Category Archives: public schools

The Problem With the Concept of Special Education

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.

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Learning Through Play, What a Revolutionary Concept!

Last Wednesday was the last day I took Buddy to his old school. They told me it was no longer acceptable for him to come to school with his clothes on backwards. I also know they’ve been punishing him with time outs for toileting accidents, something that EVERY book on autism I’ve read has said not to do. Once that started happening I noticed a change in Buddy. He stopped wanting to go to school. I wonder if they got on to him for coming to school with his clothes on backwards because last Weds he was very withdrawn. But since he can’t talk to me all I have is speculation.

Thursday morning he was extremely reluctant to go to school. It’s usually not an issue. Unlike a lot of kids with autism, Buddy likes getting out of the house. I asked him if he wanted to go to school and he said “no.” In the past when I’ve asked he’d repeat, “school” which for him is a way of saying yes.

I took him to a playground instead. There were several other little boys Buddy’s age there, and he surprised me by joining in their game of Power Rangers. One of the mothers there had worked as a physical therapist at his old school and recognized him and she commented on what a good job he was going with the other boys. As we left I felt he benefited far more from those hours at the park than he would have at school. And that play? He wasn’t getting at school. But it’s the type of play he needs.

Friday I took the kids to visit my grandparents. And on Saturday when my parents came to visit, they found that Buddy had come out of the shell he had been in for the past few months, ever since they started the time outs at school.

Monday we started his new school. When I picked him up, he proudly showed me the truck he was playing with. His case manager said he’d done well and he won a game of musical chairs. Today when I went to pick him up I saw his therapist engaging him in a long, back and forth verbal sequence (five turns). This is something they were able to do in two days with him that his school was not able to do in five months of being with him! In fact, his school had no idea how to engage him. They asked me once, and when I told them (find what he is interested in, play with him, and gradually bring him into your world) they dismissed me as being permissive and went back to doing what doesn’t work.

And Buddy just seems happier now. And we’re seeing more engagement from him. While driving home today with Buddy and Sissy in the back seat we got stopped by a train. Buddy pointed at it and looked at Sissy and said, “Look, Sissy! A train!” I rarely hear him talk to her expect at night when he says, “Night night, Sissy, love you.”

At home we were watching “Mary Poppins” and when Mary Poppins did her long twirl during the “Step in Time” sequence he got excited. I started wondering out loud if any of us could twirl as long as she could and gave it a try. After I tried, Buddy tried. Here’s the thing, Buddy rarely imitates what he sees on tv. But as the show went on he started dancing more and imitating the movements. Later as I was doing dishes he started singing “Old MacDonald.”

I don’t think his new school has wrought a miracle so much as I think his old one was really stressing him out. And what I want to emphasize was that he was in pre-school. Pre-school was stressing him out. And further, is was inhabiting his growth when it should have been encouraging it.

And here’s the thing, it’s not just parents of children with autism experiencing this. Kids today are more anxious and at younger ages.Sensory processing disorders are on the rise. We have become so focused with academic success that we have set our expectations for our pre-schoolers way too high. Kids in pre-k are not wired to sit down for hours. They are not wired to know how to read or to do arithmetic. Our society got this insane notion that if we teach things to children at a younger age they will be smarter. But what happens is that we are teaching our children skills they are not developmentally ready for. Some children, boys especially, can’t learn to read before they are seven! But if you expect that child to learn to read at 4, well, of course they are going to get frustrated with school. When you expect a pre-school to sit still for hours, well, he’s going to get frustrated when he can’t do it.

And here’s where it ends up. Children’s mental hospitals. I did my practicum in one. I saw kids as young as four given ADHD medication so they could sit still for long periods of time. Here’s the thing, you give a kid who had ADHD medication, and he will calm down. If you give a kid who does not have ADHD medication, he will become irritable. When this happens, rather than saying the kid does not have ADHD, what tends to happen is it is viewed as that child has depression that the ADHD was masking, so they’re given an antidepressant. And then when the child has the symptoms from the depression medication, they’re given a third medicine. Some kids get up to 18 medications so they can sit still. At the age of four.

A disclaimer, I do not feel all medication is evil. While I was working there I also saw kids with schizophrenia. They definitely needed medication to be lucid at best, or to at least control their outbursts at worse (the prognosis for childhood schizophrenia is not good). However, for things like ADHD, I feel that medication should be used as a LAST resort when behavioral options have been tried and failed. But too often it’s used first.

Something else to point out, the children’s hospital I was in did not have a playground. I did not learn about sensory processing disorders until I had graduated, but looking back, I realize that a lot of those kids likely had undiagnosed SPDs and would have benefited more from physical therapy and play as opposed to Adderral and Abilify.

Which is all a long winded way of getting to my basic point, when the expectations we place on children are too high, normal behavior become pathologized. When a four year old is expected to sit still for hours, not being able to sets that four year old on the path to being labeled ADHD. When a five year old can’t read, she is set on the path of thinking she is too stupid to learn.When we stress the importance of achieving a high score on a test above all else, we set our kids up for anxiety disorders.

In the two days Buddy has been at this new school, I have already seen good progress. He spends his days learning through play. On the note they send home they have play activity after play activity they have engaged him in. At his old school they did a lot of work sheets and art projects, both of which are not age appropriate for a pre-school. My son has made more progress with play activities than he has with five months of work sheets. And it frustrates me to no end that we have someone gotten so obsessed with academic achievement that the idea of children learning through play is revolutionary, and finding places that provide it are so exceedingly difficult.

These Little Things

It’s Buddy’s last week in public school. On Monday he starts a program specifically for children with autism. And after today, I’m thinking it’s coming not a moment too soon. And the matter is so small it should be inconsequential, but it isn’t.

I want to encourage Buddy’s independence as much as possible. He’s five. Sissy is not yet 2 and I still have to take care of a lot of things for her, such as dressing her. Buddy can dress himself. One of the things that drives me crazy about the school dress codes is that if I give him a shirt with Jack Skellington or Olaf on it, he will get in his shirt, pants and shoes in five minutes flat. But if I give him a plain polo shirt that the school requires, even in his favorite color, it’s more of a pulling teeth experience to get him to dress himself. But he’s five, he’s able to do it, so I find ways to coax him into it (usually if I set them out at breakfast he’ll put them on as part of a routine, but then there are days when he doesn’t).

I’ve always had an issue with school uniforms. Way to promote conformity and stifle individuality! But as a parent, I find them even more irksome because it is so much easier to get Buddy to dress himself when he really wants to wear what I set out.

The second part of this is that Buddy does not care if his clothes are on backwards. Well, he cares if his shirts that have characters he likes on them are on backwards. He will turn those around himself. Not the polos. He will even button them up in the back.

One thing I firmly believe as a parent is that you have to choose your battles. Running in the street? Yes, that’s a battle I will fight. Even though Buddy does not want to, I make him hold my hand when we are in a parking lot or crossing the street. That is a battle I will fight. Wearing his shirt forward? Not so much. He’s not hurting himself. He’s not hurting anyone else. The person it affects most is him. I know some people worry about teasing, but given my own experience with being bullied, bullies will use ANY excuse to bully another child. If they aren’t going to bully him for his clothes, they’ll bully him for the strange way he talks. If not that, then they might bully him because he’s biracial. Buddy is NOT responsible for the bullies’ behavior. The parent of that bully or the teacher has a responsibility to tell that kid that bullying is not okay and to knock it off. In my mind, use it as a learning opportunity for kids to promote tolerance. Some kids like their shirts forwards, others backwards, but it really doesn’t matter.

If I try to coax Buddy into turning his shirt around he gets upset. Trust me, we’re quickly on the road to a tantrum if I push the issue. To me, it’s not worth the battle. He dressed himself, which is what I wanted. Him dressing himself makes my life easier. Me fighting with him over which way his shirt is facing does not. I’d much rather spend time having positive interactions with him than arguing with him over something that is of no consequence to anyone!

The school has sent notes commenting several times that they had him turn his shirt the right way and he didn’t protest with them. This does not surprise me too much. Like a lot of kids with autism, it takes Buddy a while to be comfortable telling people what he wants. In strange places he’s less likely to protest stuff that he will at home, where he feels more secure and comfortable (and unlike a lot of kids with autism he rarely tantrums in public). So he’s more likely to protest something with me than he is his teacher in a place that is not as comfortable for him.

Today they sent a note saying he needs to come to school with his shirt facing forward. Of course, they pointed out that he doesn’t protest with them so it shouldn’t be an issue at home.

Fine. Come live my life for one day. Come see what battles you’ll fight then. Just dismiss my experiences with my son, who I live with every day. Come, tell me I’m doing it all wrong. Come, tell me I should create a power struggle over something so small and insignificant as a matter of which direction his shirt is facing. Come, tell me I should fight with him over that as opposed to spending that time doing something we enjoy together because, for whatever reason, it is so vitally important that his shirt faces the right way.

It bugs me because it is such a small matter. He’s five. No one is going to be harmed if his shirt is facing the wrong way. And this is just a beautiful example in my mind of how school policies can just make life at home that much more miserable for parents and kids who have disabilities, or even kids who do not, and are more focused on appearances than actually creating environments that are kid friendly and conducive to learning. My mom fought this battle with my sister. Though my sister is not autistic, she has sensory processing issues and as a child especially was extremely sensitive to touch. The seams on her clothes were extremely painful for her as a result, and she preferred to wear her pjs and her clothes inside out. My mom had to fight with the school for this to be allowed. But how they would expect a 6 year old to learn anything when she is in physical pain because of the seams on her clothes is beyond me. If a kid learns best wearing pajamas, why is it such a battle to get the schools to let them learn in pajamas?

And for the record, my sister now wears regular clothes and outgrew a lot of her sensitivities. And she’s now getting her Ph.D., is well adjusted, and lives independently. This is not mollycoddling and spoiling. This is about schools having rules that are not realistic for children. This is about promoting policies that make them kid friendly and creating environments that are conducive to learning. For small kids, this means being comfortable. To me, this means focusing less on what our kids are wearing and more on what they are doing.

And no, I am not going to pick a battle with Buddy over this. As of now I’m just repeating the mantra, “two more days, two more day.”

What I Wish Special Education Teachers Knew

I’ve experienced special education from several different viewpoints. As a child I was in special education until the 6th grade. I was a substitute special education teacher for a few months after graduating college. And now I’m the parent of a child in special education.

One time as a substitute I found myself in a classroom with children preparing for a spelling test. Special ed classrooms now always have aides (they didn’t when I was in it), who were useful for orientating me to the kids and classroom procedures. I sat down with one boy watched him practice his spelling. I noticed what errors he was making. One thing I noticed was he was doing something I used to do, confusing his lowercase ‘b’ and ‘d’s. It wasn’t that he didn’t know how to spell the words, but that he was mixing up his letters.

So I told him how I learned the difference between lower b and d. The b is a bad child who faces away from his parent (uppercase) letter.

Bb

Meanwhile, d is a darling child who faces his parent letter.

Dd

“Bad B, Darling D” I told him to remember. I also told him when he got his spelling test to write the letters on the top of the page to refer to. And let me say, he lit up SO much when I told him this. He was so excited to have a way to figure out the difference between lowercase b and d. When he took his spelling test he scored 90%, the highest he’d ever gotten on a spelling test! He was over the moon.

Meanwhile, a little girl I’d not had a chance to work with had failed the test. The aide told me to yell at her for failing it. I asked the aide what was going on in her life that might explain the poor grade. For one thing, looking at this girl, I could tell she was likely confronting a lot of bullying. She was completely bald. She was possibly battling a scary illness.

The aide completely discounted this and said she should have studied more.

I felt that familiar sense of frustration. Even though we have a wealth of research showing learning disabilities are real, that when kids are bullied they tend to not focus on studying, or that not performing well in school is usually linked to a cognitive deficit or emotional upset, we still view special education and kids in special education as unmotivated and as needing to be punished. I cannot stress how harmful this is!

I have an auditory processing disorder. In a lot of ways, I grew up deaf, but when tested was rated with above average hearing. In the paradoxical way that sensory processing disorders work, because my hearing was so good, I also could not filter out and distinguish between the sounds I was supposed to focus on and the background noise. Nowadays, under good conditions it’s not a problem. But I still struggle understanding disembodied voices (phones calls are very stressful for me for this reason) and in crowded restaurants or parties I also have a hard time hearing, hence why I’ve never been a party animal or big into the bar scene. I really don’t like gatherings of more than four people. And forget talking to me on a bus.

I remember people talking to me and it was like dunking your head in a swimming people and trying to understand what someone in the pool is saying. Very distorted. I did a lot of guessing what people were saying and answering them as neutrally as possible, simple “yes”, “no” or “I don’t know.” Really I was taking a shot in the dark and hoping my answer would be satisfactory.

I remember one teacher in the first grade got on to me all of the time for not paying attention and didn’t believe me when I said I couldn’t understand her. I my mind, I was paying attention. I was sitting quietly and looking at her.

Reading was something I latched onto because the words on a page were solid and certain, not distorted. I think learning to read eventually helped me comprehend what people were saying. To this day if I click on a news article and it takes me to a video I usually hit the back button. I’d much rather read it.

Now, in theory, because my problems were with auditory comprehension and spelling, under Texas law I should have received specialized education targeting those areas. In reality, Texas doesn’t like expending the resources to meet a child’s individual needs. The district wanted to label me ADHD and have my mom put me on ritalin, something she fought tooth and nail (and never did). My mom knew the ADHD diagnosis was bogus because I could sit and read for hours.

Failing that, they decided that since my symptoms most closely resembled dyslexia they would put me in remedial reading classes. For me, this was humiliating. I was reading chapter books at the age of 7, and they put me in a classroom with kids struggling to read, “the goat on the boat went out on the float.” It took some of the kids more than five minutes to read that sentence. I could read an entire chapter in the time it took them to read a simple sentence. This was not the right place for me!

Strangely, in the special ed classroom I was look upon by the other kids as an Einstein. I could read very well! And there were nice things about the special ed classroom. The kids were nicer and I got to interact one on one with them. And my special ed teachers were nice and I tended to be teacher’s pet there because I could read and made their job easier.

However, it didn’t change the fact that going to the special education classroom was a red scarlett letter. When I left general ed to go there, everyone in the general ed classroom knew I needed extra help and couldn’t do the regular work. Combined with the humiliation of not having my actual needs met and being in remedial reading, it was an agonizing experience. In the fifth grade I just stopped going for a few weeks. Amazingly I was so quiet my general ed teacher never even noticed that I hadn’t left. Eventually I went back because I didn’t want to get into trouble when my absence from it would finally be noticed.

Which brings me to the first thing I wish special education teachers knew. It is demoralizing to be in special education. No matter what it is called, how it is dressed up, or how fun it is to be in the actual special education classroom, you are marked as someone who needs special education.

Here’s another thing I wish special education teachers knew. We are called “retards” on the playground. People tease us for being in special education.

Which leads me to my next point, no kid willing underperforms or refuses to learn to the point that they end up in special ed. No one wants to be called “retard” or ostracized from their peers for being in special education. If they are there, then there is something going on that prevents that kid from learning like typically developing children do.

Typically the kids I’ve known in special ed are demoralized. They see other kids reading so easily, and wonder what is wrong with them if they are struggling with something others get so easily. And the thing is, yelling at them is not going to make them perform better. Neither is labeling them defiant or uncooperative.

If a child is having a difficult time learning, we have to figure out what is going on that is causing the difficultly. In the case of the boy I mentioned earlier, he was having difficulty in reversing his letters. This was something I did not need a fancy test or a lot of time to discover. I likely worked with him all of ten minutes. But when I showed him a way to figure out how to write his letters correctly, he grasped at it like a drowning man does to a lifesaver!

The other thing I want to emphasize here is I found this out in 15 minutes. I was subbing in this classroom in the spring semester, the second half of the school year. This was an easy problem with an easy solution. How had it gone on undetected for so long?

Likely, in my opinion, because the teacher was too busy yelling at the kids for being unmotivated rather than finding the reason for the difficultly.

Not all problems are so easy to fix or diagnose. However, if something isn’t working, labeling the kid as the problem is not the way to go about finding the solution. The child is already wondering what is wrong with him. A teacher calling him unmotivated is telling him that’s the problem. To a child who is really trying but failing, this is devastating. If you work really hard at something that you see others doing so easily, but still fail, someone telling you you need to try harder does not motivate you to do so, it’s a recipe for getting someone to give up.

There are some special education teachers who get it. Chris Ulmer starts his class with ten minutes of compliments. For children in special ed, we’re used to hearing about all the things we aren’t doing. We hear about it from our teachers, our parents, other students. Rarely does the kid in special ed hear a compliment.

Ulmer found that when he started the day by complimenting his students, the kids behaved better and made more progress. These kids are now partaking in typical school activities like debate club.

Right now our school system is focused to teaching to one type of learner. Fact is, humanity is diverse, with people who learn in different ways. However, the way things are now, if you don’t fit into the box that schools cater to, you’re branded as being difficult and unmotivated. A lot of times, kids in special education just give up, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To fix this we need a school system that recognizes that varied ways kids learn. A lot of the things that helped me growing up are not difficult or expensive to implement. Certainly teaching kids memory tricks to remember the different between lowercase b and d is not complex. For whatever reason, though, we don’t.

Thirty years later, and still frustrated as hell with the system.

The Things I See His School Does Not

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.

The Decision to Homeschool

I recently came to the conclusion that it is in Buddy’s best interests to homeschool him. Schools in Texas are simply not kid friendly, and I am very worried about some things happening in his pre-school and that are happening in the districts. I am excited about being able to take this path with him, but I’m also mad. I’m mad that the public schools are so toxic to learning that I feel my only two options are to pay a lot of money I don’t have for private school or to homeschool.

Some background. Pretty much everyone in my family has been a teacher at some point in their careers. Three of my four grandparents have taught in the schools (the fourth gave flying lessons). My mom has worked as a kindergarten teacher for a private school, and I’ve studied child development, worked with children who are differently abled, and taught children and adults in several different settings.

Growing up, my parents were very anti-homeschool. They had a lot of valid complaints about it. It’s largely unregulated. Concerns about Evangelically Christian curriculums and socialization. However, I also have many different learning disabilities, and I really struggled in school in elementary school. My parents advocated for me, and often it was like hitting a brick wall. I know people look at me and say I have a Master’s degree so it can’t have been that bad, but I often feel like I made my accomplishments in spite of school and not because of it.

People who know me now also don’t realize that in elementary school, I hated it so much I never planned on going to college. It wasn’t until things got easier for me in junior high that I changed my plans. But what I found in elementary school made me hate learning.

My parents had been disillusioned by their experiences with me, and for my mom I will say not pulling me out and homeschooling me is one of her biggest regrets. Right now I have the means to generate income in the evenings so I can stay home with them during the day, and though it will be a tremendous amount of effort on my part I feel it is the best route to go down.

That said, I am angry. I am angry that the schools in my area are so not kid friendly. I’m also angry that I have yet to meet a parent in this area who is happy with what is happening in the schools, and I wonder why these policies are being pushed through even though they are so unpopular.

What am I talking about when I say schools are not kid friendly?

  1. No talking at lunch. One of the school districts in my area has a policy that kids eat in silence and then lay their heads down when they are finished. If they talk they are sent to detention. Um, isn’t one of the selling points of school socialization?
  2. Standardized tests. Texas started this trend. It is deeply entrenched here. No one particularly likes it but the general attitude is, “I survived standardized testing and I turned out OK, so I’m not going to protest it.” When I worked as a substitute, one classroom in particular stands out in mind. The lesson plan for math was to have the kids go through the testing manual, just like they were taking the test. This teacher had her lesson planning book out and I looked at it. It was not just something she had assigned for the sub, EVERY DAY all she did for math was having them answer questions in the testing manual. I had several kids ask me about a question that tested their knowledge on the mean, median and mode, and I had to stop class and give an impromptu lecture on it. None of them had heard about these concepts. In short, I do not want my kids to go to school where the textbook is a test manual.
  3. No playgrounds. I have subbed at elementary schools with no playgrounds and no recess. Kids need to move, and they need to play. They both learn better and behave better when they have time for unstructured play. But these days people see unstructured play as worthless…
  4. Homework. My son is in pre-k. He gets a packet of handwriting homework to complete throughout the week. This is not age appropriate work, it also doesn’t teach handwriting that well, and if anything seems like torture for the parents. It also advantages kids who have parents who have the time/means to do this with them over children with parents who do not.
  5. Labeling kids instead of behaviors. When I took an educational psychology class in college, we were told about a study where they gave a group of students a test, randomly selected several students and told those teachers that those students were gifted and they would be the next Einstein. Let me make this clear, these kids were actually average, no different than their peers. The only difference was in how they were labeled to their teachers. At the end of the year, those students who in actuality did no better or worse than their peers, surpassed their peers on a test given to them at the end of the year. The reason was because of the attention that their teachers gave to them. Cameras in the classroom showed that the teachers subconsciously set those kids up for success in a way they did not set up other students, and those students benefited. Sadly, we also know the reverse occurs. A kid gets saddled with the label of being “dumb” or a “troublemaker”, and teachers look for behaviors that confirms those labels while they discard behaviors that don’t as flukes, if they notice it at all. So I was very angry when I started getting notes home that my four year old with autism was being “defiant” for not staying in his assigned area. For one thing, I’m not even sure he understands the concept of staying in an assigned area, for another, teachers should know better than to label him as defiant! They should describe his behavior, not saddle him with a dangerous label that could follow him as he progresses in school! (Further, they have the behavior color codes, and every day he gets the perfect color code, which tells me his behavior is not disruptive and giving him such a negative label for not following instructions or staying in his seat when he has documented issues showing he does not always understand what is expected of him troubles me).

As someone who knows so much about child development, it is frustrating to see so little of the fruits of what we have found works best to help children learn in the schools. Kids learn best through play. Kids learn a heckuva lot more playing with blocks than they do with flashcards. Kids often want to please, but sometimes can’t figure out what we want because their brains and senses are still developing, which is why we describe the problematic behavior rather than labeling them as troublemakers! Or rather, this is what we should be doing, but aren’t.

I want to send my children to a school environment that is based on play, that gives them lots of time outdoors to move, that has someone help them as they learn to interact with others. We know so much about what works when it comes to educating children. And I am mad as hell that we do not see this in our schools.

I’m mad that my tax dollars are going to support a school system that I see as being so kid unfriendly that I am worried about continuing to send my son there. And the general consensus among my fellow counselors and specialists in autism when I tell them about my decision has been, “that’s the best thing you can do. The earlier the better.” The fact that people know and accept that the schools are not kid friendly, especially for kids who are differently abled, and movements to change it in my area are practically non-existent (I’ve checked) is maddening.

It also concerns me that in Texas, there’s pretty much a two tier educational system. A quality one for those who can afford private school and/or have the means and education to homeschool effectively, and then the lesser public school options. Yes, I could put my efforts to trying to starting a movement for reform, but my parents were never very successful, and I figure any change would happen too late for my children to benefit. The better option seems to be to put my efforts into giving them a quality homeschooling education.

I found a secular curriculum where the lessons plans are done out with modifications for children with autism. My child’s progress will be tracked by a computer, which will make things easier on me as I still will have to see clients in private practice to stay afloat financially. I also plan to keep Buddy in private therapy and to find a music group and swimming classes for socialization. He also loves his Sunday School class at the UU and will be exposed to different points of views there. I really dislike the idea of homeschooling to indoctrinate.

A final thing I think is imperative is to read the critiques from adults who were homeschooled. And reading and listening with the intent to understand and learn from them. What did they like about it? What would they change about it? What can I do to avoid the mistakes their parents made and build on what successes their parents had?

I’m making a big decision that will impact my kids tremendously. I owe it to them to make sure I give them an education that will prepare them for life in the real world.