Category Archives: Uncategorized

How Helping Helps

It’s interesting, if you can detach yourself a little bit, to consider how the notion of having to be helped is somehow shaming. I have felt this myself (you can read a post about accepting help here and a post about what this means for concepts of manhood here), so I can relate to it; knowing with your head that there is nothing to be feared in having to be helped every so often is very different to the experience of it.

However, like anxiety, which is constantly painted in negative terms, there are reasons why being in need, being in need of help, which admittedly, in itself is not very nice, doesn’t have to be seen as an automatically Bad Thing or a Sign of Failure. There is more to ‘help’ than meets the eye.

  • To be a helper is empowering; for children, for example, to help the teacher makes someone important.
  • To be helped, or to ask for help, means that you have reached out, and made a connection with someone else.
  • To help means stepping into an adult role; one where you take on responsibility and decision making.
  • To be helped is to recognise that we aren’t perfect, we have an understanding of our limitations (this is good for not getting too puffed up with unrealistic pride or, even more bluntly, too up ourselves).
  • To help someone else – or a lot of someone elses – is to make a contribution.
  • To be helped means that you courageously give the gift of trust.
  • To help is to notice someone other than yourself.
  • To be helped is to need someone other than yourself.

When I look at this list – and I have stopped here to avoid the danger of merely repeating myself – I can’t quite understand why it should be so shameful. Yes, there is a cost to giving help, to aid; for me, it is a price worth paying.

Otherwise, what else would we be but helpless? To be without help, would be a tragedy.

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Who are Children in Need?

I have yet another criticism to add to my catalogue of bugbears when it comes to Children in Need, it seems. Because Children in Need are in the news, and, instead of the reality, which is:

Under Section 17 Children Act 1989, a child will be considered in need if:

10) For the purposes of this Part a child shall be taken to be in need if—

(a)he is unlikely to achieve or maintain, or to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision for him of services by a local authority under this Part;

(b)his health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, or further impaired, without the provision for him of such services; or

(c)he is disabled,

and “family”, in relation to such a child, includes any person who has parental responsibility for the child and any other person with whom he has been living.

(11) For the purposes of this Part, a child is disabled if he is blind, deaf or dumb or suffers from mental disorder of any kind or is substantially and permanently handicapped by illness, injury or congenital deformity or such other disability as may be prescribed; and in this Part—

Instead, we have visions of Pudsey and Blushes and telethons and auctions and cycling challenges for celebrities. It’s annoying. It muddies the water in the public mind which, as well as being annoying, is deeply unhelpful.

Mind you, that’s not the end of it. On Friday, I met with social workers in a personal capacity, to be informed that my son is now designated a Child in Need. This is true. He is disabled, and he has needs that mean the local authority must make (and indeed, have been making for some years) additional provision for him. For him, it is simple…but somehow it’s as if it is stigmatised; problematized.

Instead of being a statement of fact, it feels like a judgement. An administrative category has become a category.

So let me make something clear. Everyone needs a helping hand, once in a while. And that’s OK.

Things I wish my teacher knew

Who knew that this year, World Down’s Syndrome Day would be such a social media success? To date, the 50 mums video has had 18 million views! If you haven’t seen it yet, please click the link above and share; it’s a powerful piece of advocacy for both mothers and their children.

I haven’t had much time to think about World Down’s Syndrome Day (21st March, three copies of the 21st chromosome, geddit?), other than joining in with the sharing, but luckily for me, I have come great friends who are always willing to share with me some of their ideas on how we can build on the awareness that has been raised, of love and hope, and how, together, we might ensure a brighter future for our children.

A while back, a young teacher called Johnny inspired me when he shared a great lesson he’d done with his class: ‘I wish my teacher knew’. Often it’s the quiet children who hide unplumbed depths of feeling, sometimes it’s the louder ones who put the barriers between you. His lesson showed that there were lots of things that his class wished he knew about them – and the same is true for the children with Down’s syndrome, who, thanks to communication challenges, especially when young, need their parents to advocate for them, to help their teachers to see the things they wished you knew.

Hayley and I have put together a short post, detailing the things we’d love you to know about our children (please follow he link to her fantastic TED Talk.) You can find detailed support and guidance on the learning profile for Down’s syndrome (remembering OF COURSE that every child is an individual and that that 21st chromosome, while obeying some generalities, is expressed in the individual very differently) here.

Natty: I have lots to say. Please listen carefully.

Natty: I behave differently at home

Hayley: in Natty’s case much better, but in some cases children melt down when at home after a day of ‘keeping it all in’.

Nancy: I’d add that Sam is the same.

Natty and Sam: My behaviour is a way of communicating.

Nancy: Sometimes it can mean that health is about to take a turn for the worse. Please, please, please let parents know if you notice any changes in behaviour. When you find it hard to communicate, the adults need to pull together to figure out what is wrong.

Nancy: Strengths are not what we measure in schools.

Hayley: Natty has exceeded all of our expectations; her strengths lie in her ability to swim, dance, bake cakes, make others smile and fart on cue.

Nancy, Hayley, Natty and Sam: It only takes small reasonable adjustments to make children with Down’s syndrome feel included in all areas of school life.

Natty and Sam: We want to be included in all areas of school life

Natty: I don’t want to be glued to a PA. My friends should be other pupils, not an adult.

Hayley: I want to hear about her friendships, not the TA/PA.

Sam: I am very happy when someone else does everything for me.

Nancy: I get very cross when someone else does everything for Sam.

Natty: I want to be independent as I can. Please help me to achieve that.

Sam: I love being the class mascot.

Nancy and Hayley: Being the class mascot or pet isn’t what is best for our children in the short and long term. Treat them like the others; be firm with me and have high – but realistic – expectations.

Natty: Don’t laugh when I am naughty.

Hayley : She’s a great actor and adept at distracting you from the task at hand. Don’t be fooled by crocodile tears, cute turns of phrase and silly dance routines mid-way through maths.

Natty: Ask me to help others, do  classroom chores and have responsibilities.

Sam: Helping others makes me feel grown up. I want to be grown up.

Sam: I want to have and choose my own friends.

Nancy: He’s a friendly and trusting person. He needs adults around him who can show other young people how to be friends with him – don’t take his choices away.

Hayley and Nancy: Please listen to parents. They know their children best.

Reset

I’ve always been a voracious reader. Back when I first joined Facebook (I was relatively late to the party in 2009) I, along with a number of friends, completed several of those ‘how many of these top 100 books have you read’ quiz things, and I was always surprised to see how many of them I actually had. I put it partly down to the fact that for many years my family had no TV (we had one, and then it broke, and failed to be replaced for much of my teens) and partly that I have always liked the action of reading, in the arm chair (feet on radiator if cold) or, even better, in bed (my mum tells me she once asked the doctor what to do about my constant evening reading – I gather there was no useful answer).

Not that I am a great lover of the study of literature. I was convinced for a long time, because of the reading thing, that I would go on to study it, but no. My prime motivator as a reader, especially as a young adult and certainly during my twenties, was to escape. Escape from boredom, familial conflict and the mundanity of hard work into a fantasy-land of neatly tied endings (or at least, another novel), derring-do, high romance, mystery and adventure. The only time I didn’t read this way was during my degree, when I read all the time for study, and it was nice to have a break by doing something different (like hanging out with my friends, telling bad jokes or ranting about feminism and the middle ages).

Today, I find myself in a similar position. With so much to read for my professional life, I haven’t much time or energy for reading for pleasure; this year I have read, in total, three books. In the summer holiday The Last Tudor, another in Philippa Gregory’s series of novels about the aristocratic women of Early Modern Europe, and in this one, Mary Beard’s Women and Power and Grayson Perry’s Descent of Man. I’m fascinated by representations of gender, and how people negotiate their lives through the gendered lens, and, to sit curled into the corner of the sofa, a lamp propped up on a couple of boxes to guard against the failing light, has been a luxury, a pleasure.

Much of the two final books have resonated strongly (I can’t say that I have a great deal in common with the women of the Tudor age, truth be told); I fell asleep last night, mulling over what it means to be a woman or a man, today and in the past, and what the insights of Mary Beard and Grayson Perry might mean to me now as a woman and a mother of two boys (as I am no longer a class teacher, I can’t claim to have any influence there). I thought about how, somehow, I am an ‘other’, emotional, illogical and just plain weird (I’m not even a proper teacher any more) and men, in particular the men at the top of the patriarchal tree (that is, white, male and middle class), somehow, are not.

They are, as Grayson Perry puts it, the default position and the baseline, their power invisible unless you don’t happen to be what they are (white, middle class and male). It made me reflect, and I will probably continue to do so, on the debates in education that I read, especially around student behaviour. As he puts it, “When crimes are reported, the causes are invariably said to be the economy, imbalances in society, religious extremism perhaps. Rarely is the main reason talked about – it’s just too mundane. The perpetrator was male.” In an education setting, maybe, just maybe, we haven’t got so much a problem with behaviour as with masculinity and what young people think it means.

I have to say, I loved his book. I loved the emotional intensity of it, the reclamation of men as emotional beings, with their compulsive need to win, and to be right all the time, to be the best. In a satisfying reversal of subconscious expectation, Mary Beard makes a dispassionate, erudite and intellectual argument about the structures of power, and how we need to change them rather than the women who seek to take a share in it (boiled down to, in essence, ‘I want you to take me seriously’), and Grayson Perry ends with an appeal to tenderness, for me, the cherry on the cake in a book born of concern for men and expressions of manliness that no longer make sense in today’s more egalitarian world and which damage and make it more difficult for them to lead fulfilling and happy lives.

He, with his call for men to get off their high horses and get more in touch with their feelings, has acted as a reminder and an encouragement to me to continue to tell human stories, infected and infused with emotion, to act as a counterbalance to popular, unquestioned narratives, and play my (very small) part in resetting the default position.

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