Complaint to The Independent

Good morning

I am writing to you to complain about an article I read in your online edition on levels of exercise in four-year olds.

The article, once in its body and once in a photo caption, states that “dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD – conditions which can be improved with the correct levels of physical activities”.

I’m afraid that this statement (which is not backed up with any evidence – and the only study to “prove” it has been rubbished by experts) is highly dangerous to people like me who are dyslexic.

Dyslexia is often an inherited condition, it effects the wiring of the brain.  It cannot be corrected or cured.  Most improvements dyslexic people achieve come from extremely hard work on their part, and trial and error.  However dyslexia does not go away.  Certain situations, like being under stress or having a bad night sleep means that the dyslexic persons coping mechanism can break down.

As an employee I have been discriminated against at work due to my dyslexia. In one PR company in which I worked I was told dyslexia wasn’t a disability, that my dyslexia didn’t count, I was criticised for the results of a report from a dyslexia test they sent me on – which found me dyselxic, just like the three times before in my life when I’ve been tested.  Directors refused to make reasonable adjustments and my line manager presented me with a list of “mistakes” I had made with the monetary costs to the company of each one. 

All this happened while the Director who refused to make adjustments kept on telling me what a great place it was to work.  Funnily enough after I brought my union in on the dispute the company made me redundant.

This bullying, based on my disability – a protect characteristic – had a severe impact on my mental health. Of course the stress meant I could not effectively apply coping mechanisms and it made my dyslexia worse while I worked there.

The reason I am telling you this is to demonstrate how employers who would bend over backwards to assist an employee with a visible disability, will see nothing wrong with with discriminating against hidden disability.

This position has happened because of decades of dyslexia “jokes” (jokes my own family members made), myths and misconceptions. These are “jokes” which we still see on TV – we’re the only disabled group who it is socially acceptable to poke fun at because of their disability.

Unfortunately your article will feed those myths and misconceptions. There will be another dyslexic out there who when they ask for reasonable adjustments, will have them refused and be told to exercise more by another clueless and ill equipped boss.  This will impact on their ability to do their job, their mental health and self confidence.

While I understand that The Independent generally champions the causes of disabled people, with this article you’ve added another brick to the considerable wall we have to climb.

Could you please, please write about dyslexia with more thought and consideration of the damage you can cause people.

Many thanks
Mairi

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Not cool, Picturehouse Cinema, not cool.

Many of you will remember my blog about Picturehouse Cinema’s and the poor choice they offer for families when it comes to tickets and/or membership.  This was sparked of initially by my wanting to attend their Studio Ghibli season with my daughter, but finding it very expensive.

Despite the staff member I was in contact with telling me she would let me know the outcomes of my suggestion I heard nothing back, so today I decided to enquire.  After several emails with a staff member who could give me very little information I was finally contact by their Head of Customer Services with the following email.

Emailfromcameo

Of course, this wasn’t the response I had hoped for.  The most disappointing part of it is the “so we have gone with the norm” phrase, which negates the earlier reassurance that they understanding that family units are “ever evolving.”  Or rather that they understand but are mistakenly still using language which describes some families as normal, which implies others are abnormal.  My reply to them is below.

I wonder how many other companies stick to the two adults/two kids family ticket, just because everyone else does, and what do we really need to change the culture that there is a “normal family”?  I’m going to start writing to other companies and organisations around Edinburgh to find out who is willing to go the extra mile for parents and children, and embrace different families and who does not, as well as what the barriers for companies are.

replytocameo

 

All the beautiful, different families (and Picturehouses cinemas)

There are points in my life when I become acutely aware of the fact I’m a single parent. The dread I feel at the idea of going to my daughter’s school’s family ceilidh, when the Parent Teacher Council organise photographers to take family portraits to raise funds, and when a family ticket for anything only ever covers two adults and two children.

It’s pretty standard across the UK that families are seen as two adults and two children for events, attractions and transport.  Yet at the same time the idea of the nuclear family is really an aberration within the history of family.  If you think back before the mass use of antibiotics many people died early deaths.  At the same time women were most likely to die in childbirth (this is still an issue).  Add to this the large amount of men who would die in war, or from poor working conditions etc,  then what you have is a lot of children who lose one or both parents.  The lone parent would remarry, or move in with siblings, or parents, the children were sometimes given to other relatives to bring up.  In some cultures there has been a strong tradition of Levirate marriage.  The idea of the blended family appears very modern, but it is in fact very, very old.  The only difference now is that often the blended family has happened because at some point one parent chose to leave a relationship that could no longer thrive or survive healthily, rather than the catalyst of change being death.

Today I was discussing with a friend booking tickets for the Cameo’s Studio Ghibli Season.  My daughter has got massively into anime this year, and we’re quite excited to see some of the best being shown on Edinburgh big screens.  Attending a season is expensive.  While my friend has chosen to go for a Cameo membership to keep costs down, there is no children’s membership and being a one adult one child family there is no family ticket that suits me.

I’ve spent some of the afternoon emailing Picturehouses who own the Cameo, and several other independent cinemas across the UK.  I have to say their customer service was first class as the staff member I communicated with wanted to genuinely help me find an option that may work out for me.  Unfortunately there isn’t one.

Rather than admit defeat, and give into the feeling I so often get that my family isn’t a “proper” family (and all the guilt and shame that carries with it) I decided to make another suggestion.  The Cameo has a membership option of Adult + 1.  It could be possible to have an adult membership (transferable between two adults) at the normal price of £45, but on which the adults could then add as many children on to that membership at whatever cost the Cameo thought was appropriate.  I’d suggest something like £20 per child, some people have four kids after all.

The staff member I spoke to is now going to take this idea to her managers for them to consider.  They might not make a decision in time for My Neighbour Totoro on Saturday, but I’m really hopeful that we may be able to achieve a better, more flexible deal for families.

If you think that this is a good idea, and you’d like to see Picturehouses introduce it, then you can show your support by emailing enquiries@picturehouse.co.uk.  You don’t have to be a parent to believe families could have better access, or have your own children to believe that services, attractions and entertainment can find ways to acknowledge all our families and their different shapes and sizes.

Talking to children: Sex, masturbation, homosexuality

One of my friends has been urging me to write more parenting blogs.  She has been particularly keen for me to write about how I discuss masturbation with my daughter.  While we were having a general conversation about sex and the body masturbation came up, and here is how it went.

Daughter:  “I sometimes touch myself there.”

Me:  “Yeah, it’s a bit like picking your nose.  Everyone does it, but no one talks about it.”

That was it.

However, for the sake of having a slightly longer blog post here are my own personal rules for talking to my child about sex.  Please note, these are my own rules based on my own world view and personal circumstances – they won’t necessarily fit yours.  I’m not a doctor, psychiatrist or an expert.  You don’t have to follow them, or even agree.  No one is forcing you to read any further…

  1.  Let the child lead.  Children’s job is pretty much to discover the world and what place they want to take in it.  They are always learning and absorbing information.  Generally they will ask for the information when they are ready for it or need to know it.  With my daughter, who adores babies, all the questions started with “How do you get babies?”  “How do babies come out?” etc.  The trick is to answer honestly, but without being dogmatic.  Use tact, kindness, flexibility and compassion.  With this method by the time my daughter got to seven she’d put it all together herself and found it “Gross!”  A completely age appropriate response.  It all happened naturally because information hadn’t been either thrust upon her when she wasn’t ready, or withheld from her when she was.
  2. Make consent part of the talk.  I believe that talk about consent is necessary and vital with children.  However it can be a tricky one to negotiate.  I love the NSPCC underwear rule.  It’s a very helpful website, with loads of advice for parents so you don’t have to do the tricky stuff all on your own.
  3. It’s a continual conversation. Learning about your own body and sex is not something that happens once and never again. My daughters questions started when she was three, and they’re still going.  I believe that both gender and sexual orientation are fluid, which means discussion should be fluid.   I feel as a parent this also takes the pressure off me.  If I phrase something badly, I can come back to it.  If I realise I could have explained something better, I’ve not blown the only chance to get it right.  As your child grows, so will their personal boundaries and knowledge.  It’s important to adjust to those changes, and let the child lead.  It’s kind of like a slow dance.  I think of parenting as being a bit like Tai Chi.
  4. Talking about homosexuality.  “Some boys like to hold hands and kiss boys.  Some girls like to hold hands and kiss girls.”  My daughter has pretty much accepted this at face value.  It also helps that we watch TV together with openly gay characters.  We were both quite gripped by the Alec/Magnus, will-they-won’t-they story line in Shadowhunters.  When we talk about the future I try to include lines like “When you have a boyfriend or girlfriend you might…”  Although I have to fess up and say that giving these signals to my daughter, that whomever she becomes is ok with me, isn’t my strong suit.  Growing up in a homophobic household and hetronormative society takes a while to break down. I do need to improve on this.
  5. Children follow your emotional ques. If you think something is scary, and you model it being scary in your behaviour, your children will find it scary.  If you are confident in an area of your life, it’s likely your children will pick up on that confidence and feel the same way.  The same is true for sex, if you talk about it in a relaxed way that makes it a normal healthy part of everyday life, this is the que your child will take from you.  It’s not quite so cut and dried though.  Emotions are messy, slippery little things, that jump out on you and surprise you, and get all tangled up in each other.  Being an adult is absolutely no guarantee that you will always model the best emotional behaviour in every conversation and interaction your child observes.  If you think it does, you are probably in some very deep form of denial.  Two phrases I say to my daughter “I’m sorry,” and “I realise I could have done that better”.  Both have the plus side of also showing your child it’s ok and forgiveable to make mistakes, and to learning how to adjust behaviour is a normal thing.
  6. Make yourself a safe space.  It’s my belief that the main role of being a parent is to make yourself a safe space for your child.  If they know they can come to you with anything and they will not be judged, or ridiculed or punished, then they will.  This is really important when it comes to sex.  Children are negotiating a tougher world than the one I grew up in.  You can never protect your child from the world, but you can give them the tools to deal with it, and a safe haven where they can rest.  When they are older, if you’ve mainly done it right, they may even forgive you for the parenting mistakes you’re bound to make.

Happy parenting!

 

Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Faces, Features and Creatures Trail

It’s now half term in Edinburgh.  As always there is a need to find something to do with children, that doesn’t cost too much money.  A friend and I decided to take our daughters to The Scottish National Portrait Gallery and try out their Face Features and Creatures Trail designed by award winning artist and illustrator Sara Ogilvie.

Location:  Central Edinburgh so easily accessible by public transport.

Cost:  There is no cost, although you do need to leave a £10 deposit for the trail bag.  The bag includes colouring pencils, costumes to dress up in at certain portraits and objects.

The objective:  The trail takes you round the different floor of the galleries, stopping at eight different places to find specific things, then followed by a drawing task.

Time:  It took both girls two hours to complete.  Importantly though, it didn’t feel like two hours.

Is it fun for the parents:  Well, I have to admit while the girls dashed from gallery to gallery us Mummies trailed behind them having a chat.  If you get some catch-up time will largely depend on where your child is on the independence spectrum.  Our two girls were eight.

Child’s perspective:  When I asked my daughter what she thought she said “Good.  Really fun to dress up.  That was the best part.  Now I want to watch more TV.  I cant believe you’re writing that Mum!”

Downsides:  Fortunately one of the pictures on the trail, of Queen Charlotte, had been moved so we were no longer able to find it in the gallery.

Staff:  I’ve found with the staff of the various National Galleries in Edinburgh are always very kind to children.

Overall:  There are a series of different events for children, free, fun and time consuming.  We’ll definitely be going back

Learning to accept the peel

For me at least, I’ve found parenthood the biggest catalyst for personal growth.  It’s taught me patience, and responsibility, what really matters to me – all things I was lacking before I became a mother.  Even though I found things very difficult in the first year as I had post-natal depression, I came to love the role of mother and see it as a defining part of who I am.

However there is always a danger when we allow ourselves (or allow those around us) to define ourselves solely in relation to one other person.  Especially when they are your child – they have this terribly inconvenient habit of growing-up and changing.

Right now my daughter in eight.  She is beginning to establish her independence, and I can feel her slowly peeling away from me.  There is a distance between us.  It’s not large, and it’s not uncomfortable.  It is new.  This is happening naturally for my daughter, it is the age when she should be making these changes without much thought.  However it’s not happening without thought from me.

I had already felt the first peeling several months ago.  Then a few weeks ago I woke up without having had my normal morning hug.  This generally means my daughter is ill.  I got up to find her watching cartoons.

“You didn’t come through for your morning hug?”

“I didn’t need to.”

That sums it all up.  It’s about need.  Suddenly I realised that although I have spent years grumbling about how I never get a lie-in, I had come to need that morning hug as well. A song from My Fair Lady started playing in my head.  Where Henry Higgins, a most cantankerous misogynist, starts to realise that although he had spent all his time complaining and degrading Liza Doolittle, he had really come to enjoy her in his life and missees her.

I have a choice, I can accept that my daughters slow walk to independence is natural, and that as a Mother it is my job to support it and encourage her.  Or, like unhealthy parents do, I can try to stop any signs of independence, and keep my child as dependent on me as possible to satisfy my own need to feel both needed, strong, valuable and to distract myself from my own frailty and weakness.

It isn’t really something I need to think about.  As ever, it is my daughter who is teaching me.

Review: Flowy app

I had become a bit concerned recently that my daughter has been experiencing some anxiety.  Of course all children experience some worry.  Being afraid of the dark is a common one, I can remember hiding under my bed sheets utterly terrified.

However after having a conversation earlier in the month it became clear to me that she wasn’t necessarily developing the best coping mechanisms.  I’m a big believer that we can not avoid the unpleasant in life, or our own feelings, it is how we deal with them that really needs to be the focus.  Unfortunately many of us have grown up in a society which did not promote healthy approaches to mental health.  A heavy emphasis on avoidance as a coping mechanism can lead to people avoiding things that are actually enriching and becoming more isolated in their lives. The earlier we can help young people learn healthy coping mechanism, the more it will help them in the rest of their lives.

Being a mediator myself I started trying to teach my eight year-old meditation.  Of course, this was excruciating for her.  Sitting, or lying still is just not something she can deal with for more than half a minute, unless there is food or the TV is on.  I tried a guided meditation and instead of sharing inner peace with my daughter I got annoyed she wasn’t taking it seriously, and learned a lesson myself about expectations and goals.

Trying to work out how to deal with this I realised that the foundation for meditation is always the breath, and if I was going to teach my daughter I needed to focus on this first and foremost.  Every night at bed time we now breath together and try to sync our breathing.  Even this simple step has it’s challenges.  If someone doesn’t know how to breath from their stomach just describing how to do it isn’t enough, what they really need to learn is the feeling of doing it.

Chatting with people at my office, The Melting Pot, about this one of them mentioned Flowy, and app designed for people who have panic attacks.  The essence of the app is that it retrains your breathing as well as helping to track your symptoms so you can learn more about your own experience of anxiety.  Clinical trials showed Flowy helped people reduce their symptoms within 90 seconds of starting to play.

The breathing is retrained by simple games.  Currently Milla and I are a magic ship being blown across the sea collecting treasure as we go, sometime we turn into a whale.  We normally play this for a few minutes every day on our commute too and from school.  So far Milla has really enjoyed it.

It is more mentally engaging that meditation, and more interesting than listening to her mother talking about lying on a nice relaxing beach.  It’s a challenge which has goals that can be easily meet.  While meditation is also challenging it has goals which are much more abstract.  As a young person yet to understand the difficulty and benefit of patience my daughter needs rewards that are more concrete than “inner peace”.

For me Flowy is a great example of how the gamification of health can work really well. Especially for people who maybe have not yet developed the deep knowledge of self most of us need to recognise and adapt our unhealthy behaviour.