curriculum Steering group to deal with the new Curriculum for Excellence being rolled out in Scottish schools. I've already cemented my reputation as a forthright pedant! The staff are amazing and the dedication shown to their jobs is inspiring. I had to give something for the amazing help we have received.
A has embraced this major change in his life with grace and maturity that we really hadn't expected. we spent the whole of last Sunday timetabling his week. He fully engaged with the process and took responsibility for his schedule. He needs a high level of organisation to keep him focused and has really relaxed into this routine.
Long may this success continue!