Since starting along the interesting, sometimes challenging and always unexpected road of autism, we’ve been constantly surprised by the directions we’ve found ourselves taking.
Of course one of the biggest surprises for us all was the home education journey. That one really appeared out of nowhere.
Since then more twists and turns have occurred, some carefully planned and thought out, and others much much less so.
Discovering the joys of Philosophy, for example, started simply from a book that James picked up in the Oxfam bookshop and an article I’d read a year or two before about Philosophy and Superheroes. We put the two together and that lead to some tremendously interesting lessons and a whole shelf full of Philosophy and Popular Culture books, some of which we have yet to crack open.
When a new direction is indicated I usually do some research, a lot of thinking, a bit of worrying and then, eventually, a solution seems to evolve. It’s almost never exactly the one I’d imagined, but often a good fit nevertheless.
After three amazingly active and creative years of home ed mayhem, it became clear that James in particular was beginning to need some greater challenges in his education.
We pondered the problem, discussed the issues and came up with precisely… nothing.
And then I happened to be randomly searching the internet, looking for nothing in particular, when I spotted an article about Coursera and MOOCs**
What a perfect fit these have proved to be for him. Just at exactly the right moment they popped up out of the blue and presented James with opportunities to learn University level Psychology and Philosophy, Maths and Astrobiology, Roman Mythology and Graphic Novels. And now, of course, US Law and Forensic Science!
What a world of knowledge has opened up in front of him, and how well James has embraced it. An answer to prayers, you could say.
So what about Robert?
Well, we’ve always known that Robert would gain most if allowed to play to his strengths. And IT is the obvious direction for him to head in. That’s his passion and it’s hard to imagine him doing anything else.
The college course he tackled last year was indeed a big first step out into the world and it had some very valuable components to it, but I think we all realised very early on that it was a fairly big compromise for him. Very much a curate’s egg in fact.
After nine months of struggling to get what he could from it, in the end it was too much for him and we moved on. But what could take its place?
This is the question we’ve been pondering ever since. Online programming courses have filled the gaps to a degree but only as a temporary holding situation.
Then a few weeks ago I contacted an organisation called Aspire that specialises in helping young people on the Autistic spectrum to make the move from school to further education or whatever. Transition, as it’s called nowadays apparently.
Rather half-heartedly (if I’m honest) I arranged for a worker from there to come and discuss Robert’s possible next steps with us.
I was only half-hearted because we’ve had SO MANY conversations with professionals such as this before. After years of repeating the same explanations and receiving much the same advice, it becomes a little harder to keep the faith.
Anyway the other day we welcomed this young man to the house for a chat. Initially he too had a fairly standard idea of what we might find useful. Much the same as has been suggested before. But he seemed like an eager and friendly chap, so instead of simply agreeing to the standard list of what was on offer, I decided to tell him EXACTLY what we were really searching for. And to his eternal credit, he listened.
“What we need for Robert”, I explained, “is one person, just one person who gets him and who is patient with him and understands what he needs. That one person needs to be heavily into IT, working somewhere where Robert can learn about computers in a totally hands-on way. Maybe he could help build or repair computers? Perhaps there’s a place where computers are recycled and resold for charity for example. It needs to be a real one-off kind of place in fact. Not mainstream at all. So…”, I asked hopefully, “…is there anyone that you know of who does this and who understands autism?”
And the answer was, no. He had no idea if such a person existed. BUT he would do some investigating as there was a place his colleague had mentioned hearing about several years ago. No idea what it was or if it was even still running though. He promised to look into it for us.
Anyway, a couple of days later I got a phone call from him. Had I ever heard of the charity “Pass IT On?” Nope. Never. He gave me their website and this is what I found…
Pass IT On is a very small group of IT people who take in old computers and repair them and adapt them for very disabled people to use. Not only this, but they do sometimes have work placements available for young people with additional support needs. Sound familiar?
So yesterday, Robert and I (and James) took the bus across town to visit them.
It felt as if a genie had heard our wish and produced EXACTLY what we’d asked for.
Pass IT On works from a large garden shed! They are, in their own words, different and off-beat and not at all mainstream. “GREAT!” I said, “That’s exactly what we are and what we’re looking for.”
They already have a young lad working there who has Asperger’s as well as another young man recovering from a stroke.
When Robert was taken into the workshop to meet people and see what they do there, it was as if he’d walked into his best dream ever. The shed was stuffed from floor to ceiling with computer parts, monitors, keyboards and every internal component they could extract from each donated machine. There was a lot of gentle banter too. Within moments Robert was grinning. Mind you that could have been because he was eyeing up the mountain of hard drives stacked on shelves around the room.
Robert looked as if he’d happily move in there, permanently.
So we chatted with Sandy, one of the two founders of the charity. We talked about computers, about fundraising, about admin and about Star Wars. He showed the boys stuff they’d made out of old computer parts…a letter rack made from a circuit board, a collecting box which had originally been an Apple II and the shell of an old blue iMac, now used as the cat’s bed! It was all quirky and fun and different but at the same time it was professional. It was clear that they take the work they do very seriously indeed.
After an hour’s easy chat, we agreed that after our long summer break we’d get back in touch and arrange for Robert to spend a couple of hours a week there, to begin with at least.
This might seem like a tiny step to most people, but to have found something that fits so accurately our image of what Robert was hoping to find, seems to us nothing short of miraculous.
So now we have a nice long break to mull it all over and Robert can think about it all and decide what he feels. Although he’d pretty much decided by the time we’d got home on the bus. He wants to go there!
Hopefully this will turn out to be Robert’s equivalent of James’ Coursera courses. Maybe not a long-term solution, but certainly it could turn out to be a perfect next step, and after that, well who knows?
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last few years, it’s that planning beyond the next step is almost impossible to do. There are simply too many variables.
But, if this works out, then for now that is more than good enough for us.
So watch this space. We’ll keep you posted, come August.
** MOOC = Massive Online Open Course