Thursday, March 18, 2010
Billy came home from school today covered in vegetable dye. He was soaked and filthy from the waist down. He was sweaty and exhausted. And so very, very happy.
He had painted a splashy painting (not really sure what that is, but his shirt gives me a bit of an idea). He spent the afternoon jumping in a creek. He wrote a book by typing it out, then writing over the typed out letters. He'd had a good day.
Now I know we live in the world. I know that kids go to school and they learn how to read and write and add up and eventually, they work out what they want to do with their lives, and if they are lucky, they do it. Right?
But... I see other parents struggling with their six year olds test scores, and reader levels and extra-curricular schedule. I see children quantified by percentages and age level expectations and rankings. I watch kids being told they must write with a pencil until they earn their 'pen license' and being told they are wrong if they can't keep their feet still.
And yet, autism or no autism, I cannot believe our good fortune at hippy school.
It's a vigorous environment, to say the least. It's full of challenge and discussion and thinking and debating. There's also lots of voting. Lots of voting. And singing, and wrestling and making and laughing. There are kids measuring the heights of trees, and planning ways to improve the local environment. There are ice blocks sold every Friday to raise money for good causes.
There are in-depth discussions about behaviour, respect and boundaries. There are lots of tears, and there are lots of hugs.
The interesting thing for Billy in all of this intense human communication, is that he copes. He doesn't necessarily understand 100% of what's decided, but he goes along with it anyway. He gets that he's safe, he understands he's accepted and he's learning - really learning.
I feel like someone's going to slap me on the back of the head, either now or in ten years time, and say, 'You idiot... what the hell were you thinking?' Because what we are doing is so different to all the advice we get (autism wise) and it's so different to what other children are doing. And yet, it feels so right. No, it is so right.
In a place where the individual is valued, where everyone has a right to be heard and listened to, where difference isn't just accepted it is expected... Billy thrives.
To all the therapists out there, remember that the autistic children you are dealing with actually have psyches. They are not a collection of behaviours and symptoms... they are also human beings. The effect of butting yourself up against the world constantly, can be worse than being outed as being different. And the process of butting, can distract you from developing the skills you do possess.
I know we are fortunate to have the boy we have, but I'm sure here are more autistic kids like Billy around. Conformity and normality are not necessarily the best goals for someone wired for difference. But that difference doesn't necessarily mean people can't excel.
To all the teachers and trainee teachers out there (and I was once one), I have learned it is possible to teach the whole child. It's possible, even when society tells you there are bits of that whole child missing - behaviourally, neurologically, physically. It's exhausting and hard and it requires a kind of perpetual leap into the unknown. And it's magical.
It's also (and I really believe this) the only chance Billy has got to have the education he deserves.
Thank you hippy school... kids and grown ups alike (as they are) and all those who have come before testing and trying and taking leaps of faith together.
I know there will be many challenges ahead. I know we won't always agree. But I also know that respect, trust and faith are pretty good reasons to try.
OK... now tell me why Billy should be earning his pen license and sitting still.