What a wonderful start to my new year.
I’m what’s commonly called a semi-retired teacher, although I prefer the term ‘freelance educator’. It means I’ve swapped the restrictions of the classroom for a free-wheeling life where I can more or less teach who I like, when I like. Perfect!
Spring Term started this week, and with it a new enquiry from the mother of a home-educated 10 year old. I’ll call her Ruby.
“She didn’t get on too well with school,” the mum explained. “She was doing okay with the work but had some negative experiences.”
There was a slight pause, then, “She’s Aspergers…”
I assured her that I was pretty familiar with Aspergers and (because I generally do find myself able to react appropriately in social situations) resisted the urge to punch the air and shout, “YESSSSSS!”
You see I love – totally love – working with Aspie kids. I consider it the greatest privilege to be given a glimpse of how their minds work. They’re always exciting, unpredictable and endlessly interesting.
Ruby didn’t disappoint. Her soft, slow, dreamy voice was enchanting. Every word was carefully considered and chosen for exact meaning.
As I knew nothing about what she had learned so far, we started with an assessment of her maths ability.
“Do you know the meaning of ‘parallel’?” I asked.
Her eyes shone. “I’m familiar with the idea of parallel universes,” she told me, and went on to share her knowledge on that subject, giggling with pure delight at the idea that things we can barely imagine could be happening elsewhere, in other dimensions.
I forced myself back to the maths. Could she name the different types of triangles?
“Well that one looks the same shape as the Illuminati symbol,” she informed me. “You know – like on American money… Do you know about the Illuminati?” and she proceeded to share her knowledge on that subject, too, before I could answer.
Time was slipping by and when I gently pointed out that we needed to complete some of the work on the table, as her mother was paying me to teach her English and maths, she regarded me seriously.
“That’s right,” she said slowly and wonderingly. “Everyone needs money, because that’s the way they are able to get the things they need.”
She spoke as if she’d just strayed on to this planet and now understood this strange but widespread custom.
“Some of the people in my school found me annoying,” she commented once, but with no trace of malice.
I nodded sadly. Everyone I’d met who perceived and behaved in the way labelled ‘Aspergers Syndrome’ had suffered at the hands of those unable to tolerate diversity. Others were unnerved by their honesty, their willingness to question everything and their need to explore the minutest details of whatever was interesting to them at that moment. Teachers became frustrated and impatient; fellow pupils mocked and teased – or worse.
Ruby selected a reading book from the pile in my study – a Jacqueline Wilson story with a very direct approach to the problems facing a child whose parents had divorced.
“Oh!” she cried, after reading the first page. “You know this is just about telling the story of my life.”
“Is it going to be too upsetting for you?” I asked, wondering whether I should have steered her towards some lighter reading.
She thought for a moment. “Not upsetting,” she finally said. “It is emotional because my dad said just the things her dad is saying to her and I had to choose which parent to live with, too. But I think it will be good for me to read this book because I can understand what is happening.”
In school, I’d have had to produce comprehension sheets on the set book. Thank goodness I’m freelance. With an Aspergers child, it’s wise to throw away all the planning, advice and text books and to gently sit beside them as they make their educational journey.
I feel so lucky to be sharing in Ruby’s for a while.