If anyone had told me, back in 1998 when Ryan was diagnosed,
that nearly ten years later I would be educating him at home, I would have
thought they were nuts. Home education
was unknown to me at that time and even after hearing about it and liking the
idea of it, it took me a while to come to the conclusion that I could, in fact,
be the best educator for my disabled child.
This is a radical idea. We are conditioned by society to think that children, disabled ones in
particular, are missing out on something if they are not being tended to by an
expert. That is why there are a slew of
books available for new parents, parents of toddlers, parents of school age
children ~ right up to parents of children who are parents. All of these tomes are written by experts and
their purpose is not only to share knowledge but to make the parent fully aware
that an expert is clearly needed to help such inept sleps raise this child.
When a child receives a diagnosis that means he will require,
to whatever degree, lifetime assistance, the experts are there. They come in
the form of psychologists; psychiatrists; occupational, speech and physical
therapists; special educators, early childhood specialists; developmental
pediatricians; nuerologists; endocrinologists, audiologists; and a variety of
other “ologists” who all know what you should be doing. Often their advice is
conflicting, immoral or just plain silly. Sometimes it is useful;
helpful; kind and compassionate. Always
it should be taken for what it is worth. The words of a person who does not
really know your child, does not have a vested interest in their success as a
human being and certainly does not love your child. They have degrees, they
have paradigms, they have a method and they have statistics but they have no
interest in your child serving the will of God or of gaining eternal salvation.
Keeping this in mind, it is not difficult to see that
educating at home might be the best situation for your autistic child. The four “Rs” reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic
and religion are more likely to be absorbed in the least stressful environment
your child is used to. Often, even the
best special ed class is too noisy or distracting for an autistic person to be
able to focus. There is also the near
certainty that the child will begin to pick up the abnormalities of other
children in the class and begin to make them part of their stimming
activities. This is not going to help
the child learn to exist in the world.
So you are going to bring the child home and teach him in
the most loving environment possible. You are going to emulate the Blessed Mother and be gentle and kind and
provide for all of his needs. It’s going to be beautiful and perfect and he’s
going to recover from all of this loving care.
learn how to teach to that learning style. The child will learn how to learn
from you as both teacher and mother.
This will be an ongoing process that will take the rest of your lives to work
out. There will be no quick fix and when
you first begin you will learn far more than he will.
How will you do this?
pray. I say this knowing a lot of people
will immediately skip down looking for the “real” information. The nuts and
bolts type of stuff. Please let me tell
you that if you are going to school a child who has learning challenges then
your first activity of the day needs to be getting on your knees and asking for
help. Every. Single. Day. Sometimes two
or three times. You are going to need
support and guidance and there is no better source than the Heavenly Father who
gave you this child to begin with. He knows what you are trying to do and why
and it is only with His loving hand guiding you will this be successful.
I have a great devotion to the Sorrowful Mother. It began a few years ago when my parish began having a Mass on the Feast of the Sorrowful Mother for all of the special needs and chronically ill children in the parish. I was asked to participate by reading a meditation of one of the seven sorrows of Mary prior to Mass beginning.
It is comforting to think that Our Heavenly Mother shared our burdens in that her child’s future was uncertain to her. She knew that there would be great sorrow and she persevered with trust in God and great love for Him and His plan for her. I try to do that.
I fail on a regular basis but I’m in there trying, everyday.
The next thing you really need to do is set out a few simple
goals. By simple I don’t mean easy. I
mean in as few words as possible list out a maximum of five goals for the child
to accomplish by whatever date you think is reasonable. This list is not necessarily what you share
with the school district when doing your reporting. It is not the list you
announce to the family when you break the news that you will be homeschooling.
It is your private goal list. For a young child the list might look
something like this:
three months my goals for Johnny are:
be able to sit still for 15 minutes
be able to count to 50 without assistance
be able to recognize and repeat the alphabet
be able to write his name
As you can see this is a pretty basic list. It’s short and it is doable. To take the four
things and divide them up over an hour a day is not too onerous on the child or
on mom. You might accomplish all of
these things very quickly, requiring a new list (yippee!) or it may take two,
three, four times as long as you thought it would. No matter. You’re both learning here. And
believe it or not, it will get easier. As you learn the learning style that best suits the child you will find
ways that help him learn and adapt much more quickly and less painfully.
Next post will be about learning styles.
Oh, Mary Ellen ~ I hardly have the words to express my gratitude to you for this post. I have printed it out to read (and re-read), especially as I prepare for Earlybird’s first official year of learning at home. Thank you for these wise and wonderful words – I cannot wait to hear more. 🙂
Mary Ellen, thank you for this. I wait eagerly for your next posts. I especially love “…when you first begin you will learn far more than he will”.
Beautifully done, Mary Ellen, I am just embarking on homeschooling Christina, who has Down syndrome, and have gotten a LOT of flack from the school officials. Not that I didn’t expect it, but you face down a roomful of scowling experts and see how secure you feel afterward!
You have given me hope, and I’m going to link to this post, so I can come and re-read it when necessary!
Rachel May says
Beautiful! I came to see the infamous typos (could it be as bad as she said?), but what I found was uplifting, shining, good, holy and true. Thank you for enticing me here and then giving me so much more than I expected!
Lindsey @ enjoythejourney says
Very, very well written. thank you.
My special needs kiddo is 4 and we’ll be wading into kindergarten this upcoming year. Slowly, but surely we’ll do our best!
This post should be required reading for anyone beginning to homeschool a special needs child. I wish I had known when I started out how much prayer would help! But of course I’m still learning, too. Thanks for writing this. 🙂
Hello! I have been reading your blog since I read about Ryan’s death on the 4real learning boards. My 5yo son was diagnosed with autism yesterday. We suspected it back when I found your blog, and I would read about Ryan and study his face, looking for some kind of clues there that would tell me more about my own son. I know that sounds really silly, but there it is. Thank you for these posts.We are trying to decide whether we should homeschool our son. We homeschool our older two and always intended on homeschooling this child, but now we are being strongly discouraged from doing so. I’m not sure what we are going to do, but I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your series.