I've been mulling over the importance of school. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about education. I'm a, 'Do you have a lot of homework tonight?' mom, a 'How's it going in math class?' mom. I believe in the value of an education and I'm a regular presence in my kid's school. Lately though, I'm fuzzy about the importance of following a traditional timeline.
I remember reading an article years ago. I can't remember the title or the author but I remember she was an advocate for adults with Autism. The author was discussing educational opportunities. She was frustrated that education ramps down at 18. Her concern was that there were limited academic opportunities for the low verbal, non-college bound adult with Autism. Her argument went something like this, 'We spend so much time focusing on teaching our kids how to learn, and then, when they have their greatest skill set, we stop teaching!'. To make things clear she was talking about academics here, not life skills.
This blew my mind. When Alex entered middle school I joked that I wanted him to do grade school again. 'He's ready for it now!' I would say. He could do it with so much more independence and success! Two more years of grade school would make his academic foundation so much stronger. We could work on those critical skills we passed on because he 'just wasn't ready'. I felt the same way when he started high school, please just 2 more years of middle school! We could do SO much catching up. It would make all the difference! But that isn't an option. Kids move forward into more complex systems. That's just how the system works.
I understand this is why IEP's are created. A good IEP is priceless, but the bag of unlearned academics gets bigger with each year. Mix in the havoc adolescence brings to teens with Autism, the classroom can be the last place a teen with Autism wants to be. And finally what about the kid that starts to loose motivation within this system? What happens to the kid that's tired of the aids and the extra attention, the kid that just wants to work without the hovering or constraints of a special ed classroom? In some ways I feel adolescence is the worst time to focus on academics.
I think this year is a turning point for us. I started Alex's jobs program because I could tell he was motivated by having more control of his life. I didn't expect him to blossom the way he has. I didn't think he would embrace it this strongly. I didn't think his skill set would increase so quickly. These jobs just seem more valuable than school right now.
On Tuesday Alex volunteered at the Thrift It Store, helping to rotate clothing. He is told what color price tag is getting discounted, he gets an empty 6 foot long rolling rack and sifts through all the hanging clothing for that color tag. The clothing gets pulled of the regular price rack and hung on the empty one. Alex filled 5 racks. He worked 3 hours straight. He never asked help and his support person never once had to step in. Alex navigated customers, took direction from staff and followed instructions and job rules independently. Honestly, whats more valuable, this job or the remedial reading class he's missing?
So here is what I'm mulling over. Should I delay school? Can i stretch it out over a longer period of time? Could getting his high school diploma be an 8 year goal? Could he participate in the parts of school that hold the most value for him and fill the rest of his time with jobs and hobbies. On this path he wouldn't earn a degree but would earn job skills, people skills and real independence.
So, an academic education now or later? I'm still thinking.