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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Oscar’s Haircut at Little Locks

I try and find the joy in the everyday, well, every day, because that’s what make up life; the little things. But if you follow me at all on social media you will know that this week we’ve had what might be a little thing to many, but to us is a massive cause for celebration.

Oscar’s autism hasn’t shown us too many sensory issues as yet, at least not those you may recognise as typically autistic. He’s OK with sound and pretty cool with new places and crowds. If anything he’s under (hypo) sensitive to things like pain and he looooves to run. But one thing he can’t stand is very typically autistic. He hates, and I mean hates, having his hair cut. We’ve found a way to get him to have his hair brushed (just and only on a good day) and his nails clipped, but despite trying any number of things we just couldn’t get him to have his hair cut.

Oscar hates having his hair cut

Oscar hates having his hair cut

Then at the end of last year a new salon opened in Haslemere. A specialist children hair salon, Little Locks was set up by Hannah Clements and her family. Hannah has many years experience in salon management and her niece, the lovely Georgia, is a fully qualified stylist, specialising in children’s hair. It seemed like a no brainer that the two should come together and open the kind of salon Haslemere was clearly lacking. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I found out Little Locks was opening just down the road from us. We’ve tried various salons over the years and, except his first two haircuts, they’ve all been pretty disastrous. We’ve tried having stylists come to the house, including friends he was familiar with, and even I had a go at loping bits off here and there but it made no difference. I got the feeling that if we could get him slowly used to the notion of a haircut, this might help. So when Little Locks opened I decided to discuss my idea with Hannah.

The Little Locks team couldn’t have been more understanding. Hannah’s son is also autistic, so she knew the angle I was coming from straight away. She told me one of the reasons they had decided to open a children’s salon was because as a family, they were acutely aware of the need for sensitivity around something as potentially anxiety inducing as a child’s hair cut. The salon on Weyhill is a large airy space, with a choice of cool chairs (Bat Car anyone?), TVs at every station, with a huge choice of DVDs to watch and a play area. But the thing that impressed me the first time I went in was how open and calm the environment was. One of my big dislikes about other childrens salons I’d been in was the amount of stuff everywhere. Hair products, toys and books to buy. Pester power purchases for some parents, but needless stimulation for my guy. I’ve also been put off other salons by how geared towards girls the decor has been. Little Locks has avoided this, with beautifully gender neutral decoration, and toys (to play with not buy) and cool touches designed to appeal to both male and female customers.

So at Hannah’s suggestion we started the process of familiarising Oscar with the salon back in January. Initially we just popped in to play. And he loved it. Then we made an appointment just for him to play with Georgia, all of which he happily did. He still wouldn’t even let her brush his hair though. This carried on regularly for eight weeks. We got to the point that he loved going in there. He would talk about the salon at home, he would even ask to go to ‘Haircut’, but every time we went in, he would refuse to have anyone touch his hair and just wanted to play. Usually with their train set!

Oscar loves the trains at Little Locks

Oscar loves the trains at Little Locks

Despite all the haircut episodes of cartoons we were watching (I particularly recomend Dora and Team UmiZoomi!) and the amount of children he’d seen having their hair done at Little Locks, I started to worry. Had I gone over board with the ‘letting him get used to it’ shtick? Would he ever understand that Little Locks was a place to actually have a haircut, and not just to play?

Things have slowly come to a head over the past few weeks. We are going to Devon for his birthday/Easter holiday this week and his hair was getting so long and so heavy over his eyes that he actually couldn’t see properly. I decided I was just going to have to take the horse by the reigns. Even if I was going to have to pin him down, he had to at least get his fringe cut. It was starting to be dangerous to leave it any longer. So I made him an appointment on Tuesday. Hannah and I found a time when the salon would be as quiet as possible and they booked an extra long time slot for him.

The morning of the appointment I drew him a very basic visual timetable, explaining he was going in the buggy, to Little Locks, that he would have his hair cut ?? and then he could play with their trains ? and go to Dylan’s for ice cream?. He was NOT happy with this plan, but we went over it several times and I calmly explained that while I knew he didn’t like it, that it was going to happen. When it came to leave we went through it again and he screwed up the timetable, but got into the buggy without a fuss. The fact that he did that, I hoped bode well for the rest of it.

We arrived at the salon without incident and he immediately tried to run to the toys. I gently explained that these would come after the hair cut and led him over to the chairs. It became quickly apparent that he wasn’t ready to sit in the car chair alone yet, so we headed to the other end of the salon to the more grown up chairs and he sat on my lap. Georgia set up Ben and Holly (Oscar’s choice) on the DVD and I held on tight as she started on the fringe.

Yes he shouted (a lot) to begin with, and squirmed but nothing like as much as he has done on previous attempts. Last year he struggled so hard I pulled all the muscles in my back trying to hold onto him. This was nothing like that. Yes he didn’t like it. And that’s ok. Once he realised that this really was happening he focused on watching Ben and Holly, laid his head on my chest and stopped wriggling. With just an occasional protestation to ensure we still understood he wasn’t enjoying the situation!

Georgia worked quickly and thoroughly giving him as neater a style as she could manage without needing to get too close to the ears or to use the clippers. One step at a time after all. She was even able to use the thinning scissors to take some of the weight out of his hair. As soon as she finished, he jumped down and I stripped his tshirt off to ensure we got rid of as much hair as possible (as I thought trying to get him wearing a gown was probably a step too far yet). And we were done.

He looked AH MAY ZING darling!

A super smart boy plays with the long awaited toys

A super smart boy plays with the long awaited toys

We ran and found the trains and the toys and he played happily. He even found a box of deelyboppers the salon use when they host one of their popcorn and pamper parties and put one on!!! This from the child who would refuse a hat in the depths of winter! He laughed, he showed us toys, he even asked to get in the Bat Car and had great fun ‘driving fast’.

DeeleyBopper time!

DeeleyBopper time!

"Drive fast mummy"

“Drive fast mummy”

Afterwards Georgia and I were both genuinely a bit emotional. All that planning and perseverance and patience and here he was like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I was full to the brim with pride and gratitude. Georgia told me that it’s times like this that make her job worth doing and that really touched me.

We let him play for a while and then I explained it was time to go and without question he got in the buggy and wolfed the lolly Geogia gave him. I left feeling so proud. I felt like everyone on the street must be able to know by looking at him what monumentous event had just happened in our lives.

So I want to say thank you. To all the team at Little Locks for baring with us all these months and never making us feel anything less than welcome. To Georgia and Hannah for being patient and caring and truly understanding what we needed from you.

And to Oscar. I know you didn’t enjoy it my darling. I hope playing with the trains, and the magazine, the Rocky Dog, the ice cream and the Rocket Ship I got you on the way home helped make up for that. But thank you for trusting me. And making me feel like what I do for you, everything I do for you, is worth it.

My beautiful blue eyed boy

My beautiful blue eyed boy, with his smart new hair.

 

 

 

Thank you so much to Hannah and the team at Little Locks Haslemere. I know your business will go from strength to strength. I was not paid to write this review and I paid for Oscar’s haircut with my own money.

You can book an appointment with any of Little Locks stylists on their website. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram

 

 

A Cornish Mum

 

 

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