A lot is said about how hard it is for parents of autistic children. Yes, it can be exhausting and it has driven me to the edge at times, but mainly because I was constantly battling for diagnoses and the support my child needed in school. When the available educational options ultimately proved inadequate I felt I had no choice but to take back control and that was the start of an amazing voyage of discovery, a series of ah-ha moments and the unfolding of a great relationship with my son.
Life before home education
My son was a masker so professionals struggled to believed me when I passed on what he had told me about being profoundly anxious and not coping with school or my accounts of the resulting reactions at home. It took 5 years to get a diagnoses of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and even though that was in part due to the diagnostic criteria I sent them on a little known presentation of autism I’d come across called Pathological Demand Avoidance, it was not sited on his assessment as it is not recognised in my area. Due to the nature of PDA it needs very specific support strategies that differ in large part to other spectrum conditions. Lack of recognition for the condition and even accusations of ‘medicalising’ my son meant he was unable to get the right support to stay in school so I closed my business and my son and I began our home education adventure.
And Life after…
I expected it to be hard, I expected to feel trapped and alone but I was so wrong. In fact it opened up a whole new world to me, it meant I could stop fighting for services and instead have time stop and see the world through my son’s eyes. It gave us the opportunity to start to understand each other as people, to step outside societies predetermined parent and child/us and them attitudes and instead listen to, and learn from, each other.
What I have learnt
Now it would be misleading if I said this apparent utopia happened over night or in fact that it was a utopia at all, far from it. A year in it is a blossoming new relationship with all the problems, compromises and difficulties that inevitably brings but we are now collaborating together, we are becoming a team. Along the way I have learnt flexibility, never to assume, to question everything (including myself), to think outside the box, to believe in me as well as him, to care for myself and address my own issues, and above all that my child has a valuable, unique and enlightening view of the world in his own right. Hopefully he has learnt some things too, but one thing is for sure we are both so much happier.
It’s all about trust
The main thing I have come to understand though is to trust my son. Trust him to want to learn, to want to self-care, to want to feel calm, to want to have great relationships and to want to succeed however that looks to him. So much of current thinking is geared up to make us think our children can not be trusted to do these things and I have realise that I subscribed wholesale to these attitudes for years. ‘Without discipline your child will be unmanageable’, ‘without school your child will never learn’, ‘without punishment and reward your child will never know right from wrong’. Now because of the very nature of PDA my son didn’t respond well to any of these approaches, they are all demands by another name.
Changing my mindset
It was only then I started thinking about how stupid this approach really was. I mean think back, how did your son or daughter learn to walk or talk? Did you do a sticker chart? Punish them for not walking or talking enough? Make them practice for a set amount of time? Assume they would never walk or talk unless you forced them to do so? Give them a reward every time they did? No of course not, you walked and talked with them, you smiled and encouraged their achievements by being happy for them, you moderated your own behaviour to set an example and have a positive impact by, for example, not swearing around them and so on. We knew they could do it, we believed in them. So why would their approach to learning anything else be any different? Why have we stopped believing in our children’s ability to learn, to seek encouragement and desire to succeed at being human?
Its crazy isn’t it and I must still be slightly in this mindset as I am often stunned when my son asks me if I can get him some maths to do or if I can help him learn Chinese for example. All things are possible if you believe (in your child).
To read more about our home education journey click the links below: