I’ve been hesitating somewhat to write this post. I’d really like it to be a positive one, as focusing on the good sides of life is so important to me. It would be quite easy to let myself get dragged down by thoughts about all the difficult and sometimes miserable aspects of our existance. But our boy needs me so I’m choosing positive, as much as I can!
However, sometimes good things need to be contrasted with the bad, in order for us to really see and appreciate them. Even the brightest candle is not very noticable on a sunny day, is it?
I’m aware that many parents see home education as something that they’re more or less forced into, as a last resort, if going to school isn’t working at all for their child. And in a way that’s been the case for us too. On the other hand, it’s a choice that I would have loved to make sooner, if it had been possible for us to do so. But we were living in Sweden, where home education is not an available option, so to make it possible we needed to move back to the UK, which wasn’t an easy decision. And we’re still struggling with some of the strains that the move put us under, mainly financially.
Anyway, we made the move over a year ago now, and the positives this has brought for Penguin definitely overshadows all the practical difficulties. And when things are feeling difficult, I like to have a think about how we’ve ended up where we are and what the advantages are, compared to how things were. I recently read a text written by another home educating mum, which resonated deeply with me. She is doing home education withe her son because school just wasn’t working for him, and you could say it was forced upon them as they’d run out of other choices. But despite this, home education has become a wonderfully positive experience, for both mother and son. You can read the full story here: Life after school breaks down – one mum’s adventure in home-based special education
So in keeping with the predominantly positive spirit of that text, I’d like to point out a few important reasons why home education is a great fit for our Penguin:
1. Less stress
This is the one thing I feel is making the greatest difference, and it’s also what’s making me feel most guilt, over not having realised sooner HOW big a factor stress has been in Penguin’s life. He’s not a child who has seemed very stressed or anxious in general. And his reaction to stress has more often been one of shutdown rather than meltdown (even though we’ve had our fair share of the latter, too). A shutdown means, in short, that a person internalises the stress and goes kind of numb and unresponsive. In Penguin’s case, there have been many times where I thought he was either extremely relaxed or tired, when in fact he was shutting down due to being overwhelmed, stressed by things like too much sensory input or too many uncertainties.
In a school environment, there are many factors which can create sensory overwhelm for children with autism, as outlined in this post from Starlight and Stories. There are sounds, smells and tastes as well as tactile input, and as being autistic often means that you experience difficulties in processing a multitude of sensory stimulation, this can easily result in a build-up of stress, which may lead to a shutdown or meltdown.
I’d like to add to the brilliant post from Starlight and Stories by mentioning visual input (which the post only touches on in regards to lighting). To children like Penguin, who rely very heavily on their vision (to explain more about that will have to be a whole other post, I think!), being in a school environment can be a visual onslaught: There are kids moving around all the time and often in unpredictable ways; There’s stuff placed in front of you to focus on, bright paper, pencils, and coloured crayons, but at the same time the teacher is expecting you to pay attention to what’s going on at the front of the class, what is being written on the blackboard etc.; Your one-on-one assistant is asking you to look at her while she tries to explain or show something to you, while in the corner of your eye another child is waving his hand to get the teachers attention to come and look at their work; And there are posters on the walls, little dots in the ceiling panels, and maybe wallpaper or a patterned floor; And there are large windows with trees outside, causing a play of light and shadows, and streaks of sunshine in which you can see little particles of dust dancing joyfully in the air.
It’s rarely ONE thing that causes stress levels to get too high, but rather a build-up of many things on top of each other. In addition to the sensory aspects mentioned above, there are also social interactions to deal with, and the travelling to and from school, and so on. Persons with autism have also been found to often be running on “high idle” in regards to stress levels, meaning that their build-up of stress often starts off from an already higher level than for most of us. (Here’s a short note on that from Autism Discussion Page: Accumulation of Stress Chemicals)
As described in the above mentioned post from Starlight and Stories, there are many ways in which the school setting can be adjusted in order to limit stress. If you work in a school environment, please make sure to check out those suggestions!
2. More sleep
Another aspect which has been problematic for us, but is much more manageable now that we’re home edding, is sleep. I recently wrote this guest post for Special Educational Needs Resources Blog about our issues with sleep and ways we’ve tried to improve it. As I’ve described there, the amount of hours that Penguin manages to sleep each night is generally quite good at the moment, BUT his rythm is still very problematic, so if he would have had to get up for school early most mornings, sleep would still have been a major issue. Some mornings he’ll wake up early, even though he’s fallen asleep quite late. You’d think that he’d be tired in the evening after that, but no, he may well stay wide awake until 1am or later. The fact the we can follow a flexible rythm now that we’re home edding is invaluable to us, not least to my own health, physically as well as mentally.
3. Fewer ‘cooks’
When Penguin went to school, and to pre-school before that, there were many hours spent in meetings of various kinds. Meetings with the speech therapist and special ed teacher from the local ‘Autism Team’. Meetings with the headmaster at Penguin’s school, or with the SENCO, or both. Meetings with Penguin’s one-on-one assistant plus various combinations of the previously mentioned roles. Or the occupational therapist. Et cetera.
In these meetings, there were often long discussions about what supports, strategies and adjustments that were needed for Penguin. And most of the meetings ended on a positive note, with great conclusions about things that were going to be applied from now on, to help Penguin. However, after a few weeks, or sometimes sooner and sometimes later, it usually became clear that the strategies agreed on were not being implemented. Most of the time, this was due to someone who’d not been at the meeting in question, but who had strong opinions on what could/should (or couldn’t/shouldn’t) be done and how, why etc.
Just to give a few brief examples: It was agreed that Penguin should get time to work on things one-on-one with his assistant in a separate room, but then no room was actually made available for them, or that room had to be shared with a few others. Another example would be that it had been agreed that he’d be working on certain skills, but then it just didn’t happen because they forgot or didn’t have (make) time or Penguin wasn’t found to be motivated enough. Or, when it had been agreed that he should have access to an AAC app as well as certain visual supports, they were left in his school bag day after day without any use what so ever. And then there was the issue of continuity, which everyone agreed on as being important, but which turned out to be impossible and “unrealistic” to expect much of in reality.
I’m by no means perfect, and it often happens that we do different things than what I’d originally planned. But what we do is always based around what is relevant to him. And there hasn’t been endless hours wasted in meetings for making those plans, or on trying to explain the whys and hows to people who look like they’re listening but in reality take no notice what-so-ever.
Also, he now has a full-time one-on-one who understands him well and loves working with him, and who will never give up on him. (That’s me, in case that wasn’t obvious.) And my position is about as permanent as it gets.
4. More Learning
This fourth and final point on my list is in many ways a product of the other three:
With less stress comes the ability to learn more, as when you’re highly stressed, you’re not really open to learning. In order to focus and take on board new knowledge and/or skills, you first need to feel at peace in the situation you’re in. Also, when Penguin was attending school, he was so exhausted in the evenings and weekends that it was rarely possible to do any constructive activities together. So in case you were thinking that we could catch up at home on those things he should have done at school but couldn’t manage in that environment, the answer is no. We tried to, but it wasn’t working very well, and certainly wasn’t sustainable.
More sleep helps in making you fit for learning, and while we’re asleep the brain processes what has been going on during the day. Useful brain connections are strengthened, while less successful ones get weeded out.
And having fewer ‘cooks’ means that we can focus our time and energy more constructively, and make all relevant adjustments without constant compromises and people pulling in different directions. It also means that Penguin doesn’t have to spend months building a close relationship with a person only to have it taken away again a few months later when that person moves on with their life, or is moved on by their boss.
All these aspects form a stronger base for development and learning than what we could realistically achieve at school, even with great support and individual adjustments. So, at least for now, we’re very happy to be home edding.
~~~ ♥️ ~~~
You might also like to read: 7 significant (non-academic) steps forward in our first few months of Home Education