It has been three months since my husband and I made the decision to not send our high functioning autistic 6yo daughter back to school after the half term break. Although her autism wasn't diagnosed until last year, I'd long had my suspicions that something more than the usual was at the bottom of her incredibly poor sleep and challenging behaviour.
Lots of well meaning friends told me that school had been the turning point for their kids, the magic cure that equated to a happier child. One who was so exhausted from all the learning that their sleep problems disappeared overnight. That external discipline was just what they needed to nip those challenges in the bud.
Throwing her into the lions den
To be honest I had a strong haunch that this wouldn't be the case for us. Also being a July babe and significantly smaller than her peers (children do most of their growing while they're asleep after all) it felt like we were throwing her into the lions den in September 2013 when she joined reception. We sent her to school in good faith though, and I mostly kept my mouth shut about my reservations. We weren't in a financial position for me to stop working until quite recently anyway, so I wouldn't have been able to home ed back then even if I'd have wanted to.
It's worth saying that I believe for some families school is a wonderful thing, and I can see it might be the magic bullet for minor problems. Unfortunately for us, it quickly became apparent that school was too overwhelming for our girl. Being so high functioning and sociable, her autism largely slipped through the net, but even after diagnosis it wasn't taken very seriously.
Bullying and concerns about safety
Reception year was tough, but we also had our third baby mid way through, so put most of our difficulties down to that. Then came the bullying - both directly and inadvertently. She was forever being pushed over and coming home with injuries.
Being a bright girl she coped with the work, and was capable of holding it together while she was there, but she'd take out her frustrations on us when she came home. Her behaviour got steadily worse - the pinching, name calling and spitefulness towards her younger brother and sister broke my heart on a daily basis. The post-school meltdowns became all consuming, and would last up to two hours.
We were in a perpetual cycle of sleep and behaviour slowly getting worse as the end of term neared; then hubby and I would plough all our energies into getting her back on track during the holidays, only to dread sending her in again. We were living our lives in anticipation of what state she would be in come 3:30pm, and her mood dictated the happiness of the entire family.
Ultimately, with two younger children to factor into the equation, and her getting more violent with them with each day that passed, we'd all had enough of dealing with the fallout of school.
Deciding to educate otherwise
Our story wasn't nearly as horrendous as others that I've heard, but there was only one way it was heading, and we weren't prepared to stand by and watch it happen. As the writing had been on the wall for as long as it had, it gave me the chance to orchestrate voluntary redundancy from my part time job. We also carried out a ton of research, so should we go down this road, we were fully prepared.
As soon as the decision was made it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. The first few weeks took me by surprise with P pushing to do her work, and being very willing to learn. It didn't last long though, and over the course of the following month it got to the point where even the mention of learning was causing her anxiety, so I declared Christmas holidays almost two weeks before the schools broke up.
It was a lesson in flexibility for me, and recognising the need to change tact. I'm very pleased to report that a nice long break was what we all needed, and since resuming our learning at the beginning of January, we've had a whole load of ups as well as downs on this little roller coaster of ours.
Don't get me wrong, we still have plenty of moments. P is still autistic, and I still have two younger children to also care for. It's hard work, but progress is being made in the right direction, and that's all we can ask for. If it continues like this for the rest of the year, I'll be one happy mama!