I’ve been experimenting with different methods with teaching Buddy to read. It’s something I’m real excited for him to learn because learning to read helped me out so much as a child. While his language problems seem related more towards expressive difficulties than receptive (mine were receptive) I still think it would be helpful.
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!
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.
Today, my five year old son, Buddy, came up to me and spontaneously said “Happy Mother’s Day!” This is the first time he has ever wished me a happy anything and it was definitely better than the gifts…even the Russell Strover’s chocolate!
Buddy has come so far since we got him into a new therapy program and out of the public schools. He’s started engaging in imaginary play such as having his Yo Gabba Gabba dolls interact with each other. He’s playing with others more appropriately, he’s more social, and he’s no longer anxious like he was when he was going to public school. He is really blossoming, and I wish every family affected by a family member with autism was able to access the services we are.
As I was walking Buddy to his new school, my husband emailed me that our city was having a big homeschooling convention. A few minutes later he emailed me, “nevermind.” I smiled, knowing exactly why he lost enthusiasm for the convention.
I found out I was right when he got home. He explained that when he investigated the convention, he found they were staunchly conservative Protestant. And while it’s a given that as an atheist I wouldn’t be down with the agenda, as a Catholic, he’s not too fond of it either. And he went on for awhile in exasperation with how out of sync their educational goals were to our own (me being familiar with the homeschooling culture in our area was not surprised).
I don’t think I could have made an interfaith marriage work with a conservative Protestant. But a minimally practicing Catholic? Yeah. It works. And I think a big reason is because it doesn’t affect us much on a day to day basis.
Here are the reasons Andy is not fond of religious based homeschooling, or religious based schooling, period. He believes that it should be left to the church to teach religion. Andy wouldn’t even consider sending our children to a Catholic private school. In his mind, schools should teach academics, and religious instruction should happen solely within the church. This is a mindset I really wish more conservative Protestants would adopt!
The other reason is because Andy, like me, loves science. We read Discover and Scientific American magazines. We love Neil DeGrasse Tyson and watch his shows together. Andy doesn’t see any conflict between evolution, cosmology, and his religious beliefs. And he values science literacy and wants our children to have a firm grasp of how science and the world works.
And while he’s not a history buff like I am, he is concerned about the revisionist history that goes on in those circles. He wants our children to have a firm understanding on how the separation of church and state is fundamental to our government. He also understands that it’s important to acknowledge when our country was wrong, such as the issue of slavery. He does not want to whitewash something as horrible as the Civil War by reducing it to a mere matter of “states rights.”
Andy is able to compartmentalize his beliefs from his day to day life. In some ways I think this is easier for Catholics, because their faith focuses on acts (going to Mass, partaking in the sacraments, etc) than many Protestant sects which focus on belief. But whatever the reason, it works for us, because the educational goals we have for our children end up being the same. We want them to be scientifically literate, have a good understanding of history and how our government works, and believe that religious instruction is best left to the church.
After a two week Christmas break, school started up again this week. I am never sure whether or not Buddy likes it. When I asked him, “Are you looking forward to going to school and seeing your teacher?” He just repeated her name.
But he seemed eager to go. I was starting to rethink the homeschool idea, with one exception. These week long or longer break wrecks havoc with his schedule, and the school year has a lot of breaks. One benefit from homeschooling would be being able to start a year round schedule to give him the consistency he craves.
Yet even with the long breaks that public school has I wondered if it could work. He’s making good progress. He’s identifying his letters, drawing shapes, he’s not been counting as much as he used to but I think that’s because he’s trying to get his letters down. I’m also starting to have more little conversations with him. We were doing a puzzle that had stop lights on it and he said the green one was blue. I corrected him, and he looked at it and said “I see blue.” Usually when I pick him up from school and ask how his day was he just repeats “day” or says nothing, but on Tuesday when I asked he said, “I read books and played with blocks.” Yes, this is something most five year olds do, but six months ago he wasn’t even talking every day. I was dancing on the moon because I was finally having these little conversations with him! One day his teacher said he was talking a lot at school and they were real excited about the things he’s started doing.
So it was a slap in the face yesterday when I got his report card showing no progress and saying he zones out in class a lot.
I started crying so much while driving him home that I had to pull over. I’ve been seeing him really bloom these last few months and the school didn’t acknowledge any of it and said that he’s having more difficultly. Once again, he’s not where most five year olds are, but he is not on the same timeline for most five year olds! And it’s not fair to compare him to that!
I’m wondering why there’s such a disconnect, and I’m wondering if he feels discouraged there, because I know I’m feeling discouraged.
Some little things are making me mad. For instance, there’s a color code system at his school for behavior and orange is perfect behavior. Every day he has come home with an orange dot on his daily sheet. I don’t know why anyone at this school can’t mention this to me as a positive. Especially considering most kids with autism have behavior problems. Or why the talking he was doing didn’t make it on his report card.
Things I was taught as a counselor include that it is more important to notice and feed what a person is doing right than to focus on what they are doing wrong or not doing. I don’t know where in our society we got the insane idea that if we focus on everything a person is doing badly they’ll change, because it’s not what happens. People get discouraged and live down to those expectations. I feel like he is being set up for failure in pre-k!
I also know from experience just how painful and discouraging this is. I really struggled in elementary school, thought I was an idiot and shouldn’t even bother with college, and hated school. Things didn’t click for me until junior high, when I literally went from special ed to advanced placement and honors classes in two years. This leads me to believe that Buddy is developing on his own timeline like I was. Thing is, those elementary school years nearly broke me, and if I’d not had a supportive family it may well have.
All kids need to be set up and the goals placed upon them realistic for success, but for a child with special needs this is even more important!
Once again, I’m wondering if his teacher has a good knowledge base of what is normal for a kid with autism (since as she is a special ed teacher she should, but having been through the public school system in Texas, I can say that doesn’t mean much). Once again I’m frustrated that the school does not seem like a good place for him to be and that the better option would be to find a therapy group that specializes in autism and homeschool him, because that’s going to cost me both in money and time.
At any rate, when we got home I burnt the report card. Once I got Sissy down for a nap and Buddy happy in front of “Wreck It Ralph” I called Andy and told him what happened and we both agreed to celebrate Buddy that night. When Andy got home we told Buddy that we were proud because he always got orange dots for his behavior and that he was talking to us so much more and we were going to celebrate all of the amazing things he was doing. Then I asked him is he wanted pizza or fries, and he said pizza. Him just telling us he wants pizza is new and progress. Usually if we give him a choice he doesn’t answer us and we have to guess. But last night he wanted pizza.
When we got to the restaurant he jumped out of the car, grinned and hugged me. He’s always on his best behavior when I take him out and he was last night. Then we went for ice cream.
When I went to get him ready for bed he jabbered, and while I could only pick up every few words, he was talking in sentences. When Andy came in to sit with him Buddy told me, “Love you, night.”
Andy and I can’t help what the school does but we sure as hell can make sure Buddy knows his abilities are acknowledged and appreciated.