Tag Archive | special needs

How home educating helped our autistic son

A little while ago Gina commented on a post on my blog.

I was so moved by her remarks that I thought her story needed a post of its own. Her comment related to a post about Daniel Radcliffe (read it here), who was also told he was stupid, which prompted her to write this about her autistic son:

Gina’s two happy boys!

I have an 11 yo whom we removed from school in the first term of year one. He was six and had picked up the idea he was stupid and didn’t try hard enough. 

They had stopped teaching him anything but social skills so he would be prepared for the local special school and he was allowed to play and do what he wanted all day.

They gave up on him because he was ticking none of the horrendous Ofsted boxes. I am sure they wanted to do it differently with him but there was no time for all (or any) of his needs to be met.

They told us to concentrate on his life skills so he could aim for living in a group home, that was the best we could hope for. They really didn’t like us much and I think us constantly trying to support our child in a system that essentially had no room for him did not improve their willingness to try.

Within weeks of taking him out of school as a child who could not recognise his letters he read a chapter book, by eight he had read an entire adult spider encyclopaedia. Most importantly he was happy and had stopped crying. He has recently learned how to join in with games and speak to his friends. Two days ago he played with a strange child in a playground with other friends. This is a huge milestone and totally unexpected.

He becomes kinder, braver and happier all the time away from school. Like Daniel Radcliffe said my son was also labelled and would have been discarded had it not been for home schooling. He loves learning and life now.

When Gina related to me a little of their family background it contained several other appalling instances of the treatment of their children in school, details of which I won’t go into here except to say they’re sadly very familiar; bullying, disregard of child’s special needs, blatant lying on the part of the school, which all culminated in them making that choice to home educate.

She went on to tell me:

We haven’t looked back, they are just over five years out of school and thriving. The stomach issues he had at school cleared up when they stopped going. They are in groups, making friends and just happy, life is good now.  They remember school and don’t want to go back and feel really sorry for school children who get stuck in doors all day every day!  They still have issues related to autism but we can deal with that as a family at home.  There is time and space for that. 

As a family we are a bit nerdy! We love Star Wars, Harry Potter and Dungeons and Dragons, we make loads of things and we love science experiments – especially with explosions or fire.  They seem a lot less worldly than school children we know and are able to play longer and use their imaginations so much more.  They’re just growing at a slower and more gentle pace which suits their needs better. They live the stories they read and movies they see through their games.  We make sure to build boredom time into the day so they have to go and find something to do, even if they need help.  We also make sure there are at least a couple of hours for just playing.  They have chores, we cook and clean together and we play together. 

We are looking at maybe doing Forest School with them once a week.  They do sports, trips, play dates, crafting, drama and Parkour with their friends; friendships they have been building for a very long time now.

We are really close and I think that is one of the very lovely side effects of home education. 

Many, many thanks Gina for sharing this with us. Wishing you continued happiness.

Even Celebs are choosing to Home Educate!

Nadia and her lovely girls

Earlier in the week there were several papers covering the news about Nadia Sawalha revealing that she was another parent who home educated.

It was lovely to have some positive coverage among the ignorant dross that’s usually trotted out by people who’ve no experience of home schooling. (Like the other presenters on ‘Loose Women’ who discuss it here all of whom are under the usual misconceptions like; kids who haven’t been used to getting up in the morning won’t be able to go to work!)

But it will help to raise awareness of this option for families whose children are not thriving in school.

And there are all sorts of reasons for that; for not thriving. Most of which generally have nothing to do with learning and education, and much to do with the school climate, the prescriptive nature of enforced learning matter and means, the obsession with testing and measurement – not particularly helpful to the learner themselves, and the neglect of individual intelligence in favour of a generic cloning.

And another thing – many, many of us would not thrive or reach our potential in a school atmosphere with masses of others where we feel threatened and put down, where despite government promises needs are not met. They can’t be, simply because of the corporate business that a school is, with so many to cater for. And the vote hungry politics which makes it so.

What’s so deplorable about this is that parents are made to feel there’s something wrong with children who need a different kind of atmosphere from that horrid hubbub of school in which to learn. School is fine if it suits – horrendous if it doesn’t. These kids are not necessarily cowards, softies, introverts or ‘special’ as they’ve been called – they are discerning! And many of the home educated kids who I know, who were removed from school because they hated it for that very reason, have gone on to be productively working adults with better social skills than many school grads.

After watching the Loose Women clip, particularly the suggestion that kids without structure won’t get up in the morning, my youngest who was home educated from the age of 6 commented that it was always the school kids who were late for college or lectures at Uni where she was always punctual despite this ‘lack’ of schooling structure. As Nadia said; home educated children take their learning on board for themselves unlike than those who’ve had it imposed on them and have therefore no idea how to be independent.

What I find most interesting about the idea of celebrities choosing home education (Emma Thompson another one) when they could presumably afford a ‘really good’ private school, is that whatever a ‘really good’ school may be these parents find their children need something different from a school experience. And it is the schooling that most want to get away from. Usually so they can get on with the real business of learning in an uplifting, inspiring and life-enhancing way.

Which is fundamentally what education is about.

Searching out wild spaces for the good of the children

My friend has a wild weedy bit with overgrown trees, ivy and stumps at the bottom of her small narrow town garden. This only leaves a bit by the house in which she can have beloved flowers and plants and bit of lawn to lie upon.

A wild playground

A wild playground

This was originally left for the four boys she raised there to build dens, go hide in a jungle, hunt for creepy-crawlies, or collect snails or acorns, bits of bark or other such treasures down among the roots.

Now the boys have been replaced by four grown up young men who no longer live there and she could reclaim some of that jungle for her garden again. But both her and they still want it left, for they all feel it wouldn’t be the same without that bit of wildness to hide in. Something in their souls tell them they still need it.

She did good!

According to George Monbiot‘s book ‘Feral. Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding’, all children need this bit of wildness in which to play. And it is something that is denied most of today’s children. They are denied the innate need to explore in unstructured places in unstructured ways, as we used to. The woods, streams, logs, uncultivated fields many of us played in, provided imaginative kids with the chance to build physical skills, a connection to nature, and confidence as they improvised dens, climbing ‘frames’, had contact with mud and mini-beasts. It has now all either replicated in plastic or in controlled tarmacked and manicured environments.

It’s not the same. And it doesn’t have the same impact on our children either. Apparently the lack of freedom to play in wild places, now mostly claimed in the name of housing, agriculture, farming or misguided attempts at conservation (according to Monbiot), has been linked with the increase in disorders in children like hyperactivity or inability to concentrate. Playing among trees and plants helps settle children down where playing on concrete or indoors has the opposite effect.

It’s actually the same for me. The same for most people, I suspect, if they just recognised it.

Monbiot acknowledges the need for housing and for food and farming and battles rage constantly over the political issues which balance these against the preservation of wild spaces.

But whilst these battles and political agendas continue, the children are increasingly denied health giving opportunities to be really wild.

So us parents are going to have to work harder not only to get the children outside away from insidious indoor comforts, but also to find the wild spaces where they can return to something like their roots.

Tolerance for those who do it differently

I’m hatching a follow up to my newest book ‘Who’s Not In School?’books 001

We’ve had some lovely reviews. But I’m also trying to take on board the not so lovely ones and make adjustments, give people what they want.

Some want an image of Home Ed respectability and felt Little Harry will give home schoolers a bad reputation. Others complained it was an image of a structured family and left others out. It’s difficult knowing who to please!

It’s also difficult to capture a good story with just a few words to play with. Far easier to indulge a writer’s passion for lots and lots of them!

Some of the children’s stories I’ve read in the past have been fantastic. Some not so good.

The best, I think, are stories that leave you wondering and talking with the children, like ‘Horrid Henry’ (by Francesca Simon) – what a child! Or ‘Pippi Longstocking’ (Astrid Lindgren), who lives outside all our preconceptions. Or books with a message like ‘Wonder’ (P J Palacio) which raises our awareness of our response to children with facial disfigurement.

I suppose my message with Harry was that whoever they are and whatever they are doing children have reasons for what they do. Admittedly some of these doings need moderating as they mature and increase their understanding of why certain actions might not be desirable, if they want to become happy and involved members of society that is. But we need to show patience and understanding in our guidance until they get there.

And especially tolerance of all the different types of people there are in the world. And of those who want to do it differently.

Home educating families are among those who want to do things a bit differently.

But everyone is different really; all children are different whether in school or out, all parents are different. All writers are different too and produce a different kind of work.

Tolerance and understanding are the keys to us all living gracefully together whoever we are and whatever we purport.

Introducing Natty…

flowers DSUbook 004You must be sick of hearing me harp on about my new book ‘Who’s Not In School?’ so I’m going to talk about someone else’s.

‘I Love You Natty’ is a book written and produced by the family from DownsSideUp an award winning blog, raising awareness of Down’s Syndrome and bringing comfort and reassurance to many.

I’m sure their book will do the same. It’s written through the voice of Mia, Natty’s big sister, and shows something of what it’s like in a family with a Down’s Syndrome child. Not only is it a really moving text, the illustrations and book itself is utterly exquisite and I’m dead jealous!

Hayley, Natty and Mia’s mum, has done such a mammoth amount of work to increase understanding of Down’s and bring comfort to parents who may be experiencing it for the first time and feeling daunted. She’s provided many with a reassuring hand to hold and this book provides another one, especially for a sibling, helping to make those experiencing the condition less alone.

Hayley and I first met when she included a home education approach in addressing Natty’s learning needs.

Children with particular needs are often left floundering in the school system and some parents find that home schooling gives the opportunity to tailor educational approaches to their individual.

There are so many ways learning can be approached; home educating means parents are able to provide stimulating experiences, practical activities, and follow a different schedule in order to best provide for their individual child. This can mean that potential failure in a classroom setting can be turned into educational success.

I’m wishing Mia and Natty and all the family all the very best with their delightful book.

Find them at www.downsideup.com And you can order copies of their book on Amazon.

How a parent helped her child through school by knowing how home education works

Messages from readers are such a joy to receive – most of them anyway!

I had another recently from a parent telling me how useful my posts were in helping them keep a balanced view of their child’s education.

The interesting thing was that it came from a parent with a child in school; the posts about home education helped keep schooling in perspective too.

One of my best friends was delighted to hear this – she’s been telling me the same thing for years; how we helped her see education a bit differently and consequently support her child in school. So her words have been endorsed – she had the pleasure of saying ‘I told you so’ when I rang her today!

She had a dyslexic child who had the classic labels; ‘lazy’ ‘thick’ daubed onto him in class. But she had me in her other ear saying that they were wrong. Hers was a bright child who was just not having his learning needs met by a system which disregards individuals (and very often dyslexics), clumps everybody together within a narrow framework of measurement then, when the obvious happens and some don’t achieve, say it’s all the kids’ fault.

It’s not, but she, like most parents, assumed all teachers and schools knew what they were about.

Sadly, not always, they also have agendas other than the needs of an individual child. I’ve worked in them – that’s how I know – and that’s one of the things I told her.

I also know that there’s no magic training that makes a person a good teacher, no magic technique for teaching that makes teachers recognise children’s needs more intuitively than many parents, and most teachers have no training in dealing with children with special needs anyway.

If you’ve got a child who fits happily within the very narrow criteria schools use for measuring success, you’re very lucky.

Most children don’t actually fit, but that doesn’t mean they ‘fail’ either; instead they are failed by this system.

Anyway, thanks to her faith in her child, her intuition (and my words, she says) she enabled him to succeed against awful odds, go onto Uni and he’s now started his first job. So I asked her what were some of the things she did as a result of our conversations and her observation of our home education that supported them through the many challenges they faced within the school system.

These are some of the points she mentioned, which we’d talked about when we were homeschooling:

  • Stay on the side of the child (particularly when the child feels the school is not), listen to them, believe in them, rather than unquestioningly believing what the school wants you to believe.
  • Remain focussed on the needs of your child. Not on the needs of the institution. Basically we should remember that the school is there to serve the education of your child – your child is not there to serve the school! Challenge them!
  • Understand that children take different amounts of time to learn something, gain skills, to develop and mature. This is quite normal and they are not abnormal if they don’t fit into a prescribed and generalised timeframe. Just because a child hasn’t learnt something when the curriculum says they should, does not mean they’ll never learn it, or that they’re failures, so don’t panic or worry or pressurise. Try and keep it lightweight and be patient.
  • Listen to your guts and your intuition and your child. If you sense something is wrong then it probably is.
  • Don’t always assume that the school and the teachers are right, are professional, or are to be unwaveringly respected. We are trained in obedience to these institutions (banks, schools, health care centres spring to mind). That’s how celebs got away with abuse – no one could believe that these icons weren’t right or good. Basically we know and respect when someone’s doing a good job – and when they’re not. All professionals have to earn respect by their continued integrity and respectful behaviour. Question them if it’s not.

Home educators are told that they have to by law provide an education suitable to a child’s age, ability and aptitude and any special educational needs they may have. I often wonder just how many schools really do that!

A successful alternative to school

Just reposting a few points about home education for those who might be considering this option.

–          Contrary to what many parents believe learning can occur in a myriad of different ways not just the way they do it in school. Through home schooling you can successfully use those alternatives.

–          Home educated children achieve good grades like other children do. They go to university, college, or into work like other children do. Their academic, social and personal skills are reputed to be in front of those of their school peers.

–          Home educated children are not isolated. Most interact with a wide range of people, in a wide range of places, doing a broad range of activities. Some have far more life experience than those children in school. Most have mature social skills.

–          Thousands of families turn to home education because schools fail to provide for their children’s needs, both academic and personal. In some cases this has been a life line for children who’ve suffered in school the kind of abuse that just would not be tolerated by adults in a workplace. Home educators are the parents who take initiative to do something about their children’s suffering rather than just ignoring it.

–          Some parents never send their child to school right from the outset. Others opt to home school because their child didn’t get a place in the school of their choice.

–          Children who have been written off by the educational system or labelled as having ‘learning difficulties’ or ‘special needs’, for example, have gone on to achieve a good academic standard through home education. Learning differences do not need to become learning difficulties.

–          Home educating families are as ordinary as any other families who have the same ordinary aspirations for their children to achieve and be happy. They come from all ranges of the social, educational, financial and cultural backgrounds that make up our society.

–          Children can learn in a multitude of different ways, not just in the prescriptive style of the educational system. Home educating gives children the opportunity to learn in the way that suits them best, increasing their chances of success. This doesn’t necessarily mean academic cramming. It means acknowledgement of the myriad of alternative approaches, experiential and practical, there are to learning, time use, activities, to opportunities, qualifications, to becoming educated.

–          Children do not need to be continually tested in order to learn.

–          Much valuable teacher time is wasted in schools with objectives and targets and tick sheets and such like admin which is of no value to the child. Children at home get one-to-one help and your time is your own to organise.

–          There is plenty of opportunity for different pursuits, interests and sports because you can achieve and learn much more quickly in a home environment. This results in well rounded children with multiple skills and interests.

–          There need by no more cost involved than with schooling. Ideas, printables, learning resources and support are readily available online.

–          Your child never, ever, needs to suffer bullying or abuse of any kind, physical, mental or emotional.

Search round this site for lots more. And if you want to read a story of how home education really works try my book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’. It’s great for a giggle too!