A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the joys of ‘unschooling’ your special needs child. I shared my experiences and the rapid changes I had seen in my daughter Emily. But what about the long-term?
I ran across this beautiful post on one of my online support groups (HE-SP @ www.he-special.org.uk). It was a response to a relatively new homeschooler, who was concerned about her child’s progress. It was written by a mother of a young man with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, who had been unschooling for six years.
I thought their story was so inspirational that I wanted to share it with all of you. So this two part series gives you a longer-term picture of how homeschooling and especially unschooling might just be the best gift you can give your special needs child. So join me in welcoming Sharon as she shares her journey with son Greg…
With unschooling, we find life becomes easier as we loosen our grip on conventional thinking and doings, year after year, magic happens. It is like watching Greg being switched on internally, systematically.
Me and my 11yrs old aspie (Asperger’s is on the Autistic Spectrum and tends to be higher functioning) son is in our 6th year of homeschooling. We deschooled the first year…and somewhere along the line, we merged into unschooling. So there really wasn’t any defined line as to when did we stop deschooling and start homeschooling/ unschooling. What I am about to share, may not be what you’re looking for…but hear me out. What my family did is a bit of this and a bit of that. Certainly not conventional. What I am suggesting is perhaps, take a step back and observe. Allow your child to lead you. Enjoy observing your child and then you’ll see him growing. I always said…when the child is happy and comfortable, learning is the inevitable byproduct of all these happiness and comfortable-ness happening.
Academic inclination, is either in the child…in which case the child will ask you for it….or not in the child, in which case the child will ask you for more arty, hands on sort of education. Not everyone is born to be professors, or doctors…..neither is everyone born to be a chef…or a dancer or a fantastic classical guitarist. We all are born with a unique talent and our interest is the driving force that makes our talent a career reality.
In the case of my son….we spent the first 4 years doing pretty much what he wanted…which is watching television, gamebox gaming, internet gaming and playing with toys; playing with fire at our back garden; obsessed with Star Wars, then Chinese Lion dancing; then more Lego; then it was remote control cars, which led to some serious super car obsession. All these obsessions or passion (for a better word) lead my child to many discoveries. He reads a lot on Wikipedia and is very apt in doing his own research on the Internet. We had phases of discovery that lead to new obsessions like his Beatle mania. This music obsession left a wonderful legacy – my kid read, and read, and read lots on the Internet and now can tell me who and which band is from which genre. I once found him reading about Tom Jones LOL!!!
In the past 18 months, Greg began to pay a bit more attention to things around him. His confidence grew, and self-esteem increased…and he agreed to try out a local study group…and he did, and stayed on for the past four terms. He asked for music lessons and has been doing drum and electric guitar since 2010. He tried Kumon maths for a term and didn’t like it, so that got dropped. We have been doing Matheletics for the past 2 years, on and off….strugglingly. Now his Mandarin tutor teaches him maths, and Greg is happily doing it. Mandarin is another lesson Greg asked for. He does it happily every Saturday. I found an ICT academy 40 minute drive from us, took Greg there for a trial…he loved it and is now attending once a week. This will help him prepare for his ICT GCSE.
This is it really. We never push, but yet, are constantly offering options to Greg. He might say yes, he might say no. He might trial some and stay on…or say nay…and that is it. Time to move onto something new. We travel a lot…all these travels are geared around Greg’s interest. In the past we took great delight in enjoying the great benefits of cheaper hotels and near empty museums during low peaks. Now that Greg’s has worked himself into a schedule aligned with school terms…travelling becomes a little bit more difficult as we can’t skip lessons. Just as well we did lots of those museum trips during the early days where he has no schedule.
Greg is due to start virtual high school come this September. We hope he’ll stay with it…but then, we are prepared for him to say no again. Of course, I have great comfort knowing Greg will be fine as we have a friend who homeschooled her teenage son through the high school years. The boy did no formal education, and is pretty much unschooled according to his interest – music and computer graphics. He was accepted into college with no GCSEs but only with his portfolio of home-made videos. He did fantastically well in his Level 1, that college recommend he skip Level 2 and go straight to Level 3. So where I am, I know there is a possible chance of Greg attending college based on his own merit.
Attending college is something he still maintains he wants to do. And university too. What is he expecting…I have no idea for Greg is not the academic sort of kid at all!!! Though he did once say he would like to be Carer, helping to make the world better for other special needs kids. It is obvious Greg is gifted in helping little ones ….he is ever so patient with other little kids, teaching them computer games. The more none verbal they are, the more connected he is to them, I have observed. One of Greg’s friends is a 6 year old little boy on the spectrum.
The best part of our homeschooling is not so much of the academics but more about the opportunities for my son learning to be himself and to be true to himself. Confidence in being himself and understanding who he is. He doesn’t bend to peer pressure…obviously his aspergerness help…..but Greg absolutely does not have a problem standing out as who he is. He is not afraid to voice his opinion, even if it differs from everyone. To us, this is one of the benefits of homeschooling for it allows us to alienate all academics and prioritize his emotional wellbeing in the past years. Obviously, now that has been established, the academics are beginning to kick into his consciousness.
Join me on Tuesday for a review of Dr Sabrina Dosani’s Calm Your Hyperactive Child. Then next Friday we conclude this twp part guest blog on the Long Term Outlook for Unschooling by Sharon and Greg…along with some links that Sharon hopes will help you on your homeschooling journey.