I’m writing this post mainly for my follower Kathryn who home schools her son. Children who are home schooled might get the idea that because they are home schooled they are different from other children and therefore find it embarrassing to admit it. But given my usual obliviousness in childhood about what people thought about me and all those strange things I did and a natural ability to become a pint sized egomaniac about my differences rather than feeling ashamed, when the topic of ‘what school do you go to?’ with other kids came up I would unabashedly say I was home schooled. Other children might have laughed but I didn’t notice them, instead I kept going on about how cool it was. I could get out of bed when I liked and do my schoolwork in my pajamas.
The first time the suggestion to try home school was announced I was very confused and did think something may have been wrong with me. My other siblings were not home schooled and I really thought I had nailed year 5. My last day of school was even a joyous one and maybe weeks later the question of home school came up. My mum made it seem like I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the demands of high school.
The truth was I had been making poor grades ever since I started school. I was withdrawn and quiet, virtually mute until I reached primary school when I started to say a few words to other children. I struggled to focus in a classroom and hardly understood what any lesson was about at all, unless I actually had an interest in it. It still puzzles me to this day how I could sometimes overcome attention and processing issues to do work that excited me and actually stirred me emotionally enough to want to do.
I think it was my sister who put the idea in my head that children who are home schooled are freakishly weird and freakishly bright. I focused on the latter. I started to think all kids who were home schooled were geniuses without trying to come up with a reason why. There was one such day where I had to do speed math and my sister was watching and I felt too nervous to do it in front of her, but I had to do my test so I wrote down the answers as quickly as someone could write down the alphabet. She was impressed. The notion that all home schooled kids were geniuses stayed with me.
When my home schooling started I was disappointed to be doing year 5 work again. The whole idea of the curriculum we were working from was to go at your own pace. At first I was getting through the work slowly and making a ton of mistakes and taking each one personally, but overtime I advanced to higher levels and got 100% in almost every subject, including math which I’ve always had a weakness in.
My favourite subjects were English, Science told from a religious perspective, and History. If there was art I flew through it. If I really enjoyed the subject I would overcommit to the work. I began to realise I had an exceptional ability of memorising facts so I would try to memorise all the scientific and historic facts I could, and then later on recite them line by line to whoever would listen.
We had ‘social days’ too where we’d meet up with other home school kids who I’d ignore and move further away from on my skateboard. I don’t have a lot of good memories of those kids. I think they made a few comments which I ignored. I never could say anything to them or felt like I wanted to. I think my mum had fun though chatting to the other parents.
During these years I was seriously under diagnosed, under medicated and having my ADHD symptoms go unrecognised. I had focus and memory problems and even though I was in less chaotic environment where I could work at my own pace it wasn’t enough for my wandering and easily bored mind. ADHD children beat themselves up a lot too. If a teacher or parent shows they are frustrated at their behaviour they begin to have that frustration themselves. I can’t exactly recall the subject I was struggling to understand but my mum must have begun to have that frustration with me when I kept failing to understand the work better through her explanations. She made it sound like it was an obvious thing to get and I felt stupid and I burst into tears.
I started to feel like I couldn’t do the work anymore. I was bored, distracted and wanting to have longer breaks.
My siblings would have their friends around after school and I felt like I was missing out so I told my mum I wanted to go back to school. She decided to send me to a smaller Christian high school. The first few weeks there I realised it wasn’t home school that held me back from making friends but I was never good at it. I didn’t even try because I didn’t know how to try. Teachers these days would see that as a red flag of autism but back then they just worried and showed that they were concerned about me by calling me a ‘loner’ which confused me because I didn’t think I was. I was hanging out with the trouble makers, the ones who were in remedial class with me, the class clowns and the ones who seemed to hate school as much as me. I always equated ‘hates school’ with ‘makes poor grades’ but that wasn’t always the case with them. So I saw them as fakes – they had no reason to hate school as much as me. They were just like those goody goody nerdy kids.
Yeah. I didn’t think I was a nerd back then. I didn’t feel smart enough. All it took was a couple of diagnosis’, some self-awareness and a stimulant prescription.
My behaviour started to get defiant, not violent or challenging but avoiding situations and not respecting the teachers. It wasn’t just at school but at home as well. I went to a Christian school and a Christian church and I didn’t care for either. I did try to become a Christian the year before but I started to slip. It seemed my mum and sister were closer because of church and my sister was friends with the entire youth group, meanwhile I was hanging out with trouble-maker 10 year olds on Sundays and trouble-maker 12 year olds on weekdays. I really wanted to be in years 8 and 9 because I knew those students from church and got along with them better and I felt like I should have been in year 8.
The teachers soon began doing what they usually do with problem kids – blaming them for something they didn’t do. I liked drawing the band Korn’s logo on my pencil case and some kid did this on the back of a classroom chair and I got the blame. Teachers would give me a hard time about how I wore my uniform. There was a strict dress code. We couldn’t even untuck it after school when we were at the shopping center.
I did get in some very fierce verbal disputes with other students too. I had a couple kids who pegged me for bullying but because I was the oldest person in my year I treated them like they were nothing. The bullying never impacted me.
Towards the end of the school year teachers really started to put pressure on me to change and insinuated that they would be harder on me, and me being the master of getting my own way, ignored them, shrugged it off when the other students said so an so teacher ‘is going to kill you’ – which is what we said in place of ‘will get mad with you’ when someone knows what the end result would be if a teacher found out, whatever you had done. It might have been as innocuous as not doing classwork or handing an assignment in late. Those babies worried too much.
‘Yeah?,’ I said, smirking. ‘Well, I don’t have to stay at this stupid school if I don’t want to.’ I was like that. I didn’t have to give in to anybody. I could just find an easy way out.
So, the next year I started being home schooled again. It didn’t last long. It wasn’t just attention issues but around this time I felt like every adult who had attempted to teach me had given up on me. My youth pastor had even implied he was struggling to get a group of from changing our ways. It was all exaggerated by my depression, my failed year at school and homeschool, my inability to make friends and my inability to get along with my mum and my sister the way they got along with each other. At 14 years old, I had given up on my future.
I began to wander the streets, sometimes skateboarding for a full day or just walking around town. I usually walked through the bush land of the south coast until I kept finding people in there and not wanting to talk to them I hid and made a quick exit. My days turned into watching hours and hours of TV and exploring my neighbourhood.
Then, my mum came up with an idea to send me to TAFE to finish my high school certificate. I felt like I wasn’t in charge of my own destiny anymore and felt the similar feelings of defiance boil up inside of me, but to be honest if I had made my own choice it would be to do nothing. It still didn’t hit me that after you complete school you find work and start to live independently.
I still appreciate those few years I was home schooled. I felt like for the first time I could learn something. I just needed more focus and motivation and to be told that the work I was doing then would matter someday. There were are lot of issues in my childhood holding me back from succeeding that wasn’t anyone’s fault, but was down to a lack of awareness. We have that awareness today and it’s unlikely a child like me will fall through the cracks again. It’s now up to the parents to decide if they want to listen when they are told ‘your child may be autistic or have ADHD.’ They can choose to ignore it and struggle to raise another unteachable stubborn child who decides to give up before they even turn 15, or they can get help as soon as possible so they can give that child every chance to succeed.