Photo by Adrian Gtz
I am almost used to having a boy in school. Almost. If you are homeschooling a special needs child and are thinking of sending your child to public school, I want to send you some words of encouragement. I have been homeschooling my 3 sons for 12 years, Birthday season is almost here, but right now, my boys are 12, 9 and 6.
My eldest has Asperger’s Syndrome. His main issues were sensory(all areas but eating and food), but he also has some auditory processing issues and sequencing issues, plus some day to day issues that just can’t be categorized. Since he has never been to public school, I have always just used his age when telling folks what grade he is in. So, he is in the 7th Grade.
Up until now, homeschool has helped us work through many of these issues. However, this year we decided to put him in public school because our mornings were constantly filled with tears and we weren’t getting any “school” done, only meltdown interventions. We decided to try him in the neighborhood middle school in the middle of 7th grade.
The First Hurdle
At first, I thought this would be horrible. To start with, this school required uniforms. We had never been able to get him to wear anything but t-shirts and jeans. Button downs and slacks were out of the question. He was just as picky about the colors – no white and only dark colors. As for shoes, he had worn the same brand, color and style for 4 years. To my utter amazement, when we told him that it was “the rule”, he cheerfully helped pick out his uniform, a white polo shirt, khaki pants with a belt and black on black shoes. I tried to give him as much control and ownership over the process as I could.
Problems were solved without me
I have to admit, the first week was an emotional one, but mostly for me. His biggest complaint was that he didn’t like waking up early and he didn’t like having to follow a strict schedule. I noticed that learning where his classes were was a challenge, but he got through it. In fact, with the exception of a small meltdown AT HOME during ONE homework assignment, he has been all smiles. He recovered quickly from that meltdown and was able to correctly complete the assignment. His teachers have seen the beginnings of meltdowns but quickly moved in to mitigate the situation. I never heard about them until much later.
All of the issues that I thought would be a problem just weren’t. The crowds, the noise, the smells, having to sit next to strangers (this is a biggie for him) were non-issues. By the second week, he had memorized his schedule, learned where his classes were, and had communicated with his teachers and the administration. By the 3rd or 4th week, he was beginning to talk to other students. I think that now, he actually enjoys public school, though the computer class and the robotics may have something to do with that. He also enjoyed dissecting a frog.
I was very up front about my son’s diagnosis with the administration. I told them exactly what his issues and triggers were. He does not yet qualify for Special Ed and he may not. It turned out that his math teacher was a former Special Ed teacher and that his other teachers were more than willing to accommodate his needs. His science teacher moved him closer to the front and all were willing to listen to him and help him navigate public school life. His shop teacher even sat with him at lunch that first day and chatted about how things were going. I just had a mid-year conference with all of his teachers and got glowing reviews from all of them.
If I could do it over again, I would have enrolled him in 5th grade, where there is less movement from class to class and where he might have an easier time getting used to the public school environment. My son did not use the bathroom the first day because he wasn’t sure when he could do that. I helped him by organizing his binder every night and going over all of his homework. I also still remind him to turn things in. I temporarily suspended all of his chore requirements during the weekdays and often tidy up his room for him. These are small things that I can do that take some of the pressure off him, and make time for his homework.
At Home and At Public School
I still homeschool my neurotypical sons. I do not know if they will want to attend public school. (My middle child will be in the 5th grade next fall.) But I have seen a dramatic change in my eldest. He is all smiles these days. No matter what he learns or doesn’t learn in public school, he is learning the invaluable lessons of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. He is learning to interact with life beyond our front door. The academics are a bonus. I still plan to homeschool in the summer because I do not want kids doing nothing all summer. But we can have a light load and pick up his favorites that he left behind, like Greek, Latin, and some readings.
The Big Picture
While I dearly love homeschooling, with Asperger’s, I have had to look beyond the academics and decide how to best serve my son, who will enter society at large someday. Before, I was really truly worried that my son would never be able to leave home, get a job and live on his own. My doubts are still there, but they are retreating. He is now looking forward to “choice sheet night” this week, when he will choose his classes for 8th grade. I do not know if he will attend public high school. My husband and I have decided to take it one semester at a time, knowing that if things are not working, we can withdraw him at any time to attend our “private school”.
Communication is Key
As for Special Ed, as you know, there are many hoops to jump through. Make sure you start jumping before his first day. And communicate, communicate communicate with the teachers, administrators. Get to know the cafeteria lady and the librarian. (The janitor told my son that “at this school we tuck our shirts in, son.”)They are there to help your child have a positive experience. Ask directly for what you need, but don’t be afraid to let go a little and let your child flourish.
While your child may have other issues, I urge you not to underestimate him. Take it one day at a time and communicate with your child. He will tell you if things are not right. You will know how things are going even if he says nothing. Build strong support at home and there is nothing he can’t do.