Special Needs

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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.

Until Now…

 

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.

Non-Issues

 

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.

Be Open

 

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.

In Hindsight

 

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.

When Things Are Not Working, Change and Follow Through

Our lives have recently changed dramatically. My 12 year old has just started public school. It was a fairly quick decision on the surface, but really, it had been on our minds for many months. T has not really been thriving in our home school environment. Since the beginning of this year, he has been tearful and has not been able to complete a full day’s worth of work more for than one day at a time. On most days, he was only able to complete 1 subject. Every now and then, he would surprise me and complete several subjects; but mostly, it was tears and frustration for us both.

At first, I blamed this difficulty on his diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome . We have had to work through sensory issues, fine motor problems, emotional issues and processing issues. On the other hand, I had said many times, “If you can’t be successful here at home, you will need to go to the school down the road.” This is the strict parent speaking. I realize that this had been, up until now, an empty threat. I know that such threats are not conducive to learning. I realized that at this point, at 12 years old and in the 7th grade, some thing would have to change soon, as high school and college are growing closer.

A Sudden Transition

Our transition was rather sudden. In a perfect world, I would have gradually gotten him ready for public school in the fall. Starting in the early spring, I would have looked for a good school, gone to the orientation day in the fall, toured the school ahead of time and mentally prepared T for the atmosphere of public school. Of course, this is not what happened. One Monday in November, before Thanksgiving, I decided to put him into 7th grade at the neighborhood middle school. We all put away our studies for the day to get the paperwork from the school office, buy a uniform and supplies, and retrieve his vaccination records from his pediatrician. The next day, he started.

Throughout all the preparation, I could tell by looking into T’s eyes that he was nervous. I was a wreck and tried not to cry a mother’s tears, usually reserved for kindergartners, now flowing for my 6 foot tall adolescent. However, he was cheerful and helpful throughout the entire process. There were so many new things to adjust to, for me and for him. We both had about 10 new people in our lives. T also had the campus map to contend with as well as unfamiliar routines, crowds, bells and other sensory bombardments. But we both survived. We got through it all. The things I thought would bother T were non issues.

I Love the Smiles

T seems to be a very well-adjusted middle-schooler. His first report card is filled with A’s. Academically, I have no real worries, though, as with any child that age, I still have to remind him to turn in his homework. More importantly, the tears are gone. T has started smiling again. Most days, he gets into the van full of tales of the day – and the smiles…I love the smiles.

Our lives are now filled with taking T to and from school, helping him with his homework and washing his uniform. His weekday chores are suspended for now, as he gets used to his new life, and I am sure he’s happy about that. We plan to take things one semester at a time. The younger two are now starting to think about public school in the fall. On the other hand, now that we all have to get up early to get T to school on time, they finish their schoolwork by noon.

T woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. It was not even 10 am and he was growling at everyone. When I asked him to narrate his first reading, the tears came quickly. Normally, I would work with him on the material until he was able to give an acceptable narration. Often, his stubbornness and my demands for perfection would drive both of us to tears.

Today, though, I tried a different tack. Today, I was able to stop viewing his tears and refusals as a behavior issue. This is something that I know intellectually that one shouldn’t do with someone on the autistic spectrum. Try as I may, I always fall into that authoritarian parenting style.

Today, I did a few things differently. First, I backed off. I acknowledged that he was feeling down today, and that , like  Alexander, "Some days are like that…even in Australia." We talked about whether it was the schoolwork that was making him sad, or whether it was something else. Turns out, it was both. The something else was just a sadness that he was unable to pinpoint. When he said that he couldn’t do any school work today, I said that that was OK.

Secondly, I encouraged him to find something to lift his mood. I gave him some examples of things I do when I’m in a bad mood. I knit, read, take a bath, do yoga, etc. I suggested that he wrap his brother’s birthday present, to which he readily agreed. Wrapping gifts is not his forte, and he needed help, but he was willing to give it a try.

After that, I gently encouraged him to look over his school schedule and decide what things he thought he could accomplish. In the end, he read a chapter from Little Pilgrim’s Progress, completed two pages of Greek, and practiced piano. This is not anywhere near a full day’s work for T. However, his mood was improved FOR THE REST OF THE DAY! Folks, this is big. T’s bad moods can last decades.

I hope I can remember what I did today so I can repeat it. We’ll try that reading again another day.

On another note, my baby turned 4 today! Happy Birthday, R!

I haven’t posted much lately on T and his struggles. Sometimes, it seems that our day to day struggles are just too private. We have to deal with T’s difficulties daily and often in public. I constantly find myself defending T’s behaviors or our family’s choices, which are often based upon T’s needs. For instance, our family doesn’t go to big city festivals; we spend July 4th at home, watching fireworks on TV. We don’t frequent malls. We never go to the movies as a family. In fact, none of the boys has even sat through more than the first preview; we had to leave because it was intolerably loud. After more than 2 years at our church, T still won’t sit with us in the sanctuary, preferring instead to stand against the back wall. Only in the last month has he been comfortable going to his religious education classes at church without me sitting in or just outside the classroom. So, you see, by the time I post here, my emotions are raw. I would prefer to post about other things.

Last year, we tried several "interventions" to help T. He attended weekly counseling for a year. He attended summer classes to improve his social communication skills. We tried some new supplemental curricula to help him in his weak areas. Finally, we enrolled him in one-on-one speech therapy sessions to continue the work that we had begun in the summer.

As time went on, T’s behavior plummeted. We pulled him out of counselling at his request. We also pulled him from his speech therapy because he had dug his heels in and refused to participate. His Daddy and I felt that he was only going to profit from the sessions if he actually participated. Plus, with money being tight, we could not justify the high copays if he wasn’t improving or at least trying. Upon discontinuing the speech therapy and counseling, his behavior improved  dramatically. He smiled more. He acted responsibly, completing his chores and school without a fuss. He became more outgoing at church, actually looking people in the eye, shaking their hands and engaging in small talk. He no longer scowled all day. Last night, he enjoyed fireworks at a friends house for New Year’s Eve. He really enjoyed them!

Now the initial effects are fading somewhat. His main problem is that he seems to totally lack respect for others and their feelings. Don’t get me wrong, most of the time he is a delight to be around. But when he chooses to be ugly, he is very ugly. He speaks disrespectfully to me and his Daddy and treats his brothers worse than slime. I want to squash the disagreeable behaviors without losing the great strides he has made. I’m not very consistent when it comes to charts, stickers, allowances and the like, and so don’t use those methods much. I’ve been trying to give him more chances to try activities that take more responsibility. He has recently learned how to scramble and fry eggs, and has made two cakes from scratch (with supervision, of course).

I don’t know what to do. I want to help him become an adult, but sometimes, I just don’t know how. I really wish there were a manual, or a help file at the very least.  Sigh…

Just a quick link to an interesting article in the New York Times. This takes a load off of teachers and parents, who believe that there are some things a child will grow out of. I don’t want to say that there aren’t developmental disorders that are there for life, just that it may pay to be patient. Charlotte Mason was right on when she advocated lots of outdoor time for kids in the early elementary years.

Bad Behavior Does Not Doom Pupils, Studies Say 

Enjoy.

As you can tell, we’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from school lately.  It was totally unplanned. But, since we finished 180 days of school, I felt we could afford to take a break.

As I said, this break was unplanned. I just took a day off because I needed it, then another, then another. Before long, it was time for T to go to a two week intensive therapy session for communication and social skills. We’re in the middle of that right now. The group meets for two hours every morning, Monday through Thursday. Two more days to go. It’s really exhausting. We’re getting a taste of what school kids have to do every day. I’m also learning what it’s like to not have my morning housekeeping time. I’ve come to enjoy getting my chores out of the way early in the day. My energy is so low in the afternoons. Also, we’re trying not to use major appliances from 12 to 8PM as part of an energy-saving program with our city. That means no dishes or laundry. If I worked out of the house, I’d have to do all my chores and laundry at my least productive time of day. Hats off to all those working moms! I don’t think I have it in me.

Besides that, we’ve been cleaning house, getting organized, and just relaxing. I’ve also started remodeling T’s room. We, or rather, I’m painting the walls and ceiling and then having bamboo flooring installed. So far, I’ve removed the popcorn texture. Next, I need to prep (including some drywall repair) sand, and spackle. After that, we’ll pull the carpet, call the installer for an estimate and schedule an installation date. T has been waiting for this for some time, and we finally had the funds available. I’d like to finish the painting as soon as possible. It is taking much longer than I’d hoped because I’m doing ALL of the work.

I originally wanted to start school up next week, but I’ve decided to focus on T’s room so he can have a fresh start. Also, he’s living in our bedroom until his is livable again. Enough said. I’m hoping a hard floor will 1) be cooler, and 2) be more allergy-friendly. Any leftover money will be used to buy a window unit for T. No matter what we do, the upstairs is very hot. D and R already have an extra ac, but it doesn’t reach to T’s room.

Now, I’m off to cook dinner.

At long last, our supplies are ready for T to start learning with Visualizing and Verbalizing. During the next few weeks, I won’t require much, if any narration from T, only reading. He will be practicing narration and imaging skills using Visualizing and Verbalizing. Also, the only required tablework will be math and italics. I probably won’t tell him this, though. I can judge by his mood whether or not to push him to do more. Starting tomorrow, I would like to do this for an hour with T. We may only get 30 minutes or so of VV done at first, but I’d like to work towards 1 hour.

I’m not sure how the schedule will work out. My thought is to send D & R out of the room, perhaps upstairs, to play while I work intensively with T. Then, we would do Group Time together. We’re reading Robin Hood together right now. One chapter takes about 30 – 45 minutes. Following that, I’d like to do tablework, focusing on D, while T reads AO silently or does independent table work. R will do puzzles or play quietly for about this amount of time, usually another 30-45 minutes. When Duncan has finished all of his work, we’ll do our spelling. Then, depending on how T is doing, he’ll finish his work or we’ll end the day.

We’ve also begun using Sequential Spelling, by  AVKO. Both T and D are doing well after two days. We’ll continue with this at the end of the school day. I think that should be quite enough!

I have a headache today. Despite this, we still did our tablework. I’ll do readings this afternoon IF I feel better. Bed linens are being washed, but most other chores will have to wait until my head feels better.  We’re waiting at home today for the phone repair guy, or I’d hop out for a movie for the kids. As it is, our priorities are 1) Get rid of the headache, 2) lunch, 3) wait for phone guy. The pasta water is on the stove and the boys are happily watching Johnny Quest and being quiet. Dinner is spiced up leftovers. We have days and days and days of chicken leftover. Tonight, It’s Barbeque chicken (from a bottle), salad, and a veggie or two.

On a brighter note, dh traded in our old, non-working stereo for a new-to-us turntable, receiver, and tape deck. What a good provider! I’ve been listening to David Bowie for the first time in years over and over again. Now what is good for headaches?

Also, we started Sequential Spelling for both T, 9, and D, 6. I think it will be a good fit for them both. Dictation was not enough for T. Due to his issues with frustration, he was not learning to spell well enough with dictation alone. He would crumple up his paper or tear up at every misspelling. He always had plenty of time to study. We even tried me spelling the words for him during dictation. But he wasn’t learning to spell independently. There was too much hand holding.  I believe that Sequential Spelling is a more balanced approach. and will be an easy way to fill this gap. We will continue to practice dictation, though at least once a week. It’s scheduled for twice a week. Like a fuzz-brain, though, I only ordered one Student Response Book for Sequential Spelling. D is working from photo copied pages until I can get him a book of his very own. I know, I could just make my own response sheets, but my time is valuable. Time, paper, and ink add up to more than the small cost of another book.

T announced that R has been "reading" The Lorax on his own. He said "He’s even reading the right words on the right pages!" Only 3 and a genius! That, and he’s read the book and seen the movie about 100 times each.

Summer is creeping up on us. This week is the first with temperature highs in the low 90’s. It’s only going to get hotter from here on out.  T refuses to wash his shorts and is wearing jeans today. He didn’t actually refuse, but he didn’t jump up to sort a load. I did make him do 5 laps around the yard when he was too hyper for indoors and told him he had to stay outside for at least 1 hour, even if that hour was spent reading in the shade. He lasted 30 minutes in jeans. I don’t have the fight in me today. He went inside. As long as his behavior holds out, I’ll let him stay in. Maybe he’ll go out later.

T was having trouble with Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood, so I decided to use it as a family read-aloud. I’ve been planning to completely stop narrations for the summer while I start T on the Visualizing and Verbalizing program. This is a reading comprehension program geared to help children recall and process what they read better. You can read more about it here. 

Today I gave T the placement tests for Explode the Code. There is a huge disparity between T’s reading skills and his spelling skills. He tests out of the series for word identification. He does need to work on syllables, so book 4 would be a good fit; but I want to make sure he has the concepts that are in Book 3 down pat. To that end, I have decided to start T with Book 3 1/2. He could almost start with Book 4, but might get too frustrated if he encountered something he hasn’t covered. Frustration is a biggie with him. He totally melts down with too much. I’d rather slow things down a bit so that he can be successful before moving on.

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