Monday, 1 March 2010

The concept of "normal"

Recent events coupled with deep thinking about our second son's future have initiated a new contemplation of the concept of "normal". When does something not "normal" become a problem requiring "fixing" and when is it evidence of the need for an environmental change to accommodate difference when someone cannot meed averages and stereotypes?

H struggles with school, he has Asperger's Syndrome, which means his social skills and understanding are years behind his peers. Yet he is extremely bright - no, gifted - in many areas and the vast majority of his knowledge was not gained at school but in the real world. Because he struggles so much with the real world on so many levels, it is understandably felt that social learning within school is of paramount importance and learning to "get along with" ones peers of huge significance. Interesting then, that his social skills improve dramatically in the school holidays when the huge anxiety that is school disappears for a few weeks. His self confidence grows and his behaviour improves.

I say "improves", our complex child doesn't suddenly and dramatically "lose" his difficulties, cease struggling in a world which fails him all too often but the reduction in anxiety is nonetheless liberating and significant. His frustrations at learning in an artificial environment with rules tailored to the majority and a focus on learning as a group ebb away and the real learning begins. For H is a child with an enquiring mind and the knowledge, means and understanding to satisfy it and it is distressing to see him turned off the concept of learning whilst attending school.

Not for one minute would I criticise his school though - they have bent over backwards to accommodate his differences, help him "fit in" and make friends. They have the same agenda that we do - wanting H to be happy, sociable, have friends and if he learns in school as well then that's fantastic. But at what point do you stop trying to change the peg and look more closely instead at the hole you are forcing it into? Most children may be similar shapes, fitting well into the hole provided by school - certainly our other three children would seem to be and love school. but when is enough enough? The third medication, the 25 hour Statement or the Special Needs placement? When is it "OK" to deny a huge part of your child just to ensure he has a chance of being acceptable to society?

Time I think to look at that hole - and perhaps find a new one. I personally feel H will be a happier, more fulfilled, self-confident individual better equipped to face life in the "real world" when we acknowledge his differences and work with him rather than against him. I can't change the world for my son but I can help him work with his strengths rather than battle his weaknesses.

At the moment, the law still states that parents have a legal responsibility to ensure their child receives an appropriate education. That doesn't have to be in a school and doesn't have to come direct from the government. Unfortunately the current government have turned their misguided spotlight on Home Educators in a tragic attempt to meet their own criteria for protecting vulnerable children, forgetting of course that even school educated children spend a large percentage of their time at home! If you are at all interested in the current Review read this excellent critique here . But for us, whilst we still have the chance in this increasingly State controlled country I'm seriously considering giving it, and H a chance!

1 comment:

  1. We took our elder (Aspie) son out of school at 7 when it became obvious he was never going to be able to learn much there, just because of the social aspects of the classroom. Under completely autonomous home education he's learnt to soar with the eagles - including taking part in a Lego robotics team that involves a huge amount of teamwork, so don't think he's socially isolated. As you say, the stress just disappears when you fit the environment to the child instead of the other way round. Go for it - in a couple of months you'll be wondering why you hesitated so long. ;)

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