Saturday, 4 February 2017
Home educating, two weeks in......
The decision to remove PDA boy from school was a tough one.
Being completely honest, the thought of willingly keeping him home gave me many sleepless nights, my gut was telling me that this would be the best thing for him, but at the same time I also worried that it would be the unraveling of me.
The last few years have been incredibly difficult, the constant battle for support and trying to work with people who were unable to understand has taken its toll on all of us. PDA boy has spent the last few months in a state of constant anxiety, which for him means anger, meltdowns and very volatile behaviour. There was every chance that this behaviour would continue at home, and this terrified me.
In the last few years my need for time out to recover has increased dramatically, I need to set time aside in order to be silent, in order to tidy up my frayed nerves, in order to prepare myself to be a decent mother. I've had a constant battle going on in my head where the logical side, that knew that PDA boy would never thrive in school, would be more likely to go off the rails dramatically, was being drowned out by the emotional side, which told me that I wouldn't cope, I wouldn't keep up with his pace and his high level of demands.
I'm happy to report that I was wrong (perhaps a bit presumptious to state this only two weeks in, but if it all goes tits up at least I can read back and remember how happy things were, if only for a while!)
Two weeks in have seen the following changes.....
PDA boy's rate of swear words per minute has reduced. Quite a feat, considering his fluency with regards to swearing.
We are able to use PDA strategies all the time, and they are working. Now we are no longer managing the after-effects of a day at school, giving choices, tweaking our language and reducing demands, alongside introducing a sensory diet, means that PDA boy, for the first time in years, is mainly happy, and you have no idea what a relief this is!
When at school, we had to deal with PDA boy's regular low mood and a vocalised wish to kill himself, something which, whilst assured by CAMHS was normal in children with ASD, still worried us enormously, and not to sound dramatic, but this was the deciding factor in deciding to home educate. We knew that PDA boy's low mood was largely down to school related anxiety. We have now had almost two weeks without the usual suicide threats.
During the day PDA boy has the opportunity to do what he wants. This is mainly bushcraft, lighting fires, chopping wood, walking our dogs and cooking. In the last two weeks PDA boy as prepared a whole trout and cooked it on a campfire. We were given two pheasants by our local gamekeeper, PDA boy rose admirably to the challenge and plucked, gutted, prepared and cooked these all by himself!
Our first challenge came in the shape of a small spotty boy, my youngest developed chicken pox. PDA boy doesn't do illness in others, it's inconvenient and stops him from doing what he wants to do. I expected a difficult week, but after a tricky first day, he was able to understand why we couldn't be outdoors at all times, and was almost always patient and kind with his little brother. He has been angry, but appears to be more able to regulate his mood.
My fears about home educating have so far been unfounded. I feel like we're having an extended holiday where we are mostly relaxed.
I wake up and wonder why I feel strange, and have found that I've got so used to waking up and dreading the day ahead that it feels alien to wake up and look forward to whatever the day will bring.
I didn't expect such a dramatic change in the boy. He is still challenging, but being able to meet the challenges in ways that work are making a real difference.
It's not all plain sailing. Once again though, the difficult part is other people.
I have been assured that:
1. We're not allowed to home educate (wrong, yes we are, and there are clear government guidelines that back this up)
2. We'll make PDA boy an isolated weirdo (given the option, I'd far rather he was a happy, isolated weirdo than a miserable, angry boy having to work hard to fit in at school!)
3. What about socialising? (to quote the oft used home edder's mantra "forced association is not socialisation". PDA boy is sociable and goes out to play with friends, he goes to clubs. As he is no longer in a permanent state of high anxiety, social interactions are more meaningful. I also suspect that socialising with people outside of the competitive, dog-eat-dog environment of school where there is a strong need for people to be the same or face bullying (you're fat? That's wrong. You have ginger hair? That's wrong. You wear the wrong type of shoes? That's wrong), will mean that he can grow up without the social predjudices that are the norm in secondary school.)
4. He'll never get a job, you're setting him up to fail (I fully believe that had we left him in school, forced him in every day, PDA boy would have ended up so disengaged with the system that, like so many others, he would opt out and quite possibly go off the rails, this would then require great strength of character (which may have been depleted by years of having no autonomy and being treated as a naughty boy who must be punished - as he was in his few months of secondary) to turn things around and be a productive adult. As rates of autistic adults in employment are so low, I also think our focus at the moment should be on helping him learn to keep happy. There's no point having a job if you're so unhappy that death seems like a valid option. If he's happy anything else is a bonus.)
5. School days are the best days of your life, you're denying him that (Bullshit! I remember going through secondary school thinking that if these were going to be the best days of my life I might as well kill myself! School days for some are hideous, indescribably horrific, mentally damaging. I cannot understand why school has this romanticised image, this Enid Blyton-esque rose tinted glasses outlook, when so many people have succeeded despite school rather than because of it, when so many have memories of bullying, why are we still believing the bollocks that is "school days are the best in your life". If we can continue to give PDA boy the option to spend his days focusing on his interests, I would hazard a guess that he will have far better memories than being cooped up in a school that was so awful for him that he crumbled in a few short months.)
School is not for everyone, this is well known. I'm sure we can all remember classmates who skipped school regularly, who came out of school with no qualifications, who went through years hellbent on self destruction, some of whom didn't make it out alive. For some, school is amazing, they build relationships, they reach their potential. For some school does the opposite, they are taught through others' actions that they are worthless and useless.
We didn't fancy PDA boy's odds in a school environment, and so far, making the decision to take him out is proving to be the right choice for this family. It's not a magic wand, we can't make any guarantees about his future, we can't take away the sibling rivalry between PDA boy and our oldest (which is still a source of huge conflict), but we will do our best to allow PDA boy to grow and mature in a largely respectful, supportive environment.
We can do things our way, without having to justify our choices to others who don't get the situation, and build on the things that work and drop the things that don't work.
So far my worry about needing time alone has been unfounded. As everyone is more relaxed I'm not reaching the point of sheer overwhelm, or at least not in the way that I did, so it's easier to manage.
Despite all the concerns we had about home educating, so far it's proving to be the best decision we have made. Let's hope it stays like this!