Unschooling and Autism some comments

On the Always Learning list in October, 2008, someone came to explain that unschooling didn't work with autistic kids. Jacki (Gold Standard) responded.
I would like to respond to two or three posts in one post here, since it doesn't really matter who said what...it's the ideas I'd like to respond to:

I have a 19 yo son who has many autistic traits. He has either unschooled or chosen school (a couple of years of high school in an art school) his whole life. He has what some would call "severe" issues. In fact, without my knowledge, a psychologist at the school termed him "severely disabled" on paper. I only describe him in these ways as a means of showing that he probably compares to how other autistic-like kids were described here. He was probably quite similar to how another young child was described in this thread when he was that age.

"Pure unschooling for them just wasn't working for our auties."
If one is mindfully watching and learning about their child, responding to their needs, providing the things that give them joy, pleasantly providing information (in whatever way is most helpful to the child), creating the environment that gives them the most peace (while sometimes adding more elements of society as they are ready to handle them) and most of all, living with the attitude that all is well and that their young person is perfect as he is...what is unpure about that?

With a focus on what our children do well and what they are passionate about (even if it is red buttons that twirl), we can see who they are and where they shine.

Some kids show a need to be hand-held through things that others fly through with ease. My son wouldn't/couldn't walk through doorways, particularly if there were people on the other side, for many years. This presented barriers in the world that most people don't have. So we would stand together outside of whatever doorway was the barrier until he and I figured out how he could get through it with the least amount of anxiety. Eventually, doorways were not so much an issue. Though to this day he will stop outside a new doorway and think and breathe before getting over the anxiety to go in, but he has developed this skill, and can now go into a world of doorways on his own.

Sometimes we had to get through a doorway more quickly than he was ready for, btw. I sometimes had to carry him through apologizing for not having the time to go more slowly. Because most of the time we went through doorways at his pace, he never seemed to hold it against me.

"When I went to read what John Holt had to say on the subject, the example that was given of homeschooling an autistic child was not unschooling, it was more traditional, structured homeschooling."
Haven't read John on the subject of autism, but can say that for my guy, I did have to slow down for all kinds of things that my other three children "got" quite naturally. I learned from him what helped and what didn't. His stress level showed me what and when to stop. His joy or lack thereof showed me which directions to go. He was usually open to my guidance in the areas that he needed to function in life (using the bathroom properly, public place behavior, etc.) because of the respect and admiration we gave him.

Someone said earlier that math is easy actually. I don't think my guy has a math chip, or at least his math chip is not like anyone else's I've encountered. It is interesting to watch as he tries to put this kind of thinking together. He has some functional math-type skills...can add objects and in his head pretty easily now. He couldn't measure in a measuring cup until recently, and frankly, opposes the whole idea that anything SHOULD be exact (and this kind of thinking has opened worlds to me, thank you ds). Numbers on paper are aliens at this point. He can read, though mostly skims as far as I can tell. He can't count money or change, though we've done gazillions of real life activities around it, in fun. I did try some structured teaching around this and that was not worth the damage to our relationship. Right now he functions on trust at the stores, pays for things and doesn't even try to count the change. So this got us to thinking...how many situations do people actually get the wrong change back in a significant way (I mean by tens)? I know it happens occasionally, but not enough for me to try to drill something in my son's head that it's not ready for or not accepting, for whatever reason. He knows he has these pretty big gaps, and tries to work on them himself.

For instance, his sense of direction. He can get lost in our little neighborhood. He wants independence. He has been taking driving lessons for over a year, and it's not clear whether he'll be able to get his license anytime soon. So he walks and recently starting hopping on the bus. We continue to work on this one. He's gotten very lost in far away places on the bus system (thank god for cell phones!!). I've picked him up twice from police calls when someone was concerned about a wandering man who "looked out of it" called the police...that's how he looks often in public...out of it.

When police have questioned him, they quickly understand that he is a good guy lost. That's what he was!

So to continue to help him live in this world, we've made maps and had written instructions for what to do when lost, he carries ID with emergency phone numbers, he has three family phone numbers memorized...all this just to be able to go somewhere outside of home without a parent. At almost 20 years old. Even the trips where he ended up lost and/or with police involvement were just part of his journey.

"Now, I have found that a traditional curriculum does not work very well."
There is no curriculum out there that will follow our individual children's needs and passions. Read them for your own knowledge maybe to see if you get some tips or ideas, but using a whole curriculum for anyone is just a daunting thing to even think about.

Pure unschooling to me means all of the things above. However I can equip myself (reading websites, curriculums, talking to "professionals") is great for me. But as soon as I take my eye off my child and what they are telling me, I will get confused and pulled in an "off" direction. THAT has rung loud and clear my son's whole lovely life.