One of the things I have found difficult coming to terms with as the small bears were diagnosed with autism is the differing developmental trajectory that comes alongside the diagnosis. As an educator, I have tracked children using various target setting proformas and the EYFS, but these have been designed for neurotypical children and come with an expectation that development in different areas will remain broadly within a range. Trying to track Teddy in this way has challenged my confidence in my ability to successfully meet his needs. He is working well above his level in some areas (mathematical ability in particular) but well behind, sometimes more than a year behind in others.
The temptation is to push him more in the areas he seems to be struggling with: to provide further structured activities, to actively teach skills, to make him do more than he is ready for. I’m not sure what would happen if he were attending a preschool, but I suspect this pushing in areas in which he is behind would happen, and concern about his development in some areas could easily outshine how well he is doing in others. I have realised in the last few days that choosing HE has protected him, and me, from this so far. Seeing a similar-aged friend and then a family member whose development in some areas was clearly well ahead of Teddy’s hit me hard. The fear he was behind, he might never catch up, had me forgetting who he really is.
Unschooling philosophy disallows the idea that a child can be ‘behind’ in their learning and development. They are always exactly where they should be in their own personal trajectory. Autism experts often talk about focussing on what a child does well, allowing for their development at different rates in different areas. This is what i was reminded of today.
Teddy’s speech has come on lots in the last few weeks. He has now learned some sentences that he uses in the correct context, mostly focussed on asking for food or for something on the television. He paints beautiful abstractions, experimenting with colour and texture on the page. His amazing memory allows him to tell stories he knows with props, often matching the book or tv programme word perfectly. He completes jigsaws with many pieces, concentrating on fitting each piece, and often working alongside another person to do this. And today he wrote a 0 and a 1 on the trampoline with chalk.
Had I allowed myself to sink into worry that he never names or explains his images beyond a colour, doesn’t hold a pencil with a tripod trip, is not beginning to form letters, (all skills that could be expected if a chikd his age) I might have missed the chance to celebrate. Today, for the first time, he voiced meaning for his mark making, he drew a recognisable image, he enclosed a space with a circle, he drew a line from top to bottom. All these milestones in a matter of minutes.
I could pull out my file tonight and gleefully highlight these milestones on Teddy’s EYFS tracking grid. But I’m not going to. Today is a milestone moment for me too.
We didn’t choose autism, this is not the parenting journey I signed up for, this is not how I expected our lives to go. But we did choose the freedom of home education, the freedom to throw out the tracking grids and follow our own paths. The freedom to celebrate our children at whatever stage they are at right now without worrying about where they should be of where they need to go next. The freedom to trust that, with our support, they will find their own way.




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