Words of “wisdom” on homeschooling an autistic child
Some days, I almost forget — ALMOST — that I have an autistic child. My son Grant will be 13 in August, and was diagnosed more than nine years ago with Nonverbal Learning Disorder, which many consider to be on the autistic spectrum. It is very akin to Asperger Syndrome, but with fewer of Aspies’ fixations, and with added fine and gross motor skill problems. (An EXCELLENT article, differentiating between NLD, ADHD, and Bipolar Disorder, concentrating on NLD can be found here — it’s a PDF.)
From the bottom of my heart, even though we have ongoing difficulties with Grant (see below), I believe he is so, so, so, so, so, so, so much better than he could be, as a 13-year-old*, and the biggest reasons for that are:
- The presence of God in Grant’s life, and
- We homeschool.
A reader just asked me a question on an old post. I don’t know if anyone really tracks comments via the sidebar on the right, so I thought I’d turn it into a full-on post. I’ll quote her first, then quote my response. What I replied is kind of sloppy; not as carefully-written as if it were a “real” post… But I thought it merited its own blog entry.
From reader Canadian Mom:
I am in Canada and stopped hs’ling my son after 3 months of grade 1, before that Kindergarten. I found a sweet country school to place him in with just over 100 students and he is just finishing grade 2. He has NLD, ADHD and DCD (developmental coordination disorder). I love him dearly but he is a handful, he’s not diagnosed with but I think he is ODD. He fights me and resists me on nearly everything. It’s very challenging, I’ve had to do a lot of personal growth just to handle him.
I did put him on med’s and his teacher thinks he is doing great at school in reading and related subjects, however math is his great weakness. In grade 4 they do the PsychEd tests so I am thinking of keeping him in until that test is done and we have a really clear picture of what we are dealing with. Ideally I would hs and if I have the guts to eventually I will take him out to hs again but I’m kind of waiting for him to “hit the wall”. He gets a lot of support at school and seems to enjoy it. However, because of his DCD he stays away from sports so is alienated from other boys at recess and lunch and plays with another girl who has some learning disabilities. I would love to know more about your methods for hs’ling your NLD boy. I want to hs my boy but am afraid of all the resistance I get and it effecting our learning outcomes.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
My really long response:
CM ~ I’m not sure I have any amazing words of wisdom. I will confess that with my five children, aged 3 – 15 (my NLD boy is almost 13), he is my most challenging on just about every issue. Things are so much more peaceful, and everything — I mean EVERYTHING — goes so much more smoothly when he is not here. So, I’m not saying, “It’s SO EASY to homeschool your NLD child!!” I do maintain, though, that it is most often better for the child. This past school year, I came VERY close to putting my son in a special, advanced program, like a school-within-a-school, very hands-on, very science-oriented, low teacher-to-student ratio. I gathered all the info, talked with admin at the school, and they were VERY supportive of me sending in our app. In fact, when we didn’t, they called often to ask why we hadn’t. But, my husband said, “We’re not going to throw him to the wolves.” Meaning, for all his brilliance, and for all the difficulty he causes at home, and all the literal heartbreak and distress I go through…. he’s still so vulnerable. I finally had to agree with my husband’s statement. It would be throwing him to the wolves. Socially, he’s just not adapted to a school atmosphere. I could see the huge likelihood of us sifting through issues with children, teachers, admin, just the “system” of school, and coming up bloodied in every way. Know what I mean? For all that it would be a huge relief for me NOT to have to homeschool him (and I’m being really honest here), I just couldn’t, for his emotional and physical health, do it.
Grant isn’t diagnosed with ODD, but I’m sure I could obtain such a dx. His operational outlook is, “I’m right, you’re wrong,” and it doesn’t matter who the other person is — parent, pastor, friend’s parent, policeman, whomever. He — deep in his heart — thinks that he is the most brilliant, best person in the whole world, and that his outlook is the only one right, and the only one valid. He’s certain that his ideas trump mine, and has no value, respect, or even acknowledgement of authority.
He’s not dx’ed with DCD, but he was in OT for YEARS due to fine and gross motor skill problems, and he is very uncoordinated. We’re more likely to call it PDD, here in the States, although I think that name was changed recently… But, same thing: He can’t do team anything. He’s eager and willing, but a liability to teams.
So. With that bleak picture, why do I homeschool? I still think it is his best chance to learn from someone who truly loves him and is FOR him. I can let him study ahead in some areas, and supplement him in areas where he lags. I can provide the structure and discipline he needs. I can help bring out his BEST and weed the garden of his heart to help his character develop, something that schools don’t really do; they just want kids to be functional within a classroom setting. I want him to be much better than “functional”. I want him to flourish. AND, while I will say that we still very often struggle with his lack of respect and his preschool-like behavior, we have had LOADS of break-throughs this past year, and he’s doing better in many areas in which I had previously nearly despaired. He is *healthy*, emotionally. He has lots of friends. Most of them are younger than him, but still, lots of friends. He truly loves God. He is eager and willing in so many areas, and is so often an encouragement to me. He TRIES in many areas. For instance, he’ll often ask me, “How are you doing Mom?” with a rub on my shoulder, and a soft face, and cocked head. Now, he’s asking that because I’ve taught him that people like others to care for them, and he needs to take time to be attentive to others. I can see him mentally go down the check list: Ask Mom how she’s doing; give her a soft smile; rub her shoulder; look into her eyes. Check, check, check. IOW, it doesn’t come naturally to him. But, in many ways, that makes it MORE valuable, because the things we’ve taught him — often repeating it THOUSANDS of times, to no effect — are finally bearing fruit. I can actually look at his future, and see some hope and if we can keep his shoulders pointed in the right direction, he’s not going to self-destruct; he’s going to be a tremendous asset to his future family, to his community, to the Body of Christ, and to the world in general.
Please don’t wait for your child to “hit the wall”. It’s so much easier (not that it’s easy) to practice “preventative medicine” than to rehab hearts and behaviors.
*Nonverbal Learning Disorder has the highest rate of suicide of all learning disorders, and it spikes radically higher in the teen and young adult years. I can’t find numbers on it right now, but I’ve read that the rate is as high as 60%. By the grace of God, and with the wisdom He has given to my husband and me, and through love and understanding, that WILL NOT be my child.
Posted on June 6, 2012, in Character Development, Christian Living, Encouragement, Family, Homeschooling, Medical Stuff, Motherhood, Nonverbal Learning Disorder, Parenting, Scary stuff, Science, The Kids. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.