At the end of last year, we made the decision to part-time homeschool our boys this year. We were noticing, particularly with Tom, that whilst his standardised testing results (from the school and from therapists) indicated that he was a capable student, this was not being reflected at all in his classroom achievements. Although James is plodding along academically, he too has some specific learning needs which are hard to address in the classroom.
Both of the boys (like many individuals with ASD) struggle with auditory processing – how their brains process what they hear. Additionally, they are easily distracted by environmental noises from birds chirping, to fans, to the motor on the PC. The best explanation I’ve ever heard is that it’s like having several radio stations going on in your head all at once, and trying to focus on just one. How exhausting! Both boys also have comorbid ADHD which impacts on their attention, engagement and organisation skills. They both also have significant handwriting issues and sensory and emotional dysregulation issues. Both are medicated for Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Overall, James seems to be progressing satisfactorily educationally, however he has generally always needed at least 2 shorter days each week to keep his fatigue and stress levels low.
So now imagine that you are teaching one of my boys in a mainstream classroom, with minimal teacher aide assistance with 26-30 other students all with their own needs. It’s an overwhelming thought isn’t it? The load and huge demands placed on classroom teachers these days is just not conducive to good health for teachers and good learning for the children. But that’s an entirely different post!!! At this point though I want to say how truly blessed we are with the boys’ teachers and for the school community that they are in. They are an extremely supportive community and both boys have developed a strong rapport with their teachers and their peers as a result.
So … the plan was to pick them at lunch time 4-5 afternoons a week, and that they would then come home and we would complete a more individualised program focusing on numeracy and literacy skills. They both voiced that they wanted to stay for lunch play time so they could play with their friends and still belong to clubs etc which was lovely to hear and easy to facilitate.
So we are now one term in to our new schooling routine and it’s working beautifully. Because their fatigue and stress levels are lower, they are more actively engaged whilst at school. Because the instruction at home and/or through therapy programs is more individualised, we are able to spend time targeting areas of difficulty. We are seeing progress, slowly but surely, and we have had a much smoother term with far less ups and downs than usual.
Let me be clear. I’m not advocating that this model would work for everybody. I think that all children have different needs, at different times throughout their schooling. I think the challenge for us as parents is to identify these needs and then work out ways to meet these needs. I think the challenge for teachers and our schools, is to allow us the freedom and flexibility to be able to make these choices for our children. Some parents choose to exclusively homeschool for a variety of reasons and these families and their children also need to be supported.
We still have further to go on our education journey and the idea of highschool sickens me to my stomach. However, we are planning for that already and we will continue to make choices based on the needs of each boy. We are already involving the boys in this process by dialoguing with them along the way. As we venture forwards, we will work hard to ensure that we are always building a community of care around the boys, and we will work to develop strong partnerships with the school and therapists to ensure that the schooling choices we make for the boys are the best fit for them academically, spiritually, emotionally and socially.
Schooling – like everything else in life – is not a “one size fits all”! There is no one right way to be educated, to learn, to live, to parent! Each child is unique and as such schooling choices need to be made based on their circumstances, their strengths, their challenges, their needs. As the old Hindu proverb says, there are hundreds of paths up the mountain all leading to the same place. It doesn’t matter which path you take, how long it takes you to get to the top, or how much help you need along the way to make it. The view from the top is the same and each person will make it there in their own time. What is important, I think is that we choose the path that is best for our children and ensure they journey along with good people, great support and lots of unconditional love.