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.

Specialist or Mainstream School? – Our experience

Specialist or Mainstream School? – Our experience

At 7+ my husband and I spent a huge amount of time researching the various schools in our area to find a mainstream school that would be supportive of Jasmine’s special education needs.

We settled on a wonderful school with a Christian ethos, a nurturing and pastoral approach and most importantly, an in-house Learning Support team comprising 4 full-time support teachers. We felt this would be the right environment for her and best of all, she would have access to a team of specialist teachers that can help her.

The school was indeed lovely and Jasmine made some great friends however, the reality was that the school taught classes in a style that was appropriate for 90% of the class but Jasmine, as the only dyslexic child in her class, struggled with.

The underlying assumption is that by Year 3, all the children can read so every subject required reading passages of text either from the board or from handouts and books. This of course was a struggle for Jasmine. In addition, she found it difficult to keep up with the pace of the maths, her handwriting though greatly improved was still labored and she found it difficult to complete her in-class assignments within the allotted time. Furthermore, she felt stigmatized when withdrawn from class for specialist teaching.

The specialist 1 to 1 tuition that she was given amounted to 60 minutes of extra support per week, which did not seem to have any impact at all. In addition to this extra help in school, I supplemented outside of school with extra therapies to help the combination of symptoms that dyslexia and dyspraxia bring. This meant that Jasmine was having 3, 4 sometimes 5 extra sessions of occupational therapy, vision therapy, handwriting etc. A HUGE amount for a 7 year old.

Jasmine was very aware of the fact that she was bottom set in all subjects, that she was given “easier homework” and that she needed extra “special classes” and would often comment on how sad she felt being different to everyone else. In this time we witnessed Jasmine’s confidence and self-esteem plummet and she began to complain about stomach pains. After several tests and hospital referrals, we were told she was experiencing anxiety symptoms.

Talking to other parents who are further along on their journey, I’ve come to understand that the gap between the dyslexic child and other children in terms of results in a mainstream school tends to widen as each year passes and school becomes more and more difficult. My husband and I decided to see what other options there were.

Our paths have led us to a wonderful specialist school called Fairley House. The children are taught in a completely multi-sensory way and all of their additional therapeutic needs are incorporated into their school day.

Jasmine started there last week. She has an extremely customized individual education plan and all her therapies are included into her plan. We do not have to do anything else outside school.

Its early days but she comes home excited to do her homework, she regales me with tales of how they were taught maths by making pizzas and how it’s wonderful that she is “just like everyone else”.

I hope this is the right place for her.

I hope she will be happy.

I hope that her confidence will return.

I hope she will come to understand that she is special.

I hope.

More about our experiences at the specialist school to come.

In the meantime, checkout this very interesting article about making the choice between mainstream or specialist schools.

http://independentschoolparent.com/choosing-a-school/special-needs-mainstream-or-specialist-school

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A confidence boosting extra-curricular activity

From the age of 3, I signed Jasmine up for various activities that I thought she should do – activities her friends were doing, activities I was convinced she would love and indeed excel at.

So she did ballet, gymnastics, Tennis and violin lessons.

I had many reports from the teachers about day dreaming, lack of concentration and a lack of interest. Her gymnastics teacher phoned specifically to talk to me about her poor balance and coordination. At tennis lessons, she would sit in the corner and act out. My husband would spend minutes trying to cajole, negotiate and ultimately bribe her to take part. After 2 years of violin classes at school, she was still only really capable of playing a few notes.

We endured many Saturday mornings of screaming and shouting that she did not want to go to the planned activity, even though she had agreed to do the class at the start of term.

At the time we could not really understand what the issue was – these were classes that many of her friends and peers were either doing or talking about doing and in some instances, she had asked to do them. We concluded that she was simply naughty and acting out.

Its only now that I understand that these classes required a level of coordination and concentration that she just found too hard. Tennis, gymnastics, ballet and violin all require a tremendous amount of hand-eye coordination, balance, sequential thinking and concentration. All things dyspraxic and dyslexic children struggle with. Unable to articulate her frustrations, she resorted to acting out.

Now I am totally guided by her interests in choosing activities. I want her to enjoy her classes and to feel that she is able to excel (by her definition of excellence not mine).

This new direction has been fascinating. I have come to realize that Jasmine is a great story teller (although she struggles to write them down), a confident singer, a fast runner but above all, absolutely loves fashion design. I (and all our family and friends) have nurtured this love of fashion wholeheartedly with wonderful fashion themed birthday and Xmas presents. There are so many amazing fashion design toys, sketch books, apps and kits available now – its amazing.

In addition, she does a fashion class for 2 hours every Saturday where she has been taught to use a sewing machine and to make simple designs from patterns. I’ve been so delighted to see her come home with cushions, blouses, skirts and Xmas stockings that she has designed and made from scratch. I’m currently planning a fashion themed 8th birthday party for her on her insistence.

It is interesting – its absolutely common sense that we should be guided by our children’s interests and strengths however, the reality is many of us have our own vision of what our children should be good at, what they should do with their time and later on, what they should do with their lives. I was so so guilty of this.

Letting this all go, and choosing to be guided by Jasmine has been fascinating. I’m so very curious to see where our journey will lead.

Jasmine with her sewing machine and tools.

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Comorbidity

Comorbidity

I learned a new term this week – comorbidity.

Officially the term means co-occurence of two or more different disorders in the same individual. With regards to specific learning difficulties, this often means that children with dyslexia may have symptoms or characteristics of other learning difficulties that are related such as dyspraxia, dyscalcula and ADHD.

There is a lot of research out there about this and essentially the overriding conclusion is that about 1/2 of children with dyslexia will experience comorbid deficits. The diagram below shows the typical comorbid overlaps. Comorbidity is apparently the norm rather than an exception!

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Jasmine has a mix of dyslexia and dyspraxia (also known as DCD) symptoms, some characteristics are very dyspraxic in nature such as her working memory challenges, her anxiety and phobias and her coordination and sequencing challenges; whilst others are very dyslexic in nature such as her reading and decoding challenges.

What has become abundantly clear in all this, is that applying a “standard” dyslexia learning solution for Jasmine will just not work given her interesting blend of dyslexia and dyspraxia (and lets not forget the ASD type characteristics!).

This is all very fascinating indeed however, I still come back to the question that keeps me up at night: what is the optimal blend of learning strategies for her?? And linked to this, should this be delivered in a mainstream school, specialist school or mixture of the two?

I can’t say I know the answer to this.

The quest continues.

See below a link to a very interesting and simple video about comorbidity.

http://www.dystalk.com/talks/57-dyslexia-dyspraxia-amp-overlapping-learning-difficulties