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Raising little Westies, and life as parent of a special needs son
This year the 21st century becomes a teenager.
The teens are typically troubling times in most of our lives, with a lot of change and that’s how I’m feeling at this point. I’ve turned 40, and I’m looking at a year ahead with some uncertainty about how I will be able to measure my success.
I have some aspirations, but if I look closely at them they are routes to success not success in themselves. I need to look more closely at why I want these things, and identify what it is about them that marks them as signs of success. Many of the things I am striving for are intangible, which exacerbates my issue.
Maybe. Maybe my success will be achieved when I can drop the whole SMART attitude to my personal life? It seems to result in more concrete results, results that I know when I have achieved, results which I can help my family to celebrate.
I am very outcome focussed in my career. I really enjoy jobs where I have targets identified and where I can look to some kind of scorecard and confirm that “yes, I’m doing my job.” Yet, it seems I may be on a path to deviate away from that kind of work at the moment.
So what might be the outcomes rather than the indicators of success for the Westies for 2013?
I think those things are still specific enough, without being so carved in stone that there is no room for an alternative solution I haven’t considered yet.
Food for future thought.
Tonights post is dedicated to Magpie, who today was presented with an Academic Achievement award. While his classmates recieved awards dedicated to single disciplines such as reading and maths, Magpie’s award was for more generic “Academic Achievement.”
This is indicative of his broadly rounded abilities, and his ability to pick up and run with any topic – even the ones that may not be so interesting to him. It’s great that he is being recognised and rewarded for his efforts.
So, well done to Magpie! Great work.
Oh My God.
So, it’s the weekend. Should be happy, right?
Happy to not be at work. But, life has it’s way of all the little details piling up when we could most do with some sort of break – this weekend being yet another example. It hasn’t taken much, just that it’s the kids first week back at school. I’m thinking that’s what has pushed Bec over the brink to coming down with some sort of lurgy and being crook as a dog.
Add to that our nine dogs, and three kids, and football…. and weight watchers… and a hubby (me) who is drive-in drive-out from work… well it’s probably incredible that she functions as well as she does.
Somewhere between last night, and right now, motivation has evaporated somewhat. I know there are things I’d love to discuss, butthey have left the premises for right now. So I’ll leave you with this final input from my youngest Westie.
Feedback is an interesting activity.
People on the recieving end can feel very nervous about feedback.
This can make the people providing it very apprehensive.
And parents can often be quite defensive about the feedback given to their children, in the form of a report.
Having come to the end of a school term (or semester, or something), it is school report time. The first thing I will say is, my kids have done fantastic work, and the school is doing quite a good job of providing them with work that challenges my three kids at a pretty reasonable level.
They are also somewhat demanding about their expectations, in terms of tasks such as writing and mathmatics.
So if they are that demanding in their standards for written work. Why have they been so bad at providing feedback?
Where results range from “Outstanding” to “Limited“, for any child who is not “outstanding” then any comment should include “results could be improved by…” or “needs to work on…” Instead, we have three reports from three different teachers signed by two difference Assistant Principles, which say nothing except what our children can do. Sorry, I actually need to know what my kids can’t do but should be able to do, a lot more than I need to know what they can do.
This applies to all my children. To my daughter, to my middle son, and my son who has Autism. Although, with an ILP in place, the support teacher has the most concrete assessment of what our Autistic son is doing, and what still needs to be worked on.
To all the Westie kids. Good work so far this year. Here’s hoping you keep hard at it, and, when we go and talk to your teachers, they can actually tell us what you need to do to improve – rather than what you would have to stop doing to achieve a poorer report at the end of the year.
Time away from home, gives a person plenty of time to think. This week amongst other things I have been thinking about my use of words, and a conversation turned to the power of words, names and labels. This is a topic which has been also dealt with over at Half Past Normal, where Angela has discussed the power of swear words at pre-school.
Westies are a bit like the Scottish it seems. Chances are that makes us a bit like the Irish, the East English, the French, Canadians, South Americans and people from a wide range of other regions: We swear. More than a little bit. We can also be a little more “blunt” than “direct”, yes I call a spade a “f*ing shovel with a handle at the end” if somebody doesn’t quite know what I mean. Like a lot of parents whose child is not as verbal as other children that age, we worry what situation our child might end up in when they suddenly come up with the choice words we would prefer they not quite know.
However, one type of thing I try very hard to do, is labelling people. As in, “you are such an idiot.” I would much rather say “that is an idiotic thing to do.”
“Only an idiot would do that”. “Don’t be an idiot.” “Are you an idiot?” Hmm, these would be murky grounds for me.
With this strong underlying concept in mind: why is it I get so concerned about the difference between “my autistic son” and “my son, who has Autism?” For what it’s worth, I feel like “my autistic son” is a lot more natural – as natural as “my Japanese wife” which is much more natural than “my wife, who is Japanese.”
<small>No, my wife is not Japanese. That was just an example.</small>
Mounty County isn’t on any maps, it’s a bit of a local name for the aspirationally-named Mount Druitt. Because while Rooty Hill is an actual hill, Mount Druitt… well, it’s certainly not a mountain, although possibly there is a bit of a mound, somewhere.
While some of the other articles have been broader in scope, I think locally first. So I’ll stay close to home…
Ten Best Things
1. Cycling. Sure, the cycleways don’t particularly go anywhere useful, but the ones that are there, are great. And the Western Sydney Parkland includes a fantastic cycleway that goes from Liverpool to Castle Hill, straight through the middle of Mounty County.
2. Cultural Diversity. This is a two way street, but Blacktown and Mount Druitt (which is a group of suburbs in Blacktown) is a melting pot. A lot of refugees, migrants from a wide range of backgrounds, Aboriginal Australians, on the usual cultural background of christian white Australia. This certainly makes life interesting, and I am hoping, is helping my children grow up to be “colour blind” and very open to seeing the person. It’s certainly a lot more interesting than when I grew up in a homogenously white Australia with possibly only one person of some other race in my class!
3. School resources. This is a real challenge. Given the low socio-economic background of the suburb – which is more “welfare class” than “working class” – the level of engagement in schools is generally low, the absenteeism rate is quite high. This results in poor educational outcomes (as measured by programs such as Naplan, like them or loath them they are what we have). And in the bizzare world of public education, that has resulted in funding to turn those low results around. The result, for those kids that are at school, is some fantastic programs are implemented, allowing those children to achieve great things.
4. Transport links. Mounty County is at the crossroads to two of the highest volume roads in the largest city in Australia. One crosses the Western edge of the district, the other cuts between Mount Druitt and Blacktown. There is also a major rail link, which provides access to Sydney well within an hour. While we’re further out than Parramatta – it’s cheaper living, and only about ten extra minutes of travel time (which most Parramatta people will actually spend getting from home to Parramatta railway station anyway).
5. Low-cost housing. This is great, because money I’m not spending on a place to live, I can spend on my wife and kids. However, low-cost housing is a tradeoff.
6. Weather. OK so it gets hot, but hey, the Hawkesbury River isn’t far away, housing is cheap, blocks are big, and you can own a pool. It doesn’t get cold: the seven years I’ve lived in my home, I think we’ve had a frost about five times total. I think I can get cool more readily than I can get warm.
7. Sports. Mount Druitt is a bit sports mad. Druitters play so many codes of Football, we are nestled between the Parramatta Eels and Penrith Panthers, the Great Western Sydney Giants training facility is in the former Sydney Olympic Baseball Stadium at Rooty Hill, the former Sydney Olympic Equestrian Centre is just up the road, as is the facility where the rowing took place (in Penrith). The Soccer is not-quite national class, but does feed the A-League. Childrens’ sports facilities are all over the place, and while they are well used they are not over-used. We are within reach of a selective sports high school if our child has ability in that direction.
8. Parks. OK so they are not world class, but they are beyond “adequate” and there are plenty of them. The more they are used, the better they are looked after. Nurragingy Reserve is a great example, there are others that aren’t so developed but no doubt will be put to good use.
9. Religious diversity. A lot of Australians take it for granted, but around the world, if you’re not one of the majority you can be in real trouble. King George V of Tonga opened a church in his name in the area. With Castle Hill being just up the road, Hillsong is certainly present, as are the well established mainstream christian churches, and mosques. Missionaries passing on the word of the Mormon faith, and others waiting – patiently – to pass on the word of their God at the train station are all normal part of life.
10. Food. We’re in Australia. If it is edible, you can probably get it. Well, that’s not quite right, there are edible things that aren’t sold to be eaten in Australia, but there is no shortage of great food, and if we complain that some of it is more expensive than in other parts of Australia – it’s only by comparison within Australia. Overall, food here is cheap, there is plenty of it, and it’s good.
Things we could do better.
1. Tolerance. People could always be more tolerant. Some of us, think the whole world should be just like us, and Mounty County is an equal example of that. Racism and religious intolerance are as much trigger points of the negative press that Mount Druitt receives as any other aspect of life.
2. Food! Locally, food – other than fresh food bought to prepare at home – is pretty squarely at the bottom of the culinary food chain. If you want a gastronomic explosion, you have to travel, probably to Parramatta’s “Eat Street” (the Church Street – or is it a mall – no it’s a street again).
3. Education. Something has fallen down in the education area. Migrants seem to be engaged, but there are elements of the community that are not. It is the children of a disengaged generation who will suffer.
4. Public housing ghetto. Said it, unfortunately, because it’s true. But the policies of the past are being revisited, public housing is being redeveloped and sold to private ownership. Public housing is important, great big clusters of it just don’t work.
5. Transport. Yep, that’s right, it’s great and it sucks too. There is an addiction to cars, local families own more cars than the average across Sydney, and it’s chocking the place. I went as long as I could as a one-car family, relying on a bicycle and the train network… unfortunately I’m in the minority, and the carparks around the rail corridor are choked.
6. Crime. Blame whoever you want, but the police in the St Marys Local Area Command are far too busy. Why is it that I have both the local police station, as well as the Police Assistance Line (non life threatening emergencies) saved on my phone? Because I have used both (as well as 000) too many times in the last seven years.
7. Culture. Unfortunately, you have to travel from Mount Druitt to have a cultural experience, like visiting an art gallery, or a museum. There are events, but they are more entertainment then “cultural.”
I’m stopping at seven, because on a world scale… I’m really nitpicking to find things to complain about in Mount Druitt. Complaining rarely fixes things, being positive and championing specific improvements makes the world a better place.
Some things happen, and we don’t notice till after the event.
While others are in our face and we see them happening and improving, bit by bit, day by day.
Reading and counting (or possibly even “all things numbers“) are pretty much in the second category around here. Shown by ever increasing ability and willingness to count all sorts of things, and read “anything and everything.”
More and more though, we are getting clear signals of “success” as the year progresses. We’re measuring it a bit differently to a lot of parents with Kindergarten aged kids.
When the other two were growing up, if anyone told me I would celebrate the word “No!” coming out of my childs mouth, I would have had to pick myself up off the floor. Yet this word is one clear symptom of “success” around here.
Another clear sign is our son recieving an award from school, “Worker of the Week“, for “Sitting longer during reading group.”
So to the number 1 Bob the Builder Fan in Westie Central. Well done, mate – Mum, Dad, Princess P and Magpie are all proud of you and so happy that all the hard work you are doing is showing through so much.
While I’m not setting out to replace the Mount Druitt Commuters Improvement Group, I’m going to again mention how annoying it is that the cycleways in Blacktown don’t go anywhere.
It seems each one was built at the time the local subdivision was made, to get people around within that subdivision to the school within that subdivision. Which is nice.
Unless you’re going to the shops, or to work, or “anywhere other than school”.
The whole issue came up in all places on the Whirpool technology website, where there is a cycling discussion. Chris mentioned that he thinks ” a lot of people won’t ride to work because they are scared of getting on the road among the traffic, and the stories (and increasingly HD video) of angry encounters with irate motorists only makes this worse.” I’ve certainly experienced this around The Druitt, and it makes it difficult to choose between “keeping my kids active” and “keeping my kids safe”.
Yet, apart from “up and back”, the cylceways don’t take my kids anywhere. Even the one to get from my home to the pool involves, riding across a street which is quite busy, where the sign for “bikes crossing” is too close to where the bikes cross the road.
Chris goes on to say ” Once the cycleways are built, dedicated ones – you’ll see more people using them. And those people will encourage others, and there the cycle begins. But they have to be useful cycleways, not pipedreams like a cycleway to nowhere that is not properly connected – or built in a hurry to satisfy a promise. They have to be properly thought out.”
For the kids to ride to school, even though it’s no that far – that would be outright irresponsible given the road they would have to ride along, which even though it is a “overwidth” single lane, does not have a cycle lane marked. If it did have a lane marking, my kids could easily ride their bike to school in dedicated cycle lanes. Which would help my son in arriving at school, having had some exercise already in the day – making his morning at school that much more productive (do you remember spending at least half an hour in the playground before school? “It’s too dangerous” for special needs kids to do this apparently). This one road would join about half of the suburb to the wonderful cycleway along the M7 – which runs from Liverpool through to Castle Hill!
Well it doesn’t take too much to work out i haven’t been writing much lately.
I’d like there to be at least an excuse, or even better a reason – but no, I’ll have to come clean and admit i just haven’t made writing a priority like i had planned to.
Since my last blog, i have now been to New Delhi in an effort to gain some certifications. I’ll leave myself a bit of scope to write more later – flying with Air Malasia, the confronting nature of poverty in New Delhi, and studying with Koenig Solutions.
While the Autism Marathon continues, I’m very happy to point to success – we all attended football presentation and there was nothing which happened to make that a bad idea. Regardless of my early concerns, my son is tackling reading with grate enthusiasm, and is currently loving Suess classics such as “The Diggingest Dog” and “Go, Dog, Go”. Family life presents us with the same type of challenges i recall from my own childhood, and does not seem vastly different to what I have watched my brothers going through with their own children.
So, red-faced and feeling sheepish, all I can suggest is I’ve written again today. And I’ll be aiming to do more, soon!
Not long ago I posted about my concerns that my son was going to have so much trouble learning to read, he has now found himself a favourite book – “When I’m feeling SAD” by Trace Moroney.
So, between his book about a rabbit learning what it means to feel sad, that it’s OK to feel sad, and some things we can do to move on from feeling sad, and the flash-cards I was using two years ago with Magpie, and four years ago with Princess P, we seem to be getting somewhere. At current count, about 20 words of three letters or less that he can not only read from the flash-cards, but also pick out of a book that’s really laid out to be read to a child, rather than read by a child. And sometimes, we can even find the same words in other books, too… like Go, Dog, Go! or other Suess classics.
So in all, a pretty darn good effort for a lad who’s learning to say some of these words at the same time he’s learning to read them. Well done buddy!