This is a continuation of my post referencing Susan’s post of Imperfect Genius called “Perspectives on Autism”. In my last post, I shared my story about my short-lived and very specific reasons for testing out the waters of institutionalized school for my child with autism. In this post, I want to share where we are as homeschoolers of my children with autism and quote some passages from Susan’s great post. Susan said:
“Perhaps more importantly, it gives an alternative viewpoint on living with autism. . . .
My advocacy on here might be subtle, but it’s definitely present. I feel that every time I post a photo of my happy, smiling kids I’m sending a message. I’m pointing out that living with autism doesn’t have to be a fearful, miserable existence but can instead be a happy, interesting one. When I write about how their knowledge and skills are growing by leaps and bounds I’m showing that autistic children are capable of many things. When I talk about the adventures we embark upon and the discoveries we make I’m showing that children diagnosed with this disorder can lead rich lives full of wonder and natural learning opportunities. . . .
It comes with both frustrating challenges and wonderful abilities. . . .
Our blog will never be exclusively about autism because there is so much more to contemplate and discuss about their lives. . . .
I do not want to label them as autistic in every post I write. . . .
I didn’t feel compelled to write any of this post until I was challenged by someone who made me feel as if my experiences were not valid simply because our family presents a different face on the issue.”
Even at the beginning stages of our journey into autism, because of our unschooling lifestyle and our religious perspective, “our family presented a different face on the issue”, and people noticed. About a half year after the first diagnosis of autism, I met a woman named Sherri who became a really good friend to me. Our sons were diagnosed with autism right around the same time, our typical daughters were around the same age, and we were both “educators”: she at a model school and me as an unschooler.
Sherri was almost traumatized by autism. She fretted and worried over it, but tried valiantly to think optimistically. She is the one whom I gained the saying, “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.” She felt that she had been “keeping her worry” from her daughter, but alas, she was to find out differently. One of Sherri’s peers at school shared with her that her daughter had confided in her that she had a brother with autism and that she was worried about him and that her mother was worried, too.
Sherri called me up to share this new information about her inability to keep her worries from her daughter and now she was worried about her daughter. She mentioned that she noticed that we seemed so different in how we were viewing autism, and that our daughter seemed so calm and at peace with it all. She asked if we could get our daughters together in order that my daughter, Abbey, might be a positive and calming force for her daughter. I readily agreed.
Sherri dropped off her daughter at my house, and she and Abbey played for about three hours. Autism never came up for either of them. When Sherri picked up her daughter, she casually mentioned to her, “Did you know that Abbey has brothers with autism?” Her daughter quickly turned around with large, round eyes and asked, “Really?” Abbey looked at her, and non-challantly stated, “Of course!” with a flick of her wrist like, “doesn’t everyone?” The girls became good friends.
I’d like to hope that our lives have continued to reflect this “naturally” perspective as it pertains to our differentness in our home. Susan mentioned that there are both “frustrating challenges and wonderful abilities”. We like to view the wonderful abilities first and foremost, like all of us would like to be portrayed, and we work on our frustrating challenges as a work in progress, again, like we all are. This is our religious beliefs in action, and unschooling was embraced because it so easily fit this perspective. So, all of our children have had lots of discussions about improvement and baby steps and each individual has to figure out their own imperfections that need to be worked on in order to grow and stretch and learn.
On the other hand, we’ve all been blessed with gifts that we are to celebrate, improve upon in order to bless ourselves and the world, and to be a shining crown. Eli’s music abilities, and Lego skills, and computer proficiencies are admirable. His sweetness and straight compass should be emulated! I’ll give you a quick example: I was bringing Eli to get his new glasses (he lost his last pair), and I went to check the CD in the player in the van, knowing my oldest son, who had used the van earlier, had probably put one of his in and taken mine out. Sure enough, he had, and I was quite sure he had tossed it into the center bucket. Yep, there it was, ready to get scratched and ruined. I noticed all his CDs scattered all over the floorboard of the van, so I commented, “Well, since he doesn’t seem to care about his CDs, I’ll just toss his on the ground.” Eli simply looked at me and innocently stated, “Treat others as you would want to be treated, Mom.” Yep, he’s absolutely right! We put ALL my son’s CDs away 🙂
I could list other traits of my other children, but will stop with the delineations now 🙂 You get the point. I think Susan is spot on in that homeschooling our children with autism can show a different face. Not necessarily a better one, but a different one . . . an interesting one, a calming one, a celebratory one, a viable one.
I end with an explanation of the titles to my two posts. When I pulled Adam out of the public school in PA, I sent a letter explaining why and I ended with this analogy: We both are in the water (education), and you and other institutionalized schooling are swimming in the saltwater (large bodies of water, undrinkable was an added bonus ;-)), and myself and people I know are swimming in freshwater (clear, drinkable, running here and there). If we try to swim in each other’s water, we choke.
That’s what I realized when I was done with this particular adventure. We were still trying to be homeschoolers, using public/charter schools to meet some of our goals. It doesn’t work is what I discovered. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. I couldn’t change my nationality! For us, homeschooling works . . . it works really well!