Adventures in Homeschool

Today is my kiddos last day of school. We are saying see ya later to 2nd, 5th, 7th and 9th grade. Yes, I have the trifecta of kids in elementary, middle and high school  and next year one of my monsters will be “homeschooled”.  Homeschooling is not a decision we took lightly. There are so many factors to consider before deciding to homeschool, the largest being is this in the best interest of my child.

Adventures in Homeschool | Country Girl Gourmet

In our case we live in a smaller county in North Carolina and I have a child with special needs. My second son has Autism and since he was 3 year old he has gone to school. In fact he even started out in the country where we currently live. Back then though I was new to the world of Autism. I didn’t have anyone helping me figure things out, in fact Autism was often considered a gray area. I have learned a lot since my son’s diagnosis 10 years ago. I have learned to advocate for my child. Simply if I did not do it, who would?

I can be thankful for being a military family because it has allowed me to see how other school districts in different states work with special needs children. My son went from what I now call a glorified daycare program here in North Carolina to an intensive pre-k in New Jersey. He went from receiving only Speech therapy to Speech, OT and PT multiple times a week. They used ABA in the classroom, Had tons of aides and my son even had his own one on one in kindergarten. My son flourished during his 3 years in New Jersey. His Early Intervention Services there went above and beyond.

From there we moved to Texas. Our transition was tough. It took almost his entire 2nd grade year to update his IEP to a Texas one. I won’t lie, I was pretty frustrated during the process but it pushed me to further research IEP’s and state and federal laws. I ended up becoming pretty good with IEP 101.  Once in 3rd grade though his school system had started a program for high functioning kids and by the time we left after he graduated 5th grade we were sad to go. My son was flourishing and doing extremely well in school.

As if transitioning to middle school wasn’t enough the Army sent my husband back to North Carolina in 2013. We researched schools and narrowed down the area we looked for houses. It was harder to find a house than we thought but eventually found our perfect house. We were also back in the school district my older two started school in. Easy peasy right? Wrong. Very, sadly wrong.

We tried, we gave it a good honest try but things just did not work out. I had already planned on 6th grade being a possibly bumpy year but had hoped for better things in seventh grade. What I found were teachers and administrators who were unknowledgeable about Autism and the fact that there is not a one size fits all formula that covers all children with Autism. I dealt with teachers who did not follow my son’s IEP and BIP. My son was even suspended after he had a meltdown caused by a teacher and his failure to follow my son’s BIP. That teacher has yet to say anything to me about that incident and didn’t even go to my son’s IEP/BIP mandatory meeting that was held because of the suspension. That speaks volumes to me. This entire incident was the straw that broke the camels back. This is what brought us to the world of homeschool.

We now had the fact that teachers and administration all agreed that my son would benefit from an one on one aide. Something I had previously requested and was told that there was no funding for. Yes, they really said that. So they were going to work on getting my son a one on one aide. This was back in March and he never received a one on one aide and we never met again to discuss getting my son one outside of one phone call.

The one phone call came from the principal. She was excitedly telling me about this great new program that the Army offers called ABA. Since my son was a military child he could get a one on one tutor with that program. All I could do was shake my head and then explain to the principal who is a military spouse herself what the program actually was an ECHO benefit and what ABA therapy is and how it wasn’t anything new. I also told her I was not going to be using my child’s medical benefits that he may need outside of school for something the school should be providing especially since they agree he needed it. Back to the drawing board she went and the topic was never discussed again.

When the final straw was broken my husband and I decided to homeschool our son. We had both looked into the possibility but it had always been just that. An option lingering in the back of our heads if things did not improve. We knew there was an online public school and as if it were fate it was the last week to sign up for the lottery. I signed my son up just so we had that option and to our surprise my son was selected. I rushed and did all the necessary paperwork to enroll my son. We had our plan. The program, NC Virtual Academy, had the same requirements as any other state public school. Our son had a regular school calendar, he would have to log attendance, school days were 6 hours, there would be structure built in, he would have a teacher and I would only be his learning coach, he would keep his IEP oh and he will do this all at home on the computer. A place where he never had the behavior problems or any of the other issues he had at his middle school. It sounded like a win-win for him.

I waited somewhat optimistically for an update about that one on one aide but it never came. I finally told his special education teacher the other day that he would not be back the next year and he would be attending the virtual academy. The next day at his award ceremony she agreed it would be good for him and understood we need to do what is in his best interest. She also reached out and offered to her help if we need it. She was in tears. You see once you learn my son’s “quirks” he is one of those kids you fall in love with.

Today I disenrolled him from school. It was easier than I thought it would be. They had me prove he was enrolled in the NC Virtual Academy which made me wonder what do parents who traditionally homeschool do? As I was leaving his special education teacher saw me and gave me a good bye hug. I told her I would still be around. I had a 6th grader that would be there next year. Yes, I’m trusting them with my youngest son, well for now.We will see how 6th grade goes. My oldest did ok so i’m trying to stay optimistic. The fault in the school is the lack of support for special needs students.

My reassuring moment was when I was leaving I walked past the principals. Typically someone says something about my son, or has a story, something. There is almost always a something. I was thinking maybe they would say something about that one on one aide but no. So I told the principal of the school my son would not be back and received a rather unconcerned reaction, I was kind of surprised. This was the same principal who called me a couple months prior that was working to get my son that one on one aide. Wow, I didn’t think this was going to be that easy but ok, thanks for making this easy. I knew in that instant I had made the right decision for my child.

So here we go onto our newest adventure, homeschooling. It’s an adventure I never really thought we would take on but I guess, never say never! Here’s to 8th grade and a smooth transition to the homeschooling world!

Autism and My Family: Part 1

I originally wrote this for in April of 2009. Autism Awareness Month is here and I just wanted to share again along with a follow up to what our life is like now.

Autism and my family: Part one

On April 7th, 2002, my family’s lives were changed forever. We had just had our second son, and our adventures with autism would soon begin. My second son was different from his older brother, but I wondered how different could brothers be? I knew enough that no two children were the same, but my mother’s intuition told me something just wasn’t right.

From the time my son was about a year old, I was constantly telling the doctors I was concerned about his development, but they wouldn’t do anything. The doctors kept telling me he’s ok, he is developmentally on track, and boys talk later than girls. I couldn’t I get a doctor to listen to my concerns. I was concerned about more than my son’s lack of speech. At two and a half he lacked speech, did not like being touched, was not affectionate, would not look you in the face, lined things up, had no fear, and wouldn’t respond to his name. It wasn’t until I changed my children’s primary care manager that I finally had someone listen to me and tell me that my son was different. Soon thereafter a pediatric neurologist diagnosed my son with pervasive developmental disorder (P.D.D.), or high functioning autism. My suspicions had been confirmed now and it was time to figure out how to help my little boy.

The one thing that has helped my son the most is therapy. He receives speech, occupational, physical and ABA therapy in school. He receives additional speech therapy outside of school. He would receive other services but in our area service providers are few and far between. At home we do a lot of repeating, constantly saying “use your words” and modeling. Practice makes perfect, right? With therapy my son has gone from being non-verbal to having fifty percent speech intelligibility at seven years old. His skill level is improving as well. He is developmentally at the same level as his five year old brother. It takes time but when you see your child doing or saying something new it is the best feeling in the world.

Routine is very important in our house. We have a schedule taped to the fridge and rules taped to the walls. If we need to break from the schedule without thoroughly explaining why in advance, meltdowns occur. Meltdowns are not fun, so if you can figure it how to avoid them, you do. My son gets anxious in crowded places and starts humming jingle bells, a song I really do not like anymore. He may even bust out with a funny dance too. He doesn’t play with other kids, only near them. He doesn’t understand the difference between doing something on purpose and what an accident is, no matter how many times we explain it to him. I can go on and on, the list seems endless. Things that are normal to me would puzzle most people.

My son, like other children with autism, has his “quirks,” and no two kids with autism are the same so what works for one child may not work for the next. As parents we learn what we can do to improve the quality of our child’s life. Above all we learn we are our child’s number one advocate, if we don’t fight for our children who will?

Curious about our life with Autism 6 years later? Read: Autism and our Family: Part Two.

A letter to my son’s teacher… Autism and my son

Every year my son’s new teacher’s ask what they need to know about my son. If it were only as simple as telling you a couple things to ensure a good school year. This year as my son enters middle school it scares me greatly. This year he has 7 different teachers that will need to learn to work together to figure out his educational needs. These are the years where he may fall through the cracks or may be be labeled as a problem child. Please do your part to ensure this does not happen and I will help you as much as I can.

My son has Autism and once again as I say those words I am asked by you what do you need to know. Unfortunately it is not a simple answer and to understand my son you need to get to know him.  Just reading his IEP will not tell his entire story just as my telling you about him does not either. I can tell you about him all day long but there is nothing I can say will guarantee he will have a good day or will not have a bad day/ meltdown.

Yes, he is different. His brain just works in a different way than other kids. When working with my son you will be pushed to think out of the box. No two children with Autism are the same so just because you knew another student with Autism does not mean what you did with them will work for my son.

My son thrives on routine, structure and consistency. Routine calms my son and reduces anxiety and without it he has problems. If there is going to be a break in routine you need to prepare him for it if you can. If you can’t just try to help him through the change. An example of change my son is not good with is substitute teachers.  An alternative plan needs to be in place for my son when he has a substitute teacher. My son needs structure, he needs to know the rules. Please be consistent with my child because when you are not it gives him mixed signals and it is difficult for him to comprehend what he is suppose to do.

My son interprets  what he is told one way, literally. He does not get idioms and the like. When speaking to him please get his attention and speak to him with plain, simple words.

Social skills are not my son’s strong point. My son is not disrespecting you by not looking you in the eyes/face. He may not be looking at you but he is usually listening. To get your point across please ask my son to repeat what you have asked. My son may do other things that are not socially acceptable such as pick his nose. If you catch him doing something please redirect him, he will stop. We have been working on personal space, he needs clear boundaries as he may invade others personal space not realizing what he is doing is rude.

While on the subject of social skills my son will say what he thinks and does not have a “filter” and will express his opinion. He will say something is dumb or stupid. Just as he will call someone fat or tell them their breath stinks. Please understand he is not saying things to be mean,cruel or disrespectful.

My son’s speech is a work in progress, please understand this. Sometimes especially when he is excited or upset it will be hard to understand him. If you do not understand him ask him to repeat what he has said. Be warned though, too many repeats may equal a meltdown.

My son communicates but you need to do more than just listen. You will need to watch his body language for cues. When he is anxious he will do a variety of things such as run back and forth, hum songs, twirl his hair, pick at his skin or other things. My son may even growl or loudly sigh when he is not excited about doing something. Watch him and he will show you how he is doing.

Group work is not a strong point. If he can do assignments independently he will. He may need redirection from time to time but he does best work solo. This goes back to social skills and interacting with his peers.

Handwriting is not a favorite thing for my son to do. It is hard for him and he does not have a traditional writing grip. Give my son a iPad, computer, alphasmart or other word processor and he can do it. He also does awesome power point presentations.

Your classroom is full of things that may throw my son into sensory overload which may lead to a melt down. His classroom size is larger than what he is used to. A larger class often means more noise and this can overwhelm him. Pep rallies and similar grade level functions are a nightmare for my son. He would rather stay in the classroom and do classwork. Other things that may overwhelm his senses include your classroom temperature, lighting and smells. He tries his best but sometimes it becomes to much and he can’t focus.

When over simulated my son will need a “time out”. He will need to go somewhere quiet to “cool off”. When he is not allowed to do so he may shut down and a melt down could happen. He has attempted to run away from school before. Please do not allow him to get to this point.

My son is very bright and typically learns new subjects easily. He also relates everything back to Mario and Sonic and other video games. If you listen to him though it often makes sense as odd as it may sound. Don’t hate the video games it is just another way my son communicates and expresses himself.

Our family does not use the word can’t so please do not use it in regards to my son such as you “can’t teach my son”. You can teach my son but you may need to rethink your methods. Look at his strengths, you will find a way. He can be taught.

Last but not least the most important thing to remember when teaching my son is to be patient.

What I have written is only a starting point for you. I could go on and on writing about him, he is an awesome kid and if you allow yourself you will learn about his greatness. I invite you to look at things through his perspective and learn how things are not always black and white.