I gotta be honest: the only reason I am blogging now, right this minute, is because these little falling snowflakes I installed on my blog (they are nifty, n’est-ce pas?) are going to vanish tomorrow.

*spreads hands, looks conscious*

And I will be stuck in the chair all bloody night typing this, because it’s one of those posts that’s primarily a diary entry for me because my memory’s totally shot to shit these days, so I shall doubtless waffle on unfunnily for 2000 words, and I really quite fancied a soak in the bath this evening. Damn it.

(***Tedium and Schmaltz warning*** It’s 2284 words, and all I talk about is Christmas and Assessments and Which School To Choose? There will be honest-to-God gory reproductive trouble featuring here soon, honest.)

If you’re still with me after such an unpromising start (it doesn’t get better, sorry!): I hope you have had a very Merry Christmas indeed, and that your New Year is looking promising. My festive season wasn’t all it could have been, to be honest, for many and varied reasons – not least among them that heavy snowfall pissed most copiously over every single plan I had for the pre-Christmas fortnight. But not that it mattered in practical terms as my plans were essentially pre-saturated with the yellow stuff anyway: Harry came down with (what we assume was, as it’s currently the dominant strain and knocking kids about particularly hard) H1N1 Oinky ‘flu on the 15th. Poor little chap, he was terribly poorly for 5 days, and a long way out of sorts for another 5, not eating a vaguely normal-sized meal until Christmas Eve.

It wasn’t the easiest or most rest-filled fortnight; I had forgotten just how much Harry has developed and matured over the last 18 months – and naturally, he completely lost his grip on the greasy rope of Sensory and Speech progress, and shot helluva long way back down into febrile fretting. The poorly piglet was constantly 39+ degrees, and only shifted down a mere degree when Calpol-ed. Screaming and crying with communication frustration every few minutes, hitting us when we couldn’t understand him, frightened of cups without lids, caressingly obsessed to the point of pain (mine) with the skin tags on my inner forearms… good times. Then John caught it, albeit an attenuated form, just as Harry got over the worst. 

But my, Harry enjoyed Christmas. Nearly as much as I enjoyed blowing truly legendary amounts of Santa-related smoke up his arse. Despite being robbed of much of my planned festive build-up, he nevertheless managed to extract maximum enjoyment from present-wrapping (although his ideas on secrecy were sketchy, and keeping the details of his chosen gift to Daddy quiet consisted of him issuing John with an urgent, saucer-eyed ‘Shssssshsshshshh!’ before portentously whispering ‘Hat!’ – followed by a final ‘Shsssssh’ for good measure), tree-decorating (I let him do three branches before ordering bedtime, stat, as his haphazard bauble distribution made my inner purist all itchy) and carrot-chopping (attention all reindeer: top-quality sustenance provided at Hairy Towers). 

Christmas morning, he jumped into our bed as usual about 6am, having apparently forgotten about the whole thing (he generally stumbles to his potty around 1am so I had placed his pillowcase discreetly. 1am on Christmas Day is an inauspicious time to fall over presents and begin festivities).

Me, solemnly: ‘Did you hear Santa’s sleigh land on the roof last night? He had jingly sleighbells!’ 

Harry, reminiscent of Fawlty Towers’ Manuel: ‘??!?’

Diffidently: ‘Has he left any presents in your pillow case?’

Frozen gaze. Faintly: ‘Zanter!’

Small form slithering off the bed and a thunder of bare feet stampeding back into his bedroom. A brief silence, before the feet returned at top speed, empty-handed, vaulting back onto the bed.

Excited exclamation: ‘Yes!’

Suppressing the memory of indigestion: ‘And has he eaten his mince pie and drunk his milk?’

Repeat of frozen-gaze, thundery-feet thing. Return of the thundery-feet, even, if possible, faster than before. Vault.

Incredulous bellow: ‘YES!’

At which point he wriggled under our duvet, seemingly not having connected that the presents were, in fact, presents.

I enquired sleepily if he would like Daddy – I am not daft, btw – to fetch his pillow-case through so he could open his presents in our room?

Sudden frantic foot-proddings at John: ‘Daddy! Airzuntz here! Daddy, out! Teeze! Out! Daddy! Airzuntz! Here! Daddy out! Teeze! TEEEZE! Airzuntz!’

 And so it went on. And it went on so successfully, in fact, that when he eventually learnt that ‘Zanter’ would not be coming again until next Christmas, it ended predictibly in several episodes of tears, and stolid refusal to accept the truth. He was cheered momentarily by the promise of a handful of presents still to trickle in from outlying friends and relatives, but these latecoming gifts were not without their attending embarrassment: Harry tugging on the givers’ trousers immediately after unwrapping his gift and urgently requesting ‘Moar airzuntz teeze! Moar! Teeze!’

I haven’t blogged here much about his improving speech, as my joy would likely render me wearisome on the topic; my lack of words has been directly inversely proportional to his. Not that it is unalloyed satisfaction as such; his syllable range is still limited and his pronunciation is execrable. Instead of failing to make out individual words, we are now struggling with a flow of impenetrable sentences, and Context Is Everything.

He is discernably improving day-by-day, however, so we are very hopeful that by the time he starts school in September he will be able to converse more intelligibly.

 I waited until we had the results of his developmental assessment before deciding that Harry will be going to mainstream primary school, as opposed to moving upwards from nursery at his current special school or attending the local specialist language unit (attached to a primary school in a pretty damn mediocre part of town, although he would likely be taught in Year 1 by a lovely friend of mine), although we have left his name on the language unit shortlist for the time being. The assessment process is gargantuan, and despite being finished in practical terms, we won’t officially know until late spring if Harry has a formal Statement of Educational Need or not – but the Educational Psychologist (I accord her Capitalisation happily, she being a thoroughly clever, exceedingly non-woo-woo soul who was complimentary about my parenting – never hurts to flatter the mother, I suppose – and charmed to bits by Harry) quietly tipped me the wink that it was 95% certain that he will; his language skills as they currently stand represent a significant disability.

Harry’s special-needs nursery staff, the Ed. Psych and I have written the educational side of his assessment; for the health side, he has attended an assessment nursery 2 mornings a week for several weeks so child development advisers, physiotherapists, speech therapists, and clinical psychologists could all have a good butchers at him. (His Paediatrician was supposed to be involved but never materialised – our three month recall from our June appointment has, yet a-bloody-gain, not happened, and I need to chew someone about it.) 

I forget why, but I was in a stonking bad mood the day I was given Harry’s clinical psychology questionaire to fill in – possibly because I had discovered that parents are not invited to the whole final case-review meeting, as apparently the terminology can sometimes be confusing for them (!) and are trotted in for a 2-minute precis at the end. (You will be unsurprised to learn that after some dust-beneath-my-chariot-wheels type phone calls, I was present from the beginning of Harry’s.) Anyhoo, they gave me an Achenbach questionaire, most of which was fair enough, but about 20% of the questions drove me absolutely potty. I could, in all cases, broadly see what the question was trying to elicit from me; I merely took very marked exception to the semantics, including the US vocabulary, which was so pronounced as to actually skew the meaning of one or two questions to a non-cosmopolitan UK reader. I decided at first to play dumb, but finally, incensed by the projectional nature of ‘Does your child play with his private parts too much?’ (italics mine) I began to annotate, expostulate and comment madly over the whole tick-one-box-only document. They blinked a bit when I handed it back. 

Of course, I’d forgotten about my liberal daubings by the time the actual Clinical Psychologist tipped up the next week to formally assess Harry. Said CPsych was about my age, and, thankfully, a delightful and exceedingly acute chap, who wasn’t phased by my miffedness, and concurred that several sections could be better phrased. He then proceeded to give Harry what I thought was a very fair developmental assessment indeed (Griffiths Scales) although Harry, aggravatingly, failed to complete some of the very easiest tasks as his own imagination was supplying Better Instructions. I asked at the end how Harry did, and was vaguely concerned when CPsych explained that he’d stopped giving in-the-session broad-brush feedback, as he found it was easy to be distracted by high levels of co-operation from the child, and be misled into thinking the child had performed better than they actually had. Given that Harry’s co-operation had actually been pretty hit and miss, I had a nervous fortnight waiting for the case review meeting.

 The upshot of which was: Harry has a honking great expressive language delay, which is resolving. The physiotherapist reported Harry as having balance issues, hypermobility and low tone (Finally! A physio who isn’t blind!). I have some exercises now to help improve his core stability, but apart from that, his high activity level renders him his own best physiotherapist. The Child Development Advisers and School Fabulous all reported him as… well, pretty normal really. Cognitive skills good. Fine motor skills excellent. Happy playing alone. Initiates play with others. Enthusiastic. Social. Likes to be first: bit pushy. Has difficulties transitioning, and needs visual timetable and prompting to move him on. Concentrates very well when motivated. Flitty butterfly when not.

And I knew all that already, with the sole exception of the comment made by the centre Speech & Lang therapist, who thought Harry was very facially impassive when playing, but lighting up hugely when pleased. Sharp eyes: I watched him afterwards and she’s quite right.

The CPsych said he was a little undecided on how to score Harry’s Griffiths assessment, because he approached several of the sections very unconventionally, and it was unclear to him (although not to me!), due to Harry’s lack of speech, whether it was an issue of not understanding the instruction or simply wanting to do his own thing. He eventually scored him sternly at absolutely average for his age – Harry was 39 months, and scored 39, 40 or 41 months for every section – but gave his opinion following observation that Harry was cognitively above average.

Which was reassuring to hear. No-one can tell me, at the grand old age of 41 months today, odds on whether he will have difficulties with reading and writing or significant concentration issues, but this assessment process is the best thing I have to build the assumption on, that Harry is not looking like a strong candidate for significant educational special needs at present. Which is important, as the abilities of our local schools to meet a severe special need vary. Although meeting a Statement is a legal requirement for a school, individual funding does not necessarily accompany the Statement, as schools are already allocated a set sum for ‘educational’ special needs. This topic is a minefield, which I do not fully understand, by any means. I do not even appreciate yet if managing Harry’s language delay will essentially convey a financial penalty to a school – whether, essentially, they must rob Peter pupils to pay our Paul. The smaller the school, the smaller the overall pot available to rob, certainly.

Our catchment, closest, primary has the highest exam results in the whole county, although I’m not a huge believer in exams as a barometer. The atmos in the school is lovely, and I know several other (satisfied) parents well. The parents are predominantly wealthy villagers, or reassuringly scruffy isolated rural types like us. We were very impressed with the Head, who took a good deal of time to meet with us and address our concerns about Harry, so all in all, you’d think it would be a no-brainer for us. But we had to meet with the Head, because our first show-round resulted in a distinctly less-than-encouraging conversation with the reception teacher, who made a number of verbal mis-steps with us – although we interpreted a couple of them rather too severely, I think with hindsight. The school is tiny and the building itself very old, with several sets of steep-ish steps. The parking isn’t fabulous. I haven’t met with their SENCO. They are our only local school not to have a dedicated nearby (closely adjacent is an awfully good idea aged 4!) reception class toilet.  

Slightly further away, and with significantly evil parking, is another excellent school, a much bigger school. A richer school. Harry is just starting a split-placement in the mainstream nursery there, and loving it. We are a little out of catchment, but Harry’s statement could have gained us priority access. I don’t know the Head, except to nod at, and have heard mixed reports of her, but I know their wonderful SENCO. They have outstanding facilities: laptops, whereas most other schools have PCs. Finger-print technology (!?) for borrowing library books. Excellent Ofsted report. They have the odd set of steps, but not as many or as steep. They even have one of those rare and precious beings, a youngish, presentable, genial male teacher.

Whichever one he goes to, Harry will, in fact, receive a first-class education. It’s so close to call that John isn’t really bothered either way. I have – I think – made up my mind, and I must register him by 17th January or be in Heap Big Trouble. He will go to Catchment School that boasts the best exam results, the lovely atmos, the slightly worrying teacher, the steps he will brain himself on, and the Pennine Way to the toilets. I hope I’m doing right.

I have such frivolous, first-world worries, it’s very nearly embarrassing.

20 Responses

  1. I can’t believe you have to worry about these things already! In another year and a half, I may have to move to the proper school district, should I ever be able to find it. But my girl will be almost 6 by then. Crazy.

    Glad you had a Merry Christmas (minus the flu episode). Happy New Year!

  2. They really are nice snowflakes!

    Cognitively above average … oh, wow. When Harry was still struggling to acquire speech (beautiful to say “was” there) it seemed clear that he had so much going on inside his head that he wanted to say. But how delightful to have his own words affirm it, and then to have a qualified stranger opine so…. I am so happy for him, and you, and John.

    Nedless to say Harry wouldn’t be any lesser if he weren’t able to speak, or if he were significantly cognitively impaired rather than advanced. But how lovely it would be to slice through the Gordian knot of a whole set of other potential troubles. (Sorry, purple prose)

    I thought for sure you would say you had decided on the second school, as your description seemed so much more positive. No judgment from me implied either way, but I’m curious what tips you toward School 1. Of course, that might not be bloggable…

    Also, sorry to hear there is still gory reproductive trouble to discuss! Was hoping your fairly positive look-see would wave a sort of magic wand for you.

    • *beams*

      Ehhh. Schools. Well, if Harry looked like he would require a significant amount of Special Needs input, I would send him to the bigger (?250-odd kids) school, as they could cope with the financial implications of providing extra help for him rather better. That’s not to say the the small school (?90-odd kids) can’t cope with SN; they have a profoundly deaf child and a child with severe autism, but both those children have their own individual teaching assistants – which Harry’s difficulties are not severe enough to warrant.

      But as I say, I’m making a best-informed-as-I-can-be & hopeful guess that his special needs won’t be a dominant factor in his education – so I can afford to take things like peer/friendship groups, travelling times, location, religious status, and oh, I dunno, gut feelings into account. The school just feels like a better fit for all our family, old-fashioned library and computers notwithstanding.

      Of course, I also watched the Head from the bigger school call a raffle at their Christmas Fayre – and couldn’t get silence to do it in, which made an impression on me, plus I got a slight ticking-off from another teacher for parking somewhere Verboten. Their parking is truly diabolical.

    • And, of course, I, as a scheming mother, have a careful and judicous eye towards Harry’s future lovelife. The current reception class of 15 at the small school has 12 girls in it, and the older classes are all double year-groups, so he will spend a number of years sharing a classroom with them.

      Joking aside, I think it will be good for him to grow up with a strong local network of female chums. I view them, rightly or wrongly, as less of a risk factor than boys!

      • Ha ha! Girls are good. And your other points make a lot of sense. Thinking about schools is a brave new world for me–until now it has been “what daycare can we get into & how much time is available there?” but next year I will be learning quite a lot about this, I suppose… Regardless, as you said, it is fantastic that your options are both essentially very good ones. Can’t wait to hear more.

        I don’t know if you read Julia but her recent entry on school parking really struck a nerve with a lot of commenters–myself included!

  3. The test results sound very positive, and the school plans. Your little boy is growing up!

  4. I may be wrong, but I think you’re making the right decision. Things like laptops and fingerprint library book checking are things that schools wheel out but in reality make little difference to the school. If anything laptops in a school are a disaster because thy break more easily!

    • Yes! Fingerprint technology does not a good school make.
      We did, in fact, look at a third school, a little further away, and with significantly poorer exam results and Ofsted reports (although, in context, still above the County average) because we were told by every professional we encountered that their SENCO was one of the Midlands’ leading teachers. Harry, we hope, will not need to rely on an outstanding SENCO, but our trip clearly re-inforced the impression we already had: that our two closest village primaries are both exceptionally good schools. Lucky us.

  5. ’Zanter!’

    I just died of the cuteness.

    A very happy New Year to all at Hairy Towers!

  6. If you want the biggest expert in the entire world at navigating the Special Needs funding/allocation/helper jungle, you could do no better than to PM my FB friend Sian J, she knows absolutely everything in the ENTIRE world.

  7. Sorry about the swine flu. We all had it and distributed it to our nearest and dearest and it was GRIM.

    Lovely to hear about great progress for Harry. From your description I would be heading straight to nearest village school until your comment above that post Reception they are taught in double year groups. My experience of this at both ends of the spectrum (friend with extremely bright kid and sibling with very young for year plus some minor SENs kid) has not been terribly positive. May just be teachers who cant cope plus a system not geared up to dealing with for eg just 5 yr olds and just 7yr olds at one time unlike Montessori for eg. but that was the thing that gave me pause.

    Do agree though that laptops, fingerprints etc would not sway me. The Head though is super important IMO – totally influences the whole school.

    • I may be a little influenced by the fact that I went to a school virtually identical to this one, and was taught in double year groups. Because we were considered bright, my best friend and I were moved up a year early, ahead of our peer group – although it was a social disaster for me because they immediately split me from my friend, and my young 5 and their sophisticated 7 didn’t mix awfully well. But HEY! I survived!
      In practice, a school with 90 kids just can’t run single year groups, the money isn’t there. The trade-off for it is that first 12 months, when there are only 15 kids per teacher plus a part-time teaching assistant. Let’s hope the teacher warms up to Harry…!

      • Ah 15 in a class – that is fantastic! Our school is a 4 form entry so more in Reception than your whole school. Mind boggles really.

    • As someone who has worked in education for a really long time (and I’m not ‘fessing up to exactly how long), any teacher worth the name can and does cope well with multi-age groups. The most rewarding time in my career was the four years I taught a grade of 36 children spread across Grades 3 to 6. It would take a case study to tell you how brilliantly it worked and what it did for those children but I left convinced it was the best way to teach.

      My personal experience meant that I actively sought them out for my own children on that basis and I have never really understood the negative light in which they are often seen. And yes, I know, one experience does not a summer make but my understanding and context is much broader than the single example I am talking about.

      As it stands, schools are the only place in society where where we lump people together on the basis of a birthdate. True learning comes from the sharing of the combined experience and skills in a group. And it comes faster, usually.

      And we should always keep in mind – do we want them to get an education or do we want them to learn? And no, they are not the same thing.

      I’ll get off the sodding soapbox now.

  8. Bastard Swine Flu. Damn it to heck.

    But the rest of this post made me smile and smile. Oh, it’s so good to read hopeful, lovely things about an improving Harry chattering away and having to chose a nice normal school for him and watching him leap and bound forward and to know he’s cognitively All There and actually, really rather bright (yay! Yay yay and double yay!). I am all grinning and very slightly tearful.

    Happy 2011!

  9. It’s very interesting how your description of Harry suffering from swine flu bears an extremely distinct resemblance to my 36 year-old, consultant husband suffering from swine flu!
    Harry is so precious. We all knew that anyway, but am very pleased that he seems to be heading in the right direction.

  10. I have to say I was sure you were going for school 2, particularly becuase of the SENCO. Precisely because Harry is not going to get a special one-person help statement, but he clearly is going to need some support to get the best out of school, particularly in the first couple of years, I would have thought the SENCO was a gift too positive to turn down. Agree that fingerprinting and computers are not the deciding factors.

    I know it’s an amazing relief to have confirmed what you already knew – that he is cognitively fine and just needs help with acquiring language, and am so pleased you’ve had such a thorough and professional review.

  11. Sorry to hear about the swine flu. That sounds awful.

    I don’t know the location-specific details about the schooling that you write of, but I can understand and relate to a lot of your struggles with choosing the “right” place for Harry. The truth is, nobody really knows what he is capable of (probably more than the “labels” say) and the best placement is one that gives him the most opportunity to thrive and grow. I’m sure you’ve made a brilliant choice.

  12. I have followed your blog for quite some time now, tending to be a lurker, not a commenter. However, I think at this point I’d like to comment a bit. In my pre-retirement life I spent a considerable number of years working as an educational psychologist for a large government administered school for children and youth with visual challenges, and as well acting as an itinerent resource for all schools, special and regular stream in that province who needed assessment of their visually impaired students.
    I feel so happy that you were allowed to participate fully in the final assessment review meeting and that the people who did the professional assessment were experienced and astute professionals. Also so pleased that ONE: your concerns about developmental issues were finally heard, and TWO: that with attention directed to his needs, Harry is coming ahead by leaps and bounds I think you have made the best choice for now regarding the next step in Harry’s education. Least restrictive environment is the key word here, and of course, integration is the next key word. An Educational Plan is an ongoing process as the child in question moves on up in age and schooling and is reassessed regularly.
    Be alert to any complacency as to Harry’s progress and any slowness in discussing causes for concern with you the family. Perhaps the most difficult concept for educators to deal with is that a child may be at a normal level in terms of cognitive abilities, but due to other issues connected to the handicapping condition may not allways be able to benefit from his cognitive skills.
    For example, I have seen several bright kids with serious impulsivity issues labelled as behaviour or acting out problems that said child could control if they wihed to do so. Have also spent many hours discussing this concept with teachers who were more than capable in other areas but just couldn’t get their heads around this concept.
    Best of luck with the first steps in Harry’s formal education. I know you are his best advocate!
    And a happy ‘flu free New Year!

  13. I’m also thrilled to read this. And laughing at his expectation that Zanta should come back again quick smart. My view exactly Harry!

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