This evening I was walking around the house with Buddy trailing me while streaming my amazing kids music station from Pandora. I managed to create a good balance of kindie bands like Laurie Berkner and TMBG with classics such as Puff the Magic Dragon and other kids songs. At the moment, “The Rainbow Connection” was playing, and Buddy stunned me by talking about rainbows while putting his arms over his head in an arch. I wondered where he’d learned that. But what he did next really floored me.
About ten years ago, something called mainstreaming became popular in the schools in my area. Mainstreaming is educating children with learning differences such as dyslexia in the regular education classroom. They would have a special education teacher in the classroom who would adapt the material for them. Before mainstreaming, children with learning differences were often sent to a special education classroom (also called resource, or a myriad of other different names).
The intentions behind mainstreaming were good. Most school districts in the US require that students learn in their least restrictive environment, and by sending children with learning differences to a different classroom you are by definition putting them into a different and less challenging environment. It was expected to boost student’s self esteem by having them stay in the general education classroom. And it was expected to increase tolerance among students in the general education population for their peers with learning differences.
I just saw this article on NPR on how pre-school teachers are often poorly trained to teach pre-school, and it goes a long way to explaining what went wrong when we sent Buddy to pre-k. His teacher had no idea what was appropriate behavior for pre-schoolers, seemed to have a poor grasp of child development, and was expecting him to have skills above his grade level. Even ignoring the fact that he has autism, his pre-school was not a good environment for him.
I have pulled Buddy out of school and we will likely homeschool him for a few years. It may work so well I may decide to homeschool him the entirety of his school career. Or he may get to a point where he and I feel comfortable sending him to public school. I also had developmental delays that I outgrew when I was 13, and I thrived in junior high. Buddy may be the same way. And right now I’m undecided if I’m going to send Sissy to school or not.
I know some people love homeschooling and are huge enthusiasts. I may grow to love it. As it is, things are too new now and we’re still building our team and finding our momentum. Even if I do fully embrace homeschooling, though, I want to improve public schools.
Well, the first week was rough. First, Buddy was not happy about the changes to his schedule, especially in the morning. And in the afternoon, the vibe I got from him was, “I’ve just done five hours of therapy and now you want me to do more directed activities? I’ve had enough!” I was hoping on Friday, when he does not go to therapy, it would be a bit better, but it wasn’t. I could get perhaps 5 minutes of engagement, and that was it.
It was a bit discouraging, especially since I used to do this stuff with him, but I also became concerned that, after 20 hours of therapy a week, asking him to do directed activities at home was asking too much.
I met with the director of his therapy program and discussed my concerns about duplicating what they were doing there while homeschooling. It’s a bit of an awkward time because they are between case managers for him, but the new one coming in used to teach kinder, and the director agreed that we need to work together to make sure I’m not duplicating what they’re doing and burning him out. So for now I’m mostly suspending the homeschooling until I work out some goals with the new case manager with the exception of reading. I should have done this before I launched the homeschooling, but I didn’t anticipate how unenthusiastic he would be.
I had planned to go the Montessori route with teaching writing skills before reading. I’d made some textured letters and prepared a lot of different mediums for him to practice writing, such as salt trays, playdough, white boards, regular paper. While he loves playing with salt trays and playdough and with white boards, though, I had a very difficult time getting him to draw shapes and practice his letters. I used to be able to do it before he was in therapy, but now that he is, he wasn’t interested. Though he would tell me which shape/number/letter he wanted and have me do it.
The other part of this is that his fine motor skills are very poor, and I think for now he just needs to do activities that build them up but aren’t directed.
At the same time, he recognizes his letters and when he sees letters he lists them. He doesn’t know all of them, but it is something he seems interested in doing. And the best learning I get with him is when I read to him at night. Through books I’ve taught him his colors, numbers, and how to count. So I got out some alphabet books and went through it with him, and he enjoyed it. We even have stuffed alphabet letters that he keeps in his bed, and we made a game of finding the stuffed letter that matched the one in the book.
And the nice thing about homeschooling is learning time can be at 8PM and in his bed.
So for now I’m just going to focus on building fine motor skills and working on the alphabet at night. And in the meantime, I observed him at therapy for the first time today, and it was wonderful to watch. For one it helped calm my worries that if I didn’t dive in and do as much homeschooling as possible he wouldn’t be learning anything. He was doing matching games for instance. But overall he was happy, engaged, and practicing his communication skills. He is in a good place!
I’ve written before about realizing early on that Buddy was at risk for developing autism, and that I’d noticed the signs earlier than most parents likely would have. Because of this, when I sought early intervention for him, while a lot of the diagnosticians saw what I saw and were worried, the speech therapists, likely because they probably weren’t used to seeing children with mild autism at such a young age, kept telling me how he would grow out of it and would condescendingly tell me to do things I was already doing (such as reading to him) to help him grow out of it.
If only getting a child with autism to speak were as simple as reading to them every night!
This upcoming week, we plan to start homeschooling. This is a bit ironic since the schools in our area are getting out for summer break. However, Buddy thrives off structure, and one of the perks of homeschooling is that his schedule doesn’t get thrown off by summer break, winter break, spring break, and all of the other school breaks!
Buddy is in a therapy program year round, twenty hours a week. While they do work on academic stuff and preparing children for an academic environment, they are not a school. Overall, I am just thanking my lucky stars they continue as normal through the summer so the routine we’ve established won’t be thrown off, and he won’t lose all of the progress he’s made like he did last summer.
Since pulling my son who has mild autism out of the local ISD to homeschool him, I’ve noticed a divide in the responses I get. People who have worked with the schools or who have children who are differently abled are telling me that this is the best thing I can do for my son. People who have typically developing children and have not worked with children with special needs are baffled, though.
They wonder why I didn’t try to transfer Buddy to a different school, or why I didn’t address my concerns with the school. Or even try a different school district. And I can see why there is this disconnect. For the record, my husband never understood my insistence that I be able to pull our children out of school to homeschool should the need arise until he saw just how poorly Buddy was treated, how anxiety ridden Buddy became while going to the ISD, and how much calmer Buddy is now that he is out of it.