The following is an interview I had with Lorri, a mother of three from Texas. (I’m not using her last name for privacy reasons.) Her son Steven (pictured), age 9, has Asperger’s Syndrome. See my blog entry, “Asperger’s Disorder: Basic Diagnostic Criteria” for more information about this condition.
1. How did you first find out your son has Asperger’s? What were his early symptoms?
“Language frustrated him, and I noticed OCD-type behaviors, like needing to travel the same route home, eat from the same bowl, and line up toys. There were sensory issues where his clothing had to be cotton with no tags, and he wanted to wear his underwear inside out. If things were not the way he needed them to be (or thought they should be) he unraveled and could not get himself back together. He had a look in his eyes of “coming undone.” I wouldn’t call it defiance, but more like not having things under control. There were lots of melt downs.
I thought something was “off” as he was so different from his brother who is 20 months older. A woman who specializes in Special Ed at our Local Parks and Rec approached me and asked if I minded her telling me what she “saw in my son.” I was happy to have some advice because no one else could figure it out. She suggested Sensory Integration Disorder and referred me to a Pediatric Neurologist who diagnosed my son with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 5.”
2. What are his primary symptoms today?
“Rigid thinking! Things are a certain way to him and you cannot convince him otherwise. For example, he will think that his friend hit him on purpose when they were jumping on the trampoline, and he’ll begin yelling at the friend to “Go home!” in a semi-rage.
He has a hard time understanding other people’s perspectives, and impulsive speech is a problem. He blurts out whatever he is thinking. He does not like to be touched or to be in small rooms. He does not make eye contact and adults often think he is being disrespectful.”
3. What difficulties did you have with Asperger’s and the public school system?
“I’ve had a hard time trying to educate teachers and staff about Asperger’s Syndrome and more specifically how to deal with my son. Several teachers insisted that he did not have Asperger’s, even though I had 3 reports from Doctors who are tops in their field. These teachers decided to treat him as if he were “choosing” his behaviors. No one knew how to work with him and most days he was in tears, vomiting or having diarrhea.
Second, getting services for my son was always a fight and then a fight to maintain them. He needed speech, occupational therapy (you could not read his handwriting), an aide (he couldn’t transition from classes on his own) and sensory integration therapy. All we were able to get was speech once a week. It was not enough.”
4. Why did you decide to homeschool your son?
“I attended so many classes and workshops on Autistic Spectrum Disorders, and studied books and medical reports. I had consultations with top professionals in the field of Aspergers for several years. I even began mentoring other parents. I knew the subject and I certainly knew my son better than anyone else. I was spending so much time asking the schools for services to properly care for him that my husband finally said, “You’ll spend less time just teaching him yourself,” and so I did.
The morning of the day that I pulled him out of public school my son said to me, “Everyone wants me to be someone that I am not,” and he was right, they did. Now he is able to be himself and he is so much happier.”
5. How did you get the homeschooling process started? Were there any obstacles at first?
“No obstacles at all.
I have some friends who homeschool and they were my guides. They told me of a website called Texas Home School Coalition that has standard forms for you to present to your district with your intent to homeschool. The site walks you through the process and answers any questions (for other states as well). I called my son in sick for the day, typed up the letter and sent it certified mail from my local post office. He never went back.
We then went to our local teacher supply store and bought the books for the required subjects for my state (Texas). Curriculum is so easy to buy. You can buy it in a box pre-packed for the given year (try Alpha Omega, Abeka, Konos, Sonlight, Oak Meadow, Calvert) or create your own by mixing and matching publishers. I use the book “The Well Trained Mind” to set up our curriculum each day. Some other fantastic methods are the Charlotte Mason method and Five in A Row.”
6. How is homeschooling going? What’s the most difficult thing about it? Do you feel it has been effective?
“Homeschooling is great. My son is happier, I am happier, and I spend more time with him, which is what he needs. With all the curriculum help out there I am never at a loss for what to teach. I actually get headaches wading through all of the wonderful stuff that is available to us. We school Monday through Thursday and attend a homeschool co-op every Friday for science class and interaction with other kids. We also attend Boy Scouts and martial arts 3 nights per week. Socializing is not a problem for homeschoolers.
The most difficult thing is when he does not want to do his worksheets. But it’s still better than dealing with my son being stressed out for seven hours at school, and then having to work with him on homework for two hours each night! Our schoolwork now takes about two and a half hours per day.
It has been amazingly effective! My son loves learning again; it is not a chore. He feels smart again, confident, happy, and relaxed. We can talk about so many issues that he needs help with, such as how to socialize, make eye contact, speak clearly, and interact in society as part of his daily work. We found out right after I pulled him from public school that he also has Dyslexia (tested at local Children’s Hospital). Fortunately, I can accommodate the curriculum to meet his needs.”
7. What advice would you give to parents of special needs children who are interested in homeschooling?
“Go online and do some research. Really ponder if this is the right thing for you and your child. You BOTH have to be happy with it. Find out your state requirements. Then join a homeschool group for some support and interaction. Research a curriculum that you feel comfortable teaching and that your child enjoys. Do not be afraid to change it if it doesn’t work out for you. Most of all, have FUN!
The best thing someone told me about homeschooling was that it was ‘like jumping off a cliff and realizing that you had wings to fly!!’”
Good Luck- Lorri and Steven