I am a mama in an unschooling family. If you haven’t heard of unschooling or don’t really know what it is, I will briefly describe the philosophy and base beliefs behind it.
Unschooling believes that with an opportune and rich environment, and with involved and loving parents (or other caregivers), children will thrive and learn what they need to. It proposes that children learn best, and most happily and readily, from real life, and from play and enjoyment. Not from imposed curriculum or lessons put upon them. It is, in essence, the radical trusting of children.
None of my four children hae ever been to school. I don’t give them lessons. I don’t force them to learn things. I don’t make them read/write/count/anything else put here; by any certain age. I don’t impose common education beliefs upon them. If this is sounding unusual, I suppose that’s because it is. It is not the norm by any means. But it isn’t new either, and there are many adults who were unschooled as children, living in their communities and going about their lives as we speak.
The ideas behind unschooling also flow into all areas of living. In an unschooling home, living and learning are intertwined, and they intermingle, and blur into one another.
My children, as well as being free from forced and coerced learning, are also free from punishments, rostered chores, rewards and praise, and other things used to ‘train’ children.
Because, as I wrote earlier, unschooling is essentially the radical trusting of children.
I don’t wish to alienate anyone in explaining unschooling. The ideas behind it can apply to anyone who wishes to challenge the way we routinely and habitually think about, and treat, children. I feel that many of us can benefit from challenging personal assumptions, whether we unschool our children (or whether we even have children), or not.
I would like to now explain that my children are autistic. Through our unschooling journey, and with the full acceptance of our children as valid and worthy just as they are (we have never attempted to ‘cure’ our children, nor do we think in terms of ‘healing’ or ‘getting better’ – our children are autistic and this is not a problem), we have seen some amazing things from them. We have enjoyed a lot of happiness as a family too.
I am not a researcher by trade. I don’t have any university qualifications in a scientific field. Noone has come and ‘studied’ my family. But what we have going on is something noteable and unusual.
While autism researchers and experts continue to claim things like:
“Autistic children NEED strict routine.”
“Autistic children don’t know how to learn. We must teach them, through therapy, how to learn.”
“Autistic children need to be pushed out of their comfort zones.”
“Autistic children will fixate on a ‘special interest’ to an unhealthy level.”
“Autistic children are not capable of self-regulating.”
“Autistic children are scared of the world.”
“Early Intervention is essential.”
“Autistic children don’t connect cause and effect.”
“Autistic children need to be punished to understand things. Consequences are vital.”,
we are living an entirely different reality. And in it, those statements are wrong.
I would like to invite the consideration that what we know (or think we know) about autism – can be challenged. I would like to invite the idea that all of what we know about autism, could be challenged. We are not the only family living this way, and there will be many more after mine.
I propose the possibility that, while we continue to force autistic people to jump through our hoops; while we continue to induce high anxiety in autistic people by trying to push them into certain scenarios; while we continue placing them into schools and therapy centres that are, by their very nature and structure, inappropriate for autistic people; while we continue using a non-autistic yardstick as a measure of success; while we continue to draw big conclusions based on outer markers over inner being; while we continue to allow non-autistic people to make important judgments and start research projects and write diagnostic criteria and design treatment models based upon their own neurology; while we continue to allow non-autistic people to stigmatise and stereotype being autistic; while we continue to believe that being autistic means that there is something “wrong” with you – we have no real idea what autistic people are capable of.
And not just that, we cannot even know what it would be like if autistic people were just allowed to be happy and to have their basic emotional and comfort needs met. If they were free from marginalisation in all areas of the community. We just cannot know. How could we? How can we claim to know what the world could be like for autistic people, when we have done such a poor job up to present? It is both far-fetched and misleading, to base so much upon the conditions and paradigms that exist as they do, and for as long as they have. And yet, this is the current state of autism ‘expertise’, autism research, and collective autism knowledge.
I believe strongly in re-thinking what we assume about being autistic. Because we just don’t have a good basis of knowledge, and we don’t often ask the truly challenging questions. I imagine a world of radical trust of our autistic children, and I know we are capable of moving closer to that. I don’t know what would happen if we did so, but I do know that things would be different.