Every child has the right to education. It’s the law. But when a child’s education is being interrupted by something, it’s time to have a rethink about what is right for them and what is right for your family. This is the story of what happened to us.
Our eldest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was seven. It was great to know which books to read up on. I found The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome really helpful; Tony Attwood is brilliant. It was a revelation – it was why he looked at me blankly when I asked a simple question; why he hated Punch and Judy (the high pitched noise); why he couldn’t stand wet food textures (hypersensitivity).
We plodded along with primary school and changed once to a lovely school with very caring teachers and T.A.s who looked after his needs.
The Isle of Wight had a 3 tier school system, but in 2008 the LEA disbanded the middle schools. This had a direct effect on us as our son was in the last year to go up to the second tier. It was a chaotic time. He was due to spend two years at the middle school, then join high school with three other years in one go – years 7,8 and 9. It felt to us like a recipe for disaster, and I was even warned that there wouldn’t be anyone to help the ‘more vulnerable’ children through their first year at high school.
This, combined with the lack of care he was already receiving helped us make a decision. He was being bullied at school, he had been verbally abused by a teacher (I heard it with my own ears) and he was constantly losing his belongings. Disorganisation is one of the characteristics of Asperger’s that often comes up. For my son, it meant that he spent much of his time tracking down his calculator or looking for text books or his PE kit, instead of being in the lesson.
The long and short of it was he was spending valuable time doing things he wouldn’t need to do if he was at home. He was using his learning time doing things he couldn’t do easily and needed help with, yet there was no one to help him.
Our initial thought was to take him out for a year and see what we could do. Perhaps if we removed the worries of the day, he could use the time constructively. At this time he was regularly sleeping on our bedroom floor, on his ’emergency bed’ because of his nightmares. He wasn’t growing because he wouldn’t eat at school. He was regularly dehydrated.
In April 2010 we deregistered our son from school.
We started off with a project about The Moon Landing and then made a massive long history timeline, from Stonehenge to the 1950s. We did maths ks3, English and some general science. He read a lot. We really enjoyed it.
A year later, we all decided that he liked being at home with us and learning that way and that he was ready to start working toward an IGCSE. He chose Chemistry, something I knew next to nothing about! However, there was a group of Home Edders on the Island, and they had a blog going, we followed the text book and he watched the experiments online. Amazingly at the age of 13, he got a grade B in Chemistry. Now three years on he gained enough IGCSEs to be accepted into college a year early and is studying Computing.
We also have a younger son. He does not have Asperger’s. He too went to school until he was 10, but I always felt that if he asked to be home schooled, it would be unjust to say no. How could we as parents treat our children so differently? How would it feel if, as an adult he asked Why didn’t I get the opportunities my brother had?
We are now two years into homeschooling mark 2! It’s very different – our younger so is very creative, writes stories, loves drama and film making. It’s a new experience, and I’m loving it.
I always feel that if I tell people about our homeschooling adventure, we should somehow justify why we have done it. It’s as though parents who go the conventional route need some sort of explanation; as though being non-conformist is somehow odd. I feel I shouldn’t have to explain my reasons. They are valid reasons. They are personal to our family. And we did it because we want the best for our children.
Although we see the LEA (Local Educational Authority) once a year, the people we need to justify ourselves to most are our children. We learn about the things they are interested in. I have learnt more about Physics in these last five years than I ever thought possible! My older son is learning how to look after himself – something that wouldn’t have happened if he’d been at school. There simply wouldn’t have been the time.
By writing this, I hope this will help other people who are struggling with the system. For some people, it’s right to stay in school. For others, it’s right to be at home. We have met some amazing people, had some truly wonderful times and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Finally, here are some books which made our journey easier.