I really respect your experience and I appreciate that there are a very strong opinion within the UK education system that ASD children functions better when micromanaged and trained to do every day activities. And traditionally therapists are required to not only help developing certain skills, but to also “train” a child to transition into school and transition from session to session without misbehaving.
The reason I send you this letter is because you are amazing with our boys and I know they just love you! And I really hope that you will be flexible in your approach so that we can continue working together to achieve the same goals, just using a different approach to achieve those end goals.
Lucky is getting mixed signals when attending school than what he is taught in therapy. It is hard enough for him to deal with the pressure of social interaction, eye contact, demands from adults, and then to top it off, he gets completely different messages from the people he is supposed to feel safe with to teach and guide him in acquiring these skills he finds so hard.
I think it is best to explain what we do at home school and at the Montessori school for you to get a better understanding of why we are so passionate about the Montessori philosophy.
There seems to be a common misconception in the UK that Montessori is based on free play and there is no structure. Mostessori schools have structured work cycles where the children work with purposeful material specifically designed to promote development and by giving the child the opportunity to master the skill at his own pace for himself, the child becomes more confident in their own ability.
We have now witnessed again that Montessori is the only way to go with regards to educating Lucky and I really wish I knew Bear was autistic as well when we moved to the UK, because then Bear would have continued within the Montessori environment and developed at his own pace and would have had far less stress than he does now. We would have settled near a Montessori primary school that would be able to keep the boys until they finished secondary school to avoid changing schools.
Maria Montessori believed that children naturally experiment with the environment, materials, and information available to them. By allowing the child to choose and work on their own choice of work at their own pace, the child explores their work in the way they know best to develop those skills. Our boys specifically struggles with the fact that if they don’t know what is coming, they feel very anxious. That is why so many schools uses visual timetables. Visuals works very well, but it’s meant to prepare a child for unexpected changes. Sadly, it has become useful for schools to use visual timetables for children to fit into blocks of work time where the child has to do specific work in a certain timeframe. At a Montessori school, the child is welcomed, there may be a circle time to greet their teachers and peers, and then thy have a three hour work cycle where the child learns at his own pace.
The material presented in the prepared environment is functional, logical, natural and organised. Lucky finds the environment peaceful and safe and sees the Directresses as mentors or facilitators rather than controlling adults taking away activities when they feel it’s necessary rather than when he is finished. If any NT child is not trained to wait for adult direction before doing anything, that NT child would also have behavioural problems when somebody kept interrupting their interesting work.
With repetition Lucky learns more and more about each material every day and he is very impressed with his own achievements! And that to me is the real reward. Not a sticker or a special toy/activity as reward for hard work, but Lucky’s self-confidence growing each day when he achieves just that little bit more than yesterday. With gentle guidance from his peers and facilitators, he does it himself. And the joy in his eye and pride in his heart shows me that we made the right decision every day.
When Lucky is finished with his work, he returns it to the right place and therefore learns that everything has it’s own place. Everybody is part of a team that helps clean and tidy the environment and helps prepare the food for all to enjoy together at the table. He becomes more independent when he is part of a team working together and has the liberty to think for himself what “job” he would like to get involved in. His self-help skills are not taught, but learned. He learns by making mistakes and discovering how to problem solve the situation so he gets better results next time.
The kitchen is one of the best, practical tools to teach our ASD children basic skills. They get sensory input, regulation, maths, coordination, early reading and writing opportunities as well as safety lessons in just one area.
Our boys may not develop the checklists expect and definitely not like their two siblings, and they may be really logical and find maths and shapes easy, but only to really struggle in other areas, but I do believe they require the same self-confidence to teach emotional well-being and inner peace as any other child. They, too, need to get to know their OWN abilities and work on their OWN difficulties. By gently demonstrating the material with little language and repeated, the child visualises the concrete, measurable, observable format which is imperative for Lucky and then Lucky feels more confident in how it works. When Lucky is left with his work he feels relaxed to try it on his own. He knows the Directress is near for assistance if necessary, but there is no pressure to get it right and done in a certain way or by a certain time. With this feeling of calmness in his heart, Lucky gives up far less and powers through, focused and content until he is done. As I said, the material is functional and once these skills are learned and applied, it acts as foundation for the primary years where the child is at the optimal age to learn everything they need to succeed for the rest of their lives.
I hope this gives you an idea of why we chose the Montessori philosophy and I hope that my letter sparks a thought process of how we will work together as a team to help Lucky achieve his development goals.
Lucky’s Mama x