Tuesday, 9 January 2018

School refusal and homeschooling

Our youngest daughter stopped attending her mainstream school at the end of June. I'm not a fan of the term 'school refusal' because it makes it sound like a petulant child is 'picking and choosing' what they want to do. Some may see it as that, but I know otherwise.
Sasha playing a large upright xylophone outdoors



Sasha didn’t stop going to school just because she didn’t like it or couldn't be bothered, she stopped going because she knew it wasn’t the right place for her. She’s never once asked if she can stay home 'just' because she doesn’t want to go to school.

She definitely does want to be in a school, but somewhere that she feels she fits into - in her words 'where there are other children like me'. She wants to feel like she belongs.

Sasha doesn’t want to be home educated*. That’s quite a mature stance for a ten year old who could be classed as having learning difficulties.

I hesitated to write learning difficulties, because it’s not as simple as that. Sasha has a very complex profile; in many ways she is definitely on a par academically with her peers. However autism plays a part in her difficulty in accessing learning; it's what makes her profile spiky. She may be able to grasp quite tricky science theories, but she still struggles to understand why she can’t win everything. She wants to be sociable and to have friends, but came to realise this year that she couldn't converse with girls or boys of her own age on topics they like to talk about. Listening and then responding appropriately is a challenge for her and she finds it very difficult to self-regulate her frustration. Her Pathological Demand Avoidance causes anxiety when any demands are placed on her, which means that sitting down to learn in a typical manner rarely happens, and certainly wouldn't without plenty of sensory breaks.

Communication is also still a challenge; whilst she can mostly make herself understood now, and she often uses ‘big’ words or concepts (‘paradox’ is one of her latest favourites), a lot of her thoughts remain in her head and can be quite complex if she chooses to talk. There’s a lot of one-way chat about Pokemon around here of late too, with very little appreciation that others may not share that interest!
variety of home ed activities collage

We've managed a few different activities as an intro to home educating over the autumn term, but they've all involved me and Sasha together. None of them have been formally organised, with a group. Largely because Sasha wasn't ready for it, but also because we were waiting, and hoping for news. 
various home educating activities

This week we still wait for news from the special school which Sasha has been to look round. She has asked me several times since New Year about when she can start there, and although she has until now trusted me to fix that part of life for her, she is becoming frustrated by my lack of answers for her. All I can do is keep calling and chasing for those answers myself. It doesn't feel as if she is anybody else's priority right now to be honest, despite having been out of school for so long.

This morning Sasha bounded down with excitement as the circle on her calendar reminded her that I’d said we could try a special trampolining session for home educated children. She’s talked with me at length about which soft toy she would like to take along to this session; a new Pokemon one rather than her old bedraggled Terry Turtle. Her reasoning for that was ‘well, Terry wouldn’t be able to fight for me any more, but the Pokemon have super ninja skills’. Sasha is not aggressive in any way; that’s a very clear insight into how much she needed the toy as a comfort blanket, and still does when it comes to new activities.

There is so much for us both to face when trying something new like this session; what’s the environment like, what actually happens, what are the waiting times and most importantly will the people in charge understand her needs?
Sasha star jump on trampoline

The trampolining was a huge success. When we first walked in there were younger children (under 5) on the trampolines and Sasha nearly backed out again. She doesn't feel like she belongs when there are younger children around; as much as she'd like to still play like they do sometimes, she seems to have picked up the idea that it's wrong for her to not act her age. Luckily that was just the end of an earlier session for young ones, and when she saw they were leaving she could be persuaded in to the gym hall. 



What worked particularly well today was the attitude of the session leader. She was very laid back, didn't ask Sasha too many questions, simply told her she could get on and do what she liked on the trampoline this week, then maybe work towards badges if she wanted to in the coming weeks. So no pressure at all. There was also a small soft play area set up for the children to play in when they were waiting for their turn again (class size ended up being five) and Sasha was pleased with this - though I'm not sure it would hold her attention every week. Sasha talked to the session leader all about the Pokemon she had taken with her and at the end of the session even made a point of going up to say thank you and to say she'd be back, with a different Pokemon. 

So a huge win today; we made it out of the house and had some fun! Building up the little wins for Sasha will really improve her confidence. I just hope now that if school happens, we can take it as slowly as this, in order for Sasha to achieve the best. Home educating is not the path we are choosing right now, but that doesn't mean to say we won't revisit that decision in the future.




*apparently 'home educated' is the phrase of choice over 'homeschooling'. This is to do with school being a system, an establishment, very different to the learning which can take place at home and in the community. For anyone wanting more information on the whole home educating process, I recommend  www.home-education.org.uk as a starting point and Ross Mountney's fabulous website for a wide variety of advice and resources.





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