So, we finally caved! Lucky is officially now going to school for three mornings a week. We have found the most lovely little Montessori school that is tucked away in a tiny, picturesque village that he will be able to stay in until September 2017, when he will be six years old. As you may remember, our decision to home school him was because the mainstream schools have very big classrooms and the only other LEA schools with small classrooms were special schools which didn’t have a very positive effect on Lucky.
I must admit, a year ago we were a long way from Lucky attending school, but over the last few months he has grown up so much, not to mention the fact that he asked to go to school everyday when his brothers went to school. It was tough finding the right school to be honest. We have now visited nineteen schools in total since last June. When we moved to England, we were adamant that the children should go to a Montessori school. Well, when we arrived we lost our place at the Montessori farm school for reasons out of our control and we were suddenly stuck. It was a very stressful time because Lucky was unsettled from moving to two different countries in six months and the boys needed some time away from all the chaos at home. Especially Bear! Sadly, we could not find a Montessori primary school in our area, but we finally found a charming family school that the boys absolutely adore.
Bear has only attended Montessori schools and the prepared environment and the ability to work at his own pace obviously worked so well for him that his struggles went unnoticed for a long time. The Psychologist said that his struggles were masked and when he went to the mainstream school they became more apparent. Bear is so high-functioning that very little people who work with him actually notice the extent of his struggles. He’s got coping strategies to help him be “normal” as he describes it. One is that he is so tuned into the teachers voice at school and my voice at home that he listens intently to us and answers every question we ask, even if we were speaking to somebody else. The other gauge he uses is watching his peers and then copying them. He then starts saying what they say, in the tone that they use, and the facial expressions they use. He really struggles to have his own identity. As you know, we are appealing the LEA’s decision not to assess Bear for special educational needs, and our court case is in May so he will have to stay in the school he is in at the moment until we have gone through the assessment process.
For our overseas friends, I’m not sure if you know the UK school system, but here the school year runs from September to July, which is similar to the US, except, I think the UK have more breaks, which we call “half-term” breaks that last a week in each term. In South Africa our school years run from January to December. What I was struggling with Lucky was that in the UK children start going to school the September after their fourth birthday. Now, normally a child like Lucky with development delays, speech delays, processing difficulties, health issues, and ASD, will have to go to school full-time at this stage and then the school will support them in a class of 20 children plus. This is called inclusion that aims to teach children to function in society and there is no segregation of race, sex or disability.
I’m not sure I completely agree with the whole inclusion concept. I’m sure this will spark some debate because there are many people who believe the contrary. I mean in theory it’s great, and I’m all for our children being accepted in society, but I believe that children have loads of time to “conform” to society’s standards of “normal” behaviour and function. The way I see it, our first priority is to meet our children’s needs, get to the root of any behavioural issues (i.e. sensory, `gut issues and allergies in our boys’ case) and only then, when our children are happy and whole can we start concentrating on what society expects from them.
Thrusting them into mainstream schools is just lining them up to fail! In my opinion as Bear has so hugely proved to us now, even in a small class of ten children Bear has had to learn to hide and mask his difficulties to try and fit in with what is expected and it has reached the point that anxiety and lack of self-confidence became all-consuming. Hence our request to have the LEA assess him, although they deemed it unnecessary.
But, I regress… Also, as we all know, autistic children need structure and routine, but even that statement is not as simple as it sounds. Both our autistic boys struggle with rigid structures. Because of auditory processing difficulties, it takes them far longer than the average child in a mainstream classroom to firstly hear, next understand, and then apply what they have heard. So, then when the teacher has to move on, our kiddos have not even dealt with what was happening five minutes hence, and so they are always almost blindly following one person to gauge what they are supposed to do, rather than figuring life out for themselves.
Therefore, we cultivate a mentality of one must always follow the masses. Whether their decision is good or bad, our children will follow them because that’s what they were taught. On many occasions, the boys have been seen sitting on the side-line just observing their peers, learning what they are “supposed” to do and only when they feel they have learned enough, they will join in and FOLLOW the masses’ lead!! Does nobody see anything wrong with this?!?!?!?! Wouldn’t we rather encourage our children to get to know themselves, learning where and what their abilities and obstacles are, and then learn where and how they fit into society?
The issue with the big classrooms in the mainstream settings are that when children struggle with so many sensory processing issues, just the mere fact that there are twenty plus bodies next to them with different smells, sounds and movements completely overwhelms them.
Considering all of these points we have decided that Montessori is the ONLY way to go with Lucky. Believe it or not, Montessori is not merely just a play session where the kiddos have freedom to reign as they please and there is no discipline. No, in fact there is a daily routine and positive discipline modeled and the children still imitate socially what appropriate behaviours are acceptable. But these are modeled by all as respecting each other, the earth, life as apposed to being told that’s how you “MUST” or “SHOULD” behave to be “ACCEPTED”!! With Montessori you first learn where life comes from, how we have come to be part of this incredible journey and by instilling a sense of being, one can build on to where one is going and how one will get there.
I believe our boys also need to discover, learn and think for themselves at their own pace in a safe, organised space, which is quite difficult to achieve with big classrooms as you can imagine. In our case, the kids are far more interested in learning when they are not restricted to learn in a certain way, or within a certain time. And don’t even get me started on the whole “rewards/sticker” concept!
The teachers job is limited to offering the materials, and it suffices if she demonstrates their use; after that she leaves the child with his work. Our goal is not so much the imparting of knowledge as the unveiling and developing of spiritual energy. – Maria Montessori
Over the last two months Lucky has again proved that ABA/rewards based/sand timer/counter type work does NOT work for him. He concentrates so hard on the timer and doesn’t care about the rewards. He just doesn’t get the concept because we have never advocated rewards or praise as parents. Within our home school he was able to to pick what he would like to work on and work on it until he feels comfortable with it and he feels ready to move on. That gave him the confidence in himself rather than waiting to hear what is expected from him before he makes a decision and then get a sticker for it. And this limits him to what the adult expects rather than him exploring what he is able to do for himself.
The fact that there is far less pressure to follow the sand timer, or counter gives Lucky the peaceful mind-set to push himself just that little bit further, until HE IS READY to move on.
And for Bear, whom we can’t find a Montessori school for, we would have to teach him the Montessori way at home as we always have.
That’s just my views anyway 😉