I spent this past weekend in Ontario, California, speaking at the California Homeschool Convention, which is part of the Great Homeschool Conventions series. There are a lot of wonderful things I could say about the Great Homeschool Conventions, but the thing I most appreciate is the eclectic mix of speakers they invite. You see all the “standard” speakers from the homeschooling circuit, such as Jim Weiss, Andrew Pudewa, and Heidi St. John, but you also see speakers that aren’t typically a part of a homeschool convention. This year, for example, they had Holocaust survivor Inge Auerbacher as a speaker. I interviewed her before the first convention, and I later reported on her talk at the convention, which was nothing short of incredible.
The other interesting speakers they had this year were mother/son team Kristine and Jacob Barnett. I didn’t get a chance to hear them at the other conventions, but since this was my last opportunity, I made a point to go to their talk. I am so glad I did! If you have not heard about them, Jacob was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old. His mother (Kristine) initially followed all the experts’ advice, which ended up meaning hours of therapy for Jacob every day. Eventually, however, she decided that all this therapy was robbing Jacob of his childhood. As a result, she stopped all the therapy and simply played with him. She blew dandelion puffs in his face, listened to music with him, and helped him search for patterns in the clouds.
She found that this was helping him much more than therapy, so she started encouraging other mothers of autistic children to do the same. In fact, she was so sure that this kind of nurturing was the best “therapy” autistic children could get, she began working with other autistic children. Her goal was simple: just enable them to do what they really wanted to do. She would get them what they needed, and she would simply help them do whatever it was that interested them. For some, this meant making robots. For others, it meant creating amazing paintings. For another, it meant chasing storms and trying to analyze them. In her own words:
I was not teaching them. I was letting them.
I don’t know much of anything about child development, especially when it comes to children with special needs. Thus, I have no idea how effective her strategy would be for most autistic children. However, she says that it was very effective for those that she helped. I can tell you for certain that it was effective for her son, Jacob, because his talk was one of the best I have heard in a long time.