Raising little Westies, and life as parent of a special needs son

Tag Archives: school

Back to the grind?

Image from google

Here I am trying to work out how to get myself to stick to writing something, anything, every day, and my friend DQ wrote about “make sure you look back.”

And today, on my sons first day of term 2, it seemed like a great opportunity to do exactly that.

Not too long ago, my son had almost no words of his own. Sure, from time to time, out he would come in longer and longer scripts, repeated either straight back from what I had just said, or from some TV show or movie. Very occasionally, he might say hello or goodbye, using the name of whoever he was talking to.

Yet just yesterday, with words which were very clear and under difficult (for him) circumstances, he clearly and directly asked his brother to leave him alone. Compared to where we want to be, this is terrible.

Compared to where we have come from, it is incredible and well worth celebrating!

Only three months ago in the same situation, one boy or the other – or both! – would have been in tears, with one probably having tooth-marks and a bewildered expression to show for the experience (and none the wiser how to stop it happening again).

Even better was to come today.

After a rough start involving “shoes” (because I picked the wrong ones) we went to school. In the rain. And again, using surprising, previously unknown clarity, he said goodbye to his brother. Sure, he repeated it 20 times or so… but most kindergarten kids would do that at some time.

Amazingly, the best was still to come.

Into a classroom which he hadn’t seen in two or three weeks, and fair enough the routine came back and he hung up his bag and took a seat at a computer (not the whiteboard one – a computer which wasn’t there at the start of the year). Popped his headphones on, turned the computer on.. logged on (as you do when you’re in kindergarten!!).

Then looked up as a stream of people wandered in, until the assistant principal walked in. He said hello to her (by name).

“Don’t just sit there, go say hello” I said to him. He looked at me with a devilish look, trying to work out “what’s the trick here?” no doubt.

But he did what I asked, wandered over and said hello to the assistant principal. And calmly went back to the computer while Mum and I finished chatting to the teacher, and wandered off on our way.

This is a child who, in his last week of pre-school, still could not walk calmly into the grounds without wanting to run off and climb a tree. Who might talk to a teacher… if there was almost no other option.

If this is one term of school, I’m doing my best not to hope for too much.



This is one of those terrible belated “OMG I’ve been so freaking busy” posts that pop up  every now and then thanks to guilt. Sorry in advance!

I know how much has gone on since my last decent post. Work has been…. that type of experience where if they’d stopped paying I would have stopped going on the spot. No questions asked! I didn’t really sign up for six day weeks, but sometimes they need to be done. But there were some positives. Cycling 20 km a day was really very good for me. Even if doing some of that along busy industrial roads isn’t quite such a great long term plan. My next challenge will be to ride to Blacktown instead of my closest station, each Friday.

BTB Fan has settled into school really well… althought, the teachers and aides seem to think the older SN kids see him as a self-mobile doll or teddy bear they can play with. At this stage it’s a bit amusing, and it is also forcing him to come up with some acceptable strategies for letting the older kids know when he’s had enough of being their toy so he can go and do the physical things he needs to do (like jumping off the top of the swing-set/climbing frame – again and again). But when the holidays rolled around, they were well and truly due for BTB Fan, Princess P and Guitar Hero Addict (who actually hasn’t played that for ages now).

I worked with a great bloke who was pretty much only filling in some time while he was on holidays. For a guy just “filling in his days” and stretching his holiday by earning a few bucks while he was in the country, we couldn’t have asked for a more professional approach. But now that Easter’s here he’s moved on, so I’m hoping he’s going to enjoy the rest of his holiday in ChCh and elsewhere.

Bec and I have helped a close friend, whose kids are also friends of BTB Fan, to get her first job since she has become a mother. I reckon she’s going to be as good a tutor as any parent would want for their kids, and as lovely a tutor as any kid would want taking up their day.

I worked some very long days, while BTB Fan went with his brother, sister and mum off to his grandparents. Then he came home, popped into bed, and said to me “let’s read a book“. It certainly made all the extra work I’d done staying home by myself seem worth it, to see him come home from a stretching, challenging, travelling experience (even if it is to a place he goes to regularly)… able to express himself in ways he was not able to do before he left.

And now all those hours worked are going to pay off, with 11 days in a row at home while the kids are visited by the Easter Bunny, and get started for term 2 of school.  Lets hope the new school term starts as well as the last term finished… but there’s some serious chocolate between now and then!

Educating Westies (or: How We Won the Lotto)

Having been asked point-blank on the Queensland discussion I thought the only way I could do justice to where we’ve ended up with school in 2011 is a full blog post. (Secondary title courtesy of Rebecca)

For the history lesson.

Bec and I both come from distant parts of NSW. We are not Sydney people at all. About 1998 I “fled a failing project” and came to Sydney “for a few months or so” to get into a “real IT job”.

Well, I got “a real IT job” which became a few more IT jobs. 12 years later, we’ve moved from Inner Sydney (Sydenham) to a suburb of Mt Druitt.

Mt Druitt is a hard place to live, a hard place to grow up. As far back as I can remember, the State Govt has had to come up with all kinds of inducement to get teachers to work in the area – including “we’ll pay your HECS for you if you work here for “x” years” (HECS = “uni fees”).

The suburb is home to the “school that failed the HSC” in 1996 (HSC = “last exam you do in High School” in NSW).

A suburb which is smack bang in the middle of a federal electorate named after one of the legends of the Australian Labor Party, Ben Chifley. And since 1996 we’ve had Labor govt after Labor govt, both federally and at state level.

The education system took a hard cold look at itself after those headlines in 1996. They found a schooling system that fails to connect to locals – the white aussies, the indigenous/aboriginals (every second suburb is named for some aboriginal group or another – they are 40% or so of the population), and the migrants (also about 40% of the population).

Of course, this was all totally irrelevant to Rebecca and I until some time after 2004, when we moved to this suburb.

Rebecca and I made a wonderful life decision to have 1 child every 18 months, three children in a row, starting in July 2002 (we still change our minds daily as to that being a good or a bad way about having three kids).

In the meantime, schools in the Mt Druiit area were transformed. The “Chifley College” was established, giving each previously under-performing high school a specialist area to (attempt to) specialise and excel at.

Whole schools were put on programs such as “Reading Recovery”, or dedicated to problem students (habitual truants etc). Primary schools were tasked as “Opportunity Class” schools. Plumpton High School launched it’s “Teen Mums in School” program (which has lost it’s shine lately). Pre-schools were established, reinvigorated, and raised up from being “day care centres”. And a few schools were set up as integrated support schools. (This mirrored education reform across the state of NSW – but, the Western Region of the NSW Dept of Education had boundary adjustments, and the performance of schools in the Mt Druitt area has remained under the magnifying glass of politicians, journalists, and the Department of Education itself).

We attended a succession of play-groups with the children over the years – all of which were “mainstream” “Playgroup NSW” playgroups. Nothing special there! But great opportunities for social interaction for Mum, Dad and the kids (including things like “Santa on a Harley”)! And the wonderful “my kid is better than your kid” moments that inevitably crop up.

Our daughter attended a fantastic “day-care/pre-school” – about the time BTB Fan was born. Then the money got tight.

Her and Guitar Hero Addict both attended a couple of places the following year (the year of Princess P’s 4th birthday) but they weren’t much good – so they both ended up being taken back out. Princess P drove us absolutely nuts for the whole of 2006 – she was pre-reading for at least a whole year, chafing at the bit, demanding more and more attention, stimulation… while Rebecca and I had an evolving Aspie coming along at full steam.

Princess P started at our local school – the one we are “in zone” for – the year of her 5th birthday. She was 4 1/2, well developed socially, but hadn’t actually attended “real pre-school”. She was reading by the time she was 5 (in July) and fitted in fabulously. I understand that we wouldn’t be able to enrol her if she was turning 5 this year, they have bought the cut-off date early.

The following year, Guitar Hero Addict attended a state pre-school, 2 1/2 days per week. Rebecca dropped him off, and picked him up, with BTB Fan in tow, every session. About this stage we started asking “interesting questions” about our youngest son not reaching “development milestones” at about the same chronological age as his siblings. Our GP said he was too young for us to be worried, but my SIL’s and MIL continued to prod us, and our doubts were there.

I enrolled him in a couple of different day-care places to see what their opinions were: basically they were too busy sucking up to parents to make sure their numbers stayed good to bother observing kids, this was about the time of the ABC Childcare collapse.

At the end of the school year 2008, Bec and I fronted Guitar Hero Addicts’ pre-school and I said “if BTB Fan is to start school the same age his sister did, he needs to go to pre-school in 2009”. At that stage he was 3 1/2 and we were proposing he enrol in Kindergarten (in a mainstream class!!!) in 2010.

The pre-school director said “he’s not coming here without a letter from your treating paediatrician telling us expressly what support services he requires. He is being seen by a paediatrician, isn’t he?” At this stage he wasn’t but that changed pretty quickly.

(By the way, the Director was right on the money: while they did a fantastic job with Guitar Hero Addict, they were in no way equipped to handle BTB Fan.)

We went and saw a paediatrician. He referred us to people. We talked to people. We enrolled BTB Fan in a mainstream, public pre-school. While all this was going on we settled Guitar Hero Addict into Kindergarten. Somehow his sister taught him to read, we think by about April. By about this time, we found an early intervention pre-school run by a church in our area. We worked out that it would be best to plan on two years of pre-school, four days a week. He also saw a speech therapist one day a week. We got onto the early intervention pre-school through recommendation both from the mainstream pre-school which initially accepted an enrolment for BTB Fan, which was endorsed through word of mouth from the mother of a neurotypical classmate at Princess P’s school.

At the start of 2010, we had Princess P heading into 3rd class at the same school that Guitar Hero Addict was heading into 1st class at. This school is a “Reading Recovery” school – which means every kid in the school gets small group time dedicated to reading, for at least one hour per week. Both our children were “off the reading syllabus” (ie: reading at or beyond Year 6 / 12 year old level) by the time they were 1/2 way through 1st class. So, the key subject area isn’t really doing those two kids much good.

Princess P spent 1/2 of 2010 having 1/2 the morning session devoted to learning Samoan – due to the inclusion of two refugees from the Pacific Tsunami. Again, “nice” but… her maths was lagging behind.

But in all, for us Westies, it was a great school… for our two eldest. But a great school targeting educational needs which we pretty much see as “irrelevant”.

There’s the history lesson and intro! Onto…

“Choosing” a school!

Late 2009 I started asking “how do we find a school?” It is one of the questions that bought me to Autism United! Two of my first blogs here covered “The path till now… Diagnosis & pre-school placement and Finding a “Big School”. Rebecca and I sent e-mails. We went to meetings. Eventually we had our son assessed by PECAT (who said “wish we’d seen him last year”).

They wrote a very specific report. BTB Fan’s Early Intervention Pre-School also wrote a very specific report.

We attempted to enrol our son in school, after school, after school. “You’re out of zone, you have to enrol at….” “_____ School has services for children with ______” “You have to enrol in the school you are in zone for” “Enrol at the school that seems to provide the service you need” “Enrol, and the Enrolment Committee will place you at the right location”. We got bamboozled, and confused.

We got a letter (from “the (Western Sydney Dept Education) enrolment committee”) telling us our son would be offered a place at a school we aren’t in the enrolment zone for – but it offers the class we need (an Autism Support Class) within an integrated setting. I took a day off work (sick? RDO? I don’t remember – I needed it and I took it) and Rebecca and I went to cast a very suspicious eye over what kind of hell-hole public education could offer us. At this stage I had already discussed ASPECT schools, ASPECT satellite schools, Autism Schools, etc, to death with all sorts of people (here, face to face with strangers, with work colleagues, with the speech therapist, the paediatrician, the early intervention pre-school).

Rebecca and I were gobsmacked. As she said, we’d won lotto. The grounds are fantastic (and safe, and secure). The extra-curricula activities, for both “with needs” and “mainstream kids” are all what we are looking for (focus on social interaction for BTB Fan, “Real Footy” (Auskick / junior AFL) for Guitar Hero Addict & Princess P). They are responsive to suggestions. They seem to get it. We seem to have been offered a place in a school which is pretty much the holy grail of inclusive education.

But to be fair and honest, it’s too early to actually say that, isn’t it? We haven’t lived it yet. Let’s see what I’m posting at Easter, mid-year holidays, Christmas 2011…

Something tells me, quite a few of our Christmases have come early though.

Reproduced from the now-closed autism united ning website
appologies in advance for broken links

“Sometimes Cat” – by Guitar Hero Addict, 6

He sings this often for us in the lounge room, with his sister. It has grown a bit from the start which was just the chorus.

In memory of Freddy – a cat who never came home.

Sometimes he was good cat
Sometimes he was bad cat,
Sometimes he was evil cat,
Sometimes, sometimes

Verse 1
He was sitting there on the mat,
Sitting there, like a cat
He was the strangest cat in the world

(repeat chorus)

Verse 2
He was the best cat that ever been made,
I don’t know why
You should ask your dad

(chorus x 3)

Reproduced from the now-closed autism united ning website
appologies in advance for broken links

Who says we aren’t kindergarten ready?

OK maybe it’s premature but one thing they look for is letter recognition.

I just sat with BTB Fan as mentioned in a Bookaholics group discussion. And for the first time ever, he’s gone through the whole alphabet without getting distracted by pictures.

I’ve bragged on facebook and started a discussion thread about the flashcards and now I’m making a blog entry. Can you tell how happy I am yet?

Different, not less.

Reproduced from the now-closed autism united ning website
appologies in advance for broken links

PECAT – done and dusted. Now it’s official.

On Sunday I mentioned how we were ready to go to PECAT today. And what a full day it was!

Started out OK but chaotic. By the time we had the other two ready for school, Mum, Dad and child ready to go to PECAT, we were already a little bit behind schedule. So we didn’t really need to go out of our way to put Kate’s suggestion into play: we already had a certain individual rattling off the names of a range of Bob the Builder machinery, along with the suggestion to “GO SLEEP!!” from time to time as we went along.

By the time we were parked at Parramatta Westfields we had 6 minutes to do what we thought was a 10 minute walk. Which turned out to be a 15 minute walk because PECAT is at the opposite end of one of the longer streets in Parramatta than we had thought it to be, and the street names down there don’t make much sense.

We weren’t terribly late when we got in there. But they were ready for us.

Strangely they started the session by talking to mum and dad, but they kept taking notes about what our little boy was up to and totally going off the track of their interview to ask about what he was doing at that moment and if he’s always like that, or something fitting in the situation.

Then BTB Fan and myself went into a room to do some play-based activities. He did a pretty fair job of some puzzles, then lost all interest when we got to language – even with things that mum & I know that he knows (he knows what a cup and spoon are for crying out loud!!). But to be fair – it was 11 o’clock and he was damn well hungry! After how many years at university these people assess a 5 yo boy who hasn’t had his recess yet?

Final outcome: Psych and Paediatrician have a bit of a pow-wow and come back with a stunning set of revelations:

BTB Fan is autistic, is recommended for an Autism support class, and we should get him tested for Fragile X Syndrome.

Bec said that it was all she could do to hold back “well, DURR!!!” at the news.

In all, the whole thing took from the time we dropped off two kids at school, until it was time to pick them up again. Hopefully this is what Dept Education needs to give BTB Fan what he needs.

Reproduced from the now-closed autism united ning website
appologies in advance for broken links


As I’ve already mentioned, picking a daycare or pre-school for your ASD child can be made more difficult if you have already been through the process of selecting one for a neurotypical child.

The thing is, it seems like picking a “big school” – which in NSW a child should be enrolled in for Kindergarten during January or February if they will turn by the end of June – is even harder again.

Chances are you already assume that the school your elder children are going to won’t know how to handle a kid “on the spectrum”. Even though most of them seem to have kids with some amount of ritalin-controlled ADHD, and doctors tell us that ADHD is “one aspect of the spectrum”, aspies or “asd” kids don’t quite fit in!

And anyway, if you have any doubts that your aspie or asd child will be able to assert themself in a mainstream kindergarten…. well, you aren’t in a hurry to go there are you?

It’s traumatic enough for “normal kids”.

Thankfully in NSW at least a lot of information is on the internet. Somewhere. You just have to find it, of course! A lot of what is there can be found on the state governments’ schools website, specifically the supporting students section which includes Disability Programs and Behaviour programs. It seems these two programs do actually overlap: but past experience from children of friends shows that not every school is all that great at putting them into practice – such as schools who see time-outs as appropriate responses to kids on the spectrum who would like nothing more than to be put in a room by themself, with a shiny spinny toy, for the whole school term.

The problem is, “the department” expect you to “trust their experts”.

Here I am wanting to know: is my son right for Regular Classes, Support classes in regular schools, or will he need a special school?

So off goes an email to the relevant contact person(that’s email btw). All I can say is the response is “we’ll get back to you”.

I’m one myself, so I’ll give the public servants a bit of a break. I told them already that I won’t let them take too long. I’m not happy to leave it all in the laps of a faceless “regional placement panel”. If a website can say “Placement subject to regional placement panel procedures”, then why can’t they show us the procedures?

Give me the procedures, and I’ll get off your back. Even if the procedure is “the worst x kids go to ABC school, the next y kids go to DEF school, and the rest take their chances….” – then just tell me.

I even had one admin lady (yes I guess she’s an overworked, non-specialised) in one of the schools we’re looking at say “oh, your pre-school will sort all that out”. How much will that help me when I go to enroll BTB Fan in Kindergarten in October and they’ve never heard of him??

Reproduced from the now-closed autism united ning website

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