Why I’m helping the PTA

raffle-tickets

People chuckle and tell me I am good for getting involved. They may surreptitiously raise an eyebrow at my keenness to join the PTA and help with this event or that event. I mean my son’s only been at the school five minutes and here I am helping with the raffle, helping with the bonfire, helping with the committee, attending every PTA meeting so far this term.

But honestly, and though I tell people it is, none of this is for me. All of this raises money for the school. And the truth is I, we, owe the school so much. Oscar’s Autism meant deciding where to send him to school, was one of the most stressful decisions I’ve ever had to make. But so far, I’ve yet to be proved that the mainstream school we chose was the wrong decision.

The school are due so much more than I can ever give them. In just this term alone, Oscar’s speech and behaviour and understanding and capacity has out and out exploded. And that’s not something I’ve done. Not something I could have ever done on my own. It’s a mixture of everything they’ve done for him and with him. Their patience, their insistence that he be included.

Yes I get involved. Yes I do my bit. Yes I raise funds. Yes I give back.

But no matter how much I do, or raise, or give to the school, it could never be as much. Not nearly as much…

As they have done for us.

 

School Update

So yeah I guess I should update about Oscar’s school situation! It’s been a while. But for the longest time it was so up in the air. To be honest it’s not exactly ‘firmly on the ground’ now, but it’s got one foot on the floor and that’s good enough for me at the moment!

So if you remember it was agreed a while ago that Oscar should have an EHCP (an Educational Health Care Plan, the document that replaced the old Statement of Education) due to his diagnosis of Autism. We were thrilled by this decision, as this (legally binding) document sets out the support that he will need, to get the best from his education. Super! It also gives us as parents some heft when it comes to deciding which school he should go to. Fabulous, but this is a huge responsibility. And stressful. I mean what if we get it wrong?

Anyway, that aside, to enable us to try and make the right decision we looked at some specialist schools and some mainstream schools. We knew the ones we liked, the ones we loved and the ones we couldn’t stand. And we passed that info onto the local authority. Some of which was ignored. I think that was the hardest thing. Having to rely on people who weren’t doing what we expected them to do. Several times I was given details of organisations to go to for ‘advice’, when all I really needed was for someone to just do their job properly.

Eventually we were offered the specialist school we (for a myriad of reasons) couldn’t stand. And despite some efforts on their part, the LA just couldn’t get him a place at the specialist school we really liked. And do you know what? That actually helped clarify our minds, more than they had been for a while. Our Plan A had always been to send him to our first choice of mainstream school, one just out of our catchment, but one we felt could give him everything we wanted. And when we got offered a place there, I cried. Being able to put the specialist school question to bed (for now, everything is always ‘for now’ with children!) actually felt so good. I took that as a sign that, for now, this is the right thing to do.

So now we know where he’s going! Woohoo! We have discussed his EHCP with the school and they are totally on board with it all. There is one issue we are jointly going back to the LA to try and amend, and as this involves money it won’t be the easiest argument (because it will be an argument), but I feel like someone’s got my back now, like I’m no longer shouting into the ether. And that’s fantastic.

And when people ask where he’s going I can finally reply, straight up and positively. And that feels the best. I think because we’ve had to faff around for so long over getting his place confirmed that actually I don’t feel as upset about him starting big school as maybe I would have done had it been straightforward.

Now, if I could just get over how sad the thought of buying him black shoes makes me 😭

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The crossroads at which we stand

I’m finding it hard to write anything lately. Slimming World updates are OK, because they are about a thing, they’re structured and easy to formulate. My head, not so much.

At the beginning of the year I really thought stuff was changing for the better. I felt positive for the first time in ages. We had decided to throw caution to the wind and go ahead and build our long awaited kitchen extension, which made me happier than I can explain (or understand to be honest) and Oscar’s progress continued to be phenomenal (to us). We’d definitely decided which path we wanted his education to follow and had applied for schools, along with everyone one else. I joined Slimming World and Yoga and started to take some time for me. Ben was doing the same to great effect (taking time for his own mental wellbeing, not joining Slimming World!) Yeah, in one way or another, everything felt like the path ahead was clear.

Then all of a sudden everything isn’t clear any more. The extension is proving a much more difficult and expensive proposition than we envisaged and has made us question whether it’s actually worth doing at all. We’re getting more quotes to be sure, but if it really is going to cost that much then maybe it would be better to move?

And then there’s Oscar (and there’s always Oscar ?). We had a terribly negative meeting with his team two weeks ago and for the first time it’s made me doubt my choices for him and worse than that it’s made me doubt myself. And I’m not just having a wobble that’s going to be solved with a pat on the back, a high five and a ‘you follow your instinct girl’. In fact it’s more than a wobble (why do we play this shit down?) it’s a cannon shot. It’s winded me and knocked me off my feet completely. I no longer feel what I’m doing is the right thing. And that is petrifying. Even when you don’t really know, but you have that gut feeling, it’s ok. But that’s gone. And that scares me more than anything. It also makes me so angry. How dare anyone make me question whether what I’m doing for my son is right! But they have.

So all this has conspired to throw life back up in the air again. We’ve started to look at schools again, something I had assumed we were done with. Having never felt it was so, perhaps specialist schooling would be better for him. I seriously don’t know anymore. All I know is I want him to be happy. And for me never have to sit through a meeting like that again. I think we’re going to look at more schools less to find him a place but more for my own self assurance. I’m happy to come away saying, ‘ok I was wrong, this is better’. But really what I’m looking for is to come away saying ‘do you know what? I was right!’ Because at the moment I can’t feel either.

And then there’s the house. If we can’t get the extension done, our small house remains small and that raises the question should we move? And if so to where? Can we afford to stay round here? Do we want to stay round here? Do we need to stay here?

I feel like as a family we are stood at a giant crossroads. That there are so many paths we could take, in a way I haven’t felt before. It’s frightening yes, but in a weird and probably masochistic way, it’s almost exciting.

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I’ve found myself listening more and more to 90s indie lately. I think partly it’s because it’s familiar, partly because it makes me happy, but partly because it makes me reminds me of a time in my life I felt powerful and sure of myself. Something I need reminding of.

Also some of it is loud and a bit shouty. Just like I’ve always been ?

The 90s Indie chick who knew where she was going.

The 90s Indie chick who knew where she was going.

The choice is mine, apparently…

Blackboardwithchalktray

I went to look at a primary school yesterday. The first one I’ve been in, since I was a pupil of one! Oscar’s needs, moving forward are obviously going to be a bit different from your standard pupil (not that I actually believe there is such thing!). But either way, I need to look at school options and I need to start doing it now (or depending on who you speak to I should have been doing it ‘ages‘ ago). Anyway, in order to abate some of the panic that was rising, I made an appointment to go and see a school. Just to have a look. Just to start the process.

You see when I was a child you went to the nearest school. You didn’t have a choice. In fact I lived in a village and we really didn’t have a choice. You went to Balsall Primary or you went private, but that meant serious travelling. And no one really questioned that. The school was good. Hell I thought it was great, but the decision to go there was not really a decision at all. It just was. However today, even in a small town like Haslemere, there is a serious amount of choice, of both state and private schools. Add to that the possibility of specialist provision and I suddenly find myself on the end of what feels like an enormous decision. I know all parents today have more choice in primary schools than, for example, my parents did for me but the process of viewing and deliberating and worrying seems to come down to either what you can afford (if you plan to go private) or what you’re offered (if you’re not). Or am I over simplyfying? At the end of the day you can lust after a state school all you like, but if they don’t offer it to you, even after you appeal, you don’t get it. Your choice is taken into consideration, but really that’s all it is. A consideration.

When you have a child with Autism, the system is different. And I mean very different. We’ll park the weight of responsibility I feel to get this decision “right” for a minute and talk about the process. We have just started down the road towards possibly getting Oscar an EHCP or an Educational Health Care Plan, or what used to be called a Statement. This process in itself is mind boggling complicated and takes months and months of preparation, including assessments by Educational Psychologists and the involvement of many other agencies. The back and forth and back and forth again (and if the stories are to be believed, again and again…) should, if all goes well, result in a legally binding document that means as a parent I can send Oscar to ANY school I believe is best for him. It also means that school has to provide the support he is legally entitled to. I’ll have all sorts of advice, from various assessments and agencies, to listen to and the professionals tell you it’s important you heed the advice. But then experienced Autism parents tell you that, really no one knows your child like you do, so trust your instinct when it comes to choosing the school, mainstream or specialist. Panic rising again!

Anyway, back to the school I looked at. It was a mainstream school, out of my catchment area, but one that’s given me huge amounts of hope. Its also made me want to look at other mainstream schools to see if they are all this attuned to SEN needs or if this really is a stand out school. The head also gave me some really useful advice about dealing with the ‘county’ and what I should be doing right now in order to get his ducks in a row for next year. She didn’t sugar coat how difficult the next year might be in terms of bureaucracy, which I was actually incredibly grateful for.

So today, as per her encouragement, I made a raft of chasing calls and I kept a log of who I rang and what was said. I was dismayed to hear that he STILL hasn’t been assigned a speech and language therapist, despite being on the list for over a year and a promise six weeks ago that sessions would start in July, but not surprised. I had a good conversation with his Early Years Advisor and found out that his preschool notification has definitely been issued. That ball is well and truly rolling.

So I’m feeling slightly more focussed now. I need to make appointments to go a see other schools, including some specialist schools. At least we can’t afford private, so that narrows the field a tiny bit. Every cloud! Once I’ve looked around some more schools, I’m hoping it will mean I can listen to all the advice and trust my instinct. The panic has abated.

For now.

Sons, Sand & Sauvignon