What About School?

Filed Under (Autism and Learning, school) by Estee on 30-06-2011

There is a lot of change facing Adam again and I, as his primary care-giver. After all the years of worrying about schools, I see that we may have a variety of options that may require us to re-juggle our days. I knew this day would come. I wrote about many things regarding schools and it’s not easy to be in the midst of it and have an opinion at the same time. The process of evaluation has now begun: the eclectic ABA school, the public or Catholic school, the online/homeschool options are on my list. Don’t you just love when people think that there is a rainbow of autistic schools out there that actually suit every autistic child on the planet?

The road called “evaluation” is filled with opinion and advice. Everyone has a thought about what’s best. I am taking each word in and processing it slowly. Although September is only two months away, I know this cannot be rushed. This requires a lot of questioning about what’s best for Adam, for his autistic learning style, his levels of anxiety as well as his other interests and needs. I have been making long lists of my assumptions versus the reality of how Adam will best grow, and grow happily.

School is a tricky thing. We tend to view it as the ultimate socializer for our children and a place where they should get everything they need. For any child, I tend to want to question our way of thinking about school (and sure, of course, making this a whole lot harder on myself, as usual).

The United Commission on Human Rights Statement on the Right to Education, written in 1999, reads:

The core human rights standards for education include respect of freedom. The respect of parents’ freedom to educate their children according to their vision of what education should be has been part of international human rights standards since their very emergence.

In her book Home Educating For Autistic Children: Paths Are Made By Walking, Terri Dowty and Kitt Cowlishaw write:

We all know just how difficult it can be to reclaim the responsibility for our children’s education — or to decide not to relinquish to a school in the first place. Parenthood is riddled with guilt, under-confidence, and a sneaking fear that our children might be better off in more qualified hands…

A child is to school as bread is to butter. Perhaps that was true to some extent in the days when knowledge was a restricted commodity; however, we now inhabit a world where access to information on any subject imaginable is only a library ticket or a mouse click away. As society changes, the sacred cow of education has come to resemble a rather less exotic domestic beast, prompting thousands of parents to take the leap of faith into providing it themselves, in co-operation with their children.

I have to decide soon what is best for Adam’s day, which could be a combination of things. I will be dedicating my summer (and I’m sure other falls and winters) to this. I can relate to the pressure of outside opinion, or the preconceived notions that being in school is better without really thinking about it deeply. Probably, like all things, a little bit of everything is true.

The one area I wonder about, is that autistics do better when they are socialized in a school setting. Certainly, for most autistics, this becomes the only place where they get any socialization, but school programs aren’t always set up just to work on social skills or even just to be social in an autistic way. Again, what kinds of programs are best suited for the autstic person? Where do we all get our social fix? Does this all have to happen in school?

Autistic people are not always wanting to be social in a typical way and it’s not always fair to assume that they must have our same skill set. Yet, it might also not be fair to equip an autistic person with the skills they may require in order to feel like they can at least manage friendships with neurotypical people. This is so tricky and we need to acknowledge that it is and be careful with autistics so that we do not bombard with just neurotypical ways.

Regarding school as the primary source of everything, Dowty and Cowlishaw continue:

We are now so ready to accept that school is the means by which children become socially competent that it is tempting to wonder how society managed to advance beyond grunting until the advent of compulsory mass schooling.

I’m one of those parents, like thousands of you before me, who are pushing through the bush of assumption about what school is and what is best for Adam. There is confusion for everyone out there and even more so for autistic people who have even fewer options.


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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.