One of the things that had me worried before launching my ALC, was how my son Teo, who´s got Asperger´s Syndrome, would function in Explora.
Teo likes playing with other kids, but it often gets too intense for him since he´s quite at loss trying to figure out all the subtle unexpressed rules. Many times he feels misunderstood, and also misinterprets what´s really going on. He´s very creative and fun to be with, so other kids easily gather around him. Unfortunately Teo often interprets that as them harassing or bullying him because they won´t leave him alone. And the other kids totally don´t get Teo is different (only a bit odd) and in what way.
As from December 2015, Teo no longer goes to school, and previously he had only attended the schools that I founded in the past.
On one hand, the teachers were clueless as of how to treat him and they had too much on their plates to try to figure out how a boy with Asperger´s Syndrome functions and what he needs in order to feel safe in a group.
On the other hand, Teo has never liked adult-directed activities and since he has a highly developed integrity, he strongly reacts against everything that he perceives as imposition.
The last semester he cried himself to sleep every night, begging me to take him out of there. I didn´t know what to do. I had founded the school, but it clearly wasn´t working for him at all. At the same time I was reading a lot about unschooling and democratic schools, and suddenly I had colliding paradigms in my mind. I knew Teo didn´t need school. But initially I had founded it for him. I felt like a terrible mother.
Everything changed when together we made the decision to start unschooling him. It was really profound. Teo felt so trusted and respected. He suddenly actually had a say in what was best for him: hang out at home, spend more time with me and pursue his main interests: computer games and dinosaurs.
I noticed how Teo, little by little, started healing the wounds he had developped at his school. He started feeling safe again. But yes, it was lonely too. I realized his comfort zone started to shrink. He no longer wanted to see his friends, go to the market, swim in the ocean or even eat out. He just wanted to stay at home all the time. And I was wondering how he´d adapt to Explora.
I didn´t necessarily want him to attend every day. Having Aspergers and being exposed to other humans can be very draining (animals are so much easier to socialize with!). I thought three times a week would do. Teo agreed.
At ALF-summer in Charlotte, I consulted several people on different aspects that had me worried. Teo, being hyper sensitive to any kind of situations that restrain his freedom or that can be perceived as disrespectful, is a really good thermometer for what a healthy culture is.
At my last school, I often had to sacrifice Teo and his needs in order to avoid being considered over-protective. I never want to commit that mistake again. Because the thing is: if Teo is doing okay, so are actually the rest of the kids. They might not be as sensitive as him and could possibly put up with lots of more crap than Teo (which, of course, is horrible per se). That´s why I´ve come to realize that Teo is really the best thermometer ever. If the dynamics work for him, they work for the others too. If the agreements are fair according to Teo, they are super fair according to all. Teo has a highly developped moral and wants justice, fair play and freedom for all.
One of the great advantages with an Agile Learning Center is all the visual, very concrete agile tools and the flexible structure. It can be adapted to any kind of individual needs, and Teo is no exception. So, Teo really likes Explora – just like all of the other kids that attend. Sometimes it´s too intense, but we´re also talking a lot about the fact that he himself needs to set healthy boundaries: if certain situations make him explode – learn to identify what doens´t work for him and avoid those situations. It´s a process, obviously, but we´re finally there and the best of all: it´s working!