“If you loved him, you’d just home school him.”
I’m sorry what?
“I’m just saying, if you really want what’s best for him, and clearly you aren’t going to find that in mainstream school, you might want to rethink your priorities”.
“Wouldn’t it better for you to give up work and home school him? You just said yourself he’ll get lost in the mainstream system”.
I had said that. And I knew it to be true.
We were talking about my son, Sam. Sam is 12-years-old and in a perfect world, would start year 7 at the same mainstream state high school as his 14-year-old sister next year. But it’s not a perfect world and Sam isn’t a “mainstream” kid.
I need to back up a little I guess. To tell you why this would have even been a conversation two women who had always seemingly been on the same page. You need to know also that I’m not a heated confrontation kinda gal. No, I’m more a ‘grab a box of popcorn and watch others go at it from the sidelines’ type of person.
But this confrontation, this debate, was unavoidable because I was being called a bad mother for refusing to give up my career to home school a child who, as far as I’m concerned, would not benefit from it.
Sam is a high a functioning Autistic child. This was, up until recently, labelled Asperger’s and is now diagnosed as ‘On the Autism Spectrum’. Academically, he struggles with the fundamentals and to comprehend in the most conventional of ways. Trying to do so comes with large amounts of fruitless hard work, difficulty and tears. Handwriting is painfully laboured and he is a good two years behind his peers in most acceptable areas, his reading level, at best, Year 4. And I’m being generous.
Yet Sam is incredibly intelligent when it comes to other subjects, especially when those subjects include a topic that captivates him like Science or History. He is able to readily recall and discuss facts and topics that would baffle most adults.
Socially though he can often be acutely unaware of how to make friends and read social cues. Other times, too many people, too much chaos overwhelms him. Yet really, all he really requires is a little bit of help. An aide to guide him when things don’t naturally make sense.
The last time I wrote about Sam, we were experiencing difficulty at his mainstream state primary school. They, in not so many words, told us that his current school was not the “school for him”.
Subsequently he has been tested, academically and medically. All results put him, basically, in the “too hard basket”. To gain an aide in the Victorian School System, he needs to test 70 or lower. He scored a 74. Too high to access funding yet clearly too low to function without it.
Let it be understood that a score of 70 is considered to be intellectually impaired.
Medically, they tell me if I could have him labelled with some kind of behavioural disorder, he’d get help. If he had some kind of chromosomal issue, again, help. It appears, in this flawed system, if I can’t somehow make him 4 points more disabled, consistently naughty or chronically sick, then there was simply no help for Sam in the classroom. Ridiculous? You betcha.
So we moved him to a small independent school that specialises in children on the spectrum. Here he is flourishing and although expensive, worth every penny and every extra hour of overtime to see his confidence grow as he finally “gets it”.
The thing is, by the end of this year, he’ll have outgrown this beautiful little school and supposedly, head off to big wide world of High School. His options are once again, limited. Limited is an understatement. If I send him to a mainstream high school, he will simply get lost, drown really, in a system that just will not be able to cater to his learning level yet he scores too “high” to go to one of the specialist government high schools.
A friend recently told me that, finding herself in the same position with her own son, she reluctantly and with no other option, sent him off to the local high school. He was perpetually in tears, unhappy and unable to sleep. Eventually he broke down and told her how he’d been “pants’d” in front of his year level in the hallway and then crowdsurfed out of the locker area.
You read that right, in 2014, a group of year 7 boys dacked their peer, humiliated him in front of every other child in his year level and then worked together to PICK him up above their heads and send him on his way, on his back, outside. This was against his will and he was, understandably, terrified of returning to school. I don’t think I need to point out to you, as a reader, how heartbreaking it was for his mother to eventually have to hear this story.
There is one school in Victoria, seemingly the only high school in Australia, that also caters for these round pegs who can’t quite fit into the regimented square holes that mainstream schooling is. They focus on making the children independent, working to their strengths, guiding them towards a job or career that will suit their interests and mainly, giving them the chance of living a normal life after Year 12. One catch, there’s at least a two year wait list.
My problem is that I don’t have two years. Sam doesn’t have two years. I need for him to feel safe and happy about starting the next phase of his education. A
n aide in the classroom is really all he needs but he doesn’t qualify for one and I can’t provide him one in a classroom in High School.
Hence the original conversation about home schooling, and the position so many of us were suddenly finding ourselves in. I politely told this woman that I had thought about it, mainly in the middle of the night when I’d wake up in pure terror and desperation. But there are two main reasons why I would never home school Sam.
One, Sam NEEDS more social interaction, not less; and two, I honestly don’t want to. I enjoy going to work, I’m proud of what I have achieved and I for one, know I am a better parent because of this. Yet apparently this makes me not only selfish, it means, according to this woman, that I don’t love my child.
It’s because he makes my heart ache so much that I am trying to find the very best option for him. He quite simply is the light of my life and I would DO anything to help him succeed. Home schooling, whilst I’m sure it works for some, just wouldn’t for me or I’m quite certain, Sam.
So, due to bureaucracy and short sightedness, a government cannot seem to understand that if we just helped these kids out NOW, and I’m not talking about enormous amounts of help here. A shared and dedicated aide, someone who looks out for them, someone to steer them a little when they get off course, they’d be investing in the future. These kids are brilliant and beautiful in so many different ways and one day, could and would return so much more than the original investment.
Am I being unrealistic thinking that in Australia, all children, regardless of wealth, privilege or circumstance, should have access the education that they require and deserve.
I’d love to hear from other parents who’ve found themselves in the “too hard basket” with their child’s education because I know I’m not alone. I’d also love to know if home schooling has worked for your child.
Share your stories in the comments with Bern — do you have any advice?