The Comic Breakthrough

The Comic Breakthrough

20 mins of reading a day is what is stipulated by the specialists and school.

Truth be told, after an hour and a half on the school bus, completing maths and spelling homework, the last thing she (or I for that matter) want to do is sit down and read painfully for 20 minutes.

Why I’d never thought of it, I’m not sure, but comics are a great light reading that still delivers on this requirement.

Growing up some 35 years ago I remembered reading comics ( Archie, Betty & Veronica anyone?), collecting all the annuals and then trading them with friends.This does not seem to be quite the craze it was with our modern kids thanks I guess to iPads, YouTube and social media.

On an recent flight, I grabbed a Beano comic at WHSmith along with a few fashion mags for me. I was so impressed and delighted when, unprompted, Jasmime opened up the comic to read and remained transfixed for 30 mins solid!

I think I may have just found the solution to our tired evenings when reading is a chore.

I’m off to research what the modern day Archie comic equivalents are so I can stock up in readiness.

Fussy Fussy

Fussy Fussy

I realised that I don’t often mention the dyspraxic element of Jasmine’s learning difference as often as the dyslexic. This past few months, her fussiness with food has been driving me absolutely crazy that I thought it a good time to talk about it.

To say Jasmine is fussy with food is the biggest understatement. She is UBER fussy. But it’s not just the usual fussiness about not wanting to eat fruit or vegetables or demonstrating a preference for sweet vs savoury. It’s actually fussiness about the subtle tastes and textures of certain foods. For example, she hates things that are mashed because she cannot bear the sensation on her tongue and she can detect the slightest changes in taste in any food.

For the last few months we have had battles about a particular Cabonara pasta sauce she has eaten for years. One day she just refused to eat it claiming that it tasted different. I argued, insisted, showed her the packet that was exactly the same as it had always looked, but she stood her ground. Out of interest, I found a picture online of the ingredients of the “old” packet and compared it to the ones we had in the cupboard. She was actually right – all the ingredients were the same apart from the inclusion of onion powder in the “new” recipe. How she could discern the subtle taste / texture difference is totally beyond me, but she could.

Jasmine has been very sensitive to many things since she was a baby: the sound of a lawn mower or hoover would cause her to freak out for instance and to this day, she cannot bear certain fabric textures against her skin. She  also has a host of irrational fears, the worst and most disabling is her fear of dogs. She has panic attacks, heart palpitations, sweaty hands – all the classic “fight or flight” tendencies when she sees dogs which makes life quite tough (going to the park or just walking down the street can sometimes be a challenge!).

All of these are apparently typical dyspraxic charracteristics (in addition to the motor coordination challenges).

The problem with the fussy eating though is that it can, as with all things, be manipulated by the somewhat smart child and Jasmine definitely does try it on. Over time however, I have come to understand her sensitivities and know when she is being manipulative or indeed, when she really can’t bear to eat something. I have learned to be accommodating but also to stand my ground.

She is very fussy and it drives me absolutely mad, but I take comfort that with this sensitivity and fussiness comes a love for the unexpected – she loves and will try lots of different types of fruit (grapefruit anyone?) and will happily eat the oddest things that I would expect her to hate – sushi, celery, mince pies, feta cheese, olives, clams ….

So whilst her diet can be odd and perhaps a bit random, it is certainly balanced. I take comfort in that.

The power of Affirming words

The power of Affirming words

The dyslexic child is so used to finding things difficult at school that there is a tendency to avoid things that could be challenging, find the easy option, guess or indeed avoid trying altogether. In the case of the latter, this is often accompanied with the words ” I can’t do it”, ” it’s too hard” or ” I’m terrible at comprehension”.

I don’t think I’d ever really thought about the fact that Jasmine had become so used to saying these things, sometimes accompanied by tears, until one day when we had a full-on scene with tears and drama that it all came spilling out. I realised that I needed to do something to try and break the cycle of negativity.

She was essentially telling herself that she could not do things and I could see how disabling this negative psychology was on her. She would literally just sit there paralysed.

The reality is that with some of the tasks, she could do them if she thought them through or broke them down into little steps. In the vast majority of cases she could give the task a good go.

I saw a wonderful clip on Facebook of a man who was in the habit of standing side by side in the mirror with his daughter daily, speaking affirmations and encouraging her before waving her off to school. He said things like:

I am brave
I am smart
I can do anything I put my mind to
If I fall, I will get up
If I fail, I will try again
I am blessed

I was so inspired by this very simple, yet so very impactful practice, that we do this now – before homework and also before school in the mornings (if we are not running late that is).

I also found a poster which I’ve put up too which we often look at and talk about. Picture attached.

Affirmations really do work!

“Below Average”

“Below Average”

So at the start of each new term we get an individual education plan (IEP) for Jasmine that lays out the specific areas of focus for the following term in maths, reading, spelling, writing etc.

The IEP always has some statistics at the top – essentially, scores in each area compared to the national average.

My heart sank to see “below average” for reading, comprehension and spelling and “average” for maths. That crushing feeling of disappointment, that I am so used to, came flooding over me.  I thought the whole reason she is in a specialist school is so that we start to see movement on these figures and signs of progress. How is it with all the intervention that she is still ” below average”. And if she is still below average, surely over time the gap will widen, how will she ever catch up?

After 2 very sleepless nights, I arranged to speak to the SENCO to understand what these results mean and indeed, what my reasonable expectations of progress should be given Jasmine has specific learning difficulties.

It turns out that over a 4 month period she was tested twice and in maths her scores ranged from 73 ( well below average) at first testing, to 87 ( good average) at second testing. So she had actually made good progress in maths.

Their methodology for testing reading and comprehension was slightly more involved but she had improved by a small margin of “5 months in reading age”. This does mean that she is still over 2 years below what is considered average reading for her age so she is still very much behind. That said, I’m happy that there has been some progress and as she is dyslexic, this is typical of her profile.

I was told by the SENCO that the dyslexic profile is such that often there will be prolonged periods of plateau and then suddenly there will be a spike when certain concepts have been truly consolidated.

I feel reassured today.

The problem with these national average scores is that they are one dimensional reflecting a static point in time. Understanding where you’ve come from is so critical and in my case, knowing that there has been progress ( a lot in maths and marginal in reading/comprehension) is so important.

I’d be lying if I said I was not concerned about her reading age still being so low, but I have to trust the insight and experience of the experts when they tell me to persevere, repeat, repeat and repeat 10 times again as that is what will ultimately push her out of the plateau to hopefully a spike.

A spike… wouldn’t that be wonderful?

So that is our current target.., pushing forward towards a spike.

It’s a journey, I’m constantly reminded of that.