Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Can I just say...

Individual, one on one teaching really works for my little ASDian.

I know it's not rocket science. I'm not going to win any prizes for my insight... but my kid definitely is.

We are about to finish our first term of Distance Education. For four hours every school day, Billy and I take over the kitchen table, coffee (me) and water (him) in hand, and we hit the books. It's old fashioned learning. The units are written by very clever educators for sure, but there's nothing innovative/post-modern/howard gardiner about this stuff. It's old school homeschool.

We do handwriting, and spelling. We do a unit of maths a week, sometimes two. We back that up with Mathletics, which we both truly love. Well, love is strong, but we get a lot out of it, and it opens the pressure valve on the constant handwriting pressure. We do news, and reading aloud. We do all the touchy feely-move about-y stuff too. Bit of PE, bit of the arts, bit of Human Society and the Environment. We've started a science unit, too. Twice a week, we meet with a tutor, and twice a week we go on a kid filled adventure.

It's a LOT of work. A lot. We need more than four hours a day to do it, and often spread things out over the weekend. Any more than four hours in a day and we're both a bit wrung out. Any less and we fall behind really quickly.

It's a LOT of resources. We have a 100 litre box on wheels full of pencils and art supplies and my great loves - the Post it notes. We need a lot of paper clips. We need to munch a lot of staples out of things and re-staple them a different way. There's a lot of photocopying. There's a lot of scheduling and organising (neither are my strong suit). We sharpen pencils a lot (bizarre that in the 30 odd years between my primary school years and Billy's, I don't believe I ever sharpened a pencil.) We use a lot of paper and above all, we use a lot of erasers. It sounds so American to me, to use the word 'eraser', but if I say we use a lot of rubbers, my American friends will report me to the police.

For all the resources and all the work, though, there is a LOT of payoff.

Billy's handwriting, in 10 weeks (actually 6 weeks of actual contact, but that's another story) has gone from completely unintelligible squiggles (think the patterns on a scribbly gum or the way your Mum plays Pictionary) to absolutely understandable. His little hands still shake while he writes, and it stresses the life out of his processing skills, but if he writes it, you can read it. We've even got to the point where his grip is 'three-pointed' enough that he doesn't need the the writing claw every time.

Billy's maths skills have improved out of sight. He still finds the abstract, non-concrete stuff hard to get his head around, but I'm rational enough to see that these are life-long challenges. His mind is moving quicker, his basic number facts are solidifying, his enjoyment levels are rising. Mine, not so much, but I have an awesome poker face and a large coffee mug to hide behind.

My sweet boy has inherited a deep love of language, and for that I thank whoever wishes to line up for my offerings (I often have chocolate in case any random deities are looking for a treat in a wooden bowl). He loves funny spelling, co-incidental rhymings, words that sound like other words (if I say homophones, I'm surely flirting with snickers from the cheap seats). He loves to write the way he thinks (in vaguely linked, very detailed, generally animal related sentences). His understanding of writing forms, and his desire to communicate in a written form have blossomed over this term... he's even voluntarily illustrating his writing, which, if I said was unprecedented, I would not be doing the miraculousness of the event justice.

And I hear you. I know that just about any kid would benefit from a teacher on tap. I get that. I really do.

But when the benefit takes a kid from being ambivalent, absent and incapable, learning wise, to at least able to give it a fair crack...? You've got to call it a win. And you've got to continue for a least a little while more. Right? Well, unfortunately for Billy, it can't go on this way.

Billy is enrolled in Distance Education on medical grounds, and that has nothing to do with the autism diagnosis. It is related to the impact his health has on his ability to attend school. The experts agree there's something, but they have yet to build consensus on what.

It's becoming clearer by the day that our beautiful boy is not going to 'get better' in the he-will-probably-just-seem-quirky autistic kind of way. He has come a huge way, don't get me wrong, and he will continue to grow/develop/thrive for absolutely sure. He has abilities and gifts for which we are endlessly endlessly grateful.

But his version of autism clearly runs deep, and has its claws dug into his body. It has clogged up his digestive system. It has ulcerated his oesophagus. It has worn down his baby teeth. It has cut connections in his nervous system. It interrupts his brain with fear signals and processing breaks that he cannot be distracted from easily. It makes his legs jig, his arms spasm and his hands shake. It makes him roll his head and his eyes repetitively. It makes him repeat the same words and sounds, without conscious control. It stops him from being able to experience the cries of a baby or the barking of his beloved dog without uncontrollable tears. It is not mild. It is not easy. It is not get-over-able. Not simply, and not quickly.

So, while we spend our mornings learning together at home, we spend our afternoons at GI doctors and neurologists and immunologists and psychologists - hopefully learning a bunch of other stuff.

As time passes, we must also find Billy a new school, because as soon as we know what's making him so sick, we must re-enrol him in 'the system' or homeschool without the supervision of the Department of Education.  This, in itself, makes the desire to see Billy's learning skills improve just that little bit stronger. Setting him loose in the noisy, germ-filled, bell-filled world of assemblies and desks and uniforms... makes my heart squeeze just a bit harder.

Of course, it could be the coffee doing that.

For now, we're sucking as many miracles as we can out of this experience.

In homeschool, there are no bullies (OK, occasionally I'm a little less tolerant than I could be, but seriously, it's hard to smile through the 10th request to finish the word or type a number). In homeschool, we can control the noise (no bells here, unless you count the oven timer telling us lunch is ready). In homeschool, there's only one person for Billy to have to understand (and though I know I'm a little convoluted some days, I am great at hugs and am often bearing chocolate).

And in homeschool, we have holidays at the end of this week. Can you hear the giant release of breath? Watch out, it smells like coffee.

1 comment:

K- floortime lite mama said...

you are AMAZING
hey - is there any reason why you cannot homeschool always ?