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.
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.