Saturday, October 18, 2014

In the beginning, there was a squirrel.

It was about this time last year that I knew, this wasn't going to work. I was shocked. I was confused. I was dismayed. I was very, very, very angry.

The "not working" was public school. I am a great believer in public school. The structured environment provides a focused framework for education, networking, and community. My kids need a lot of structure. I have one who is autistic. The other... well, he isn't autistic, but he has a lot of issues with processing, self-regulation, and executive functioning, in a web of issues often stashed under the umbrella term "ADHD." Folks, it's real. ADHD is also as varied, scattered, and spectrumed as autism- every child is different. If you know one child with autism, you know one child with autism. If you know one child with ADHD, you know one child with ADHD. Beware of generalizations.

School was not working out for either of my kids, and I had pinned the blame on me. That seems to shock some people. The assumption I have discovered is that people who homeschool usually pin the blame on anyone else. I discovered that blame isn't really what it is about at all. School not working for my kids is just a fact. Why it wasn't working is complicated. I fished around and floundered about, trying to find something I could be doing to make it work. I called meetings. I sent in materials. I invaded classrooms. I stopped invading classrooms trying to give my kids their own space. I tried to take the materials being sent to me and make them work for us, even re-formatting homework sheets myself to make them manageable, spending hours on homework. I stopped doing that and asked for homework to be limited. I gave up doing the homework at all, and just stuck to doing things actually useful for my kids, things they were struggling with. I did a mix of all of the above. I did a lot of other things, stopped doing things, tried to doing things and not doing things, you can see I still feel the judgment, the sense of failure. Public school, that beacon of education and progress, was not working for my family. I felt trapped. Suffocated. Desperate. I couldn't afford private school. I not only work full time, I work several jobs, paying for therapies and home expenses (and financial mistakes of younger days).

Yet the answer, as the year spiraled on, started becoming clearer and clearer. This was Not Working. My kids were not learning; they were stuck in anger, frustration, and as we later discovered, insidious bullying from every angle. They were learning to become bullies themselves, to defend themselves. I felt like putting them on the bus- and for my younger son, dropping him off at the door- was abandoning them to weird perversion of Lord of the Flies. They weren't safe. The adults with them seemed oddly out of touch, deliberately hard for them to access, and blind to what was going on among the students. People with decades of experience working with kids were trying to tell me no bullying was going on in their schools and classrooms. I was left not knowing how much of what I was seeing was from my kid's personalities, and how much was from external forces, and no idea how to help them.

I ended up with two very different answers, just as I have two very different young men who are my sons. I am happy to say, the school finally realized they were not educating my autistic son, and we have him in a wonderful school where is excelling and recovering beautifully. No, its not all sunshine and roses, but I don't think any child's growing up and development is all sunshine and roses. We are going in the right direction, and the stress that was basically driving Joey insane is melting away like snow in spring. We'll take it.

For Andy, we have gone in a different direction. I decided to try teaching him myself over the summer, in experimental "camps." I met with challenges, but nothing unexpected. We are looking at dysgraphia, eye focus issues, possible dyslexia, and of course, ADHD- problems of being able to focus and needing huge amounts of movement to focus and think. What has been unexpected is the reports from other parents of Andy's classmates, and the reports are far more extreme and disturbing than we suspected. My son weathered the catastrophe of his classroom far better than I had appreciated before. I made the decision. We were going to homeschool.

I'm not the kind of person who takes such a decision lightly. I do for Andy as I do for Joey- spending hours researching topics, methods, theories, materials, and resources. I try something out, see if it works, change it if it doesn't. We are in what I would describe as "partial deschooling"- keeping up with subjects we know he needs to underpin his learning (math, being able to read, occupational therapy, basic writing), and being more fluid in topics of science and social studies. Though the progress has been painfully (from my point of view) slow, I can see it. The complete shutdown when "school" or "learning" was involved, which we have been seeing, is letting up, and I am learning more about he learns and how to present and guide access to topics and material. We have had some stumbling and some breakthroughs. My mom has stepped in to help, and her support of our adventure is invaluable- as well as her talent for helping Andy get comfortable with learning and relaxing so he can learn. Finding how to incorporate movement and letting him learn his own way are more challenging than we expected, but we are getting there, together.

So now it's time to share it. We are starting as unexpected homeschoolers, with a ten-year-old ADHD child, and we know we aren't out here alone- yet we know how panicked and alone you can feel when you realize this is the best option for your family. Yes, people are going to tell you that you are nuts.

Just stay focused on your squirrel, and there shall be learning. That's what is important.

1 comment:

  1. I hate that it had to come to this. But I love that you are able to find the ways to make it work as well as possible. And I love reading your FB statuses about BOTH the boys' progress. <3