The last few months have been amazing, awesome, filled with hope for a better future, … and hard.
So much change has happened recently. Change is difficult and leads to exhaustion even to the point of burnout, but it is good change.
I withdrew my son from the local public school as his needs were not being met, academically or socially. I have wanted to homeschool for many years. I felt in my heart that it was right decision to make. So, as of May, I am now a Homeschool Mum. His little sister is still in school for the time being, but that will likely change later down the track.
I am confident in this change in lifestyle, I am after all a registered teacher. However, there are so many logistical and planning things. But my first priority has been to remove the anxiety caused by the pressure the “system” puts on students. The concept of unschooling definitely has merit at this point, considering my concerns for mental health of students. How our journey will develop, I don’t know yet. It’s a journey, and I am learning that it’s ok to take an alternate route.
The current education system works for students who are “middle of the road”, not extremely gifted but not struggling either (some schools cater specifically to these groups but mainstreams schools are limited in their capacity to offer the differentiated learning required by these students). It is a system designed for preparing hardworking, academically minded students for ticking the boxes to get into university. Many schools now also cater for hardworking students aiming for a TAFE qualification.
Throw autism into the mix and the system frequently fails the individual. If a child is seen as “low-functioning autistic” (often referred to as “very autistic” or “severely autistic”) they are left to flounder under the guise of “special needs”, “Oh, he’s autistic. It will be a miracle if he manages to even get a menial job as an adult.” Or the child will be seen as “high-functioning autistic” (often considered as “not that autistic”) and will be expected to cope without appropriate supports or adjustments, “He just needs to learn to fit in and conform like everyone else.” (*Please note: these functioning labels are not helpful and often prevent the autistic individual accessing the supports they need due to stereotyping)
I conformed as a child. I can’t remember learning to do so, but I learnt my lessons well because I was too scared not to, I still am to a large extent (that’s a work in progress). A typical autistic trait is honesty, and the flipside is that you tend to be very trusting (to the point of gullible at times). I used to believe that to fit into society you must go to school, then university, then you will do well in life. If you don’t go to university then you won’t do well in life. That’s not quite how life has turned out for me, or for many people I know. I used to believe in “the system”, because I was drilled with the thought that I must follow this path of education in order to succeed, from a very young age. It wasn’t until I worked in that system as a teacher, and as a newly diagnosed autistic, that suddenly my eyes opened to the flaws of just how badly our children (autistic and non-autistic alike) are being let down by a society that doesn’t want it’s population to have critical thinking and 21st century competencies. Society is teaching its children to be obedient and follow social expectations. Children are not given the freedom to learn what they want to learn about (there are so many examples of autistics who thrived from interest-led learning), they are told what they have to learn, and when, and too bad if they missed a foundation skill because the system does not allow teachers the freedom to teach students what they need to know, only what is mandated in the curriculum for their age, which is too full that the teacher never has time to teach anything else, even if it’s what the children need.
I observed an education system that has the goal of conformity, which is the same goal as ABA (a very controversial therapy as the goal is to supress the autistic traits and make the person appear “non-autistic”. Many autistic adults who have undergone this therapy as children strongly campaign against it as it is psycologically abusive). Students are required to conform. Conform to the rules, conform to behavioural norms, students are not allowed to question the morality or justice of those rules, merely obey because they were told to. Yes, obeying rules prevents anarchy, but when the population doesn’t have a voice to ask whether those rules are just and fair, there is a problem (some schools do give students a voice on some issues I am very pleased to say, however the biggest issues are at the curriculum level and students as under-18 non-voters, will never have a say on those). Is standardised testing a true measure of a child’s worth and/or potential? Are the negative mental health impacts worth it?
The system does work for some, but definitely not all.
I recall a conversation I had with my pastor when I first enrolled in the Graduate Diploma of Education course to become a teacher. She asked me why I was doing it if I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher, especially as my whole life I swore I wouldn’t ever do that for a living after watching my Mum work as a primary teacher her whole life and I didn’t like the thought of it. My response was that I didn’t know why, but I had prayed and I knew deep down that it was the right thing to do, even if for no other reason than giving me the confidence to homeschool “and if I only work for one year then that will be a bonus”. Well, that’s exactly what happened. I worked for one year as a high school Physics teacher, I resigned, and now I am homeschooling my boy. Not only that, on his very first day of homeschooling, I received a call inviting me to begin work as a relief teacher at a very lovely school, which I can only manage thanks to a very supportive Mum who offered to help with the homeschooling one day a week. What an answer to prayer!
My son and I are embarking on a new journey, away from the system of conformity. I intend to take the good parts from my teaching experience, the lessons I have learnt from my life journey, and I intend to continue growing as an educator, and hopefully I can have a positive impact on my family, those around me, and on society’s views on autism and education.