Conversations in My Head about School

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Collecting Rocks

I have begun thinking about next year. Cam will not be going back to school. We get that now. He still has difficulty processing relatively quiet days. So, the overstimulation and social demands of school, coupled with his high anxiety, would mean disaster. Please don’t tell me to “just try it.” Please don’t say, “all kids have to go to school.” Don’t say, I’m “isolating” him. Don’t tell me how hard it is going to be “on me.” My husband and I thought of all of this. For long stretches, it seemed like all we thought about. When people offer this kind of advice, I want to reply: “Use your imagination. Of course, we had these thoughts. We considered the obvious drawbacks. This was not our first choice.” This is not something we decided lightly, on a whim, as if it was on the menu at the pancake house.

The stakes are high. Cam’s mental health is at stake. And, we wouldn’t be so far outside the box, so very outside that we miss the box, if we hadn’t thought everything through. Cam has autism, not a cold. We believe asking him to tough it out in school is beyond his capabilities right now. Yes, I know some kids with autism do o.k. in school. Of course, I know that. But, a lot don’t. A lot are hurt, psychologically damaged, and broken. Trust me when I say Cam is at risk for that kind of outcome. Don’t ask me to pretend that isn’t the case, so everything can seem fine. It isn’t fine.

So, what do we do? People sometimes look at me as if I don’t know what I’m doing when it comes to raising Cam. I want to yell, “Bingo! I don’t know.” That’s just the problem. I don’t really know.

Yet, I do have some information. I have studied this stuff. I am past the period of reading several hours of research a night, but I’m still current on all the recent thinking. And, of course, I know Camden.

I know when Camden is happy, and I know when he is not. And, by unhappy, I don’t mean simply crying or whining or expressing displeasure. I mean very bad things: hurting himself, hurting us, hitting the dogs, throwing furniture, tearing up his room, kicking the door, banging his head, screaming, and cursing like a sailor. When a child hurts like that, you re-evaluate everything. Everything is on the table. Conventional expectations lose their importance. Happiness is not simply a pleasure; it is a marker of mental well-being. Learning to read seems trivial. I know that sounds strange, but it truly is. Keeping Cam safe, safe from the disorder in his head, from an inability to process a world that is often experienced as threatening, chaotic, and nonsensical, is all that matters. Learning about Pilgrims, finger-painting, duck-duck-goose, making maps and pie charts, all comes second. I wish I could explain that in a compelling way to concerned family members and disapproving teachers and therapists.

IMG_1736So, the plan is to keep Cam home next year. We will give tutoring a try again. If we could add one hour of tutoring a week each year, Cam will gradually gain a solid academic base. Our main goal will continue to be happiness and stability for Cam. As he grows more comfortable in the world, more trusting of people, and more confident in his ability to be present in groups, we will add to his education. And, at that point, we will re-consider school.

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Setbacks

booksMy son’s tutor quit after just a few weeks. She thought Camden had too many issues. I have some thoughts about her, but I won’t state them here! We homeschool, and we haven’t had a lot of success with the “school” part, yet. Camden is happy, but he is not very interested in academics. He is only five, but I worry. Tonight, I told my husband that I’m worried if I find another tutor, she’ll quit, too. I told him I’m worried Camden is not going to learn to read. He was only supposed to go to tutoring once a week for an hour, but I’m worried he will refuse to go. I feel like we’re just starting, and we’re already academically behind. I know. I know. He is only five; I don’t need to panic. Still, it feels like every time we try something new, we fail. It feels like I’m failing my son

After I was done with my meltdown, my husband looked at me and said, “We’re going to keep failing. Our life is probably going to be full of failure. And, I don’t think it’s going to get easier. But, we have to keep trying. I don’t expect you to be the perfect mom. I don’t expect our son to learn to read over night. I don’t care if our son keeps up with his peers. I don’t care if he’s not like other kids. Who cares?! But, we’re going to keep trying. And, if the next tutor quits, we’ll find another one. Or, we’ll work harder at teaching him ourselves. But, I don’t regret taking him out of school. He was going crazy there. We did the right thing. But, this is going to be hard. We know that. All we can do is try. And, if we keep failing, that is o.k., but we can’t stop trying.”