Finding our feet

We’re getting there. By my reckoning we’re approaching the end of week 4, and we’re starting to find things that seem to work. I’m being deliberately vague, as there’s still a voice in the back of my head that says it’s not ‘working’ yet because we’re not doing regular hours on regular days, but I’m doing my best to ignore it.

Yesterday for example, we read four chapters from two different fiction books, studied the famous ‘elephants on acid’ research and talked about ethics of using animals for science experiments, and discussed LGBT+ history and in particular how terminology has changed over time (including what has needed to happen in order for those changes to occur, and how they have impacted Alex’s generation) as well as quite a lot about binaries, categorising things, and whether you can represent the human experience using the numbers 1-7. We had a mini session on languages and tried our hands at Welsh, Swedish, German, and Spanish, and designed some cover art for the podcast we’re planning to start to document our Home Ed journey.

Today, by comparison, it’s nearly twenty past four and we’ve managed a grand total of one short walk.

Some of the reason we’ve been so inconsistent is that we can never guarantee how either of us are going to feel on any given day. Yesterday was unusually productive, but all of the learning took place in bed. Today I’ve got much more energy, but Alex needs some alone time. We’re both autistic, and we both have ADHD (although I’m not officially diagnosed yet), so our social and emotional energy can fluctuate hugely, and if either of us is on a ‘down’ day there’s very little point doing anything.

Having said that, the benefits of the neurodivergent mind means that if we approach things in the right way, we can use special interests to re-ignite ourselves and get stuck into learning again.

The first time I tried this, Alex was really struggling to engage with anything I had tried to do. I wasn’t exactly overflowing with energy myself, but I didn’t want us to abandon the day completely. I’d been doing some reading the night before and one idea had got lodged in my brain; the idea of meeting a young person where they’re at, and gently encouraging them to the place you want them to go. It’s not a new idea by any means, and not the first time I’d heard it even, but it was the first time I’d applied it so literally in this context.

“Show me your favourite YouTube video” I said.

Alex instantly became much more animated. Like many teenagers, they spend hours on YouTube, and the idea that I was interested in joining them in that world (albeit temporarily) was hugely exciting to them. Because, you see, Alex doesn’t just use YouTube to watch videos of goats doing funny things, like most people of my generation – Alex uses YouTube to learn interesting things, to explore new points of view, and to see themselves reflected in society in a way they really don’t in our small village in the Cotswold’s.

Alex’s favourite YouTuber is a guy called Thomas Sanders. I’m not sure if I can sum him up, as he posts *a lot* of stuff on *a lot* of different topics, but the video we watched a bit of that day was about selfishness vs selflessness – essentially discussing whether there are times when it’s appropriate to be selfish, how to prioritise looking after oneself over doing something for someone else, and whether the maxim ‘secure your own oxygen mask before helping others’ is a completely inappropriate analogy to use for mental health because self-care should not be for emergencies only. As you can imagine, it led to some very interesting discussions. Then Alex showed me this video, and cried as we watched it together. We talked about how powerful it was to see yourself reflected in art, music, and media, and how important it is for minority groups. This led us down a whole rabbit-warren of inclusion, racism, homophobia, ableism, having the right to speak for ones own experience, and how to be an ally. Most of all, watching these videos together and discussing them meant I could support Alex in processing their feelings around the subjects, and relating the ‘message’ to real-life situations Alex has struggled with.

My big take-away from that day was that Alex has SO MANY enormous and important thoughts going round inside their head that it is a gargantuan effort for them to funnel all of their concentration into things like measuring an angle with a protractor. It feels to me like asking the entire Milky Way if it could just squeeze itself through the eye of this needle, please, thanks that’s lovely. What I have discovered though, is that maths comes much more easily if we’ve just spent an hour discussing privilege, or climate change, or politics; Alex needs space to acknowledge the big thoughts before they are able to focus in on the smaller stuff.

Since that day I’ve completely changed my approach to home learning. We read a lot of books together, discuss things, research things, and I can engage Alex in topics that they’re less interested in by linking them up to something that feels more exciting. Maths is a massive sticking point for Alex, so we’ve started reading The Da Vinci Code, and once we’ve got into the story I’m going to subtly slide in some Fibonacci, geometry, golden ratio, maths in nature etc. I will post some more specific examples as we start to work through them, but for now we’re taking it a day at a time, pacing ourselves, and learning to love learning again. Feels like we’re doing OK.