Where do we fit in?

I recently started reading a book called Parenting Your Asperger Child. I did get a few useful tips from the book, but overall I was really disappointed. The book is written from the standpoint that school is normal and necessary and that you should do anything you can to make your child “fit in”. This advice is apparently offered as a preventative measure against bullying, teasing, ostracizing, the stress of homework, tests, written assignments, etc. as if all these things are necessary and/or inevitable. Coming from an unschooling perspective I simply cannot relate to this viewpoint at all.

This post by Aspen Mama pretty much sums up my feelings. I thank her for putting it into words better than I can myself.

The more I read about Asperger’s, the more I wonder how anybody can consider school an optimal environment for these kids. Aside from the challenges they face just having Asperger’s, school adds a whole new dimension of difficulty for these children. Anxiety, depression, stress, physical assault, emotional abuse…Why would you want to put that on your child? The lengthy chapters on bullying alone make me shudder. Amazingly (to me) many seem to think the solution is getting your kid to “fit in” as much as possible so they don’t stand out as “targets” (there was actually a suggestion that your child not be allowed to wear his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine shirt, chucking it in favour of some pop culture gear, so that he doesn’t “stand out as different” and get teased). How twisted is that? Should that really be a top priority for a parent or child dealing with the challenges of having a brain that is wired differently from others’?

Have people so bought into the normality of institutional schooling that they cannot take the tiny logical step from “school is really stressful and difficult for Asperger’s Kids” to “hey, maybe they’d be better off NOT in school”? I realize this isn’t realistic for all families, and I realize that in some areas it is not possible to access support for their kids if they aren’t in school. But goodness, after reading about all the horrible issues these kids face in school I simply cannot fathom how the option of homeschooling is never mentioned (I’m guessing it’s because nobody writing these books knows anything about it). Homeschooling offers everything these kids need, in the absence of all the stressors that come with forced schooling and the abnormal social dynamics of an institutional setting.

What I find so amusing (when I’m not angry about it) is that the book I’m reading goes on to talk about how parents should introduce their Aspie kids to social situations slowly and deliberately, using highly structured situations with lots of adult supervision and support, starting with small numbers of kids and working your way up to the last-resort scenario of sending your kid out onto a busy playground alone. So throwing them into a classroom of 30 kids with only one overworked teacher, then sending them out onto the playground at recess where pretty much anything goes (and so much is overlooked or unseen)…this fits in with that plan how? Apparently it will work when you inform the teacher of your child’s specific issues, inform the staff, set up special programs for them in school, ensure there are support staff present for all social interactions, institute and promote an anti-bullying campaign, educate all the other parents and children about how your child is different…oh yeah, and convince the other kids they should just treat your child like everybody else.

Right. That will happen.

Did none of these people ever attend a school assembly where some adult lectured you and your classmates on morals and good behaviour as if all you needed to do was hear them and life would be fine? Do you not remember being bored out of your mind and then cracking jokes about how stupid it all was later on in the playground? Who really thinks stuff like this works?

As if it weren’t obvious enough to me that school can be a toxic environment for these kids, when you look at homeschooling it provides the perfect environment for them. One in which they can work at their own pace, advance in the areas in which they excel and go slowly in areas where they struggle (with no concerns about being “left behind”). An environment where learning disabilities can be easily accommodated. Where the social situations are varied enough that you can choose those which work for your kids (for us, small multiage groups) and avoid those that don’t (like huge picnics and festivals). Situations where there is an almost 1:1 adult to child ratio, where the parents look at social conflict as opportunities for learning and are happy to support and guide children through them before they become chronic and toxic. Where kids aren’t under any pressure to conform and where individuality is accepted and celebrated. The more I learn about Asperger’s the more grateful I am to have found this path for my kids early in life. I am so very thankful that I found unschooling first. I can only imagine the added issues and emotional pain my children would have experienced being lost in the school system. At the tender age of 6 my son would have a lengthy record to rival that of any career criminal (and this before he would be old enough for a correct diagnosis). And for what – for being different?

The whole experience of trying to learn how better to support my kids has left me feeling rather alone, an unschooler in a world where school is considered normal and A Good Thing into which kids who are different must be assimilated for their own good, despite the added stress they will experience. So much of the information on parenting school-aged Asperger’s kids runs contrary to all values I hold dear as a parent and the goals I have for my children. It is simply nowhere on my priority list to train my kids how to blend in and be like everybody else. Yes, I want to support them in areas that negatively affect their lives (like anger management, or anxiety) but I don’t want to make them “normal”. I happen to like who they are!

Anyways, I’m still new on this journey and I’m sure there is a community, a tribe out there, that I will find and feel at home with. I’m actively looking for other unschoolers of “kids with challenges” (I’ve found a couple in real life already, but am really looking for a wider, online community where we can have lengthy discussions). If anybody knows of any online forums or lists for such people please let me know in the comments.

Categories: lifestyle, parenting, rethinking education, socialization | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Where do we fit in?

  1. aspen mama

    hi! thank you! for this, I was sure there had to be some others like us out there! and I’m glad to know the books you’ve found so far are crap too! lol… I’m on the list to get “out of sync child” from the library, I’ll let you know if its any better! ~aspen mama

  2. I’ve known some mothers who tried this method (at school) with their kids who had autism, and it worked wonders for their children. It was very difficult for the mother at first, because she witnessed her son being teased by girls for (what she thought) him being different.

    She wrestled with this growing sense of pain on behalf of her son a few times, until she decided to confront the girls who were teasing him on the way to class. She introduced herself as her son’s mother and asked if they shared the same class with him. They said yes. She said she noticed them teasing him on the way to class – and did they think this was a very nice way to be greeted to school? They had a think about it and suppsed it probably wasn’t a nice way to be greeted, but they said they actually liked him.

    So she learned it had nothing to do with her son’s disability at all – it was just regular girl likes boy, girl teases boy to get attention stuff, LOL. He started getting good grades after a year (this awkward little boy who rarely said boo to anyone) and pretty soon becamse the classroom sweetheart. She was amazed that he even started developing a social network of friends. It didn’t start this way of course, and she very much felt the anguish of a mum having to trust a system (and children) who may not understand her son’s ways. What she wanted though, was for him to be given a shot at normal.

    She didn’t want him to conform to the system because she knew he couldn’t. In fact, he actually exceeded her or any of the teachers expectations of him. But what she wanted for him (her son) was to see if room could be made for a boy with autism. Because ultimately, one day, sons leave home and come to rely on their social network for security and direction.

    My own daughter had a learning difficulty. It’s one of the reasons I started to homeschool, as her learning “difference” and her innocence, caught the attention of other students who thought to play games with her feelings. As a mum I was hurt on her behalf. I was outraged that the teachers let this happen to her. I went through two schools in between homeschool.

    It wasn’t until the recent Queensland Floods and my separation from my husband (now reconciled) that I had to return to school and face old demons. My daughter needed community now more than ever and I’d reached my capacity to “protect” her. We faced the school together and they were actually really nice. She has since gotten her first report card, and it’s the best grades she’s ever received since school.

    What I didn’t understand is that I needed to let my daughter face these so called “normal kids” under my watch. She needed to see if she could fit in on her own terms, because I see my job as a mother for a very short period of time. Then the world takes her from me. It’s my job to prepare her for so called “normal” life, even though I know she is unique. I was born unique too. I’m still wrestling with the world to understand me, LOL. But I don’t see it as a win-lose situation any more. I win as long as I try – as long as my daughter tries to be the best that she can be.

    I think when advocates call for kids to be pushed through the school system, you can either look at it as a win-lose situation – or a, how can I win this one for my child without anyone having to lose. I don’t advocate that anyone has to do anything I do, or the system, but there’s good reasoning to be had that doesn’t involve tormenting children for the good of normalacy.

    When I look at my daughter engaging in school now, despite all the woes we had in the beginning, I realise the school is better for having her as a student, rather than the school making her a better student. Her uniqueness adds to the system and I’m more than happy to encourage her to be who she can be. The good teachers love her, the bad teachers are bad no matter what student is presented before them. This is the real world I see my daughter having to negotiate, when my authority as mother recedes to her authority as adult.

    It’s my natural inclination to want to protect her for as long as possible. It’s my natural inclination to spare her from pain of any kind. Life won’t treat her like that though. My best bet is to teach her about the “normal” world that exists, even if it’s nothing like her or me. There are days we still come home from school with conflict. There are days I want to biff particular teachers who seem to delight in ordering students (and parents) around. The challenge is learning to engage those situations, being the kind of person you ARE and want to be, rather than being “subjected” to anyone else.

    It’s a fine line, and I’ve walked on both sides – homeschool and public education. The success, I believe, comes from the parent’s ability to lift their children up to meet the tasks at hand. Some choose to homeschool, some choose the system. The success is up to the parent, who engages their children in whatever they want to achieve.

  3. I do think that there are many parents of kids on the autism spectrum who end up pulling their kids out of school for the very reasons you mention. I recall this topic coming up from time to time on HS-Van and at Self Design. You might try some inquiries in those two places (assuming you’re still on those sites!)

    Your kids are indeed lucky to have been homeschooled from the start.


  4. Hi! I love your blog!

    I’m another one like you. My son struggled in school, and a couple years ago I started putting the pieces together that his behaviors and quirks were probably on the Autism Spectrum, (high functioning/Apsperger’s) We’ve been homeschooling since Nov. and drifting towards unschooling/interest-led learning. He’s doing great at home! I’ve been blogging about our journey @ eclecticramblings.blogspot.com

  5. Pingback: Finding our Path « FreeLearning

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