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April Reviews

I had these ready to post at the beginning of the month then got sidetracked by other posts and forgot…

    Films and television

I thoroughly enjoyed my viewing this month.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? *****
A friend recced this and I ordered it because it was cheap on Amazon. It was really good. Depp and Di Caprio in their early days show their terrific promise in this story about a guy who seems to be stuck looking after his brother and his mother. There’s a romance, but the main focus is on the family.

Made in Dagenham. *****
This is as topical now as it was when it was made. It’s the story of how the women who worked for Ford demanded, and got equal pay for equal work, despite the unions being mostly unhelpful and Ford being horrified. It’s based on the true story and is inspiring. It also has plenty to say about the issues of gender equality in the workplace. Excellent – with a stellar cast.

Shadowlands. *****
I only watched this because I’d heard of it and it was on the same disc as Made in Dagenham… But I was hooked by the story of CS Lewis and his love for an American woman whose death from cancer left him devastated. Beautifully acted, with lovely Oxford settings.
And… Secret Life of the Zoo***** is back – by popular demand! I’m enjoying it as usual!

    Books

I have been doing a book bingo with some colleagues – I will post about it more detail at some point but for now, it explains some of my reading.

The excellent.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertali *****
I had no idea what to expect but I loved this book. The voice of the ‘hero’ is fresh and funny as he fights against society and finds out who his secret penpal is. It’s an mm romance of sorts but it keeps the reader guessing till the last minute. I will probably want to see the film.

Charmed and Dangerous edited by Astrid Amara *****

This is an anthology which unlike most anthologies is uniformly excellent. I knew most of the authors already, so I pretty well knew I’d enjoy it. The premise of each story is that one, at least, of the main characters is supernatural. There’s some mm romance but most of it is action thriller type tales and they’re all both exciting and well written.

Aprons and Silver Spoons by Mollie Moran *****
This was an excellent autobiography with a focus on the author’s early years in domestic service. It’s set in the 1930s and I was intrigued because her experiences were so very different from those of my mother and her friends who grew up during the same period. It was interesting, and well written. I did, however, hate the cover, which showed a couple of servants, but in nineteenth century garb, which made me wonder if the publishers and editors had even read the text!

Darwin’s Watch (The Science of Discworld III) by Pratchett, Cohen and Stewart *****
Another in the series that bases a great deal of scientific and philosophic discussion around a short story set in Discworld. I thought this one might be easier, since I know more about both biology and palaeontology than I do about chemistry or physics. However, I still struggled at times. I reached the end feeling better educated and I enjoyed the story too!

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey *****
I recalled reading this author’s mysteries with pleasure, and this was no exception. However, I noticed various details that were obviously from the period when the author was writing but which would today be considered politically incorrect. I didn’t guess the outcome and was both surprised and yet not surprised to find out who the ‘villain’ was. An excellent novel which gripped me throughout.

Guernica by Dave Boling *****
This was a Christmas present which I’d requested via my wish list. It’s a family saga set around the bombing of Guernica in 1930s Spain. The book is extremely well written. The author is Canadian but his wife is Basque so he draws on family memories and accounts to create a wonderful picture of life on the Basque coast in that time though his main focus is a fictional family which amalgamates various features of the people he knows. It’s an area I know quite well as a visitor and the descriptions are perfect. There is a lot of detail about daily life and social life that adds to the interest of the story. The anguish of the bombing and the aftermath are sensitively portrayed. This is the perfect novel to read as a counterpoint to histories of the period, since it deals with the effects on individuals rather than on communities in general. Highly recommended either for anyone already interested in the time and place, or for readers who know nothing of either but would like to learn more.

The good.

Mary Anning of Lyme Regis by Crispin Tickell ****
I have been reading about the fossil discoveries in the south of England, and this is a short biography of Mary, bought by my husband when he went to the Charmouth museum on a recent business trip. I have read other works featuring this inspiring fossil hunter but it was good to have a book that had her as the sole focus. It was too short, which is why it only merits four stars. I suppose the museum thought a longer account might not sell. I will be referring to it again in a post I intend to do about the books on dinosaurs, fossils, etc. that I’ve been reading.

Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill ****
Another bingo square, and one I really enjoyed. But it’s a children’s book and I passed it on to my grandson after making sure it would suit his tastes. Even as an adult, I developed real empathy with Jenny, the little cat in New York who is gradually accepted into local cat society.

Catching Kit by Kay Berrisford ****
This ticked all my boxes – fairies interacting with humans, police work, a London setting. But it was too short and I would like a sequel.

Flatland by Edward A Abbott ****
I’d heard of this book but only read it because of the book bingo. I enjoyed it. It’s a curious mixture. It was written in the nineteenth century and uses maths and a kind of sci-fi basis to parody Victorian society, especially attitudes to women. I found the mathematical figures that illustrated the work a bit hard to follow but really, that says more about me than the author.

The Lonely Drop by Vanessa North ****
The title is the name of the restaurant owned by Nick, who gets a second chance with Kevin, the friend he turned down at college. The story is competent but unmemorable. I read it because it filled a bingo square!

A Taste of Copper by Elin Gregory ****
Beautifully written, like everything by this author, and the historical research is impeccable as usual, but somehow I never quite empathised with the main characters. A quasi-Arthurian story of knights, squires, vows and courtly honour.

The mediocre – or maybe just not to my taste.

The Wordsworth Golden Treasury of Verse edited by Antonia Till ***
I bought this in a charity shop when I thought (wrongly as it turns out) that I had lost all my poetry books in the Portuguese fires. The title suggests it is based on Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, and it does try to provide a similar collection. However, whilst some of my favourites were there, there was a preponderance of the kind of poetry that tends to bore me – the really long ‘classic’ poems that are not even stories. I won’t be looking at it again; there was nothing I like that I don’t have in other collections.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel ***
This filled a bingo square and if it hadn’t, I would have abandoned it. I haven’t seen the film and now don’t want to. My daughter recced the book and doesn’t recall the parts I hated, which were the extremely (to me) gruesome accounts of the killings and the preparation of e.g. fish and turtles for food. It was almost enough to turn me into a vegetarian. Actually, I’m not particularly squeamish, but I didn’t like the mixture of gruesome/fantasy. The book was well written, but it wasn’t for me.

The poor

Raining Men and Corpses by Anne R Tan *
I didn’t enjoy this at all and only finished it for one of my bingo squares. It was badly written. It was grammatical and there were no plot holes but somehow it was hard to follow or to know who was doing what. The style, full of artificial metaphors, really grated and I couldn’t bring myself to care about the main character who was stupid, and lucky. The hairs on her arms and neck did a lot of standing up. There were hints of back story, insufficiently developed. The book had, for me, a weird dissonance because it turns out the ‘heroine’ is American Chinese but is referred to as Asian and the only Raina I know is Ugandan Asian. US/UK cultural divide strikes again! There are six sequels but I will not be reading them. The idea of Raina getting involved with yet more murder mysteries fills me with dread.

And the unreadable

Cowabunga Christmas (Cosario Cove Cozy Mystery series) by Anna Celeste Burke
I abandoned this. It purported to be a mystery and the couple solving it were on their honeymoon in the hotel where the murder took place. After a while I found I had absolutely no interest in the detective couple or in the victim, and was vaguely irritated by the police. So I gave up.

    Fanfiction

Because of the book bingo, I didn’t read much fanfic this month! I embarked on a long and well written saga set around a fictional ice hockey team, which is in a sense fanfic of hockey players. I haven’t finished it yet. I also read a series of stories set in the post-book/film world of The Hobbit but they were difficult to understand unless you’d already read a lot in that genre. There have been additions to Small_Hobbit’s works related to the various Sherlock Holmes versions, but you already know how I view those, and can easily find the series in my previous reviews. So, nothing new to recommend this month.

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Posted by on May 11, 2018 in reviews

 

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Two guest appearances…

I should have shared these a while ago but for some reason my laptop didn’t like the way I was trying to load them. Huge thanks are due to Jackie for spreading the word about my books!

First, she interviewed me re my Skilled Investigators series.
https://www.jackiekeswick.co.uk/author-chat-jay-mountney/

Then she invited me to return to talk about my fae saga Living Fae.
https://www.jackiekeswick.co.uk/growing-up-fae-jay-mountney/

 

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I have issues with advertising…

I have no objection to companies like Google advertising to me. If that’s their model for providing a free email service and all the rest of it, fine. I don’t need to click on the adverts. Ever so occasionally, I do, and have even been known to buy something. Similarly, I don’t mind seeing ads on friends’ posts and hope they don’t mind seeing them on mine. My LiveJournal is a permanent account which is ad-free. My Dreamwidth account is ad-free anyway. My WordPress account is free and may have advertising. I really don’t care. Facebook doesn’t bother me, either; I just scroll on by. I don’t mind having to wait till the end of an ad to access YouTube content.

However, I do have some serious issues with online advertising. My main problems occur on sites where I have paid for my content, like my daily online copy of The Guardian. I accept that to provide me with good journalism, sites like The Guardian need more than my annual subscription. In printed newspapers I am used to seeing adverts and as with social media I can choose whether or not to read or take any notice.

But…

I have some slight visual problems. I have a ‘frozen’ eye that gives me two somewhat irritating issues. My pupil doesn’t contract, and I find it impossible to re-focus quickly, so I am badly affected by both bright lights and flickering and rapid scrolling. As a result, some adverts are a nightmare and actually prevent me from reading the page I am visiting. The use of these ads strikes me as discriminatory. I object quite strongly. The ones I object to most are the ones that are at the side of an article, and cannot therefore be ignored. They have changing images – scrolling or flickering. They are almost painful, and I feel intense resentment towards the advertisers. . I have written to The Guardian stating my feelings. I did not get a reply.

The very worst online ads, for me, are the ones that open a video, with sound, as I scroll down the page. This happens more often on American media sites where friends have linked me to articles of interest – it can be for goods that are not available in UK or it can be linked articles or new video. I use my laptop in our lounge, where other family members might be watching TV, listening to music, or simply talking. I might be alone, but then I will probably have music playing. Unexpected and unwanted sound is, for me, a total invasion of privacy and usually results in closing down the page altogether in a knee-jerk reaction. Even when I manage to see that there is a small discreet close button and I just get the ad/vid switched off, I still feel offended.

I also have a sense of annoyance at the ads that interrupt Spotify. I listen to radio programmes (especially in the car) which have the inevitable ads before the news, and I just sigh and ignore most of them (except when they include a sound like a car horn or other car sound, which is to my mind dangerous). Just occasionally they are interesting and I will Google the company when I get home. I accept that Spotify, like the radio programmes, needs advertising to fund the service. Not a problem. But sometimes the ads interrupt a track, or interrupt me while I am trying to save something. That annoys me big time and is quite counterproductive because whatever the ad is for, I can guarantee I will not follow it up.

Another set of adverts I hate are those on DVDs. Invariably, they are for films I have already seen or do not wish to see. They try to tell me something is ‘coming soon’ when actually, it came a few years ago. I would almost prefer cinema-type ads for luxury goods and services. At least I could just ignore those and not get so irritated.
Note that all the above applies whatever the ads are for. In fact, I’m usually so affronted I don’t even notice what they’re trying to sell me. Indeed, all these are likely to be a turn off. So why do they do it??

You’d think advertising would be designed to attract the reader…

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2018 in personal

 

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April Thoughts

With apologies to Browning who probably wouldn’t recognise our current weather patterns. I wrote this last week and thought I’d better post it before the forecast weather improvements make nonsense of it!

Cherry trees made an altogether glorious parade
And a magnolia cast a huge upside-down-umbrella shade.
Forsythia was golden.
The violets were out
But the taller trees determined
That Spring was not about.

There were daffodils in the breeze, dancing
While the glossy bluebell leaves were thrusting.
A lilac sprouted leaf buds.
A willow wept yellow-green.
Still the taller trees determined
That Spring had not been seen.

The sycamore was one that made a start
Wearing tight furled leaves to look the part
Though the other woodland giants
Were resolutely bare.
For the taller trees determined
That Spring truly wasn’t there.

The elm-tree boles that might have wished to please
Were all just memories through Dutch disease.
The chaffinches were nesting
(Though not on any orchard bow)
And the taller trees determined
It was too cold for Spring right now.

Magpies chased off last year’s offspring.
Aconites were this month’s bling.
Some ducks were building nests
And the geese honked, full of cheer,
While the taller trees determined
That Spring might just be near.

The branches raised to greet the driving rain
Were uniformly black without a stain
Of green. Beneath them flowers
And birds (and lambs) told all of England how
Despite the taller trees’ determination
It was April now.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2018 in poetry

 

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Female characters

There was a meme going round that asked for your favourite female characters in books and films and perhaps in your own work. I thought I’d expand that to talk about female characters in general.

I always loved the Shakespeare female characters who stepped out of the ‘normal’ roles for their time, either by their work (Portia as a lawyer) or by cross-dressing (Viola in Twelfth Night). I was less invested in the ones like Miranda in The Tempest who seemed to conform to all the stereotypes of daughter, girlfriend, etc. As a child, I wallowed in Tales from Shakespeare and was taken to the theatre well before I could really get to grips with the scripts of the plays. I think Viola, in particular, had quite a strong effect on me.

I was presented, at the same time, with the opportunity to read my way through all the Anne of Avonlea books by LM Montgomery, and loved Anne, with her fiery temper and ambitions. I never really put myself in her place; my best friend was a redhead and I think I envisaged Anne as her, with myself in some kind of supporting role. Again, a strong influence. The same people who lent me the Anne books introduced me to Little Women but that was never one of my favourites.

Later, at boarding school, the Brontë sisters were rather shoved down our throats, since Charlotte attended the same school. I disliked Jane Eyre, and thought the heroine allowed herself to be manipulated by events and by other people. I did not find a man who kept his mad wife in the attic a particularly romantic proposition, either. As for the characters in Wuthering Heights, I simply found them tiresome.

I really love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels and my favourite characters are Granny Weatherwax and the werewolf Angua. Both seem to epitomise independent women with sensible attitudes to almost everything. The Discworld novels are ‘comfort’ reading for me (along with other series that don’t have especially memorable female protagonists). I also love Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances and like best the ones where the heroine is compelled to use cross-dressing to survive. This harks back to my feelings for Viola, I suppose, and is odd, because I have never felt even vaguely inclined to masquerade as the opposite gender in my real life.

I have always enjoyed cop buddy TV series and particularly liked the female detectives in NYPD Blue and in Cagney and Lacey. Recently, I enjoyed Kono’s role in Hawaii 5.O. My favourite shows at the moment are Spiral (French cop show Engrenages) with the lead detective Laure, and The Bridge, with the Swedish detective Saga, who appeals to me on another level because of my interest in autism.

I adored The West Wing and liked CJ, Alison Janney’s role, best of all the characters. I was also fascinated by Donna.

My own female characters are a mixed bunch.

The heroine of my elf detective series, Genef, is quite dear to my heart. She sprang to life when I wanted a story that combined some of my favourite themes and tropes: fantasy, crime, strong female lead, mm romance, and dragons (which are a sub-genre of fantasy, yes). Genef’s mother and sister play little part in the stories but the twins Jinna and Janna, with their own secret language, and Loriela, a young girl, confined to a wheelchair, who is Genef’s brother’s pupil, are all prominent in some sections, as is Princess Briana, a friend to Genef and a licensed pirate.

My fae saga, Living Fae, has two males as the major characters but Harlequin’s sister Moth was actually the trigger for the whole series. She came into being in answer to a child’s letters to the fairies at the bottom of the garden, letters I was asked to answer. Moth generated an entire series about her family (as well as giving her name to my friends-locked social media) and whilst she is not one of the main ‘players’ I feel a great deal of affection for her. Her sisters, Columbine and Peasblossom, have larger roles and are both, I hope, interesting characters. The same goes for their mother, Flame; although I dislike her intensely, I love writing her.

There. That’s over twenty female characters introduced as having affected me in one way or another. Obviously there are others, in the books and shows mentioned above and in my own writing. None of my own are, I hope, any kind of Mary Sue. I have never wanted to be a detective. (If anything, I identify with Fel, Genef’s teacher brother.) Nor are any of them without flaws. Even Genef doesn’t find a solution to everything and has to rely on her brother, her mentor and her dragon in most cases.

I do enjoy reading, viewing and writing strong female characters, and it is interesting to look back at those that have perhaps influenced me over the course of my life.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2018 in personal, writing

 

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March Reviews

    Films etc.

Given that Game of Thrones is seven episodes, I watched ten things this month apart from my normal diet of politics and nature documentaries.

I, Daniel Blake*****
Excellent story that shows how people are affected by benefit cuts and the ways Social Services are obliged to deal with them. Sad, horribly true (despite being fiction) and hopefully influential in much the same way as Cathy Come Home was for earlier generations of politicians.

Game of Thrones Season 7 *****
What can I say? Apparently Season 8, which will be the last, will not be aired until 2019 and may have fewer episodes (though some might be feature length). And presumably the final book will not be available till after that. Whilst I deplore the marketing and production decisions, I love the story so much that I will just have to find a way to cope until 2019.

12 Dogs of Christmas 2****
I expected to be bored but it was a pleasant film with some good underlying messages. The dogs, of course, helped. A young woman who returns to her home town for a funeral is caught up in an effort to save the dog rescue centre owned by the person who died.

Mama Mia***
The Abba Music was nice. Other than that, I thought it was rubbish. Poor plot and dialogue. The actors did a valiant job with the material they were given.

    Books

I seem to have been reading non-stop this month (blame the weather?) and a lot of what I read was excellent. Remember five stars means highly recommended!

So let’s start with the excellent:

Jingo by Terry Pratchett *****
I thought I’d read this and it turned out I hadn’t. I really enjoyed it, but I can say that about all Pratchett’s books. This is the one that looks at war, particularly the beginnings.

Out! by JL Merrow*****
This is the third in the Shamwell series. A workaholic accountant gets custody of his rebellious teenage daughter and ‘retires’ to the country where he meets a charity worker who doesn’t approve of his work in high finance. Lovely writing, the teenagers are brilliantly drawn, and the main protagonists are well developed. I am beginning to wonder if this and one or two other series are realistic – I’m not sure how many successful gay romances one location can sustain. However, it makes good escapist fiction and it’s nice spotting characters from the previous books.

Forest Dancer by Susan Roebuck*****
Probably my favourite book of the month. Reviewed separately at https://jaymountney.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/forest-dancer-a-review/

Heart Trouble by DJ Jamison*****
Vol 1 of Hearts and Health series
A nurse who is still recovering from a broken relationship meets a patient who he mistakenly thinks is a biker, an adrenaline junkie. The guy is in fact a teacher, trying out some extreme sports for a work assignment. The story has Ben and Gage at cross purposes for most of the time but eventually all is explained.

The Dinosaur Hunters by Deborah Cadbury*****
An account of the work of nineteenth century geologists to establish the concept of dinosaurs. I intend to review this (and other books on the same topic) in a separate post so won’t go into too much detail, but can say that this one comes highly recommended.

Crossfire by Jackie Keswick*****
A new boyfriend (this is an mm romance) turns out to be threatened by his (female) ex from a mafia family. The plot is gripping and the action is all the more interesting because of the central theme of the relationship between the boyfriend and his sister who helps save the day.

2018 State of Hate by Hope not Hate*****
I hesitated to class this as a book as it has a semi-magazine format but it’s long, with in-depth articles about the rise of, and current state of, right wing groups in UK and Europe. I knew most of the general information but there were details that were fascinating (especially about Eastern Europe) and it will make a good reference work on the subject.

A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers ***** Porthkennack series
This is an interesting historical story in the series where various authors set their stories in the same fictional Cornish town. A physicist has become fascinated by the occult and is researching the idea of contacting spirits using electricity. He is laughed out of Oxford and London and retreats to Porthkennack where he meets a land agent who has Romany ancestry but is nevertheless not a believer in any kind of spiritualism. The pair get off to a bad start and the slow growth of trust and an appreciation of each other’s beliefs and work form a fascinating tale.

English Place Names by AD Mills*****
(an Oxford dictionary spin-off)
Well, obviously I haven’t read it cover to cover. The introduction is fascinating and shows just how much of what we think we know about place names can often be wrong. Once I’d read that, I turned to various places known to me, and found I could get lost for hours, just as I can in an atlas or a dictionary. If you’ve ever wondered how various strange names turned up on UK signposts, you will enjoy this book!

The Dragon’s Tale by Harper Fox *****
Book 2 of the Arthur trilogy.
This follows When First I Met My King. Lance is summoned to a northern castle where Arthur lies injured. The book deals with the royal negotiations with the local tribes, old (British) and new (Anglo-Saxon) and in the course of this various legends are tweaked and brilliantly retold to bring about the arrival of Guinevere. Exquisite writing (as always) and wonderful world-building. The story of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot is given a totally new twist in this series and I am really looking forward to the last in the trilogy.

Then the good:

10X10 Digital rights in the next decade by openrightsgroup.org ****
I think they sent me this because I signed up and subscribed to them. It was a really interesting read with articles by a variety of people covering disparate aspects of online rights, privacy, etc. As with most multi-author works, there were some sections better than others. Overall, recommended.

Pretty in Pink and Helping Hand by Jay Northcote ****
The Housemates series.
These are pleasant and well written mm romances set among students and recent graduates in Plymouth. They’re predictable and not really memorable but the quality of the writing plus the UK location means they are a cut above the usual offerings in the college romance genre.

The mediocre.

Discern by Andrea Pearson***
Vol 1 of Mosaic Chronicles.
This story was simply not to my taste. It’s reasonably well written but there is too much horror (and stupidity on the part of the students who experience it), too little magic for what purports to be a magic university, and a lack of real archaeology on a field trip. If you like that kind of thing, it’s the start of a series. I wouldn’t personally recommend it.

I was lucky this month – there was nothing poor or dire!

    Fanfiction

I read a lot of excellent fanfic this month but most of it required a knowledge of the ‘canon’ (the original book or show) for true enjoyment. However, I’m going to recommend one story with not just one but two canons.

Who Wakes As The World Sleeps by nagi_schwarz*****
The story is what is known as a crossover. The protagonists of Stargate Atlantis meet the concept of Westworld. So, two sci-fi stories collide. It’s an interesting story on various levels. It’s a perfect example of a crossover which is about as transformative as fanfic can be. It addresses questions about reality, what it means to be human, and how people express their feelings. It’s an mm romance but is not explicit. I think most of it is accessible to the reader who is not in either fandom though I suspect you might need to know the basic idea of Westworld before reading. Altogether highly recommended. It’s just over 31k words long so think in terms of a long novella.
https://archiveofourown.org/works/13037208

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2018 in reviews

 

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Autism Awareness Week: a personal reflection

Autism is something I am aware of on a daily basis so I thought I would share our experiences.

On Sunday, my grandson was 10 years old. He was diagnosed as autistic when he was 5 after exhibiting ‘challenging behaviour’ in mainstream school. Later, at 8, he was also diagnosed with ADHD and is now on medication to control the extreme anxiety he feels as a result of that. The medication dampens down his behaviour to some extent and he is more than happy to take it. Fortunately, he is not showing any signs of the physical side effects that can lead to stopping the medication.

We are also fairly sure he ‘ticks all the boxes’ for PDA (pathological demand avoidance) which is a subset of autism. Our local child psychiatric unit is one of those that does not believe in extra labels and will not apply PDA as a label within their diagnosis. I understand their reluctance, and indeed everyone’s reluctance to label children at all, but an ‘official’ diagnosis of PDA would be helpful for schools in providing some direction for their management of the child. Because our grandson is extremely clever, all the management techniques have been those normally used for what used to be called Asperger’s syndrome (also a subset that the clinic do not use). PDA plus ADHD is not a combination that responds well to this approach.

A year ago the school and local authority managed to get J into a special school. This is a school run by a private trust, taking children from a number of local authorities. It is not specifically a school for autistic children but rather for children with challenging behaviour. There are a few absolute criteria a potential pupil must meet. They must be deemed capable of following a normal curriculum, and they must not be an ‘escape’ risk as the school has no desire to resemble a prison. They should not be adamant about refusing to attend school. The classes are tiny, the teachers and support staff are highly trained and motivated, and so far, things are going well.

The school effectively treats the PDA in its normal approach to dealing with challenging behaviour. The rules and sanctions (and rewards) are consistent and fair, and the children respond well. There tends to be some disruption whenever a new child joins the class, but things settle down once their needs are being met. We are thrilled with the progress, both academic and social, that J is making.

The school is 5 – 16 so we are hoping to avoid what could be a nightmare of transition to high school at 11. We also know that the school readies the pupils for a normal GCSE range of subjects, although the options are slightly limited purely because of staffing constraints. This is not the case in any of the special schools that the local authority provide (they claim to prepare students for exams but these tend not to be in ‘academic’ subjects) so they fund J’s attendance at the private institution. We just have to hope the funding remains in place until he is 16.

We know we are lucky. We have a child who is academic and who is finally beginning to shine as he should in the classroom. He reads at an adult level and helps the support staff with their spelling… His handwriting, after years of struggle in a mainstream school, is now (one year on) exquisite, though he still prefers typing. His comprehension is excellent though his autism means that while he will immediately understand who, what, when, where and how, the extra question of why something happened will often mean very little to him. Maths is still his favourite subject and he has expressed a desire to be a maths teacher, though I don’t think he would ever have the patience, or be able to deal with children who were struggling with the subject. However, we have high hopes that he will find a career in maths or IT. He also loves art but his main artistic interest is in creating cartoons for online use. He is learning French, enjoying music, and excelling at science.

An ideal 10-year-old to be proud of? Yes, of course, but he is still only at the level of perhaps a 5-year-old in his social interactions and can be difficult to manage in social situations. However, he has friends, both at school and outside it, and seems to be making progress, at last, in this sphere too. If he had to attend a mainstream high school I think he (and we) would sink under the stress. As he will, by then, be at perhaps a 6-year-old’s level of social interaction, you can no doubt imagine how a large high school would impact on him – and how he might impact on them.

We know a number of children who have faced school exclusion as a result of behaviour that in retrospect was probably due to being on the autistic spectrum. Autistic children (and adults) react badly to change, to extreme noise and movement, to any kind of sarcasm or attempt to explain anything with figures of speech. They tend to respond to questions very literally: ‘would you like to open the window, J?’ is likely to get the answer ‘no’ with absolutely no intent to be unpleasant or impertinent.

I think probably autism awareness week is a good time to reflect on the changes we, as a family, have experienced during the year. It also, as I said, coincides with J’s birthday. If we look back at the last twelve months, J is much happier, sleeping better, more self-aware, and increasing his self-esteem on an almost daily basis. He is consciously trying to modify his behaviour and reactions to fit in with the expectations of both adults and children. As a result, although he is not always successful, the entire family is under less strain and we have high hopes for the future.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2018 in personal

 

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