Life after school breaks down – Our SEND home education journey

It seems strange saying this when the thing that brings me the greatest joy is teaching my child, but I never saw myself as a full-time home educator; it was not something I ever imagined I would have chosen.

Issues with mainstream schooling

My son started off on the usual route with mainstream primary school, but things were never straightforward when it came to school, as my son is autistic and dyslexic. The particular way autism presents in my son is called PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance). What this means for him is that he is always anxious and finds it hard to say yes to anything that is asked of him, because he sees everything as a demand (that includes things he wants to do as well as things he doesn’t).

Despite a one-to-one teaching assistant and other support, as he got older his anxiety around school gradually became extreme, leading to complete school refusal by the end of Year 5.

Making the home-schooling decision

After ten months with virtually no attendance and all interventions failing, it was apparent to all that the mainstream approach wasn’t for him. Feeling I had exhausted all other viable options, I felt I had no choice but to take on the challenge of teaching him from home.

At first, it was just about making him feel safe enough to leave his room and hang out with me. After a time we started doing a bit of cooking together or looking at plants in the garden. Gradually, I started to encourage him to investigate things more deeply by looking up things we had seen, finding new recipes or looking into the chemistry of how things worked – such as yeast. Once he gained confidence, he started showing an interest in doing more structured learning and told me he would like to learn more about dogs (one of his special interests).

Child-led topic-based learning

That was the beginning of how we work now – with child-led topic based learning. He loves it because he is in control of choosing the topics and I find it such a great method of teaching because most topics can be geared to include all the main subject areas. It is an individualised style of learning that would never have been possible in a school setting using the national curriculum.

‘Dogs’ was a great introduction to this approach. We have the most mixed up mongrel dog so started by sending his DNA for analysis. From there we looked at the breeds, what they were used for (history), where they came from (geography), and how they came to exist (biology – genes, DNA). We also wrote about them (English), worked out the fractions and percentages of each breed then made graphs and pie charts (maths/IT), and drew what we thought his ancestors might have looked like (art). The more we did the more the opportunities for learning flowed.

Getting into the details

It has continued in this vein for the past year, covering everything from explorers to film making. Some topics have led us into advanced areas of learning, and we have used material devised for the GCSE syllabus or from the Open University because his interest has fuelled exploring to that level of knowledge. We have been on so many field trips including theatres and museums, and even managed to sneak in some PE with activities like orienteering and archery.

Seeing the results

Using this approach has built my son’s confidence, re-kindled his love of learning and moderated his behavioural difficulties, allowing him to really shine. The deep interest in the subjects he chooses helps him work harder to overcome his dyslexia because he wants to engage. It has been the most wonderful voyage of discovery for us both on so many levels.

I don’t think we have done badly for a mother who didn’t see herself as a teacher and a boy who couldn’t say yes!

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