What? No School?
Recently, a parent reached out to us after listening to our podcast and asked us something that got us thinking, and her question was this, “if I don’t send my child to a mainstream school, what are the options I have in front of me? Where can he go? Does this mean he will sit at home for the rest of his life and not receive any education?”
Before we answer that, let’s understand a little bit more about early childhood development, mental and emotional health. It’s a known fact that the first five years of the child’s life are particularly important for the development of the brain, the first three years are spent shaping the child’s brain architecture. Think of it like constructing a building, a strong foundation provides for years of structural strength, minimal damage and likewise a weak foundation can get in the way of the quality and strength of the building you are trying to construct. So, to draw parallels to the brain – adverse experiences in the early years translate into negative effects that last well into adulthood.
Let’s pause and take a look at ASD – Social Impairments are a hallmark of ASD
The child has a very limited understanding of the world around him, he is not making a lot of inferences or rather he is making some connections based on cause and effect that may or may not be true, but not making some other crucial inferences.
He still depends predominately on the responses and reactions he receives from the people around him, much like a neurotypical child would except his dependence is amplified, thanks to his limited understanding of the world. What happens when this dependent child is put into a traditional set up such as a day care, a school, a Montessori system?
Now bear with us as we go a little into neuroscience where there are decades of research that indicate that early childhood experiences alter and affect brain development.
So why is this important? Well, for one – knowing exactly how experiences can affect a child’s brain empowers you with the knowledge that you can make choices for the betterment of your child’s development and avoid experiences that can have an adverse effect. This knowledge can also help us undo some damage – to the extent possible by providing the child with a safe, nurturing and emotionally stable environment.
In the first 3 years, a child’s brain has up to twice as many synapses as it will have in adulthood. The child’s senses send information report about the environment and experiences to the brain and this input stimulates neural activity. Speech sounds – the sound of the mother talking to her infant, stimulate activity in the areas of the brain that deal with language. When the child is spoken to often, and is given a lot of sensory social interaction – synapses between the neurons in that area will be activated frequently. Repeated activation – strengthens the synapse. And what happens when synapses aren’t activated enough – they become weak and are pruned out during the elimination process. This impacts networks that support learning, memory and other cognitive abilities.
So, does ensuring your child meets with positive interactions during the early years set them up for success? Well…There is more to the story, because experiences have such a great potential to impact the brain development of the child, the same child is EXTREMELY vulnerable to negative influences in the formative years.
What are some possible negative influences?
- Screaming or using any form of violence against the child
- A home environment where there is a lot of raised voices, anger, violence, where the child is not at the receiving end of it but witness to it.
- Inconsistencies in schedule and the child’s routines
- Being placed in an environment where he feels lost in a crowd, confused, unable to make sense of what is going-on
- Not being provided the means to communicate appropriately
- Insufficient physical and mental stimulation
A child with ASD is dealing with social and language deficits, can display repetitive behaviors as a coping mechanism and is to say it lightly, lost during his early years.
Putting him into a space or an environment that further confuses him such as a day care of a school set up or a play school even – can have the reverse effects – instead of stimulation – it can end up making him feel isolated and stressed even. Why so? Because his basic needs of being enabled to communicate are not met, he is not stimulated simply because he hasn’t been given the intervention required to absorb and learn from the environment something that his neurotypical counterpart can do!
So, what can you do for your child with ASD?
- First – in the early years provide intensive early intervention that provide him with play skills, communication and all the interaction he needs to activate and strengthen the right synapses.
- Second – find the right environment for him as he grows – one where his unique needs are met, while he continues to receive mental stimulation without being put in a spot or being made to feel stressed out
- Do what is best for your child, not what is best for you or your parents or your extended family or the neighbors, but for your child. Remember – your child is born of you and NOT for you!
Taking a quick look at mainstream school before you dive deep into the alternates:
I’m going to drop a picture here of what most schools care about, this is from our personal experience:
Just kidding..or maybe not!
Schooling doesn’t exactly equip the child to do what they want to do or even give them the chance to explore what they would like to do. For starters, the curriculum is prescribed, it is predetermined that at a particular class and at a particular age, this is what the child should be learning. Who decides that your child NEEDS to know this and without that he is a failure or held back a year or given a support staff or a shadow to ENSURE he does what is expected of him.
This has probably been derived from years of the education system and somebody in all their wisdom who decided that by the time you leave school, these are the topics and subjects that you need to have mastered. But if you look back at the number of things we studied in school and if we ask ourselves what we remember from that vast ocean, we can pin it down to alphabets and reading for sure, something we learnt in school, numbers and the basic four functions using numbers, once the digits increase beyond 2 or 3 depending on our skill levels, we either need paper and pencil or we most often pick up a calculator which is now a mobile phone.
Somethings that we were made to memorize in school like the multiplication tables that come back to us even today, but is that a justified outcome of 12 years of education? Or in other words, do we need to waste 12 years of our child’s life for him to learn the multiplication tables, alphabets and numbers and how to sit still and not talk to anyone and better yet never ask questions!
In short – Schools don’t teach anything except how to obey orders
The average classroom of 2019 and I’m saying 2019 because classrooms don’t exactly exist in 2020 thanks to the pandemic – which just might be a good thing, anyway a classroom in 2019 looks pretty much like a classroom in 2010 and 2000 and 1995 and so on. Except some might have a smart board now and if you go to a fancy international school then you probably have air conditioning, but nothing else has really changed.
Bags weigh a ton, consisting of books that are wrapped in brown paper, there are class books and homework books and subjects that have little real life value.
Where exactly does this leave your child with ASD? Does he fit into this? Probably not. Will he learn the multiplication tables, numbers and alphabets? Maybe but does that require 12 years of being sent to a school with a shadow? And most importantly what will he do with that knowledge? Will it help him life an independent life? Will he be able to care for his own needs, his own hygiene, keep himself occupied both for leisure and for work?
These are somethings to think about.
Back to alternatives to schooling.
There is homeschooling – something we spoke about in great detail in a previous podcast – please scroll down on Spotify and apple podcasts for homeschooling part 1 and 2 to hear what we have to say about it, and then there in unschooling – which is often confused with home schooling, it is a term coined by John Holt – a classroom teacher and a great believer of self-led or natural learning or self-directed learning. Unschooling works heavily on the assumption that the child is innately motivated and parents have a lot of time on their hands. The major difference between homeschooling and unschooling is ofcourse the approach to learning. In a homeschooling environment, the parent takes on the role of the educator, they plan lessons, assign homework and the children can ultimately take a standardized test and pursue a college education (if they so wish to and can!)
An unschooler goes by a more self-led strategy – where he may pick only what he wants to learn and leave out the rest. This may or may not make him ready for a standardized testing situation or college life. Just FYI – there are unschoolers who made it to college and went onto do great things!
When we take children on the spectrum, we realize three things
A – they require structured learning, preferably 1:1
B – The mainstream education structure leaves little for them to learn from
C – they are not always self-led – or rather their range of interests can be restricted, calling for some intervention from adults to broaden their scope of learning.
Then there is ABA based intervention where the child receives hours equivalent to a formative schooling system hours of intervention that targets his core deficits of language and social skills and works on skill building and literacy and numeracy IF he is ready for it.
So, a combination between home schooling and an ABA based intervention or ABA based schooling would possibly work towards helping your child learn and learn in a way that is effective and beneficial to him.
A very interesting paper called Square Pegs in Round holes explores the mainstream schooling experiences of children with ASD that emphasizes on the misfits that these children are in system – children with ASD are reported to experience high rates of bullying both in primary and secondary schools resulting in a dip in their self-esteem, lower levels of support from peers and a general reluctance to go to school. The stress of the academic expectations coupled with social norms have resulted in children with ASD exhibiting high rates of maladaptive behaviors as coping mechanisms.
So, one last meme because you know we are nerdy like that:
If you are convinced that your child needs to go to school, I sure hope he follows Mark Twain who never let his schooling interfere with his education.
Do you still want your child to go to school? Yes, NO, Maybe? I don’t know? Let us know! We love hearing from you!
Until next time,
Swati & Gita