Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The formula for learning...

It's been almost a year and a half since we started homeschooling Billy.

Well, when I say homeschool, I do not want anyone thinking I am some kind of spontaneous curriculum super-genius. I am far from it. The homeschooling we do is called Distance Education in Australia. It is tightly supervised and heavily supported by the Department of Education homeschooling delivered by a home supervisor (me). It's usually the preserve of kids who are living in remote areas, traveling the world or starring in a Hollywood movie.

Resources + Support + 'Home' = Distance Education

Distance Education is also for kids with medical conditions that make attending school challenging. In some States of Australia, autism in itself is a classification, but alas not where we live. It sounds crazy to say, but for now, I am deeply grateful that Billy has medical issues, because if we had to stop doing Distance Ed, we would be sadly adrift.

Also, Billy would not be learning anywhere near the amount he is now.

There are a bunch of reasons why I think it works for him, ranging from the obvious (our house is not full of children) to the less obvious (there's no chance he will wander out a gate and get hit by a truck).

We can take the curriculum tasks and pull them apart, until we find some Billy sized entry point. We can complete things in short bursts. We can jump from one task to another, as his butterfly meets goldfish attention style requires. Overall, he is learning, which is a gigantic step up on what he was doing when he was attending school.

Distance Ed + Billy = Learning

It seems to me, that a huge proportion of the decisions that are made about the education of ASD kids is based on the premise that the way we educate everyone, is the right way. This presupposes that we are thinking the closest we can get to our ASD kids behaving NT, the closer we are to success. This means NT good, ASD not as good.

The message we are giving to ASD kids then is 'be more NT, and you will have a better chance of...' what... success? survival? normal?

Billy > ASD < Better?

I think this premise is nonsense. It's as stupid as thinking we should teach the vision impaired as though they can see the same way a non-vision impaired person does. I do not know what Billy is capable of, learning wise, but I know he will not find that out for himself, if I ignore who he is in my insistence to make him fit the system.

I will never say never, but my gut has always thought Billy was being tortured by school.

Right from the beginning - playgroups, EI, pre-school and primary school. It has never felt right to leave him there. Not because I'm irrationally over-protective (though I love being told I am... please, say it again, go on...). Not because I don't want some time to oh, say work, or exercise, or catch up on the sleep that has been denied me by the McMansion builders next door. 

It hasn't felt right because he has always seemed under siege in a group of children.

We know now, this is because his sensory dysregulation is accompanied (chicken or egg style, perhaps) with a condition called cochlear/canal dehiscence. In essence, bone conducted sound (vocalisations) are heard at way higher volume than in folk without this condition. Even when Billy was a baby, we knew there was something unusual going on with Billy's hearing. It was the one and only thing, pre-toddlerhood, that had us concerned. Thanks to our friend Dr Ears, and his 'out of the box' style of thinking, we have some weight behind our 'over-protective' parenting instincts.

Dr Ears + Billy = Information

It hasn't just felt like torture, it is actually torture for Billy to be left among a group of children. It's got nothing to do with those kids either. It's any kids. Well, any kids with voices. Add the cacophony of childhood to the dehiscence, complex SPD and the anxiety of autism, and you have small human shaped bag of adrenaline. Fight, flight or play trains. That's pretty much all he had.

Unsurprisingly, that didn''t leave much space for learning at school, and in reality, it accelerated the decline of his already teetering health.

The remaining part of that formula, in his last year attending primary school was a teacher lacking in... something. I can only speculate on what it was (experience, compassion, flexibility). It can't have been experience, because we were often informed how much of that she had.

Teacher - ? =  Disaster

We were left, at the end of Year One, with a document assuring us that our understanding of Billy's educational needs were completely wrong, and a nasty taste in our mouths that took a couple of expensive lawyers and the Australian Human Rights Commission to expunge.

Also, Billy couldn't write, or count, or (it seems) complete any actual schoolwork. He was seven years old.

School + Billy = Giant Steaming Mess

So... for the beginning of Grade Two, we threw ourselves at the mercy of Distance Education. We bought a lot of coloured pencils and stationery and things to count with, and we put our heads down.

For the beginning of Grade Three, we added another medical condition (seizures) and a bunch of useful apps.

It's been a revelation to be surrounded by educators who are boundless in their commitment. They don't know everything (who does?) but they know how to find out anything. They listen to Billy, they see his strengths and they are tenacious about finding strategies to address his challenges.

We're back to the start: 

Distance Ed + Billy = Learning

It's not perfect. It's not what we thought we were going to do. But, it works.

In all honesty, I wish Billy was one of those kids who could be left to his own devices, learning wise. He is not. Left to his own devices, he would be sifting dirt, spitting on trains and peeing outside. If he was twenty-five and independently wealthy, that would be an awesome set of choices, but he's not.

He's eight. He's autistic. He's got a very short attention span. He's in constant movement. He's terrified of sudden vocal sounds. He's got the sensory profile of a chinchilla. He's sweet and funny and delicate.

If we had to send him to school outside of the home, we would have to medicate him (and I mean no judgement of anyone who makes that choice).

Even so, he would need constant redirection (read, a full time aide. read, inconceivable).

Even so, nothing would protect him from the sounds of school (and trust me, we have every possible contraption, we've tried every possible therapy/intervention/supplement, we've read every study on the internet and a couple of others we've cajoled out of academics).

He needs individualised education - catered for his needs, filtered through his challenges, accommodating his learning style. So does every kid, but some other kids can learn to suck up a less than appropriate school experience. Billy can't, and no amount of wanting/dreaming/aspiring will make it any more practical that he might.

While we wait for the fairies of liberal, free-thinking, resource heavy, individualised education to dump their glitter ball of a school in our district, we choose this.

Us + Support + Understanding = Progress

Which genuinely works better than how we felt leaving him at school in the end:

Roadrunner + Anvil = Pointless Recurring Disaster

1 comment:

The Bright Side of Life said...

Billy is awesome. He also has an awesome mother! Happy homeschooling! I did Correspondence School until age 11. My mother then quit, but then again... she did have four of us! :)