The last month there has been a big debate online about child-led weaning. The age old adult-led vs. child-led saga continues. Every parent has his own parenting style. Even within one family, chances are, both parents don’t always agree about every parenting decision. We chose a child-led parenting style, because each child is unique whether they have special needs or not. Yes, they need guidance, but they all have their own unique way of learning. All four our little people have completely different personalities, interests, strengths and weaknesses. Dare I say, little people are just like adults? Believe it or not, they do have minds of their own. They can think for themselves. And yes, they can make choices and live with the consequences, just like adults. Why then do adult-led programs treat little people like they need to be trained? Is it because society don’t want to cultivate independence? Free thinking?
Our story may be similar to some other parents. Becoming a parent for the first time is so overwhelming. Having read all the parenting books I could find from Amazon, I thought I was as prepared as I can be. Well, was I wrong!! Nothing could prepare me for what was about to happen. I remember one of my friends recommending a parenting book to me when I was struggling in every way with my first born, beautiful, BIG boy. It was all about routines and ridged processes to help your child sleep, eat, and basically conform with what you wanted the baby to do when you wanted your baby to do it! I can completely see why these strategies works. And I don’t want to criticise anybody. Raising children is the most important job we have and sometimes it is challenging. The last thing us parents need is being under the magnifying glass of other parents, scrutinising our every decision on how to raise our children. Each to their own right? What works for one family might not work for another.
In our case, we opted for a child-led parenting style. Our boys were different from birth. Not grumpy. Not whiny. Not naughty. Just different. And beautiful in every way! Because our boys were different from birth, we tried the ridged routine route. We wanted a big family and we started late so our children were born close together. When our children were small and we were merrily growing our family, we had no idea that two of our boys were Autistic. We knew nothing of Autism. All we knew was that our babies were different. We were sleep deprived and stressed out. None of the parenting experts’ advice helped our children to sleep better, or to not have tantrums, or eat better. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all bad. It just seemed that we were stuck in the terrible twos. Going to restaurants and shopping excursions was a nightmare to say the least.
Part of the reason that the Autism was undetected was that the stereotypical Autism signs didn’t seem to apply to our boys. You know. The “rain man” signs. Our boys show love. They laugh. They have a brilliant sense of humour. And not to mention their incredible imagination. Because of all these reasons, Autism never occurred to us. Finally, when our youngest boy started showing development delays, we were told to see a Psychologist for behaviour therapy. We were very lucky in our diagnosis phase of getting to know Autism, we met a team of professionals who believed in a child-centred approach. And needless to say, within twelve months, our lives had drastically changed. The main reason everything changed is because we stopped trying to get our little people to stick to our timelines. We learned with the help of wonderful Psychologists and Therapists that there are roots to behavioural problems, and once those issues was seen to, the behaviours changed.
We learned that different is beautiful. We accepted them for who they were. We stopped trying to fit into society’s expectations and started concentrating on building up our little people’s self-confidence instead. They were born Autistic. No training, prodding, poking, or diets will ever change that! They are beautiful. And they are the two most empathic, caring, thoughtful, helpful, sensitive, loving individuals I have ever met.
My theory is, and it’s obviously only a layman Mum’s theory, is that our children are empathic, caring, thoughtful, helpful, sensitive, loving individuals because we give them the freedom to be who they want to be. We don’t tell them not to “graze”, or not to read a certain way, or not to learn a certain way, or not to be Autistic. Our rules are simple. Respect yourself, respect each other and respect Mother Nature.
Yes, we baby-led weaned all our children. Some of them are grazers. And they graze all day, and some of them have food sensitivities, and some have allergies, and some have oral sensory issues. But, they all love food and they are healthy and growing! They make their own food and loves cleaning up. They love the whole process of preparation and the responsibility of making others food.
Yes, we don’t follow a timetable to do activities in our home school. We encourage, we provide the right environment for the little people to explore in, but we don’t tell them what to do when. We learned very early on that each one of our fantastic four has different interests, and different ideas, plans, ages. Why on Earth would we want them all to do the same thing at the same time? A very good, real-life example is, today. One was playing the piano, one was reading a story to the other, who was painting and one was in the kitchen with me making breakfast. And that is how we role. Every day, with everything. Especially when it comes to school! As you know, I can carry on for hours about Montessori vs. Traditional education methodologies. Sure our eldest struggle with social communication, sensory overload and auditory processing at school, but he is happy. He respects his peers and loves his teachers. That’s what Montessori instilled in him from a very young age. It is incredible to watch our youngest boy that the self-gratification he feels when he complete a piece of work himself and then repeating it until the skill is mastered, which in turn gives them self-respect. Dignity. Pride in their own accomplishments.
If our kids want to stare at leaves, fixate on bubbles, watching the trees blow in the wind, instead of having a conversation with us, we leave them be. They will join in the conversation when they are ready. It’s their choice! When they are concentrating on a toy or activity from which, it is difficult to disturb them, we leave them to finish what they are busy with without controlling the pace or outcome. We don’t redirect them away or break their concentration because they must do what we as adults want them to do.
If they enjoy mathematical/engineering/problem solving activities. We let them do those activities. We don’t concentrate more on the subjects they struggle with. We encourage the subjects they love. Yes, they might read a little later in life, but they will do it when they are ready. Not when we want them to read. If they struggle at maths, we don’t do more math exercises, we let them do what they love and work maths in everyday activities, like cooking, or in nature walks in the woods, or hopscotch on the pavement.
When looking at the history of Autism treatments and diagnostics, it’s been a common believe amongst professionals that aversive stimuli assists in the short term, but it has a detrimental effect on their emotional development longer term. In my personal, humble opinion, if any human being is being prodded and poked and trained, they will eventually break and give in. But what does that teach them? How are Autists different than their Neurotypical peers? Why should they be trained and treated like they can’t think for themselves? Why should they be encouraged with rewards rather than self-gratification in their abilities and achievements? Why should their pride and dignity be taken away? Is that perhaps why the U.K. Government claim that only 20% of Autistic adults are in full-time employment? Is it perhaps that adult-led special needs education and therapy methods don’t instil self-confidence and pride and dignity?
Now the key is to find likeminded teachers, schools and therapists. Boy, were we lucky to have found the best team to support our boy!!