When L was younger we listened to people who said, "he should go to school so he can practice social skills and learn how to deal with society."
We sent him to school.
I'm pretty sure that was a mistake.
He "coped". He did well academically. He kind of made a friend or two. He learned to conform, to follow directions, to do what the teacher said was important.
He "coped". A bit less well over time. Until he didn't cope anymore, began to challenge the system a little, was demeaned by a teacher and we took him out of school.
Now we are looking at a young man who will be finishing with his secondary education in 6 months or so. He has a long list of challenges that I can see have been caused by him having learned to conform, follow directions and do what someone else said was important. Some of his challenges are typical challenges Autistic people face, yes. But I can see now how I could have much better supported L by not listening to the "experts" and advocated for him in line with what my instincts were saying.
What is the point of attending school to learn, if the environment makes the content inaccessible?
What is the point of being exposed to a society you don't understand, or have a desire to understand, to try and force understanding when the stress of being present inhibits your ability to decipher information?
What is the point of venturing into a situation that causes you so much stress you can't unwind from it properly before you have to go back again, simply because they say it will be good for you because it is good for everyone else... when everyone else is not you and does not have the same challenges as you?
What is the point?
Hindsight is, of course, a brilliant clarifier. It is also a bit torturous. I can't be completely sure things would look that much different now if L had been homeschooled all these years. I still do think things would have been much easier for him.
Today we were at the doctor for an appointment as part of developing some transition to adulthood strategies for L. We were discussing learning and schooling, friendship and social exposure. Two parts of the conversation have lingered prominently in my mind.
We talked about the stress of completing text heavy, socially complicated school work tasks. The doctor said (not exact words....) that there is no point pushing a person to complete academic tasks in order for the teachers to tick bureaucratic boxes if the stress ends up causing an anxiety disorder.
We talked about how often L leaves the house (or, doesn't) and how much he interacts with friends (or, doesn't). I outlined what L's week looks like. The doctor asked, "are you happy with that?". My reply was, "L doesn't need a lot of friends or social time to be happy. He is happier with very limited numbers of friends and very limited time outside the house. If he is happy, I am happy." The doctor looked at L, "Are you happy?" L replied immediately, "yes." And that wise doctor smiled a genuine smile, nodded, and said, "Good. Then keep doing what you are doing."
That is the point, isn't it? When we set out to raise our children, we want them to grow up to know what they want, to know how to live their lives in a way that achieves what they want, and that they be happy.
When L was attending school he was not happy. When he was (more or less) forced to keep someone else's schedule, obey someone else's rules, meet someone else's expectations - no matter the physical, mental or emotional cost to him - simply because everyone else did it and it would be "good for him", he was most decidedly not happy. He was, in fact, desperately unhappy.
I know that there is no benefit to worrying that past decisions were mistakes and are going to cause problems in the future. I know that in my head. But as a mother, I can't help thinking on this at times. What if....?
What if I missed the point entirely back then? What if the cost of that to my son will be his well being and happiness in the future? What if it is too late now to fix the damage done by my decision?
Why am I sharing this? Not sure really.
.... maybe as a kind of confession.
.... maybe to clear my mind.
.... I think I'm hoping someone will be able to tell me it will all be fine even though I know that no one can promise anyone that.
.... I think I want you all to know that this is hard for me, and for L, and I know it is hard for those of you who are walking similar journeys.
.... I think I'm looking for community who understand.
.... I think I'm hoping that from within community who share experiences we can all learn and grow and do better.
Is that the point? Community growing together..... acknowledging when we don't get it right and trying to make change? Realising together what doesn't work for our kids and being prepared to do something different and stand with each other as we do?
No answers from me tonight.... just musings. Still learning, still growing, still trying, right alongside my son who lives with the results of the decisions I made. It is a heavy responsibility, this parenting job.