The Road to Homeschooling
I could feel like a failure as a mom. For 6 years I raised a child with special needs without realizing it.
I knew he was a bit different; challenging and special, but even having a friend with a child with autism, I didn’t add up the sums for a long time.
I don’t beat myself up, though, because he was my first child, and as an inexperienced mother with no previous understanding of Asperger’s, there was no real reason I would pick up the signs. After all, he was just delightfully quirky … and maybe just a tad tiring…
In the end, it was a conversation with the same friend whose children were on the spectrum, which finally put the pieces together in my head. It had been brewing for a while subconsciously I’m sure — my son’s odd social behavior, his other quirks — and one day after coffee and nodding over the characteristics of ASD my friend was noticing in her second child and age-mate of my son, the light bulb lit, and I drove home and Googled more information. My son fit all the characteristics of Asperger’s, and I could look back through his brief history and say “oh…..” I had assumed initially that because my boy was an only child for a long time, he had not had the opportunity to pick up the usual social graces, but as he spent time at kindergarten and then school, his quirks became more, not less, noticeable.
A Step Closer to an Alternative Education
However, the road to diagnosis – and alternative educational options – was not straightforward. When I told key people in my life my conclusions, the response was unilateral — a label is damaging and unnecessary, “you don’t want to go there.” So I sat on my thoughts for another few months, while my son started his second year of primary school. I had not yet considered homeschooling, though I sensed that mainstream school was not an ideal environment for my child, whatever “labels” he might have; I simply wasn’t aware of alternatives.
During his first year at school, I had been asked by my son’s teacher to “ask him” to try and concentrate. I raised my eyebrows over that, knowing how scatterbrained my son was at home, and that no amount of asking was going to change the fact that he couldn’t even follow through on a singular instruction. But I think school policy goes in for observation only in the first year, and they were probably taking notes, because a couple of months into his second year, the school approached me with their concerns. When I asked if they had come to the same conclusion as I had, they confirmed that they suspected Asperger’s, and a label was the key to assistance of any kind.
A Bumpy Road
Again, the road took another complicated bend, and it was nearly 9 months later that a diagnosis of Asperger’s was finally given. By this time, it was nearly the end of the school year, and my son was showing signs of distress at school. He constantly came home with stories of his lunch being interfered with, and even more worrying stories of playground fights, where teachers were either nowhere to be found or were disinterested. I worried that he was getting lost on the school campus, as he would lose his class on the way from their room to the library while he was daydreaming or examining some interesting bug on a random leaf, and then not know where he was supposed to be going because he hadn’t taken in what the teacher had said.
How Natural is a Classroom Actually?
Furthermore, he was not showing much progress academically. I found that I was having to re-teach whatever they had been taught in class after school hours. He was not enjoying the social aspect of school, and with having to squeeze in teaching in hours when he should be relaxing on top of that, I began to question the hours apparently wasted at school. I recalled a conversation I had once had with a homeschooling mom, long before I would have thought we would need an alternative to school, and the insight I had had then that although we tend to think of going to school as completely natural, the classroom has actually been a relatively modern invention, and that it is not really a naturally occurring situation to corral 30 children of the same age together in one room, much less let several hundred of them loose on a playground with minimal supervision.
Classrooms and Other Awkward Spaces
It was clear that the classroom situation did not suit him. His interactions with other children were awkward, and he misunderstood much of what was directed towards him, by default assuming negativity. He did better in structured situations presided over by adults, but the playground was a debacle, and I could only see the problem escalating with his growing defensiveness.
Academically, he was a disruption to himself and his classmates, unable to remember and follow given instructions, and seemingly unable to settle down to a task. My experience with him at home was that I couldn’t even ask him to get himself dressed for school without him becoming distracted and ending up playing with toys with his trousers — only half pulled up — around his knees.
I knew that he would learn better in a one-on-one environment, where attention could be paid to keeping him on task, and where his strengths could be accessed and his natural learning styles utilized. When I mentioned the idea of homeschooling to his teacher, instead of the rebuff I expected, she actually agreed it would be a good idea. I think she knew the challenges everyone would be facing if he stayed.
Educational Success at Last
Homeschooling, for my boy, was a success. Having discovered that he was a visual and kinaesthetic learner, stimulated by things presented in a visually interesting way, and especially by being able to interact while learning, he progressed well. His abilities in reading took off, and we were able to compensate for his dysgraphia by him dictating to me work that needed to be written, or by simply doing oral work.
Initially it required constant vigilance to keep him on task, and he worked best with a lot of interaction from me, but he seemed to improve exponentially with a diet change removing most A1 dairy from his diet.
Back to School
I homeschooled him for two years, after which he successfully re-integrated into a state school for his fifth school year. Whether it was the diet change or maturity or a combination of both, his performance remained reasonable, and even though he still struggles with writing and with social interaction, he has adapted well to the new environment.
Negotiating with school over his dysgraphia and giftedness and the intersection of the two remains a work in progress, but he is happy and settled, my main concerns, so I feel satisfied with my choices in an imperfect world. I think some children, especially perhaps those with Asperger’s, need more time to mature before they are able to face the rigors and challenges of the larger classroom, and my son definitely benefited from the time at home before being re-introduced to mainstream school.
A Good Challenge
School continues to be challenging, but he is in a better place within himself to cope with those challenges. Besides, he isn’t alone — he has his ‘team’ in his corner. We, his parents and caregivers, will continue to liaise with school management, ensuring accommodation is made for his needs as necessary, although as he grows we will be expecting more of him in keeping with his increasing abilities. I believe and hope that handling challenges successfully will prepare him well for the wider world he will face later.
Homeschooling Advocates Making the decision to homeschool a struggling learner and other helpful information
Jett Education Games Spelling program, and a discussion on a how to teach spelling
ADD/ADHD/Dyslexia — 101 Tips for Teachers/Parents
Autism.org What is Aspergers?
National Center for Learning Disabilities Dysgraphia — what is it?
Dyspraxia.org All about dyspraxia
Dyslexia Foundation Understanding dyslexia
Photos by whgrad and IowaPolitics.com