Autism and School, is it failing our kids?
And just like that, Jaiden made another friend. Aaron and J were inseparable for 2 days, spending pretty much all day and night together without any major disagreements, which is an achievement in itself. However, for me, it was an encounter I’ll remember for other reasons because Aaron was a boy like none I had ever met before, instead one that I’ve only read about..
You see, Aaron is the child that I read about often in homeschooling groups. He was here camping not because he is homeschooled, but rather because the school refuse to allow him to attend excursions or camps, which is where his class was. Instead, his dad Josh packed him up and took him camping himself. Aaron is 10 and on the Autism Spectrum.
Aaron has what the school believes are behavioural issues, which has resulted in his attendance being less than 60% due to suspension. Sometimes due to fighting, other times due to arguing with teachers or not doing his work. The thing is, when I sat down with Aaron and discussed this (away from his dad) he was able to tell me why, very articulately mind you. When I asked about his fighting he said “Oh it’s just the other kids annoying me over and over until I get frustrated and angry, if I tell teachers they just say to deal with it, so I deal with it!”, he went on to explain how his anger would build up to a point where he totally lost control, especially with a few children who seemed to pretty consistently be provoking him over a period of years. This has been something I’ve seen time and time again in Jaiden and other kids on the Spectrum, their anger issues come not from a single thing, rather it builds over the course of a day resulting in major meltdowns over seemingly small things, this is exactly what Aaron described to me.
When I questioned him about the younger kids he had picked on, he said “Yeah well I’m just bigger than them, so they are easy to pick on because I am like 50kg and they are smaller”. As we sat there it hit me that the victim of bullying, had ultimately become a bully as he’d learnt that having a size and age advantage meant he could pick and choose who it was he had control over. We went on to discuss that in life, there’s pretty serious consequences for that kind of thing, his response was “Yeah well at school they just suspend me over and over, so it doesn’t really matter”, Hrm, he makes a good point. Are these the ‘life lessons” that we need kids learning at school? Whilst he is considering homeschooling, ultimately Aarons dad is sending him to school only for the socialisation and to make friends, but was that really happening? Was he learning good social skills?
We got on to discussing his arguing with teachers and not doing his work “Everything they teach is just boring, so I just get bored”, this from a child who has already been put up a grade to try and stimulate him more. He went on to explain that his “arguing” with teachers is merely him disagreeing with the facts, their relevance or just putting across his ideas or beliefs; “I just get told to sit down and listen, stop asking questions or to stop arguing”. He continued to tell me about a couple of instances where he had beliefs that challenged the teachers and like many children on the Autism Spectrum, he genuinely believed his view was the right one and was prepared to argue it until he was black and blue, or was proven wrong. He is an incredibly smart young man and I had absolutely no doubt that his ‘arguing’ with teachers probably had a lot of validity both factually and from his point of view.
Do we need to be teaching kids to just “Sit and listen” without questioning anything?
I get there are times in adult life where we do need to accept what we are told, but should this be the way children are educated? Does “because I said so” really teach anything? I have spent the best part of 6 years justifying EVERYTHING to Jaiden, not because I like justifying myself and my actions to a child, but because the way his mind is wired he needs to have a degree of understanding as to the “Why” behind everything we do so he can learn that my decisions are for a reason, be it his safety/wellbeing, to make life easier etc etc. Being a dictator and disciplinarian teaches nothing, other than when and how to act in order to appease authority. Our actions and decisions lead to consequences, this is how we should be teaching and parenting our children, not “because I said so, because I am bigger and older”..
To me, the BEST thing about having a child on the spectrum and homeschooling is that he wants to investigate everything and wants the whys and hows. After all, his questions and curiosity entirely dictate the direction of our education and life on a daily basis.
Later on I was sitting in the caravan reflecting on the discussions we’d had earlier and it dawned on me that these are the exact reasons I chose to continue to home educate. Kids should want to learn and be free to ask questions and voice their opinions. Children should be free to be themselves, free to play with whoever they wish, or when they want to be left alone by their friends or peers, they should have that option too, because that is what will make a child sociable, not just socialised. There is a difference.