Thursday, February 17, 2011

If you thought about it, you'd throw up...

This week we started Distance Education with Billy.

Distance Education, in Australia, is like homeschooling but with the full supervision of the Department of Education. It's a test for all of us. On a bunch of levels.

First up, I have to say that my son is a truly amazing child. The Mummy moment will pass in a jiffy, I promise, but really...

Up until now, our Mummy-Billy interaction has revolved around food, poo and play. All with a context of love (foremost) and therapy (always in the front of the planning and the back of the mind).

Now, for four hours a day at least, it's flat out learning. Arbitrary, just do it, kind of stuff. His little brain is processing a mile a minute, and let's be very clear, his brain is not naturally built for that kind of action. His tiny fingers are shaking with the penmanship pressure. His core is quivering trying to hold his head and his heart upright and together.

And he's doing it. Each session gets a little longer than the one before. Each answer comes a little quicker than the last one. Each time he speaks, it's a little louder than the time before.

We have a long, winding, bumpy, mirage filled, pot-holed road ahead of us, for sure, but we're on it together. We're a team.

Now, I need to do a bit more teacher sucking up.

All you folk out there who work with kids on the spectrum, I take my hat off to you. Therapists, teachers, principals, special ed people... teacher aides in particular, you guys earn your money. This is not easy.

It takes patience. It takes flexible thinking. It takes a lot of eraser work, lots of copies of whatever you are working on, lots of fiddle toys, lots of quickly assembled concrete materials, lots of bribes, lots of breaks,  lots of promises, lots of heart and lots and lots of time.

No wonder schools are freaking out around the world. This is heavy duty stuff. One adult to one kid gets the job done. Just. But who can afford that kind of ratio? Unless you are homeschooling (and to be honest, talk to me in three months time when my increasingly limited ability to earn actual money is hitting us...)

No wonder autistic kids are left to amuse themselves when the rest of the class are working on group activities.

No wonder people raise their eyebrows and question whether all these kids being diagnosed are really autistic.

No wonder the potential of ASD kids in mainstream classes is leeching through the floorboards in schools all over the place.

If the will is there, and it's a big if, then the resources are likely not. Even if the funding is there, it's not enough. It's not enough pay for such a huge job. At least in Australia, it's not. It's a vicious circle, and I am not willing to let my kid get chomped up in it. It's wrong.

I feel the size of a mouse right now (and if you know me IRL, you will know I am not even remotely mouse-like). The world of formalised mainstream education is lumbering along beside me like an elephant. By hanging out in our Distance Ed mouse-hole for as long as we can, we're avoiding getting squished by those big grey legs. At some point, we have to venture out into the clearing again, and I'm hoping to hell we find out the elephant is a buddy and not the galumphy, insensitive, mega-mammal it seems like right now.

This gig is tough.

I can see my kid is waaaaaaay behind his same age peers right now. Comparisons between children may not be universally useful, but when your child is presented with the correct age curriculum and he is missing huge chunks of the most basic of basics... it's sobering to say the least. He has a very high IQ, and he has natural talents, but the gaps are gi-freaking-normous.

I made a choice, and it was the wrong one for his academic development. It was the right one for lots of other reasons but the wrong one for learning. If I was forced to drop him into a mainstream school right now, he would be lost in the churning foam. Actually, being the sensory boy he is, he'd probably quite like being bumped around by foamy water, but that's another story.

For now, I love how he's responding to 1:1 teaching. He's trying. He's engaged. He's proud as punch. We've brought in the services of a trusted buddy to help out. This buddy is a trainee teacher, but more than than he's a kindred spirit - a soul mate of Billy's, a careful guide. We're hopeful that will start the bridging process from the Mummy mousehole to the classroom clearing of the future.

We may have made another mistake, who knows? Right now, it seems like a slightly terrifying but good, safe, enriching kind of option, but... so did our last choice and that ended up in a giant pool of crap-flavoured custard.

And seriously, if you think too hard about that, you will throw up.


Dana Meijler said...


What a moving and honest account. I admire you so much for homeschooling. What a commitment and investment of love that is. No matter if this is THE answer or not, your son will benefit leaps and bounds by having this time with you.

We all make so many mistakes and will make so many more by the time we are all said and done, what is really important is that you are loving your children and doing the best you can for them, no? That's what I tell myself anyway. I have also made mistakes educationally but it is so difficult to find the right place, right people, right method that will stimulate your child's learning process. I sort of think of it like autistic children are like a lock for which you have a keyring of thousands of keys that all look the same and the only way you can find the right one is to put the key in the lock and wiggle it to see if it will unlock the door. You don't know them until you actually try them but you have to try so many until you find the right one.

Lisa said...

Rock and a hard place.
It seems that with spectrum kids, or just kids on the edges of average, you can have academic development *or* social development.

There just doesn't seem to be enough time in the day to do both properly. Bricks and mortar or homeschool - both have pros and cons.

The impossible decision is which parts of development are more important at which time. Do you keep the social development chugging along, working to get it to 'age appropriate', and let the academic fall behind, or vice versa.

We chose the social (mainly because I could not find a way to make home schooling work, practically), and boy has finished high school with some skills and some good friends, but no qualifications.
If we'd homeschooled, would he have started Uni at 15, but have no idea about catching a bus to the city to hang out at comic book shops with friends? Or would he have just skipped the 'nasty' side of social, and made friends in the easier environment of university?

Let me know if you find out, Val!

Heather said...

My hat's off to you. This is truly an incredible thing you are doing. I love my son but homeschooling him is not an option for me. I don't have the patience. I hope it all goes well for you.

Caitlin Wray said...

I hope this proves to be a workable path for you and your son Valerie. We all deserve that, at the very least - a workable path and support to keep us moving along it.

Even though I know homeschooling was the best option for us this year (given the need for Simon to destress before entering the specialized private school in the fall), I can tell you that I have made an appointment with my doc to have my blood pressure checked. Not kidding. I've never had a blood pressure problem (except for a brief stint with the pregnancy-related version) but my little guy is turning 2 in a few months and unlike Simon, he's hitting the "terrible two's" full force. Between the 2 of them all day, Simon's Aspergers and now OCD, homeschooling, and my Aspie husband and teenaged step-son.... oy vey. I think my health may be paying a price.

But we do what we have to do, right?

A tip: keep peppermints or chewing gum at your son's desk so he can grab and crunch/chew as necessary during his work. I've found this really helps keep Simon on-task.


Ro said...

We've just transitioned from homeschool to Distance Ed and Aspie teen has found using an egg timer along with a diary where he forward plans his subjects for each hour with the time periods seems to help.
Good luck!