I think this is where we might be derailing from unschooling and child-led learning. I’m not sure yet. But if we are, I’m totally okay with that.
We received the summary and recommendations from Belin-Blank and I agree with all of it. My BigGuy is really bright… his processing speed is insanely fast for some things, slower on a small handful of things… he actually does more complex tasks much better than less complex or rote tasks… and he definitely has an attention problem (THANK. YOU.)
But as I look at my son, I see a kid that is academically at high school level for a lot of stuff and woefully behind in some really critical life skills that don’t come easy to a kid in the spectrum. And I want to hit the “pause” button. I want to take the year and work on some of these things. I think it was an amazing thing that our psychoeducational evaluator (who sees high functioning spectrum kids DAILY) told me that she can nail a spectrum diagnosis within 2 minutes of meeting a child in her clinic and could not do that with my BigGuy. So we have come very far for sure. She also said that he definitely has a spectrum diagnosis; and agreed with me that he is in a very vulnerable position because he doesn’t immediately present as being impaired. So people expect him to respond like a neurotypical child when he doesn’t have neurotypical capabilities.
People often tell me that I must be so happy with where he is now… how proud I must be for how far he has come. Nowadays, I respond that it’s really a double-edged sword because he has progressed to the point where his disabilities are not evident, but they exist and impact his abilities none-the-less. That can be downright dangerous for him. Very dangerous.
It hit me at Ikea. He disappeared on me in the cafeteria as we were cleaning up and leaving. At first I thought he went to the bathroom and just didn’t say anything. He didn’t. Seconds and then minutes passed. I thought he went to the nearby toy section. He didn’t. Now I started to panic. This was kind of long for him to be “missing”. My daughter found him playing with one of the toddler toys attached to a column in the cafeteria eating area. He was on the opposite side from where we were, sitting on the floor as he played, so wrapped up in it that he was oblivious to time and the fact that we were in the middle of leaving when he put himself there.
I was so infuriated with him. My rage was only further fueled by his suggestion that he get one of those LG GizmoGadget watches so I could have either found him or texted him to find him. WHAT???? GIVE YOU A DEVICE WHEN YOU CAN’T MANAGE TO BEHAVE???
The second that thought went through my head, I realized that I was infuriated with him as if he were a neurotypical 12-year old.
And he is not.
I was so ashamed of myself. He was so dejected. I realized that lately, he “couldn’t do anything right” and this was exactly why we pulled him out of school: to let him be who he was and help him develop as he needed to with the help where he needed it without starving his curiosity and love for learning.
I had just become “that teacher”. His mom. How horrible.
Right there in Ikea, I hugged him and apologized. I told him that he was so bright and articulate that I often forgot that he had an autism spectrum problem and that I was sorry for that because I loved him and I didn’t mean to make him feel so horrible–and I knew I had. A lot, lately. I told him that I thought the GizmoGadget device might not be such a bad idea and that we would look into it the next day (which we did).
As the days have passed since, Mama has taken a good look at her boy and really stopped to analyze what has been going on. Mama got caught up in my little attention-scattered boy’s process instead of helping him smooth it out and manage. Mama let a little man who can’t think clearly drive the boat before helping him learn how to drive the boat. Mama was a little too “hands off” with a child that didn’t look disabled.
We can’t exactly step out of everything because I have a kid that thrives on learning. That being said, I wonder if a discussion about taking a year off to take academics a little slower and work on getting his attention issues addressed and handling his emotions and learning some social things might make him feel like it’s okay to “not be a high schooler”–something I think he is very proud of, but also maybe a little afraid of and unprepared for. To be honest, it really only means dropping his lab science and slacking as needed on history and foreign language (which went practically undone this year). He will still have a high school level writing class this fall. He will still have high school level math (and it will likely be his favorite–geometry). And I think Science Olympiad can provide as much science as he could possible need (and he is excited for one of the events he really wants this year).
So maybe we are not stepping out of line with “following the child”. “Following the child” doesn’t mean you always just stand back and let them call the shots unchallenged. It means being the facilitator and having some discussions with your child about what you see and what you think–and letting them have the chance to consider what you have to say about all of that when they consider their next steps (or reconsider them). It means being gentle with how you lay out your concerns or thoughts or observations so that you are doing it in a loving way–for them to consider–instead of an authoritative way that dictates they yield to your fears or concerns.
Of course, my child is disabled. I will certainly take that course and hope he can make sense of things. But I know he may not be able to. I’m not sure what will transpire if that happens. I’m human. I’m afraid. This is my child. But I want to believe that I will let him move forward in whatever direction he chooses–knowing that most of the potential backlash is not going to impact him long-term and therefore nothing I HAVE to intervene with. A year destroyed academically early on is easy enough to explain if he needed to (and really? would he wind up in a position where this is necessary? Not sure)
Thankful to have my husband to hold my hand through this crazy roller coaster. Thankful to have y’all to spill it out to.
My BigGuy… he’s awesome. We had a long ride (just the two of us) in the car yesterday and an herbal iced tea from Starbucks together. It gave us time to chat about All Of The Things. I had a chance to really lay out his neurological and developmental history with him, the recent findings, his diagnoses–things we hadn’t discussed in such a mature manner before. He personally has no problem with the idea of the high school load, but he saw my point in the need to focus on some of the things he struggles with. He noted that really–the only thing that would change was his science curriculum (using Science Olympiad for science instead of taking a year of accredited high school lab science). I agreed. But he didn’t make me clarify whether or not that meant he could still be a high schooler. At that point, he didn’t seem to care about that label anymore. I think he was processing all of the history and the challenges he faces that were never really laid out for him.
The fact that he wasn’t anxious about the label–that “achievement”–was a huge, positive thing, actually. The fact that he was concerned about his impairments and said to me “If you think this will make my life better, I trust you, Mom,” was such a bittersweet moment. I want him to own it all and I don’t want to take his power away and yet he needs this help and guidance.
I could not possibly love this boy more for seeing that. Now I just have to be careful about making sure he still owns his decisions and I remain a facilitator.