There is no denying that home educating three children is the hardest thing I’ve ever done (and I’ve had a colourful, interesting past)
At this point in our lives though, I honestly would not have it any other way. I appreciate that this might sound like an oxymoron, so let me go back to the start and explain myself.
I didn’t set out with the intention of home educating three children. In Sept 2013 my husband and I sent our eldest daughter Polly (who had turned four in the July) to school with good intentions, but she was failed miserably. Sh*t happened, and we were left with no other choice but to remove her. You can read the full story here.
How did we end up home educating three children?
On the surface Polly was doing “just fine” when she was at school. She was an average student, who didn’t cause problems for the other kids. She didn’t raise any major red flags as far as her teachers were concerned, and largely went underneath the radar. The sad fact was that Polly was seriously overwhelmed by going to school. She would have two hour long meltdowns almost every evening, and it would be a major challenge getting her out the door in the morning.
I had been in touch with the family liaison officer for months. To be frank she was more interested in regaling stories of her successful older children than she was in properly listening to me about mine. She would bestow bog standard reward chart ‘wisdom’ thinking she was telling me something I didn’t know already. The word patronised doesn’t come close to how she made me feel. She pretty much laughed in my face when I said I was concerned that Polly might be autistic.
Turns out my gut feeling was spot on, but even after Polly’s diagnosis in 2015 we received no additional support for her. I had the carrot of ‘help’ dangled in my face, and was promised meetings with the ASD team to assess Polly’s needs. The meetings were cancelled at short notice, and it was very obvious that help wasn’t materialising any time soon. Even if it did, budget cuts meant the likelihood of ‘help’ being substantial enough to reverse the damage school had done to my girl being slim at best.
Left with no choice
I wrote a blog in October 2015 which went viral. My open letter to the mum of a highly functioning autistic child struck chords all over the world. It became apparent that I wasn’t alone in these feelings of utter despair. The perpetual cycle of Polly’s sleep and behaviour getting gradually worse as the school term ticked on. How soul destroying it was to see progress in the holidays only to watch it go out the window a week after going back.
The thing about high functioning autistic girls is they are often so good at masking their autism it goes unnoticed. Polly’s overwhelm and anxiety were being glossed over, because she was so well behaved at school. How on earth can a teacher quantify a child’s needs if they are presenting a different version of themselves inside the classroom? Fellow blogger Miriam wrote a fantastic piece on this subject.
I’m sure we’ll all agree that an overworked teacher in an oversized classroom already has enough on their plate. It would be unreasonable of me to expect them to spend a large chunk of their day trying to unpick my high functioning autistic daughter’s complex issues. Getting to the root of why Polly was having such huge meltdowns at home was never going to happen, because the meltdowns were at home, not in school.
Home educating one child is all very well and good, home educating three children is another matter entirely
We had a flying start to home education, and Polly’s meltdowns disappeared almost overnight. We went to great lengths to instil emotional intelligence into our daughter, and our decision to home educate paid off in those early days. Polly was still autistic though, and her autism did not ‘go away’ by home educating.
For the record and for those not in the know I’d like to state this. Autism is neurological condition which means Polly’s brain is wired differently to her neuro typical peers. This doesn’t make her less of a person, it just makes her different. I feel those trying to ‘cure’ or ‘reverse’ their child’s autism are on a fools errand, but that is a whole series of blog posts in itself, and this one is almost a thousand words already, so I shall stick to the point.
In Sept 2016 we made the decision to send Clara to school
Hubby and I figured that just because Polly had had a terrible experience it didn’t mean Clara would. So we made the rather controversial decision to send her to school. It all went well in the first few weeks, but the wheels started falling off as we headed towards Christmas.
The kicker for me was seeing my little ray of sunshine in pieces, dressed as an angel, in the nativity. Possibly the saddest hour of my life since becoming a parent.
Not wanting to make a knee jerk reaction, we left her in school until Easter. I tearfully met with the SENCO who promised meetings with the ASD team to see if there was anything else in play. These meetings didn’t materialise – sound familiar? We could not sit back and watch history repeat itself.
Potential reasons that had caused this problem
Perhaps it was our school that was the problem. However, when you don’t drive and have other children to consider, you don’t have much choice but to send your kids to the geographically closest school. We would have to properly move out of the area to change schools, and we didn’t have the means to do so.
For Clara, having her brother (two at the time) and sister at home was a problem, because she felt we were sending her away. She would ask on a daily basis, some days multiple times, why Freddy and Polly got to stay at home and she didn’t.
Ultimately though, Clara often presents strong autism traits herself, and was very overwhelmed being in a class of thirty. I genuinely cannot fault her teacher, or the teaching assistant who were both amazing, but it wasn’t enough.
We decided to not even test the waters with Freddy. Being such a sensitive boy, we know already that he would absolutely hate school.
Owning your story
I’ve been blogging for almost five years. From my very first post I have been explicitly honest and have continued to be throughout my online journey. I am very vocal on social media about both sides of parenting. I wrote this piece about home ed to highlight that it’s not for everyone.
Having suffered with debilitating mental health problems over the years, I’ve undergone numerous counselling sessions and read hundreds of self-help books to understand why I am the way I am. I will always change when necessary if it means becoming a better person.
I absolutely refuse point blank to only present the best parts of my life. I share everything. Warts and all. Always have and always will. Otherwise I might as well hang up my blogging boots forever!
Back to the point. After pulling Clara out of school last year, we have had plenty of downs on our little roller coaster. But we’ve also had the highest ups. Watching my children become emotionally intelligent people, who can have proper conversations with just about anyone always invokes proud mummy moments.
Seeing them become confident in their own skin. Ride their bikes like they were born attached to wheels. Bake like professionals. Between them they can recite all the times tables. They create LEGO master pieces that are awe inspiring. They write stories. They build robots. They make up songs and sing them in beautiful voices (!) They dance like no-one’s watching. Most important of all, is that along with the fighting, they love each other fiercely.
We must be doing something right
Life is hard.
Grindingly so some days.
Every time I have a wobble, without fail, people will start asking if I’ve thought of putting them back into school. As if this has just been a little game we’ve been playing and hubby and I will come to our senses and be ‘normal’ like everyone else.
Yes, home educating three children almost broke me. No doubt I will have plenty of days where I feel broken. But such is life with kids on the spectrum, and right now, I would not have it any other way.
If being ‘normal’ means putting my children through serious distress and causing them major anxiety, then we’ll be the ‘weirdos’ thank you very much.
And just like that, I’m starting to feel much better about this thing called life. Parenting multiple challenging children will push the sanest of us to our very limits, trust me. ♥ Having been through two debilitating mental breakdowns in my 20’s and numerous boughts of depression throughout my life, I know when the dark clouds are going to pass quickly, or stick around for longer. ♥ And I refuse. Point. Blank. To put on a big fake smile and pretend I’m okay to make others feel less uncomfortable around me. If my authenticity makes you sad, then perhaps you need to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself why. ♥ I’ve done many things over the last six months to help myself, so here’s the list, just in case they can help any of you. – squeaky clean diet, no refined sugar and very little natural sugar. – I took a break from alcohol, which was long overdue, you can take a look at that in detail if you so wish @mummysoffthebooze – I’ve got back to regular yoga 🧘♀️ – I’ve got back to editing the manuscript and am now looking at a pretty good seventh (!!) draft – I’ve upped my probiotic game, taking strong quality supplements as well as drinking on average 2L of water kefir a day and about 100ml of milk kefir – I started taking 5HTP, an old friend that has helped me in the past – I’ve stopped expecting anything from anyone else (this has by far been the hardest thing to achieve, but perhaps the most effective?) ♥ Let’s just hope this new and improved mood is here to stay!