Back to school – not too soon

Half term is officially over. Aidan is back at the college where he works and all my teacher friends are back in their schools too. Even so, my little Pwdin  is at home today because the first day after the week long break is an INSET – teacher training day.

Parents hate them because it means taking more leave from work and staggers getting back into any kind of routine and teachers loathe them. Usually they amount to an ex-teacher who couldn’t cope with the pressures of the classroom and got out years ago telling those who are doing a pretty-good-job-in-today’s-classroom-thank-you-very-much that they should be prancing and dancing about for the edification and entertainment of their pupils. This is always backed up with anecdote, “inspirational” tales and spurious data of how this new course/method/plan/nonsense will improve results. Two words: Brain Gym. This can be summed up in another two words: total bollocks. Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science does a fabulous job of describing and ridiculing the brain gym bullshit and it’s worth a read.

Promoting INSET fads and fancies does a useful job at keeping teachers who can’t manage their pupils out of the classroom. As the saying goes, those who can’t, teach. Well by extension I’ve noticed it to be a truism in almost all cases (with one or two notable exceptions) that those who can’t teach teach teachers. What does worry me about all this is that money (and a lot of it) is spent putting these silly systems in place and the staff most encouraged to use them are SEN (special educational needs) teachers. Hard cash gets spent on – and this is not a metaphor, this really is part of brain gym – getting children and teachers to do ‘brain crossover’ exercises and drink water but to hold it in the mouth first so it gets to the brain quicker – I promise I’m not making it up. This eats into SEN budgets and time that could be spent on identifying what real needs pupils have,  sourcing then implementing evidence based approaches to help them.  But no! Evidence based interventions just aren’t showy enough and in the case of autism interventions at any rate are slow to yield results. Let’s turn the whole school into dancing fools lest anyone see who the real idiots are.

It is easy to see the parllels between this ludicrous nonsense and why people turn to alternative medicine. My pet theory is there are essentially two types of SCAM (supplements, complementary and alternative medicine) that people seek out. First there’s the small interventions. Things like homeopathy that are so much gentler than those nasty chemical medicines that real doctors want you to take. So gentle, in fact, that they do nothing. They’re sugar pills. While we’re on the topic, what the hell is sugar if not a chemical?

Then there’s the big intervention. Things like, to take autism ‘treatments’ chelations, stem cell grafts etc. These are alternative in that there is zero biologic plausibility and they have zero evidence of efficacy. They promise more dramatic results than those prognosed by your real doctor. These procedures are often delivered by fringe medics and nurses and, in my opinion, their potential for harm adds to their allure: are we not constantly reminded that the greater risks we take the greater the potential benefits? Haven’t we also experienced that the evidence based medical interventions that we or others we know have undergone that have brought the greatest relief tend to be the most dramatic and potentially risky? Also, the fact that chelation or megadosing with vitamins has side effects is proof to those looking for such treatments that the procedures are actually doing something.

Back to the topic of half term and what we did. This isn’t going to be rant free so if I’ve done your head in already, abandon ship now!

The week started with ‘flu jabs for all. If you don’t qualify for free ‘flu vaccination please spend just £10 on getting it anyway and help protect yourself and others around you, especially all the ickle beebees. That went fine. Mammy of course was the bravest bear but only my Pwd got a sticker! Now, I really am wondering what the NHS is coming to. Back in my day if you were terribly brave (or not) you’d get a sticker with a recognisable cartoon character on it. I particularly remember one I had with Tweety and Sylvester  from the dentist. What Pwdin  got for being hard as nails and hardly even frowning at being injected was a Lightning McQueen alike that looked like some talentless kid, or I, had drawn it. What is the world coming to?

There’s been a lot of media whipped up controversy surrounding the ‘flu jab lately with suggestions that it can cause narcolepsy. Sigh! This is the media, once again, searching for a story where only a pretty feeble one exists.

A Finnish study has shown there to be a possible link between the 2009 H1N1 (swine ‘flu) vaccine Pandemrix and an increase in incidence of narcolepsy in Finland. There are several points to note about this story though:

  1. All the new cases of narcolepsy are in people genetically predisposed to it;
  2. Only the 2009 H1N1 Pandemrix vaccine seems to be implicated;
  3. There is no discernable pattern in the cases of narcolepsy reported (a dozen of 47 countries have reported cases) this suggests only a very few batches were ever a problem;
  4. There has been an increase in narcolepsy cases in vaccinated and unvaccinated populations across northern Europe that coincides with H1N1 outbreak;
  5. The ‘flu vaccine has undoubtedly saved the lives and prevented the suffering of millions of individuals who received it. ‘Flu is still a global killer and H1N1 strain is especially nasty.

If you want to know more here’s an article I wrote on it when the story was getting misrepresented in the Irish media.

So, ‘flu vaccines done! That was right at the beginning of a long old week. Pwd  missed school and his usual routine desperately. Screaming tantrums would start when he woke in the early hours and go on most of the day. The only let up was when he took to mooing.

This isn’t a cute “moo-moo” like the sound a child might make on seeing a cow. No. This was gutteral and deep like a cross between a constipated calf and a fog horn. Pwdin has always had loads of lovely sounds. There’s the digga-digga that seems almost characteristic of autistic children but also lots of others and plenty of tunes. Not last week. Just screaming and mooing. Combined with the fact that he wasn’t sleeping or eating and was constantly seeking me out made for a fractious mammy.

Pwd loves being close to me and I love my little soldier very much too but when his mood isn’t great I’m the one he takes it out on. I get bitten, slapped kicked and chunks of skin dug out, mainly from my face and arms. Lately he has been trying to resist being picked up by grabbing my throat and trying to push me over by forcing my head back. Although he’s only 3 and a half he is as strong as an ox. He doesn’t have any notion that if he pushes me over, he’ll get hurt too. At the end of the week, just to get some sleep and recover a bit I spent the night in a hotel down the road. I don’t think I’ve needed it as much.

Which brings this post to the end of the week and Aidan and my second wedding anniversary. No candle lit romantic meal for two for this couple. TGI Friday on a Sunday evening with Pwdin because he loves their garlic bread. I wouldn’t have changed it! We had a great time with Pwd in giggly, cwtchy and kissy form. He demolished his tea and was singing again. He’s actually singing right now. He’s in his bedroom with his light up dinosaur, Derek, under his duvet flicking through a catalogue. School tomorrow – we’ll both be glad of it.


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