We are a homeschooling family. We didn’t start off that way – we did the usual daycare/kinder with our eldest (mainly to give me a break), and then started at preschool. Due to her (then undiagnosed) Asperger’s, we had a lot of behavioural issues however and after much deliberation, we decided to homeschool. My husband was the one to suggest it. My reply was, “Is that even legal? And if I have to spend 24 hours a day with THAT child, I’m going to kill her!” You can see I wasn’t exactly a fan at the time.
That was 15 years ago, and even though our eldest did a short stint at a very small private school for a term, we have homeschooled ever since. Until BuddyBoy’s needs completely overwhelmed me and I realised that he would be better off at school. He needs routine and structure – something which my other children object to strenuously if I tried to impose it on them. I also couldn’t give him as much attention as he needed because I still had the other children to look after and school, and a household to run. Then there’s the fact that his behaviours are full-on and exhausting to deal with, so having him at school gives me a much-needed sanity break.
Thankfully he adapted very well to school (after several months of groundwork prior to him starting) and loves going – he gets very bored at home without someone directing his activities every moment of the day. He has learnt a number of things that I know he would never have picked up at home and I’m extremely grateful to have him in a good environment that he is happy in. This is his second year at the special school, and we’ve been very fortunate so far that his teachers and classroom aides have been very accommodating and adaptable, and this year in particular we have a teacher who fights for our family to get the support we really need.
At the beginning of this year, my second oldest daughter finished homeschooling, to move onto Distance Education. It may seem a slight difference for those who haven’t gone down this path, but it is taking a bit of adjusting to. We’ve had some challenges with the curriculum, time constraints, teenage lifestyle choices, and the types of subject choices available. The ‘school’ may be a Distance Education Centre, but they are located in our capital city – a good two and a half hours drive away. Despite being ‘distance’ learning, there are excursions to attend, school sessions that we are ‘encouraged’ to go to, and this week we will be driving down to meet my daughter’s teachers to sort out some issues. At sixteen, she is a very independent learner and conducts herself very much as a young, mature adult, but there are times I feel guilty for not spending more time with her, helping her with her schoolwork.
A few months ago, my youngest – my baby (although at 6 I’m not allowed to call him that anymore) started school as well. I started homeschooling him last year and I enjoyed being able to sit with him and watch his bright, inquisitive mind picking up facts and thinking about them. It is exciting to be there when a child first learns to read a word, or put together two numbers to make a new one. To watch a mind make connections, form patterns, make discoveries, and broaden horizons is an honour and a thrill.
Unfortunately, I have found that I’m unable to give SuperBoy the attention he needs, the life experiences that he would benefit from, or the social interaction that his sisters had at his age. BuddyBoy influences my day even when he is at school, so I’m not able to take SuperBoy out regularly to social homeschooling events or learning activities. I’m also plain worn out – exhausted from trying to cope with a very challenging child, as well as the rest of my life.
We found a fabulous school which has a reputation of being very good with children on the Spectrum – SuperBoy isn’t, but he has some challenging behaviours and sensory issues, and given his lack of exposure to ‘the system’, we didn’t want him going to our local, large school, where he would get lost in the crowd. We interviewed the principal and I immediately felt comfortable with the school philosophies, the behavioural program they use, and their educational approach. It is a big thing for me to feel comfortable with a school! The staff all seemed very friendly and being a small school, all the staff knew all the kids. SuperBoy has absolutely thrived in this environment, he loved it so much that he didn’t want to continue on with his part-time start, and insisted on going full-time before his first week was out. He is doing well, and I am relieved.
Last week, my almost 11-year-old daughter also started at the same school. She has been homeschooled all her life, and she is a very bright, curious young learner. She is not interested in other people at all, and doesn’t care to make friends, but she does love learning new things and picks things up quite quickly. We talked about school and she made the decision to give it a go – although at a grade lower than she technically is. I think this actually demonstrated a lot of wisdom. We started her off slowly as well, and left it up to her to decide how comfortable she felt, before having her stay longer in the classroom. This is her second week and she is now going full-time – at her choice. Her teacher is amazingly enough also an Autism Warrior Mum – someone I had connected with a couple of years ago through an online Autism forum. She has no problems understanding my daughter’s sensory issues, her lack of ‘filter’ when it comes to saying what she’s thinking, or even that she needs to avoid gluten and particularly dairy.
A part of me is sad at this change in our lives – a change that we probably wouldn’t be making if it wasn’t for Autism in our family. For those families who have always sent their kids to school, this might seem strange, but for me it is a big thing. I am making a decision that I think is in the best interests of my child, however I still have some feelings of grief. I am happy that my children are happy and thriving, while at the same time missing the closeness that we used to have, and the special bond that is created when you are with your child as they learn to stretch their wings. This is a new direction for us, and I am choosing to see the positives in it, and focus on growing through it. Not to regret what might have been, but what is to come.
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