We knew from way back when I was first pregnant with my son that we would homeschool him. His big sister is 14 years older than him and although she did well academically at school and went to really good schools, I watched the love of learning that she had as a pre-schooler completely fade by about year 2. By that point, all the social stuff started to take over and it stayed the focus for her throughout primary and early high school.
Because it had to. Because if you put hundreds of children together in a relatively small space, supervised by a pretty small group of adults who have no familial bonds to them, well, it’s survival of the meanest. It’s never going to be pretty. Getting through the long school week is going to mean keeping your developing nervous system on high alert for threats. No one makes it through unscathed. I didn’t. And I don’t know many who do.
This makes us a little different when it comes to the issue of schooling for our autistic son. We know many, many families who are homeschooling after sending their autistic children to school went horribly wrong. Who are helping their children navigate through post traumatic stress, anxiety and other serious problems as a result of them being bullied, locked up and held down.
I’ve read the research about the shocking rate of bullying that happens to autistic children. I’ve learnt from autistic adults the lifelong effects of this bullying. I experience it myself. I’ve read the history of the institution of schooling and how it developed alongside the industrial revolution – a requirement to free up parents so they could produce for the economy.
I know that many people feel they have no choice but to send their children to school. I know that there are single parents who may have no choice. I know I am privileged to be in a position to be able to homeschool my son. I also know that homeschooling him means we live on one income, won’t ever own a home and can’t afford to travel. None of that matters to us as much as creating an environment where our son can learn with the people who love him. Where he will not feel fear on a daily basis, be subject to abuse from other children and teachers, be misunderstood and ridiculed for being different.
When I try to imagine my son in school, it causes me physical pain. My daughter is not autistic and still the experience was at times traumatic for her. She is a survivor of the school system, getting through in spite of the challenges that came her way. My stomach knots when I think about what would happen to my autistic son in school. The kindest teacher, the most enlightened approaches would not protect him from the rule of the jungle that exists when the bell goes and the jostling for position and prestige begins.
He is different, gloriously so. I will not give him over to the jungle.