From the middle years of primary school (aged around 8) I had been telling the staff including the SENCO (special needs coordinator) that my youngest would not cope with secondary school (11-18 in the UK). I felt so unheard that many tears were shed at the frustration as I could see my intelligent beautiful child becoming more and more anxious, introverted and unhappy.
Learning was not the problem. My youngest loves to learn and with an ASD brain can delve deep into all sorts of subjects and is able to give you the kind of detail some Uni students would be impressed with. For example aged 5 in "carpet time" when others spoke of Peppa Pig episodes and the like, my child updated her teacher with her latest research into black holes and continental drift.
But the rough and tumble of school life from hanging up coats, queuing for lunch, surviving the playground - these were the things she struggled with in a tiny village primary with less than 100 children on role. Transitioning to a huge secondary school with over 1000 pupils in the middle of a rebuild was always going to be tricky.
Then Covid hit and we had our first taste of home learning. It actually went quite well, she was happier and we had a glimpse of what life might be like with no physical school. We dyed hair, watched Tiger King and were lucky enough to have the whole family together (albeit with squished sleeping arrangements) and the garden never looked better!
But eventually schools reopened. It was stressful. With mask wearing compulsory, no final year in primary, no physical transition sessions, separated year groups so no chance to meet up with older siblings in the same school for support and a real fear of the unknown we knew that this was likely to be a car crash. We did our best to remain positive, tried to get her excited about the new opportunities she would have, tried to prepare her for an ever changing building as building works progressed.
This school was really our only option. Our youngest was described by one teacher as too special for mainstream schools and not special enough for SEN schools.
I'll condense the next two years where we tried so hard to help her cope. From walking her in and handing over to a lovely teaching assistant every day, short days, limited timetable and the option to spend time in an inclusion room (which is anything but inclusive). She was increasingly depressed, anxious and we saw behaviour which led our GP to refer her to CAHMS, counselling and to advise us not to leave her alone, even at night.
She was bullied, attacked, verbally abused and shunned. Accessibility arrangements were frequently forgotten or ignored. In the end even the school agreed that EHE - elective home education- was our best hope.
We were terrified this decision would take away options for our bright child. I was worried I would not be able to teach her all the subjects I thought she needed. I was worried she would become isolated and lonelier than she already was.
I WAS WRONG!
Not even a year on and my terrified, cowering child has made new friends in the EHE community, manages swimming lessons and ice skating sessions offered to home ed kids in our area. She has chosen subjects to learn using fabulous online resources which cost me about £15 a month. She even chose to study English literature, a subject she hated in school because of the requirement to read out loud.
She can cope with short shopping trips without her wheelchair (which was a safe space for when she became overwhelmed rather than a mobility aid) and can even tell waiters what she would like to eat. Yesterday during a Home Ed trip to Warner Bros Studio Tour she answered questions during the workshop and volunteered to go to the front to help demonstrate something. My jaw dropped.
She still has issues related to her autism and still requires significant assistance and supervision in many areas but her happiness shines through most of the time and the meltdowns and shutdowns have decreased significantly.
During counselling she blossomed noticeably and had the courage to tell us she wanted to use she/her pronouns and changed her name and appearance. It's like she was so consumed with surviving school she could not spend any energy exploring and understanding herself - taking her out of school gave her the space to do that.
So do I regret taking her out of school? Nope. Not one bit. We have plans to enter her for English and Maths exams and possibly for her to do a college course on computer science which she loves but to be honest if she never manages that I don't care. She's far more equipped to manage daily life than she was and to be honest, if we had continued with school I'm not sure she would have survived her teens.
For anyone considering home educating I would say in my experience it doesn't have to be expensive and you don't have to teach them. However I spend a lot more time driving her to activities and events which I can do because I work from home but might be difficult for others. And she has always loved to learn so requires very little coercion just guidance to study.
Of course the law states you dont have to teach any national curriculum subjects but your local education authority will want reports (usually annually) on what you are doing, how long each day you spend "educating" and how you can demonstrate progress so bear this in mind before deregistering. There is help in online groups to ensure your report fulfils requirements - you are not alone.
For information and support there are loads of amazing Facebook groups - type in Home Education and scroll through. There's even some for people who don't yet EHE but plan to.