Its been hard watching 'The A Word' series on BBC1 as it brings out a lot of painful memories and feelings about my own journey from ignorance to diagnosis and beyond.
I love the concept of the show and think its wonderful that the BBC commissioned a show that can help bring Autism to a wider audience, however I do worry that by nature the show is 'drama' and may end up pushing a more dramatic/extreme journey on its characters just for the shock factor.
The latest episode dealt with the concept of home schooling and the specialist vs mainstream vs alternative approach argument. Its a topic I care passionately about as someone who works within the education field; my place of work is technically a mainstream school as its not an EBD/Special school but as a PRU we do have more flexibility than standard secondary schools. (Don't get me started on academies, that's a whole separate issue!)
The main argument in all this is not necessarily about which style of education is best for the autistic child but about the social inclusion nature of childhood - if you spare the young child then pain of school/classroom due to fears of bullying, exclusions, SEND problems then unfortunately I really believe you are creating larger problems down the line.
Unless you fully intend for the child to live out their entire adult life in sheltered supported accommodation and make no form of contribution to society then you owe that child the right to learn the skills they will need for adult life. If you overly protect them as children then how do they learn the required skills to cope with post-16/18 life? There were parts of school I absolutely hated but I would not exchange those hard-earned lessons for anything now - I needed to learn that not everyone could be trusted, that not every 'friend' truly was, that I was going to fail at somethings and succeed at others and that sometimes there is no rhyme, reason, consistency or logic to life, sometimes its just not fair!
Being made to cope with the mainstream classroom allowed me to cultivate a thicker skin about Joe Public and their opinions/actions, it also allowed me to develop the coping mechanisms I use regularly now about sensory overloads - particularly in the workplace and when out at social events.
I'm not saying that mainstream is right for every child or that every autistic person is capable of living the kind of life I do, but I do feel that by restricting the child's experiences of 'normal' you are creating a stunted, unprepared adult who will not be able to cope with this crazy world we all exist in. People are more understanding now of the damage emotional neglect can do at a young age - maybe we need to be considering what long-term effects can come from not allowing children to experience the nastier sides of childhood as well as the positives.
After all, life is about balance isn't it?