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Struggles with Secondary School

Angel is still struggling with secondary school. I think she’s gone through three phases: 

One - terrified - it’s all new and overwhelming 

Two - form solid friendships - actually it’s quite exciting and a laugh

Three - oh shit, this is really hard, the work is way beyond me and the environment is actually scary.

The scary part of phase three has been helped along by a couple of incidents. One; a classmate was being bullied by year 11s and was held up against the wall in the hall. Thankfully, this blew over quickly. Two; a boy in year 7 was accused of making a racist remark and three quarters of the year 7 boys wanted to beat him up. Then the year 11s got in on the action and Angel overheard one of them say he had a knife. She, understandably, comes home stressed. She says she was petrified all day and that we mustn’t say anything as she had been sworn to secrecy and, ‘in case I get held up in the hall by the year 11s!’

She is genuinely scared to go in. How do you manage that? Do we really want to send her somewhere she is in fear of her life? Do we call the school and risk her being questioned which may scare her even more? It is scary and although there were fights in school when we were kids, no kid ever died as a result of it. 

Eventually we settle on letting Angel stay home the next day and getting a friend, who works in youth services, to call the school to alert them. I use the earlier incident to demonstrate that these things can blow over quickly and indeed when she goes back in on Monday, it has been resolved.

At bedtime controlling Angel is back but she is also open or is it because I am too…?

Angel -  If you read, I’ll put on my pyjamas. Not because you've told me too but because I want to. 

Me - Do you want an arsenicum? (the remedy for anxiety). 

Angel - No 

Me - Why 

Ange; - Because it doesn't feel like that, it feels different.

Me - What, like everything feels out of control in your body?

Angel - Mum, how do you always know how I feel?

We laugh 

Angel - I told daddy that he is the best daddy in the world and that I was thankful he adopted me

Me - Yeah he showed me that text. You don’t need to feel grateful we adopted you, you know? We are grateful we got to adopt you! 

Angel - Yeah but I feel if someone else had adopted me they wouldn’t be as good as parents and wouldn’t understand me like you do. 

Me - Yep, I think we are pretty good parents and do a good job at trying to understand how you feel. 

I am talking to my friend about what has been happening with Angel and she says, ‘It always seems so hard for you with Angel, you would think with two such fantastic parents, she would be thriving. I laugh, ‘This is Angel thriving!’ I don’t tell her all the stories I hear about the struggles and breakdown of adoptions.

We are still despairing over homework. In Geography they ask Angel to answer questions on the pension crisis. I read Angel the piece taken from the financial times, stopping every other sentence to translate into language she might understand. ‘But what are they talking about?’ she says at the end. A lot of the time it takes 30 minutes just to explain the question.  Angel is not able to follow much of what is going on in the more academic classes so we are starting from a place of no knowledge when it comes to homework. She is losing confidence by the day and we are all overwhelmed and exhausted planning our lives around her homework and this is supposedly easier homework!

My feeling is this is no way to live for a 12 year old. Maybe when GCSE’s are looming but not in year 7.

At the adoption support group, I am talking about our struggles with homework and how our lives have become centred around helping Angel get it done. A few other parents say, ‘Wow, our child won’t even tell us what homework they have, let alone let us help them with it’. I say ‘Lucky You’ and laugh but afterwards I realise how utterly inconceivable it would be for Angel to shut us out of anything and how lucky we are to have that with her. I feel bad for my comment. It is humbling.

Angel is becoming more resistant to reading at home as the pressure in school mounts. I realise something radical is needed. Seems nonsense trying to keep up with a curriculum that Angel isn’t interested in and can’t grasp when she actually still needs help with basic literacy. I negotiate with the school a complete homework break (bar maths and languages which are the ones Angel can generally manage on her own). I look at the Kumon literacy programme but then find, ‘Fast ForWord’.

It is a catch-all programme for dyslexia, autism, dyspraxia and for anyone struggling in school. It’s like a brain gym and improves processing, memory, listening accuracy and comprehension, auditory word recognition, phonological awareness and auditory sequencing.

It’s 30 minutes online, five days a week and is £175 a month (I’m not sure if you could get it funded as it’s a fairly new intervention). It claims to offer 1-2 year gains in 40-60 hours of usage, improve reading and language skills and literally help the brain process faster. 

Angel takes to it like a duck to water and generally enjoys it. The first thing flagged was from a game called ‘Sky Gym’ which Angel was making slow progress with. 

My course liaison sends me this along with an intervention to help speed things up. 

‘In Sky Gym, students identify and sequence frequency sweeps—sounds that change in pitch from low to high (“Weeps”) or high to low (“Woops”). What does this have to do with being a good listener and reader? The frequencies and durations of the frequency sweeps resemble some of the rapid transitions in the sounds of the English language.

To understand speech it is important to be able to quickly tell frequency sweeps apart. Although we are unaware of such frequency sweeps when we hear someone talk, many of the common speech sounds, such as /b/, /d/, /g/, /p/,and /t/, have a frequency sweep component. Our brains have to be able to identify these frequency sweeps in order to understand what someone is saying. For example, one sweep is all that differentiates /p/ from /b/–and that makes the difference between hearing “pat” and “bat.”

A frequency sweep that passes by in a fraction of a second can be critical to correctly identifying a speech sound, recognizing a word, and understanding a sentence. It can be especially difficult to hear these sounds when the language is unfamiliar, the speaker is unclear, or when listening in a noisy environment. Robust and rapid auditory processing is critical for students who are learning through spoken language. It is also critical for building the speech sound representations that are the basis of early reading skills like phonological awareness and phonics. Sky Gym improves students’ ability to recognize frequency sweeps quickly and accurately.’

This blows my mind. I had never even heard of ‘frequency sweeps’ and when I delve deeper, I find stories of mute kids doing auditory courses where all they do is listen and come out the other end talking!  

We are 12 weeks in. I fully expect Angel to take a year to do the programme but hope that she comes out an enthusiastic reader and more able to manage the avalanche of information that is coming at her at school. Only time will tell but for the time being things are a lot more peaceful and manageable in our house. 



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