Seeing Children without Labels

Beth M., October 2009:
I remember debating, or rather trying to argue, on this list about the Asperger' label given to my son. It really stuck fast in my mind causing me to view anything and everything related to my son with that label in mind. I was just learning about unschooling and this label was another reason I had problems really getting the unschooling concept.

In talking to other parents and reading books about Aspergers, I was positive that unschooling was not a good thing for my son. All I could focus on was what he couldn't do. It took me a while to realize that thinking was hindering not only my understanding of unschooling, but affecting my relationship with my son. All people are unique and our lives can be so much better when we focus on the things we can do and want to do.

Jenny Cyphers, 2011:
I've been in and around the homeschooling and unschooling community for 12 yrs. I've met lots of people. I've seen parents label and medicate their kids, I've seen other parents walk away from that.

The families with the most peace and cohesiveness are the ones that have walked away from it. This is *my* observation. Nobody need agree with my observation.

If a family is happy and peacefully living with lots of labels and unschooling is working great for them, why would I object? That's NOT what I've seen though. I've seen more struggles over that, than peace. If any parent has a child that is a bit more difficult in any sense of the word, why would any parent's first or second or third choice be to find something "wrong" with their child? If it becomes clear that there are issues that continue to surface, wouldn't it be better to have worked from the position that your child is whole and awesome just the way they are?

It's very popular these days to find disorders in children. I don't like seeing it seep into unschooling. I think it's better to work from a viewpoint that each child has a host of characteristics, some of them easier to navigate than others.

Michelle Thedaker on May 19, 2009
My son Drew is about to turn 10 and was diagnosed with mild to moderate autism when he was 2.5. My second son Josh is 6 and is not autistic. We started Drew in public school at age 3, went to school-at-home mid-way through K, and then moved to unschooling in December of 2008. Josh has never been to school, and did a smidge of school-at-home for a few months but *refused* to do the work I set for him - I credit Josh for really opening our eyes to the joys of unschooling. :)

Drew is definitely still in deschooling mode (as are the rest of us!), but his sweetness and passion for life has come back *so* strongly since we started living this unschooling life. I won't say we are 100% radical unschoolers, we just do better each day than the day before and strive to be more connected to one another, respectful of each other, and joyful in general.

I also used to believe that, because of his autism, Drew 'needed' structure and schedules. We've tried many types of ways to schedule our days, and what I found more often than not was that the constant transitioning - imposed by someone outside of himself - was horribly stressful for him. When he is allowed to go with his *own* flow, ah! Peace! We certainly still have to work around the needs of other people in the family, but he is *so* much more flexible now that he is in control of the majority of his day. We definitely still have our difficult times, unschooling hasn't 'fixed' the stresses, sensory challenges, social confusion, etc. But it *has* helped, because we're all more relaxed and connected.

I've also found that, in the past several months, I'm seeing just *Drew* almost all the time. I used to see 'my autistic son Drew'. He's just himself now, in my eyes. It's a beautiful thing for me to experience again.

Originally on FamilyRUN.ning, Radical Unschooler Network (no longer available)

Chris Sanders, September 2011:
When my daughter was eight, she started exhibiting many OCD-like behaviors that were very debilitating for her and disruptive for the entire family. I read books, asked on unschooling lists and even consulted with therapists to find ways to help her. She WANTED help. She was very anxious and unhappy.

I found kids' books that talked about ways to learn how to cope and gain some mastery over her feelings of out-of-control anxiety and compulsions. We read them together, we talked a lot and at her request, I helped her with and reminded her of some of those techniques. I DID NOT do what a lot of the books, websites and experts advised—systematic desensitization, refusing to reassure her etc. I DID NOT seek a diagnosis nor put her in therapy. I did remove as many stressors from her life as possible, practiced patience and offered her as much of a safe and secure environment as I could. I observed her carefully and built her trust in me, learning what triggered her anxieties and helping her cope and overcome some of them.

Over time, with maturation and a couple of years of giving her as much control as we could while still helping her feel that we would protect her, she stopped exhibiting the OCD-like behaviors and gradually began to re-enter the world, happily and mostly confident.

I'm glad there was information about OCD that I could read and understand better what was going on with her, and I"m glad that there were experienced unschoolers who could show me ways to meet her where she was, support her and help her feel safe. I'm glad I didn't stick the label of OCD on her because, really, she's not. I know kids who have it much worse than her and they are in therapy and are helped by prescription meds—I don't know if they would or would not need those things if their situations were addressed differently but I know that so far, avoiding labels and therapy has worked well for my child who is now in six dance classes, drama and art and loves to go places. Five years ago, she would hardly leave the house.

(Chris Sanders, three days down in this facebook discussion)


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