What my NowWhat? bio doesn’t share is my infamous stubborn adherence to my oft rash impulsive actions. Case in point; I am currently unschooling my youngest. Not homeschooling per se (I have no intention for it to be permanent) but my 8-year-old son with ASD, ADHD, and a fine motor skills learning disability is home for now.
A month ago, I received this photo text from him on the bus ride home from school:
My heart broke.
But truth be told, as a single mom of 3, I am not a pushover.
So why did I do it?
In spite of my ongoing advocacy and although the school was trying to serve his needs, they were not recognizing the complexities of the quirks my cute and funny wee boy presented. When not acknowledged and dealt with, they were causing him acute and cumulative distress. Yes, I could have continued to send him to school, and to advocate for him even further, but I realized he was changing before my eyes – and not in a good way.
My son has difficulty conceiving the passage of time, so the school days seemed neverending for him. As school increased the demands on his attention and the need for him to ‘colour inside the lines’, he retreated into a more and more rigid need to be at home in his safe place. He was no longer eager to join in or vary his activities. He wasn’t playing outside with friends, wasn’t going to the park, wasn’t playing cards or board games, wasn’t reading. He was being flattened by the stress of his environment and there was no way that could continue on my watch.
Since others within my community had made the choice to “unschool”, I had a chance to see the benefit that a hiatus or detox from the school environment can be for some children. So after so many years of morning battles to get him to school and recognizing the distress he was experiencing, I took the plunge.
So what does that look like?
Free range learning is the goal, which is unnerving to say the least. I am not pushing for worksheets and memorizing the provinces of the country but more for building Lego creations and doing chemistry experiments.
‘School Refusal’ is becoming a minor epidemic with the rise of Anxiety Disorders in younger and younger children. Meltdowns from children with ASD/ADHD are destroying the sanity of many parents out there – so my choice is not uncommon, but it is a choice I am blessed to be able to make.
With the support of NowWhat? we are creating programming to tackle my son’s inability to comprehend time, which should alleviate a lot of the stress around the school day for him as we move forward. We are also sending him on weekly hikes with our Outdoor Rec Specialist, going to the Multisensory Typing program, and participating in a Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills group to learn to help him regulate his emotions and manage distress.
It has been 2 weeks now and I am starting to get more and more pushback from friends and family. “When are you putting him back in school?” they ask. “How is he going to learn without following the curriculum?” and “You can’t be with him all the time; how will you cope?” are frequent queries, and they are all valid.
At the same time, I have been blessed with a great deal of support. My soul sister’s eldest child is going through his own traumatic situation so we have been able to pool our resources, time, and energy into creating a nurturing environment for each other and our boys (Thank you, Jaime!) Other friends have praised my dedication to ensuring my kids get the support they need. That acknowledgment gives me strength when I doubt myself.
In all honesty, I am scared and overwhelmed. But since I made this decision my boy has been engaged with the world around him. He is learning about the Periodic Table (hat tip to Minecraft) and keen to play outside with friends again. Here he is reading a REAL BOOK for the first time ever.
I may not be the most rational or traditional mom around; however, just like any other mom, I am incredibly happy to be watching my son thrive.
PS. The hikes are weekly on a Wednesday at 12:30pm at various locations in the Hamilton area. Give us a shout if you are interested in sending your School Refusing child along!