First Truth. I have five children. I’ve had two husbands. My marriages have served me well, not so much in the ways i thought they would but more so in the ways in which life was willing me show me what i needed to see at this time. I’ve made mountains of mistakes, that are mine to own and that I’m eternally grateful for. They are what has brought me closer to the truth of myself. I have held myself back from what i truly deserved more times than I’ve deserved which i am still learning as to why? I’ve found myself allowing things that i wouldn’t wish for my own daughters, i say daughters because its more often than not that they are they ones most likely to find their way into these places with another. I’m tired of pretending that what has played out doesn’t matter, or worse didn’t occur to keep peace, in the story that is playing out now. None of which serves me well. It’s not in my best interests to know secrets that are not mine to own, yet unspokenly held to keep them, so that they can stew around in the darkness causing unconscious turmoil to whomever they are connected to, even in the smallest of ways. Thats not my truth. I have nothing to hide. No errors that I’m ashamed of that cannot be spoken out loud. My mistakes have always been in trusting. Trusting others over the trust of myself. That hasn’t served me well. I’m trusting myself now. I’m trusting the instinctual judgment that comes from within, that wakes me up, says this is how it is even when a story is still playing out that i no longer wish to pretend to be apart of anymore, yet are continuing to do so for the sake of others. This doesn’t serve me. This is no longer the truth of me. Life at some stage needs to get real, I’m not afraid of shattering the illusion. I didn’t come here to sit quietly on the side lines and behave politely. I can no longer play roles and parts that don’t serve me and i won’t apologise for it. Peeling back the layers, requires being real in everything, with everyone. For some, this will be asking too much i understand this, the gap will be too great and ill let them go. And the ones that are meant to stay, of course will stay. It asks for us to unravel and be seen in all the shades even the ones we are most afraid of bringing to the light. But this is where i am. I have spent enough time playing in life, creating pictures to fill gaps and please all but myself. Its time for me to step into a deeper idea of who i am in this life. I’m awake now and it’s already begun.
I’m excited about my children’s education for the first time. After spending too many years on opposite sides of the bench with the school system and the education of my older children, it’s a much welcomed relief and an exciting new prospect for us. For the past 2 years i have been endlessly searching for alternative schooling approaches to educate my children that differ from the mainstream system that we so often seem to be hauling our children through. Homeschooling or better still un-schooling has gotten my eager attention. It’s not the conventional way to go, or even the most popular form for alternative ways to educate your children, nevertheless something is swiftly moving us in that direction. And really after having already been down the conventional schooling road before, i’m afraid it leaves little to be desired for at this stage. After researching the array of approaches to begin embarking on the homeschooling journey, it became apparent and with a much welcomed relief that we were already innately flowing to this rhythm of learning. And whist it may seem alternative now, my predicament is, as a society facing the enormities of such neurological diversity we will begin to explore these new learning styles more predominately in the future anyway. Right now, everything we are doing feels right. Moving in the natural flow of the children is easy, much easier than the rush of meeting expected time tables and fitting into a routine that doesn’t really fit with us. Now, we move slowly in the mornings, especially on the stuff that doesn’t really matter, like washing faces and getting dressed. The creativity usually begins before the first cup of tea. Everything is always open, accessible and available, nothing stops or finishes at a certain time. I know the learning is happening when they wake and look out to see if anything has grown in the garden or changed form while they were sleeping. They notice a bee has taken up residence in the lounge room and they are unbothered by its presence, ensuring me that its alright, because it’s just pollinating our plants. Painting in your pyjamas is normal, brushing teeth at some stage before lunch is alright, imaginary play is unrestrained and not restricted to any parts of the house, and can take over and last for hours. I can’t emphasis enough how important this kind of play is and how important it is to allow the space in children’s lives for this to happen naturally. We live in a world that is on sensory overload most of the time. Children are losing their way, forgetting how to be without the aid of an electronic device, clouding their minds. I’m seeing it so often now, children are struggling to think of ways to play. They have forgotten this innate wisdom they have been born with and its disturbingly heartbreaking. Playing this way for us happens often and easily, they listen to each other, contemplate and cooperate together, most of the time my involvement is unnecessary and is kept to a minimal. The children are happy, excited to wake in the morning and begin their days, they know that they have the unique experience of leading the way on how the day will unfold and its alluring to watch them in the freedom of this space. It would be hard to imagine now, a life of rushing them out the door by eight with breakfast on the run to spend 6 hours in a classroom, five days a week. I’m thinking we have stumbled onto something uniquely wonderful here, un-schooling is undoubtably unorthodox and still really quite seldom, nonetheless we do like the idea of taking the road less travelled.
It takes courage to follow your own innate wisdom’s, especially when it concerns more lives than just that of your own. I have always followed the mantra, when you know better, you do better. I am watching carefully how my children are learning, even how other children i am around are learning also, by simply observing, allowing, and encouraging a child-led process to unfold. This area in my children’s development has become a necessary pursuit and now a passion. When developmental learning for a child doesn’t play by the generalised rules, it becomes necessary to begin the journey of discovering new ways for the information to be grasped, finding a way for the learning to happen. Our way has come to us on an instinctual level, i simply allow my children to lead the way in their learning, most of the time and almost every day. It may seem unlikely that we could possibly be covering all the developmental learning targets with children taking the lead however, if we are able to get out of our own way of old views on how things must be done in order to achieve results, we open up a new space of possibility for things to unfold. And children are born knowing what they want and need already. We know this to be true from babies who cry to have their instinctual needs met. Nobody teaches a new born how to be hungry every few hours or how to be tired, or how to feel uncomfortable. We trust babies to tell us what they need, to eventually get their needs met, even without the use of spoken language. So why is it that we stop trusting them, stop trusting that they instinctively know what it is they are wanting to learn, wanting to know more about? Maybe it started around the time the first three-year olds began contradicting their parents? A mass collaborative decision to get things under control before an ensue of outspoken three-year olds possibly unraveled? What would happen if we continued to trust them, kept them safe and allowed them to lead the direction of what it is they want to know more about. All children are curious we know this to be true. Usually about absolutely everything. This innate curiosity starts to take a certain shape and head in certain directions as they grow. I watched a small boy yesterday, load his 4-year-old arms up with off cuts of wood and lug them down to another part of the play area where he was building. He continued this process of going back and forth, carrying the wood to his construction site with immense importance and determination. He lay the wood pieces in parquetry style, perfectly creating a flat image of a house plan from his imagination. What was remarkable to me was that he was constructing this project in amongst a highly distracting group of twenty or so four-year olds. I wondered what would have happened if he was left to remain focused on his project for sometime, and given the opportunity to further explore this creative venture, with access to tools and supplies. Who knows what would have become of his fabrication. This is child-led learning. This is the perfect example of a child who clearly has an interest in construction. All sorts of learning can be applied to his choice of project, maths and geometry, comparing and measuring all of which can be explored. Creative thinking, conceptualisation, problem solving and independence all play a large role in a project such as this. Most importantly you will have the desire, willingness and enthusiasm of the child. Isn’t this ideal? Children learning in a way, that allows them to set their own course, a direction of learning where we are simply not filling them with masses of information that they cannot relate to, or have little interest in learning about and possibly will never again use in their lives. Of course, when we leave the education system as young adults we usually once again return to learning more naturally. When we want to know more about a topic or subject, we begin the process ourselves. Technology allows us to research and explore information on just about anything we want to know about. We pursue our interests, and intern continue the process of learning by our own innate wisdom once again.
Asperger would often just sit with the children, reading poetry and stories to them from his favourite books. “I don’t want to simply ‘push from the outside’ and give instructions, observing cooly and with detachment,” he said ” Rather, I want to play and talk with the child , all the while looking with open eyes both into the child and into myself, observing the emotions that arise in reaction to everything that occurs in the conversation between the two of us.”
-NeuroTribes, Steve Silberman
This is how i want my children to learn, i want to be the observer not the dictator to their curious and instinctual minds. I want to watch what they are drawn to, and where they take themselves naturally when provided the space, opportunity and environment to do so. I don’t want them ever to become accustomed to what is perceived as normal or abnormal about themselves in a class room, by the opinions that are deciding where they sit on some grand scale of intellectual competence. Children are loosing their natural flow. They are being denied the access to learn by instinctively following from their own interests, a naturally occurring process that is inherent to everyone. There is no room for individual self-directed learning anymore. Instead they are being shaped and moulded, and filled with information about things that are meant to support them in their lives, but really have nothing to do with their life at all. By the time they are reaching high school it’s all but gone. Thats when it really becomes prevalent to what is happening. It is then that they too begin to realise the sad truth of how little they matter in the system, how small their voices are, unless of course they have an exceptional skill that can offer some personal gain to the school. It becomes entirely about working hard, retaining the masses of information, memorizing as opposed to learning, endless testing and our children tirelessly keeping pace, trying to prove themselves over and over again. It is about them illogically having to have their whole life plan set out before them, at the tender age of sixteen. This is not the learning we are striving for. The learning we strive for is one that doesn’t require forcing information upon them with the expectation that they retain it and then perform it back in some way, as proof of a job well done. My children are learning to count, I know this. I hear them practicing all the time, for their own pleasure. I have also watched them refuse to count on demand or worse feel so under pressure, to prove themselves that they simply can’t. Testing children is much the same. It fills them with dread, panic and insecurity, and really is no way to conclude where a child’s level of understanding is really at. Testing children in this country in the educational systems is out of control. We test everything, even how fast they can run, in ‘beep tests’. This has nothing to do with nurturing the physical health of our children, or guiding them towards naturally being aware of how to take care of their own bodies, and everything to do with competition and adequacy verses inadequacy. Never before in our history has the pressure to perform been so rampant, you have to wonder how much learning is actually taking place. We are living in a time where we are now recognising the expansive neurological diversity amongst ourselves, more than ever before, and the educational options to cater for the diversity in our children’s differences is few. Parents are wanting a new approach, they are wanting individual learning styles for their children as they are uniquely learning individuals. They are recognising that many children cannot learn effectively in a traditional school environment anymore. With the number of children being diagnosed with learning differences it is inevitable that something will have to change. There is simply no one size fits all model that can be followed effectively anymore.
We have been enjoying what could be the final warm days before winter approaches. Our beach explorations are almost a daily ritual now. I imagine we will just trade our bare feet for woollen beanies and gumboots and continue on through the colder seasons, rather than forgoing this regular adventure we have become so accustomed to. There is so much discovering and learning to be done right beneath our feet. This place we now call home has become the learning ground for us all, full of science and biology, life and language. On this day, alone we see crabs that have died recently still full of colour and shape allowing little curious minds study them closely to see if any signs of life remain. They ponder over a washed up skeletal shell that has been floating in limbo, now resembling little to who it once was, prompting questions of life, bodies and where we go when we are no longer here encompassing our shells? We play with seaweed that pops water when you squeeze it, discover jelly fish and intensely investigate their tentacles. Learning this way, is peaceful, it flows to a beautiful life rhythm that can’t be obtained in the class room or from behind a desk. It is here that our children are learning about real life and cycles, growth and change. They are absorbing everything and anything that interests them, with minds like sponges. They are leading the way in their learning right now, deciding what they want to know more about, its they way we would like it to remain, it’s the way i believe it should be. For now this is the way we will move, it’s the way that serves the children the best. We will learn, create and discover the world around us hands on, and endeavour to grow and evolve and nourish our humble, inquisitive little people on their journey.
Education is a complex and unnerving predicament again for me right now. I am familiar with this approaching uneasiness, having been here once before. Even though it may seem we have come so far in the understanding of Autism, admittedly i still have very little faith in what is on offer in the realm of mainstream schooling. Autism moves to a rhythm of its own, and the immensity of perceptual change needed seems far too great, before children with Autism will really be able to flow as themselves, in a conformed learning environment beside those without. Autism is viewed and distinctively labeled as a ‘dis’ ability, diagnosed formally as a ‘dis’order, a not quite ‘normal’ version of what is considered neurologically to be of normal functioning. There is nothing within this notion that i could disagree with more. I have read enough to understand what the science says, i have collaborated for long enough with what the psychology is saying. I have been working my way through the often tiresome array of information and opinions on whats best for Autism right up until now. Now, i have decided to let it go. All of it. I have let go of the psychology behind the monotonous methods of behaviour therapy, which admittedly in the beginning i sincerely embraced, and only now do i understand was under the belief that Autism is a ‘problem’ that could be resolved and aided through repetitious behavioural training. Quite possibly it did help on a surface level, however the notion that Autism is a ‘problem’ needing to be fixed, never has truthfully sat well with me at all. In the beginning, there was a level of expectation as a parent to take action. A portrayal of an ‘issue’ needing to be attended to with a sense of urgency, whilst the brain functioning is still in its vital stages of development. You were considered fortunate to know early, with an increased prospect for your childs outcome, more opportunity for implementing ‘right’ behaviours, re-developing the brains patterns to more appropriate responses and actions. And, at a time when i believed i held limited information on what was best for my child, this was appealing and made considerable sense to me. It was easier to trust, to go along with and be told what it is you needed to do by the cultivated experts in the field of Autism, than trust your own innate wisdom. It was easier and less confronting to go along with the preconceived ideas and recommended ways to best ‘help’ my child, before truly allowing myself the time to go through the process of really understanding what Autism meant for us. I realise now it takes tremendous surety to step away from the opinions and conforming psychology that is embedded in the methods aimed at aiding those with Autism and it is only now, that i am able to do so in confidence.
So, after letting it all go and trusting that we are the wisdom in the knowing what is best for our child, he is truly flowing to his own rhythm. Now, only is he is really learning, he is teaching me what he needs to know more than any book or therapy session could ever do. Simply by being in the space with him and allowing him to be, allows there to be no expectation, on who he is, how his behaviours are defined and interpreted. There is no wrongness, or less than ‘normal’ view in his world now. In this space he is opening and has the room to grow at his own pace. He is leading the way in his education, he is deciding what he would like to know more about, what discoveries need to be made or challenges that must be conquered on any given day. He does not have to hide himself, withdraw, or become conscious of his quirks that bring him confused and often misguided attention. By deciding to no longer try to change his innate being, and the letting go of any practices that are supporting of assertions that the Autistic way is not of normal, or appropriate functioning has opened up a space for us. A place left untethered by any of societies preconceived ideas on how he or we need to be. Now when we pay attention, it is to him, and not everything about him. This way, requires you drop everything you think you know and begin to move in a way that feels right, better, it demands your true attention, a kind of listening requiring your whole self. He knows when the attention is else where or wonders or you become distracted mid conversation. Ironically he has this way of pulling You back in, refocusing You by gently moving your face back to his centre, watching your eyes intensely to ensure the listening stays, and that you are paying attention with your whole self. This contradicts most of what is said to be true about Autism. Looking back i realise that everything that we tried, the methods we used, was all in efforts to ease his suffering, what we believed would help settle him in the consistent unsettledness and better sustain him long-term out in the larger world. It is only now that i can see we were moving him in a way that will never serve his true self. We were teaching him to mask who he is for sake of survival, the sake of others, to move in a way that is foreign to him, to refrain from voicing truth of what he was perceiving in fear of judgement. Something that is harshly bestowed upon us in life, Autism or not.
What i have realised is, this unique way of being offers new understandings of the way in which we interact and communicate with ourselves and each other. Autism reaches into places of raw, unattached truth and moves to a rhythm that for most is just too confronting, raising the questions of your own beliefs and perceptions on what life is meant to look like. It demands you move with intention and integrity, have patients and compassion, and a willingness to stay present. For most, this simply is just too much to ask all of the time. We spend our lives listening to and being told what we need to do in order to be considered accepted and successful in our lives, often spending many years following that guidance presumably under the belief that it’s the right way, the only way towards a successful, happy life. Is it? i sincerely wonder, about that now. When my daughter was asked by an admired teacher what she wanted to do when she completed her senior schooling, she replied with, ‘create something’. Her answer was not surprisingly deemed unacceptable. Her intelligence and ability to know what is best for herself was highly disregarded. Was the honesty and integrity of her answer appreciated and respected? I’m afraid not. Needless to say she no longer holds this teacher in high regards and no amount of university degrees he has his name on would alter that perception. Indoctrination comes in many ways, from lifes many teachers almost from the very beginning of our lives. She has grown securely enough to think otherwise for herself thankfully, that the only perception that matters on her life and the direction it moves is that of her own, anything anyone else thinks is irrelevant. When i asked her the question, ‘knowing what we do now, would you have preferred a different way of learning, to be offered something other than undertaking mainstream schooling? She was adamant in her answer, ‘yes’.