Basements and Blow-ups

This past Friday during one of our walks around the campground, Collier asked me if I would teach his kids the way Nana and Pop teach him. I smiled and told him of course I would. But as we continued around the campground I let my mind wander to the place that always terrifies special needs parents….the future.

As he gets older, he has definitely started to see how he envisions his future going. He now talks about driving, at what age it’s okay to have a girlfriend, and that he wants to live in the city with a house that has a basement when he grows up. This weekend he also told me that he might want to write stories to make money. He’s currently got an idea about a scary story where all the Halloween blow-ups at Tannehill come to life. Honestly, I think that one has potential; I’d like to read it someday.

Of course when I allow my mind to drift to his future, I’m so afraid it will be vastly different than the one he pictures.  He talks sometimes about getting married and having two kids. He wants a boy named Tim and a girl names Juliess. I swear when he talks about them sometimes, it’s almost like I can see them. But a large part of me knows how few people with autism are able to marry and live on their own. He has the biggest, most loving heart of any kid I know and I can’t help but wonder…..is there someone out there for him? Someone who will love him and help him navigate this world?

Collier also envisions himself working and living independently (specifically in that house with a basement). But I know that most researchers say that only 15 percent of adults with autism have full-time employment. It breaks my heart to think of all of the adults with autism whose talents and skills are being missed out on. Will my son fall into that category? Will he continue to have to live with us his whole life? Will he be deemed unemployable simply because of his autistic traits?

Everything we do is to prepare him to live on his own. We are teaching life skills like laundry, cleaning and cooking to help make him as independent as possible. Don’t let him know…. but Santa is going to be putting “Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Jr” under the tree this year so he can start learning good financial skills. I’ve even started talking to him about directions when we’re in the car, in preparation to teach driving skills in a few years.

But part of me knows trying to teach all of these things still doesn’t mean independence will come. And for me that’s fine. I’m okay with him living with us forever (especially if he can do the laundry and cut grass J ). What I don’t think I will be able to stand is if he is not happy. I want his version of his future. Not so that he can be “successful” to society, but so that he can be successful to himself.

I know the odds are small that the future he sees for himself will come true, but then again how many of our lives turned out the way we saw them when we were twelve? I for one am not an astronaut.  I refuse to even get on that G-Force Accelerator at the Space and Rocket Center. But I will continue to do whatever I can to help my son achieve his dreams for adulthood…and on that note we’re going this Thursday to find an awesome journal for him to write down his story ideas in.

–Amye

Blue Drops and Karate Chops

The past week has been a long one, with some highs and lows. My uncle passed away as well as a former colleague from my first career, who happened to be very near to my own age, so the week  had the potential to be miserable, but there were also a couple of bright spots – really bright spots.

The first bright moment was when I started teaching Collier and his fellow boy scouts about journalism for their journalism badge. It was nice to talk about my first career and teach young boys about the craft. I haven’t talked about or taught journalism since I moved from teaching high school to community college, so I’m looking forward to teaching this merit badge. The second bright spot of the week was Wednesday, when I took Collier to class day at our cover school, Valley Creek Academy.  

This is our first year at Valley Creek, and our previous cover school didn’t have a class day. Even if they had, we were too far away to take part. Though that school did have 4-H, it always fell on a day that wasn’t one of my teaching days for Collier, so I missed out. All of Valley Creek’s class days are Wednesdays, so once a month I’ll get to take him. This Wednesday was our first. With Collier’s abilities being quite different than his peers, I didn’t know what to expect.

After assembly, in which I was given about ten minutes to try and recruit some boys for Boy Scouts, we went to our first class, science. The teacher gave every student a plastic bottle and poured some water in it. Then, they added food coloring, and then filled the bottle almost to the top with vegetable oil. The last step, (or so I thought) was to add a half tablet of Alka-Seltzer. Magic! The kids were amazed as the colored bubbles rose to the top of their bottles, making what looked like a homemade lava lamp. Then, one boy asked, “What happens if I put both tablets in the bottle. Will it explode?”

He did. And it did.

The explosion itself wasn’t that big – just a pop like we used to make with milk cartons in the lunchroom in middle school, but the aftermath. Ah, the aftermath. Here’s another science lesson: Droplets of blue vegetable oil that go up must come down. Some of them, inevitably, came down on Collier and me. This would have been fine, except that Collier was wearing a shirt that we just bought a few weeks ago, and I was wearing my Boy Scout leader uniform. I hope Dawn and some stain remover will make it as good as new. Our second class was art.

Now, art is something that Collier absolutely LOVES. We have an easel at home, and he draws his own comic series, (“Collier Versus the Ugly Mama” is a classic issue) but his abilities are well below those of his peers. In the class, students drew self-portraits, with a line below the nose, and the bottom half of the page was to include a quote or statement about themselves. I was concerned that his drawing would be super sloppy (it was) and his quote would be super silly (it also was), but in the end, I just thought to myself, “Why so serious? Let the kid have fun.” I liked his drawing, even though he colored half of his face red, but his quotes were totally Collier: “I don’t like hot dogs! I like meatloaf!” If you know Collier, you know that those statements sum him up pretty well.

Our biggest surprise came with the session before lunch, where we had a choice  between cooking and karate. Knowing Collier’s athletic abilities, I was prepared to steer him towards cooking, but I let him decide. He chose karate. I was blown away that he chose it, but even more surprised that he enjoyed it. The instructor led them through some basic exercises, stretches, and a few basic karate steps and moves. Seeing Collier take a few steps and do a karate chop yelling “hi-yah!” made my day. He liked the class so much that I talked to the instructor afterwards to inquire about her school and classes.

After lunch, I had to go to work, so his Nana relieved me and hung out with him during 4-H, and she was impressed with the session and the plan for the school year. All in all, I had a great day with Collier at class day. We have never really thought about doing a co-op, but we may have to re-think that moving forward. Why not? After all, it wasn’t that long ago that we had never thought about homeschooling.

— Brian

Happy Fall Y’all….

…….okay, okay, I know it was 97 degrees yesterday and that most of the season we call “fall” in the south is really just summer with pumpkins and apple cider. But…..dang it is after September 1st so to me it’s still fall, and one of our family’s absolute favorite times of the year. Why is that? Because that means that camping time at Tannehill State Park has started. Each year we head to Tannehill right after September 1st and claim our spot for the Halloween festivities that happen the Saturday before Halloween. Yep, our camper will be set up for the next eight weeks. I wish we were able to stay there full time, but that’s not quite in our cards yet. However, we will be there as much as possible.

One of the best things about homeschooling is the freedom to school where ever we are. Over the next two months that might be in the camper, in our covered tent area or even at the furnace ruins in the park. Right now, our breaks will include walking around the campground to check out which campers have come in or moved out. But in just a few short weeks the best walks begin…..checking out how each campsite starts to decorate as we get closer to Halloween Saturday.

Our fellow campers at the park go all out. In the last few years some of our favorites have been the Beetlejuice site (complete with giant worm), a fire breathing dragon, an awesome pirate ship (with a gang plank) and a skeleton football game with cheerleaders sporting uniforms from each SEC school. We always love to walk and see how each site progresses with their decorating. This year we decided to count how many camp ground laps we do per season….I’ll let you know our total come Halloween. But however many we make, it probably won’t be enough to keep all the trips to the Sweet Shop off my scales.

We started camping around five years ago and Collier has absolutely loved it. Kids with autism often like routine and familiar things, and I think our camper gives him that. No matter where we park it, it is always the same inside and he knows exactly where he will be eating and sleeping. It allows him to have secure adventures. If things become a little too hectic in the park (and with thousands and thousands of people there the Saturday before Halloween, hectic is probably an understatement), he can always retreat to the familiarity of the camper.

Another thing I love about the fall camping season is that lots of us campers are “repeat Halloween offenders.” We know so many of the people around us that, in the slower weeks of September and October, he has a safe place to exercise a little independence. With his ever-present walkie talkie, he can ride his bike a little farther from the camper this year than last (still not as far as he would like but we’re compromising). And for the most part camping kids are pretty good kids, so he has made some pretty great friends over the last few years. He also has about three or four sets of “camping grandparents” who keep an eye on him as he rides around the campground.

There is so much to love about our fall camping season……incredible decorations, tons of bike rides, lots of conversations with camping friends, eating too many marshmallows roasted over the campfire, and of course the crazy fun of Halloween Saturday. But my favorite thing about it is seeing just how excited it makes Collier and how he loves coming and being a part of everything that is going on. As long as he continues to love being here, we will make sure he is here…..riding, watching, and just being a kid while he can.

The Homeschool Look

A couple weeks ago, just as my fall semester at Jefferson State was about to get started, I attended a writing workshop specifically geared for freshmen composition courses, which is about half to two-thirds of my course load each semester. The workshop offers a chance for English teachers from high school, community college, and four-year institutions to come together to discuss best practices. I was thrilled to learn new ideas, until my second breakout session began this way:

                Speaker: “Who here teaches high school? Raise your hands. Who teaches junior college? Who teaches college?”

I was shocked. Did this woman just say what I think she said? Did she just imply that junior college or community college isn’t “real” college? Some that I have told that story to have said that maybe it was a Freudian slip, but in my mind, that made it worse. Clearly, this woman didn’t respect  the two-year institution, and didn’t believe that the courses we teach are actual college courses, even though they transfer and are the same courses that she teaches. I should have thrown something at her. I should have shouted. I should have walked out, but I stayed. After all, I thought I could learn something from her – even if I didn’t respect her.

Still, it speaks to a problem we have in education and society, in which some people don’t see that the teaching we do at the two-year is valid.  I felt like I had been punched in the gut, but it wasn’t the first time.  I get that same feeling sometimes when I tell someone we homeschool Collier.

We’ve all gotten that look, right? When someone asks what school your children go to and you respond with “They’re homeschooled.” The look that says, “Oh, that’s fine for your son/daughter, but I want my kids in public school.” Why is that, exactly?

I think about some of the things kids learn in public school, and I’m not ashamed to say that my son gets to avoid them. My son doesn’t have to worry about getting teased or bullied. I don’t have to worry about him coming home and telling me the new four-letter word he learned that day, and we as a family get to decide when we teach him about sensitive topics like sex – topics I don’t think public schools have any business teaching anyway.

Public school is not for everyone, and I think there are some fears that keep many well-intentioned parents from making the leap to homeschool. They worry about things like socialization, leadership opportunities, and college. I don’t blame them. I worried about those things before we made the leap, too.

Collier gets plenty of socialization and leadership opportunities from church and Boy Scouts, and there are a number of other organizations nowadays that offer something similar. Most homeschoolers use a cover school for their grades and transcripts, and many cover schools also offer co-op classes, so when homeschoolers get to a college classroom, they don’t act like it’s their first time in one.

Speaking of college, homeschoolers can go to college. With their transcripts and ACT scores, they can enroll just like anyone else. I’ve seen a huge jump in the number of homeschoolers in my classes over the last three or four years. One of my first assignments in freshmen composition is for students to write an essay about an event that changed their lives and made them who they are now, and every semester, I have some homeschoolers, writing that the decision to leave public school turned out to be the event that changed their lives for the better, even if they weren’t the ones making the decision.

No more sitting alone at lunch for 30 minutes or worse – sitting down beside someone only to have the person get up and move. No more getting picked last, or not at all. No more having to take a different elective class because the one they wanted was full. No more struggling to learn concepts at the speed of the rest of the class and getting left behind. And no more simply working just to pass a standardized test, without developing a love of learning. These are all true stories I’ve read in student papers.

I also happen to be the Student Government Advisor at Jeff State, and we work with several other student groups on campus, and guess what? Every year, I meet an officer from another student group – one of the leaders – who was homeschooled. I’ve even had an SGA officer who was homeschooled.

Few things get under my skin like being discounted and disrespected. The words we use have meaning, and can have a lasting sting, whether it’s my profession that’s being put down or my own family’s educational practices. That workshop session leader’s words stung, and when I hear someone put down homeschool, I feel the same way.

But sometimes they don’t say anything. They just give you a look instead.

If you’re a homeschool parent and get that look when you tell someone, don’t get frustrated as I did when it was implied my classes weren’t real college classes. If you’re a public school parent, don’t give that look when a friend tells you they’re thinking about homeschool. After all, mandatory public schooling is a relatively recent notion in history. To both groups, I would say that homeschool is not an inferior education. I know of lawyers, scientists, and folks with MBA’s who started out as homeschoolers.

We all have a purpose and a destination in life, but everyone’s path is not the same.

~ Brian

Scores and Percentiles

School

I’m not sure any word strikes dread in my heart now quite like the word “testing.” It wasn’t always this way. When I was younger, I didn’t mind them at all, probably because I was kind of (ok…ok…completely and totally) a nerd. If there was a test, I was pretty much sure to pass it….and more than likely make an A. When standardized testing rolled around, I wasn’t nervous at all. And was sorely disappointed in myself if I scored anything below the 95th percentile (I promise it only happened two or three times). But then Level 2 autism entered my world, and with it more tests, ratings, and percentiles than I was ever aware existed.

Our first barrage of what I would call “real” testing occurred on Monday, April 1, 2013 and led to our autism diagnosis. I still have the results of those tests in one of our Evaluations and Testing binders because special needs parents never throw a piece of paper away. Like ever. Never. I stared at numbers like 5th percentile and IQ 76 and then at words like “below average” and “slightly impaired” and then finally the queen mother of all words, autism.

After that day, it almost seemed like we lived our lives in between the tests and evaluations. There were occupational therapy evaluations, speech evaluations, language evaluations, vision evaluations and physical therapy evaluations. And there wasn’t a single one we ever scored in the average range.

In fact, in the last few months we have had our most recent round of evaluations to start some new therapies and…wait for it…our scores have gone DOWN. Talk about a gut punch. This kiddo works hard every single day and constantly gives it his all and we go down. In one of our new tests we were in the 0.3 percentile….I mean really? Couldn’t just say less than 1? Had to make sure we got that exact number, huh?

I think those numbers are especially difficult for me to process. I know how hard he works and I see that he IS learning, every single day. He’s making improvements in math, diagrams a sentence like nobody’s business, and can even tell me what happened on the Ides of March. But somehow it never seems to be enough to budge those test scores. It had really started to weigh me down….until I decided to stop looking at the scores and start looking at my son.

Collier could be one of the happiest and most contented people I’ve ever met. He has a huge smile that he shares with us about a million times a day. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He wants to be everyone’s friend. He loves to hug and say “I love you.” There’s this myth that people with autism don’t notice others, but I’ve seen Collier stop strangers to compliment them on everything from their shoes to their dog. 😊 He has a sweet soul and a gentle spirit. He is fearfully and wonderfully made. He is a blessing.

His scores may tell us WHERE he is, but they don’t tell us WHO he is. And while they tell us we still have a long road ahead of us, they don’t tell us where the destination of that road is. From now on, I’m determined that he won’t just be known by one set of scores, but by the milestones that really matter.
For every Intelligence Quotient we get…….I’ll remember his Happiness Quotient.

For every total achievement score we get…..I’ll remember each individual advancement we make academically.

For every behavioral index score we get….I’ll remember all of his perfect smiles.

For every functional impairment score we get….I’ll remember each friend we make.

For every articulation score we get…I’ll remember all of the successful conversations we have.

As a special needs family, we may never be able to escape tests, evaluations, and scores. But we will allow them to only define what path he needs to take, and not who he is.

 

–Amye

Triumphs, Tragedies, and Tooth Fairies

What genius decided it was a good idea to tell children to put a tooth under their pillow, so that a parent could  creep in late at night and try to ease the tooth out, and ease a $5 bill in its place? The other night, with the precision of Indiana Jones swapping a golden idol  for a bag of sand, I did just that. Collier pulled a tooth this week and was excited about getting a visit from the old tooth fairy. We put the tooth in a baggy under his pillow, and around 11 pm, I became Indiana on an archeological quest.

Collier turns 12 this month, in less than a week, actually, so is he too old for such fantasies? Last year, we had pondered the idea of telling him the reality of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and of course that winged dental assistant. But we decided to let him have some more time, even if his typical peers would have already found out. The whole ordeal got me thinking, though, about how fast he’s growing up.

Kids grow up fast. Too darned fast.

As we were reflecting on his upcoming birthday, Amye asked me – how had I envisioned Collier at this age prior to our diagnosis and venture into Autism? It was a tough question. And one I’m not sure I can really answer. Is he headed on the path that, when he was born, I wanted for him? More importantly, is he headed on the path that God wants for him?

In preparing this post, I looked back on some thoughts I had written as an introduction for a cookbook we published to raise money for the Autism Society back in 2014, a year after his official diagnosis. Reading that essay reminded me of so many thoughts – good and bad. I remembered the feeling when Amye showed me the pregnancy test, and the elation I felt knowing that I would be a father. Nothing else comes close to that moment. It’s like getting your keys to adulthood, but without the operator’s manual.

There were also some painful reminders there as well. I read my own thoughts about what I wanted for Collier. I wanted to teach him to hit a baseball and imagined going to little league baseball games with him. Teaching him to ride a bike was also mentioned, and how I wanted to ride around the neighborhood with him, and how I wanted to teach him how to shoot a basketball. But the real thing I wanted to teach him was to be a better man than I am. I think that’s every dad’s dream.

I’d love to tell you that 37-year-old me was entirely wrong, and that I was able to do all those things for Collier and more, but that wouldn’t be the whole truth. It also wouldn’t be false, either. You see, Autism is a long, rambling story, with lots of little subplots and footnotes, but eventually, the tale gets told, often, with pain.

As I look back on the first twelve chapters of Collier’s life, I have seen many things that I never thought I’d see. I never thought I’d see Collier crying in anxiety at going down a slope in an innertube or trembling at a super slow ride at the beginning of a haunted house. I also never thought I’d see him homeschooled, and struggle so hard with basic concepts that it makes me jealous of typical kids’ parents. But those are all parts of his story.

His story has some triumphs, though. Despite my fears from five years ago, Collier did learn to hit a baseball, as part of a special needs team called the Achiever’s League that we play on in Hueytown. He’s pretty good at hitting now, but learning that skill took lots of practice and coaching from me and other dads on the team. He also learned to ride a bike, but I can’t count how many miles I ran around Tannehill State Park campground holding on to the back of his bike seat, or how many times Amye’s dad practiced with him. He sort of learned how to shoot a basketball, but we more or less gave up on that one. He did learn how to shoot a .22 rifle at Boy Scout camp. That counts, right?

Collier has achieved many of my dreams that I had for him, but it has taken lots of work, and lots of help from others. The old saying that it takes a village to raise a child is true, but even more so for a child on the spectrum. As I reflect on who he is and the help we’ve gotten raising him, I realize that he’s so much more than those skills I wanted him to have, and more than Autism. It’s part of who he is, but it’s only one part.

Five years ago, I had dreamed that Collier would grow up to be a better man than I am, and I think he’s well on his way. He’s a boy who wants to do the right thing. He loves unconditionally, and he cares about how you feel. If your feelings are hurt, he hurts with you. He tries his hardest on things even when they’re difficult. Like many on the spectrum, he doesn’t lie – he’s truthful almost to a fault, and I believe he would give anything to anyone if they needed it.

So as he approaches his birthday, I think about the young man he’s becoming. It’s not a fairy tale, full of roses and all happy times, but it’s also not full of sound and fury. I am proud of the man he’s becoming.

He’s growing up too fast.

I think we’ll hold off on the tooth fairy one more year.

–Brian

Vacationing with Autism

This week we brought Collier to Pigeon Forge, TN for an early birthday trip. He had made a list of all the fun activities he wanted to do while we were on vacation. He had lots of fun things on his list: visit a haunted house, play putt-putt, go indoor snow tubing, watch the water fountain show and go to WonderWorks.

On our second day of vacation we carried him to the indoor snow tubing park. He had looked at pictures and videos of people tubing and was excited and ready to go….until we got into the park. As soon as we had paid and walked in the doors….autism anxiety kicked in full force.

All the sudden what had looked like a fun activity was fraught with danger in his mind. How will I carry my inner tube? Is the escalator too steep? Will I go too fast? Will I fall off? What if I don’t stop at the bottom?

We had to talk through those fears at the bottom and thought we finally had it worked out. He continued to ask questions as we went up the escalator to the top……and then got scared again as we got towards the top. He was having trouble with his inner tube and the attendant at the top yelled at him and pulled him off the moving lift rather quickly. Although she was trying to make sure he was safe, it startled Collier and he just lost it.

So here we were at the top of the ride, with the only way down being sliding on the tube….and a crying, shaking kiddo. It took awhile to get him to agree to go down, but eventually he did. We got him on the platform and seated in the inner tube….and then the anxiety hit again. Will I go too fast? Will I fall off? Will I get hurt? Finally, we told the girl working the platform (who had been fabulous with him), to let us go. She did…and we went sliding to the bottom.

He screamed at the top of his lungs all the way down…but I was relieved when we got to the bottom; I looked over and saw A SMILE!!!! Great, I thought, we’ll have a fun time for the rest of our hour and we can leave autism anxiety behind us now.

Nope….it wasn’t through with us yet. Halfway to the tubing platform, it caught back up with us. He started in with the exact questions as before. What if I can’t get off the escalator? Will I go too fast? Will I fall off? Will I get hurt? What if I don’t stop at the bottom? It didn’t seem to matter to him that he had already experienced the ride….his mind was still trying to make sure he wouldn’t enjoy himself.

We repeated our same answers and reminded him he had fun the first time. This time with just a few reassurances and a quick hug, he was ready to go. Again, he screamed the entire way down….and again he had a huge smile at the bottom.

We had gotten there at opening time hoping that the crowds would be low, and our strategy worked. This was great because we got to slide probably 15-20 times in our hour. I would like to tell you after that second time everything went perfect, but if I did, I’d be lying. Every few rides our old friend anxiety would pop-up and we would have to go through the laundry list again…… What if I can’t get off the escalator? Will I go too fast? Will I fall off? Will I get hurt? What if I don’t stop at the bottom? But each time we answered his questions, reassured him and tried to continue having a fun time.

There are sometimes that I just hate autism, and when his brain just won’t let him relax and enjoy life….I hate it most of all. When I see kids around him having fun on rides, being able to play games, and trying new things without fear….it makes me so angry that he has to deal with this. When I look around and see kids staring because here is this almost 12-year-old boy crying over a kid’s activity, it just hurts my heart.

But…I will not stop pushing him to experience life, even when it is scary. I want him to know and participate in the world around him as much as possible. What I will do is stand beside him, holding his hand and reassuring him, no matter how big he gets. And when his anxiety face gives way to a smile…I will enjoy it more than anyone will know.

—Amye

Dad as Teacher

Over the summer, my wife and I went to a home school fair and expo, to recharge the old batteries and get some new ideas, and there were several break-out sessions aimed at dads. Excited to see offerings just for me, I signed up. To my chagrin, most were aimed not at dad as teacher, but dad as supporter, as nurturer or lover to mom, as dad stay-out-of-the-way. None of the sessions really focused specifically on dad as teacher. As it turns out, there are very few of us that help in that role. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s no secret that dads play an important role in the traditional household. I grew up hearing “Just wait til your father comes home,” as many of you did, and those expressions are still uttered in households where dads are present. There’s no shortage of studies that show the importance of dad’s mere presence, let alone involvement, on the development of mature, healthy, adults. But let me speak directly to dads who may be reading this: you play an immense role in your family’s home school as well. How so, you may ask? My wife’s the teacher / one who wanted to do this in the first place.

If that attitude is yours, shame on you. Even if you are not involved as a teacher, your interest in what your wife and the kids are doing throughout the day will be evident to your children. If you want your children to be excited about school, you should be, too – even if it wasn’t your thing way back when. Do I like Teen Titans Go!? Heck no, but I watch it sometimes and listen to Collier talk about it anyway. That’s my job. And so it is with homeschool, but how do you get involved?

  • Step up in the planning

You should be involved as much as possible in the planning and procuring of curriculum, lesson plans, supplemental materials – to the extent that is possible in your household. At this moment, my wife is probably rolling her eyes because I myself don’t always help in all those areas, but I do as much as I can. Even if you won’t be able to teach a single subject, your family should know you’re on board. Go with your wife to the Parent-Teacher Store. Sit by her side as she browses resources on the internet. Offer feedback and suggestions when she bounces ideas off you for the school year. Help her set up the official classroom or learning space for homeschool, although learning will probably take place all over your home, and maybe your yard, in the car, and who knows where.

  • Jump in and teach something

If your occupation has some flexibility to it (there are a number of careers that do, these days) and you can do it, I suggest jumping in and teaching as much as possible – ideally, 50% of the work load, but even if it’s just a few subjects, that’s okay. Offer to take on the subjects that you are really interested in. As an English composition teacher, I advise my students to write what they know, or what interests them, and the product will be all the better for it. The same is true for teaching. I once got an online review on one of those “rate your instructor” sites that read “you could tell he didn’t want to be there if the content was boring that day.” Guilty as charged. Some days, the material didn’t speak to me. The point is, if a subject is not interesting to you or not your forte, choose again, if that’s possible. You and your spouse and any other stakeholders who might be teaching your children need to sit down and figure out who should teach certain subjects. There are several other ways you can get involved if your schedule doesn’t allow you to teach, but that’s another post altogether.  

  • Be ready and willing to change

Understand that effective teaching requires flexibility. My method was to sit side-by-side with Collier and teach him for most subjects, but there were some changes along the way. With reading, initially, I would read the passage, then he read the same passage out loud, but we noticed he was struggling with that method, so we switched to him reading it silently at first, then aloud the second time. The changes won’t necessarily always be how you teach – it may be what you teach. Last year, we started out teaching fine arts, but decided to scale that subject back in favor of more life-skills oriented subjects.

Notice that in my methods, there were changes throughout the year. We are going to do more changing this year, as we plan on doing less sit-at-the-desk work. We won’t be doing less work – just less at the desk. Who says you can’t work on spelling out in the yard while swinging? That’s the beauty of home school. If something is not working, don’t be afraid to make a change. You may have chosen your content and curriculum and chiseled it in stone, but the methods that you use to teach it have to be flexible. All good teachers know the importance of being able to adapt, and homeschoolers should be no different. There are similar learning styles, but no two children are exactly alike, as you well know, so what works for someone else may not work for you.

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Home school Dad wears a different hat than that of regular old dad. When you are taking on teaching your child, the “wait til your dad gets home” gruff-tough-persona must be set aside. That doesn’t mean you don’t guide your children, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t discipline them, but yelling at your students to get them to understand the material won’t work – trust me, I taught high school, and I tried – there’s a balance in finding the right method to teaching your own child or children, especially if there are special needs.

You can do it, Superdad, and remember, not all Superdads wear capes. Some of us carry red pens instead. Just kidding. You shouldn’t use red pens. Ever.

~ Brian

The Beginning of the Journey

Homeschool. I’m not going to lie, prior to having a special needs child, I had never even considered homeschool. I was married to a teacher after all, and the natural order was to send your child to the local public school. In my case, it would be the same school I had graduated from. I had a plan for how everything would work: he would go to school, be the smartest in his class, everyone would be his friend and maybe…just maybe…he would even be athletic. Then the “A” word entered our life.

I won’t lie — we knew long before we heard the word “autism” that Collier had developmental issues. We never hit a milestone, other than potty training…thank you LORD…, on time and he always seemed more immature than his peers.  But I just always assumed if we had enough therapy (we did speech, occupational, physical, music…and on…and on…and on) he would eventually catch up. But by the time he was 5 it was obvious he needed more help than his preschool teachers could give. So I gave up my career, visited the parent-teacher store and started focusing on the ABCs and 123s.

I still did not see myself as a homeschooler; after all, I was really just trying to get him caught up before he started “real” school. I honestly didn’t think I had what it takes to teach full time…and the numerous tears we both shed that year seemed to confirm my initial thoughts.  So I dutifully became a full-time therapy chauffeur and a part-time support teacher.

So did I have a change of heart after hearing autism? Did I suddenly believe I could lead this young mind better than anyone else? Nope. I did have a moment of doubt when our school district said he couldn’t go to the school he was zoned for, but would need to be in a self-contained class (oh that I knew then what I know now…that would have been a big HECK NO). But off to public school he went, always on the bus because there was no way I’m fighting a car line. Uh-Uh. No way.

Our first two years of school were rather uneventful (although we did make the district move him back to his home school for first grade). Even though our year of preschool had been emotional, he had learned so much that kindergarten and first grade were not too painful. We managed to keep him up with his typical peers without too much additional trouble.

Then came second grade.

While Collier always had great teachers who really cared for him and had lots of friends, the pace of the work just started to accelerate beyond what he was capable of easily keeping up with. The amount of time we were spending in the evenings going back over his work and relearning objectives from that day just continued to increase. Somehow, we got through that year and he even managed to make the A-B honor roll that year.  That summer we did work for an hour or two each day to try and keep him from losing what he had learned that year. I just hoped and prayed third grade would be better than second grade.

It wasn’t. It just got worse.

In third grade we went from spending an hour or two in the evening, to working from the time he got off the bus at 3:30 until he went to bed at 8:30. He had the ability to learn anything you put in front of him…but in his time. And unfortunately time is the one thing you don’t really have in public school. It became difficult for him to continue in Cub Scouts, his swing set sat empty every evening as he worked inside, and he was always tired and upset when his grades didn’t reflect the effort he put into it. Our whole family was constantly on edge and miserable.

One Friday afternoon in November became my breaking point. I looked through his test papers for the week and saw grades of Cs and Ds on things I knew that he could do when he left that morning. I remember sitting and crying for some time. I didn’t know exactly what to do, but I knew my original plan was not going to work. Like everything else in our lives, we would have to forge a different path and do things a different way.

After that painful afternoon, I began to really think about homeschooling. I must have checked out almost every book on the topic I could get my hands on, started reading blogs and (of course) started a Pinterest board on the topic. **And I swear I will go back one day and read everything I pinned 😊 ** I slowly began to realize we could do this. I also began to realize this may not just be good for our family, it might SAVE our family. But now that I had convinced myself…. would I be able to sell my plan to Brian, Collier and my parents?

Brian would have to rearrange his schedule to be home a few mornings to teach. My parents would have to be on board because I worked from home three days a week, so they would need to agree to teach Collier for parts of those days. And would Collier agree not only to leave his school but now have 4 teachers?

I wanted Collier to get back a love of learning and be able to teach him when and where he could best learn. I wanted to be able to work things like life skills into his curriculum, because his diagnosis will mean a different life path for him. I wanted a one-on-one environment, so we wouldn’t be spending hours every evening working on homework. Finally, I wanted to be able to take whatever time we needed to make sure he really knew a topic instead of rushing through to the next objective. Could I get everyone on board?

The answer was yes, yes, YES. Brian and my parents were easiest. From the beginning they were ready to do whatever it took to help Collier. We pretty quickly all worked out our schedules and were excited about the coming year. Collier was a little more hesitant, but once he realized it meant he would be able to continue in scouts and spend more time outside…he was in. Once the decision was made, we never looked back.

Has our homeschool journey always been smooth? No

Have we made mistakes along the way? Sure

Would we do it over again? Absolutely

So today, if you are thinking about taking the leap, I want to tell you that you CAN do it.  And if you go into it with your child’s best interest at heart, I don’t think you will ever regret it.

—Amye

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