Cat McGill

Family Day

It’s six years since T joined our family. Lots of families mark the anniversary as ‘coming home’ day (I have even heard gotcha day which makes me cringe) but that doesn’t feel right for me. T had a home before he came to live with us; it wasn’t the safe, nurturing environment that it should have been, but it was still his home and I don’t want to erase that. This is a particularly significant year for us, as T has now lived with us for more than half his life, longer than he spent with his birth family. In some ways it feels like now is the start – like we’ve done our best to balance out his early years and now we can build from here. There’s a part of me that can’t help trying to rationalise things; maybe once he’s been with us for twice as long as he was with his birth parents, maybe that will be enough to make the difference? It’s not about us being a family, because we already are; it’s not about trying to erase his past, as that would be doing him a huge disservice; but if I could wave a magic wand and take away the fear that permeates every waking minute of his life then I would do it in a heartbeat. We will celebrate today; we’ll celebrate for us because T has brought so much joy and laughter into our lives, and enabled us to grow and learn

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Magnus Chase and Wagner’s Ring

Alex has previously resisted reading out loud, so when they appeared in my bedroom last week jigging up and down with excitement and desperate to read one of their favourite books to me, of course I said yes. It’s a Rick Riordan book, the first in the Magnus Chase trilogy, which is based around the characters and stories found in Norse mythology. (I now know a lot more about the world tree than I previously did.) That was last week; Alex read aloud, endlessly, while I crocheted. The audiobook version is 15 hours long and that’s about what it took us I reckon. We finished the first book yesterday and of course all Alex wants to do today is start the second one. 🤦🏽‍♀️ However before we did that I decided to take a slight detour and look at the story of Wagner’s Ring Cycle – we’d already listened to Ride of the Valkyries last week but I’ve never actually looked at the cycle as a whole. To Alex’s delight it seems that there’s a fair bit of crossover between the Ring Cycle and Magnus Chase – the gods have slightly different names but we were able to match them up to their Norse equivalents, and we found certain features in the story of the ring that have been lifted directly into Magnus’ story in the second and third books. (Alex was literally bouncing up and down with excitement at this point.) THEN I discovered that Opera North have recorded

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The Da Vinci Curriculum

I mentioned briefly at the end of my last post that Alex and I had just started reading The Da Vinci Code together. I chose it originally because I thought Alex might tolerate a bit of maths, if I snuck it in at the appropriate points in the story, but it’s actually given us so much more than that. We’re nearly a third of the way through the book currently (Langdon and Sophie have just discovered they can’t get into the American Embassy) and here are some of the things we’ve covered so far: We did do the maths (hurrah!) – we learned about the Fibonacci sequence, and looked at some examples of where it’s found in the natural world. We learned about ratios, and about phi, and measured different parts of our bodies to see how close to perfect they are. In the book, the Fibonacci sequence first appears as an anagram, so we did a bit of that too, just for fun. We then wandered down a bit of a tangent into codes and cryptography (seeing as that’s Sophie’s job) and learned about various types of cyphers. I had quite a lot of fun writing coded messages for Alex to decipher in order to find their Easter eggs, and it kept them entertained for quite a lot of Easter Sunday too! The brilliant thing about all of this is that Alex doesn’t even realise they are doing maths – problem solving, pattern recognition, and we’ve even just started

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Finding our feet

We’re getting there. By my reckoning we’re approaching the end of week 4, and we’re starting to find things that seem to work. I’m being deliberately vague, as there’s still a voice in the back of my head that says it’s not ‘working’ yet because we’re not doing regular hours on regular days, but I’m doing my best to ignore it. Yesterday for example, we read four chapters from two different fiction books, studied the famous ‘elephants on acid’ research and talked about ethics of using animals for science experiments, and discussed LGBT+ history and in particular how terminology has changed over time (including what has needed to happen in order for those changes to occur, and how they have impacted Alex’s generation) as well as quite a lot about binaries, categorising things, and whether you can represent the human experience using the numbers 1-7. We had a mini session on languages and tried our hands at Welsh, Swedish, German, and Spanish, and designed some cover art for the podcast we’re planning to start to document our Home Ed journey. Today, by comparison, it’s nearly twenty past four and we’ve managed a grand total of one short walk.

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The difficult second week

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sat down to write and re-write this post. This week has been *hard*. I think there’s a belief amongst people who aren’t teachers that the hardest part of the job is dealing with belligerent children all day, but it’s really not. The hardest part is dealing with the systems, the culture, the expectations placed on you by society, the government, whoever it is who happens to be writing education policy that day, or the particular member of senior management who decides a school-wide writing policy is the thing that’s really missing from my Year 8 music lessons. For me, the hardest thing about teaching isn’t the children – it’s the adults. This is apparently true even at the School of Mum and Dad. Alex is not the problem – it’s me.

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Fostering Flexibility

When I was re-jigging my website recently I came across this ancient blog post from 2014, which was called ‘Fostering Flexibility’. I wrote it way before I ever starting thinking about autism in relation to either Alex or myself, but it was very interesting to look back on with this new information, and has been interesting to read again today, in light of my earlier post! Here it is in it’s entirety: “In Alex’s school at the moment they are having a ‘Reading Challenge’. The rules of this challenge are: read to an adult, get the adult to sign your Reading Record, and when you have a signed record you are allowed to put a tick on the chart in the classroom. If you get a certain number of ticks in a week you get some extra playtime on Friday.

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Oh, the tired…

Oh gosh the tired. It’s to be expected, I suppose. Here we are, in the midst of a global pandemic, both kids at home, trying to run a business AND home educate a teenager AND provide on-tap therapy for a traumatised pre-teen who is getting really fed up about being left with dad all the time AND look after myself and make sure I have enough time to rest and recuperate, because by the way my list of health conditions is nearly as long as my arm… it’s feeling like a lot today. In fact, it felt like a lot yesterday too. After two reasonably good days where Alex and I managed maths, English, and BSL together, I could barely open my eyes yesterday morning. Alex was looking equally as thrilled at the prospect of starting the day off with maths again, so I suggested we ditch the plan and do some art instead. Which is all very well and good, and it’s great that home-ed lets us be that flexible, but I’m not sure I could get away with that every day..!

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Day 1

I wasn’t really intending to blog daily about this, but today has been a bit of a shock – in a rather unexpected way. I was completely unprepared for how exhausting *I* would find it. I figured it would be a bit tiring, but I was definitely not expecting it to be three-weighted-blanket tiring. It took me a good half an hour lying under my duvet-and-three-blankets before I could even tolerate anyone being in the room with me – unfortunately for my husband, who chose that moment to try and ask me a question about something. I’m still not sure what he wanted.

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Educating Alex

For the second time in two years we find ourselves at the end of February half term, poised and ready to take on a new type of schooling tomorrow morning. The first time was when we’d made the move out of mainstream, hopeful that an online version of ‘normal’ school would be enough to help Alex manage the varying challenges the education system was providing. At first it was going pretty well; no crowds, no noise, no navigating your way around an environment that was nothing short of sensory hell for my autistic eleven year old – however it soon became obvious that school is school is school, however you access it, and that the problem, in fact, was school.

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Autism, functioning labels, and we’re all on the spectrum

Many people are under the impression that autism exists on a linear spectrum, going from not-at-all-autistic to extremely-autistic (“Oh we’re all a bit on the spectrum, aren’t we?!!”).  Autistic people are given labels that put us on a scale from ‘low’ to ‘high’ functioning. Most autistics I know aren’t that interested in the idea of lining ourselves up in order of who is the ‘most’ autistic (much as we may enjoy a nice orderly line) so effectively these labels are just a shorthand for professionals. This idea of graduated difficulties can be useful in some situations, and is essential under a medical model – for example an A&E nurse responsible for triaging patients needs to know that a broken leg is more severe than a sprained ankle. However, is it really appropriate to apply the same kind of scale to something that is simply a difference in how we are wired? Is there a risk that the use of functioning labels could mean people who are seen as ‘high functioning’ have their struggles dismissed or ignored, and people who are ‘low functioning’ are presumed incompetent and unable to communicate, when that may not actually be the case?

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