Sunday 13 January 2013

A Little Bit Dyspraxic

Last year we started the process of getting Sam observed by medical professionals to see if he was considered dyspraxic (or having Developmental Co-ordination Disorder, the new term for it), and to get him (hopefully) some Occupational Therapy help with his hand - he's unable to make a pincer grip without it causing him pain and discomfort which means he holds a pen in a rather unusual manner.

One of the problems with dyspraxia is that it is difficult to diagnose - so many symptoms of the disorder are very much part and parcel of being a six year old boy: clumsy, lacking focus, disorganised etc.  This is Sam in a nutshell, but throw into the mix the problems with his handwriting, his previous diagnosis of verbal dyspraxia, the fact that he had no real friends and often displayed a lack of empathy, we felt we had grounds to worry.  All of these are classic symptoms of the disorder.

That said, in the year since we started this, many of these fears seem to have been allayed somewhat; in Year 2, Sam started to get invited to birthday parties, he brought home friends for tea for the first time, we heard from his teacher that he was a popular boy in class.  His Year 2 teacher seemed much less concerned that his handwriting was poor, taking the long term view that with the increasing prevalence of computers and tablets in school life, Sam is likely to type rather than write most of his schoolwork.  But his handwriting was still an issue, if only because we didn't know whether he should be attempting to write with the "correct" grip as his previous teacher had insisted on, and if so, how to get around the problem with it hurting his hand.

We went to see a senior OT specialist at the hospital and spent a highly interesting 90 minutes discussing what Sam can do and what he struggles with, and what can be done to help him.  He performed a variety of tasks for her, did some writing and generally chatted away to her in his usual disarming manner.

The headline that I brought away from the meeting was that he doesn't warrant a diagnosis of DCD  as they only give these to children whose quality of life is seriously affected by the condition. (This probably boils down to the fact that a diagnosis has a financial implication somewhere along the line.)  That said, it was recognised that he does have difficulties acquiring new skills that require co-ordination, and to do so will require extra effort and motivation on his (and our) part. So, a little bit dyspraxic.

I did come away with some interesting ideas and tips about how to help him with non-school co-ordination tasks like riding a bike, swimming, and using a knife (to cut his food, not to join a gang or anything).  And I suppose that when he does have a new skill to acquire, we'll have to do lots of research beforehand to find the best way for him to approach it.

What was interesting, and totally contrary to what his Year One teacher had said is that he shouldn't be made to write with a pincer grip, but to be allowed to write in a way that is comfortable for him.  I was expecting to be given fancy pencil grips and OT exercises for his hand to enable him to achieve the requisite grip, but it turns out that guiding his pencil using his middle finger is perfectly acceptable as it is still controlled by the radial nerve.  If he had used his fourth or little fingers to guide, that would have been an issue, as they are there to steady the hand when writing but the using the middle finger is fine.

This leaves me with some irritation at his teacher for making him do something that would have caused him pain and discomfort; as the OT specialist said, it was worth coming to see her just to have this dealt with.  This means we can start working towards improving Sam's handwriting without worrying that we might be making his hand hurt; that fact alone is very reassuring.

If these things follow the same pattern, OT will write up a summary of the appointment and pass it to the relevant parties (GP, school, me) and I'll definitely be hanging on to it for future reference.  Having some experience of the lack of communication between Infants and Juniors, I can already envisage a situation in the future where I have to go and bitchslap a teacher who insists Sam holds his pen "correctly" or a sadistic PE teacher who shouts because he can't throw or jump or co-ordinate a series of actions.  But that is all in the future.  For now, we're in a good place that we can move on from without too much worry.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

2012, the year when absolutely nothing happened?

It wasn't a bad year, but it wasn't a sparkling year either.   From my point of view, no massive life-changing events, no change in status from the end of last year to the beginning of this one, not one event where I can look back and say "Look!  this is what we did in 2012."

I spent a lot of time worrying - by nature, I'm a terrible worrier - and I seem to have spent a lot of 2012 wanting to achieve things but ending up by not achieving much at all. I had great plans last year for doing something that would bring some cash in, but the things I did attempt weren't particularly successful.  I'm a great one for having ideas and then failing to put them into practice, or having an idea and then expecting someone else (Doug, usually) to help make it a reality.  I suppose if I were to make a New Year's Resolution, it would be to try to be more proactive, to actually make things happen instead of doing nothing or being over-reliant on someone else.

However, I did have a good conversation with Doug in December where he made it perfectly clear that me not working suits him down to the ground - no need to check in with me about whether he can go to London for a business meeting, or be away for a night or two, no worries about finding childcare for random inset days or spending all his weekend ferrying kids to and from the activities they can do after school because I am free to do so during the week.  And he is right that it's better for the kids.  I should revel in it, rather than feeling guilty about it and embrace the freedom that I have while I have it.

Unusually for us, we didn't have a big family holiday this year.  We had great plans to do lots of camping in this country; these were put to the sword by the joy that is the British Weather and we only managed a paltry three trips away.  We also discovered that our tent is simply too big to be erected and dismantled for just two nights away, especially as the awful weather has meant I've had to re-erect it in our garden on our return to dry out.  Most of our plans for this next year seem to involve caravans and hotels rather than canvas, either that or buying a smaller tent.

I say that nothing much has happened, but life goes on - the kids have grown a bit more, moved up another year in school and generally progressed as children are wont to do.  I recently found a photo of Jacob taken about 18 months ago and was struck by how much he has changed.  Here he is in July 2011:-

And here is again, back in September 2012, looking about 13:-

I know the glasses make a difference, but I'm still shocked at how much older he looks.  My little baby boy is growing up fast :)  (Sam, on the other hand, looks exactly the same in photos taken in July 2011 as he does in ones I took last week!)

One thing that has happened this year, and it's quite a biggie, is a startling change in lifestyle for both myself and Doug.  Starting on the day that the kids went back to school in September, we both went on a diet, and in Doug's case, exercise regime.  As of just before Christmas, he had lost 3 1/2 stones and I'd lost 2.  Obviously we've lapsed over the Christmas and New Year period, but it's back on the straight and narrow now that all the turkey and chocolate has gone, back to food diaries and calorie counting, but we're both looking forward to it now that we know we can do it.  Both of us feel so much healthier, we're sleeping brilliantly and are fitting into clothes that we haven't graced for several years.

 Naturally, I am deeply jealous of how Doug has managed to get running with the C25K programme, but can't bring myself to go running, no matter what.  So, starting once the kids have gone back to school, I'm going to be heading off to the pool a couple of times a week and will be working on the swimming version of C25K - a couch to a mile programme.  Coupled with the 90 minutes of walking a day I do with the dog, I'm hopeful this will make all the difference to the dieting process.  We shall see.  Having had a late night last night, I'm not feeling particularly disposed to make good on my idea of going for a family walk today, so not the best of (re) starts!

The dieting has also led me to be rather more proactive in other ares of life - I've done the last bits of decorating that the house really needed and have been annoying me for nearly six years, since we moved in (two rooms completely repainted and finishing touches added around the house).  I've collated all my half-started and half-hearted craft projects that have been cluttering up the house.  I've finished one of them already (socks!) and have re-versioned another for starting later today.

But one thing that definitely didn't happen in 2012 is that I didn't write on this damn blog quite as much as I should have!  Maybe this will be another thing that I get round to in 2013.....

Sunday 23 September 2012

Specs Appeal

I'm very short-sighted (around -9 diopters in each eye, to be precise) and I first had to wear glasses when I was 7, in the first year of Junior School.  I'm not quite sure how short-sighted I was at that point, but enough to be given glasses and to have to wear them all the time.

Doug also need glasses, but unlike me can actually function without them - I tend to walk into large objects like houses and land masses if I'm not wearing mine.

So when Jacob announced last year he was having slight issues reading the board at school, we marched him down to the opticians straight away.  At that time, there was only a slight prescription and not anything that warranted correction, but he's just been back for a sight test and his vision has deteriorated enough to warrant glasses.

At this point of time he doesn't need to wear them all the time, just when he's in the classroom or watching tv/playing on the computer at home.  And for reading, obviously.  But not for playing or in the playground etc.  We'll go back in six months to see the Optician for another eye test and to see how he's dealing with wearing glasses.

He's very excited to have them.  And being Jacob, he chose a very cool pair of specs :)

Sunday 26 August 2012

Dinner for four

I'm not entirely sure whether this is the norm or not, but we have previously found ourselves firmly in the "two dinners" camp i.e. I cook something for the kids at around 5pm, and then something else for me and Doug at around 8pm once the kids were in bed.  This fitted neatly into our lifestyle - we didn't really want to eat the same food as the kids day in day out, and Doug didn't get home from work until 7pm anyway.  We did try other options i.e. me eating with the kids and then Doug reheating a plate of that or cooking for himself when he got in, but that didn't really work. So two dinners it was.

A couple of things have changed recently.  The first is that the kids' bedtime routine has changed entirely and they're going to bed much later, which means that eating after they've gone to bed is no longer an option.  The other thing is that they're both becoming much more adventurous with their food tastes.

I was once told that kids should "acquire" all their tastes by the age of 18 months and that you should aim to expose them to as many different foods as possible.  And if you don't want to expose your children to the amount of salt and sugar in pre-packaged food, this means cooking it yourself.  However, I also found that there was a direct link between the time taken to prepare food and the likelihood that the kids would reject it out of hand.  So, by and large, the things I made out of recipe books specifically for children, the Annabel Karmels of this world, would be met with a "don't like that."

That's not to say that the boys have had a boring diet of chicken nuggets and chips - they would surprise me occasionally with the stuff they'd eat (last summer, the pair of them polished off Doug's smoked fish carpaccio in a restaurant in Italy), but I was always a bit wary of giving them "adult" food, mostly because I dreaded the possibility of creating a battlefield over food.  I try very hard not to get cross when they don't like something I've cooked, but it can be particularly trying at times, especially if I'm tired or a bit out of sorts.

However, I do think I'm getting to grips with the sort of things they'll eat or won't eat, and I'm getting quite good at guessing which of "our" regular dishes they'll take to.  They've always liked things like stews, rich pasta sauces, and mildly spiced things like kedgeree and korma/tikka type curries.  So recently I've tried things with stronger flavours - pork porkalt is a total winner, and they've enjoyed chicken basque and all types of stir fry.  They've loved "proper" beef bourguignon and stews with less savoury flavourings (redcurrant sauce etc) and Mexican food (fajitas, tacos, quesadillas, enchilladas, you name it), and when we go out for lunch or dinner, they love going to Chiquitos, Nandos and Wagamamas.  Chinese takeaway?  That'll do nicely.

I've got a couple of recipes that I think they'll take to (ossobucco will probably be a hit, although not entirely sure about a Risotto Milanese accompaniment, and goulash and stuffed chicken spring to mind), and when I look through the stacks of Delicious and Good Food magazines that my mum gives me, I'm spotting more and more recipes that would qualify as "Dinner for Four."  I know there will still be times when all they'll want for their tea is fish fingers, chips and peas, but that offers me and Doug the opportunity to have something like a hot curry that they're years off enjoying yet.  And I know that there will be things that they'll never like, no matter what, but it is satisfying to get to the point where they're enjoying *and* appreciating freshly cooked and prepared food that is out of their normal comfort zone.

Monday 13 August 2012

Closing Ceremony

After the brilliance of the Opening Ceremony, and the fantastic games inbetween, this was something of a disappointment.  All the more so because I reckon it was only a decent edit away from being belting.

The main problem was that it was a concert featuring different performers, unlike the Opening Ceremony, which was a performance that wasn't about individuals.  When one individual did get up to sing (Macca), everyone groaned - so they were on the back foot from the off by making the Closing Ceremony almost entirely about individual performers. Twitter was full of people slagging off each and every perfomer appearing, with countless moans of "why couldn't they have X or Y instead?"  You can't please all the people etc.

I'm assuming that the line up was confirmed before the Olympics started, when it was all a bit of a worry whether GB would actually be able to put on a decent show, so I can imagine the bookers had a torrid time trying to get some of our big names to appear;  when George Michael said "yes, I'll do a couple of songs, but one of them has to be my latest single", instead of "do one", they probably sobbed "yes please" down the phone at him.

Anyhoo, if you were to give me the licence to change things about and a handy time machine to travel back about a week, I'd make the following changes:-

For me, it was a matter of pace.  It was too long by far and I'd trim at least an hour off the running time.  The stuff with Stomp and Timothy Spall and the Nandos ballet dancers and people sweeping up would go - it wasn't needed, it was just too slow and uninvolving.  The floats going round the stadium really worked, apart from some issues with the sound (the Massed Bands playing Parklife had me in stitches) but Emeli Sande slowed things down way too much.  She got her shot at the Opening Ceremony, she wasn't needed here.

There was some griping that they replayed stuff while the athletes filed in instead of finding new stuff - I suspect this was just an oversight and that the athletes were expected to be in while Elbow played their two songs.  Again, the pace of the Elbow songs was too slow and I'd have shifted them to the end while they extinguished the torch and instead had the athletes filing in to a medley of songs by some of the bands/singers who weren't performing.

I quite liked the Kate Bush thing prior to the medal ceremony, but the David Bowie/Fashion montage would go - it was rubbish, unrelated nonsense and it stuck out like a sore thumb.  Likewise, Russell Brand - he's not a singer and he's definitely not the Walrus.

For me, what worked worked well.  George Michael (new single and all), Annie Lennox and Liam Gallagher all sang their songs well, and I particularly liked things that had an element of spectacle to them - the entrance of the Kaiser Chiefs and the giant rave octopus with Fat Boy Slim in the middle.  Even the Spice Girls on top of their taxis was something to see (if not listen to), and I liked Jessie J, Tiny Tempah and Taio Cruz arriving in their mini Rollers (even if singing that it wasn't about the price tag from the back of one was rather ironic).

And the final bands, Take That and The Who were great.  I like both of them, I make no apology, and unlike Macca, Daltry can still belt out a top choon.

So that's what I would have done.  Made it faster, more of a spectacle, and kept the music playing.  I'm sure there's probably an old showbiz maxim about not giving the audience time to think, and this was the trick that was missed here.

Thursday 2 August 2012

Opening Ceremony

I was a bit worried, to be honest.  I've been to an opening ceremony put on by Britain for a sporting event (Euro 96) and it made It's a Knockout look classy and expensive.  We couldn't match Beijing for sheer scale, so how to follow it?

With creativity, invention and humour, that's how.  And how.

It was fantastic.  I loved it.  The kids loved it (and they stayed up right to the start of the athletes' parade at 10.30pm before going to bed); they didn't get a lot of the cultural references, but they loved James Bond and the Queen, Mr Bean and all the villains from childrens' literature.  And the music!  a soundtrack with some absolutely belting tunes, and even here there was some humour injected (the athletes of Fiji walking round the track to the Bee Gees!).

And there was supremely nice touches - the bearers of the Olympic flag (Doreen Lawrence, Shami Chakrabarti, Ban Ki Moon et al) and the fact that the lighter of the cauldron was not a famous athlete but athletes of the future.  And that cauldron - beautifully designed.

Well done Danny Boyle and Stephen Daltry, well done all those celebs who pitched up to do their bit and WELL DONE all those volunteers who took part and performed flawlessly.


We've wondered for a while now whether Sam had dyspraxia; he's as bright as a button, but anything requiring co-ordination and focus can be a challenge.  He's an absolute whizz on his scooter because he only needs to push it along with one foot and steering on a micro-scooter just requires pressure on the handlebars - but put him on a bike and the combination of balancing, moving the pedals *and* moving the handlebars to steer is too much for him.  Likewise, learning to swim is proving to be a very slow process - some days when he's in the zone with concentration and focus, he does really well, but on a day when he's tired or his hay fever is playing up, it looks like he's got lead weights on his legs as he ploughs across the pool.

As parents, we had observed this without too much concern and a certain amount of amusement - Sam is totally adorable in his clumsy endeavours.  However, last March his teacher raised concerns about his handwriting and his inability to hold his pencil in the requisite pincer grip, and I decided that perhaps we should be more proactive about the whole situation.  I read an article on teaching dyspraxic children and it rang so many bells, it was as if a group of campanologists had taken up residence in the house.

Sam doesn't have all the symptoms listed in the article by any means, and as he's in the gifted group at school for literacy and numeracy, there are no worries educationally.  But if there's one thing I've learned from getting his verbal dyspraxic diagnosed and treated, it's that you have to be the prime mover in getting things done, that you can't expect anyone else to do it for you.  His teacher and the SNC at school seemed a little taken aback that I was going to get a medical opinion, but I see no advantage in dealing with this any other way.

And so, last week, to the Paediatrics Consultants at the hospital.  Who were brilliant.  Sam did the whole series of tests that he did as a 3 year old when his speech problems were diagnosed, and he did them perfectly with a sly sense of humour that obviously delighted and amused the medical staff.  Developmentally, he's fine (which we knew) and there's no neurological problems that they could discover, but they watched him write his name and examined how he held a pencil.  They agreed with the teacher that this is going to prove a problem, that he won't be able to write quickly, neatly or form smaller letters if he continues to hold then pencil in that way.  The fact that his hand hurts when he holds it with a pincer grip for longer than a few seconds is also a problem.

The next steps are for observation - both on our part and on the part of Sam's new teacher in Year 2.  There is then a questionnaire for us both to complete and send off to the Occupational Therapy department for evaluation.  The best outcome for us would be for him to receive OT help with his handwriting whilst in school - I'm perfectly happy to do work with him at home, but having this done by a proper professional in the school setting would be ideal.

This is all very positive stuff.  We haven't been sent away with nothing or dismissed as worriers (which I think the school were inclined to do, to be honest), and any help we can get will be a massive bonus.  In situations like this, the NHS comes into its own, without a shadow of a doubt  - can you imagine trying to do this in a country where you need health insurance just to see a GP?