Am I supping with the Devil?

Matthew has Asperger Syndrome, which is on the high functioning end of the autistic spectrum. We are not home educating at the moment but more of that later.  I am struck by the increasing numbers of parents of children with Asperger Syndrome who feel compelled to home educate.

I use the word “compelled” because I wonder how many parents actually feel they had a choice.  It is one thing to become dissatisfied with a school system and decide that you can do a better job.  It is another matter entirely if an LEA is so unresponsive to your child's needs that school threatens his mental health.

As a teacher in a school for pupils with severe learning difficulties I felt that the system could and should be made to meet my son’s needs.  I am less certain now.  The current education system offers little or no incentive to schools or LEAs who make the effort to accommodate our children.  In fact a school may even be penalized if they make heroic efforts at inclusion and are then named and shamed because they do not compare with their more exclusive neighbours’ GCSE results.

So home education is often the only option for young people with Asperger Syndrome.  But it is unfair if this frees the LEA of all financial obligation to resource your child’s education.  That is one reason why we have never chosen to home educate Matthew.  Instead we fought to get the LEA to acknowledge that his autistic spectrum disorder had a direct bearing on his educational needs and to put it in his statement.

Even after this victory, Matthew went through a horrendous time where he could not cope with school but his desire to belong meant he felt he ought to be at school.  Now we are at the stage where the LEA and the school accept that he is only able to attend part time for selected subjects.  Matthew has chosen the GCSE courses he feels able to follow at school.  He has chosen his own key worker from among the support staff in the Special Needs Department.  He understands that this is a deal with mutual rights and obligations.  So do the school.  He has funding for his special educational needs and some of this money is available to meet the cost of vocational and social education programmes with a local community action group.  The rest of the time he educates himself, reading books and science magazines, devouring the Guardian from cover to cover, watching TV documentaries and surfing the web.  We hope it works out.

So we are neither home educating nor participating fully in the system.  I call it flexi-schooling.  Some of you might think we are supping with the devil.  I prefer to think that he is dining at our table.  But we always count the spoons after he has gone.

Mike Stanton is the author of :
“Learning to Live with High Functioning Autism.
- A Parent's Guide for Professionals”