Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why I'm Choosing to Homeschool

Having recently moved to Texas, I agonized about putting my Autistic sophomore through yet another school change.  Seeing this news report this morning evoked deep emotion.
I look at the sweet-faced little boy and see, not only my son, but many similar students I have worked with over the years. I try to fathom what on Earth would possess them to use such vile tactics?  I can't begin to understand the thought process that would lead to the assumption that this type of "teaching" is acceptable.  I wonder how many people probably knew of the teacher's and aide's practices.  How long did it go on?  Did anyone try to stop them?  Did they go to the principal or the school board?  Were they brushed off?  Or did they believe this was "what needed to be done" for "those kinds of students"?
When I read the first grader had attempted heart was breaking.
He could speak, but he did not tell for a long time.
The teacher(s) and aides were fired but parents were never notified of the abuse.  This child at least should have immediately began counseling to try to ease the pain of his afflictions and taken out of the school district all together.  In his mind, he might not have realized the adults who caused terror could not come back to school and lived in constant fear. 
My heart breaks for this child and all those like him.
Working for a school district, moving around, and being very involved in my children's education...I know a lot of teachers.  When I shared the thought of homeschooling my kids once we moved to Texas,  I sensed a weird vibe.  And I get it.  Teacher's can't really be PRO homeschooling.  If we all did it, they wouldn't have jobs.  And they can't possibly think that just ANYONE can do it, or their  years of college and degrees would be meaningless.  So, I understand why they would be less than enthusiastic and minimally supportive.
But when you have experienced multiple districts, schools, teachers, special ed teachers, programs, aides, can easily distinguish the good from the bad....the ones that care and the ones that don't.  And when you are in the special education classroom as an employee yourself, you really get to see what goes on without the parents, or community for that matter, knowledge.  You see how IEP's can be "fudged".  You see staff's  TRUE feelings toward special needs individuals.  It starts to eat you up inside.
So, I chose homeschooling this year, and wish I would have/ could have done it all along.  This first week of school we are getting right to the books....we are LEARNING.  There is no week-long review of the "Rules" for classroom, assemblies, lunchroom etc.  They do this for all kids, to "re-teach" the ones who don't follow the rules.  Teaching staff believes if children are not following the rules, it is because they failed to appropriately teach them.  So they spend A LOT of time re-teaching.  A time your child could be learning, and chances are your child already knows the rules.
(I find supervision and follow through are more productive if you want a child to follow rules and expectations.)
I choose homeschooling because there is no one else who knows what is best for my child but me.  Many many teachers believe they know better than the parents and blame us for everything.  I want to decide when my autistic son learns about birth control; or if he is ready for an overnight field trip...and that doesn't make me a bad parent if I don't feel comfortable with it at the time it is suggested by the teacher.
I choose to home school so I can prepare healthy, organic foods and snacks for my kids throughout the day without them being constantly bombarded with sugary parties and rewards.  I want to teach them WHY we eat the food we eat and what it does for their bodies.
I want them to know MILK is NOT good for you, and calcium comes from and is better absorbed from other healthier sources.
I choose to home school because I want my son to have his academic schedule adapted to his ability level!  I have been arguing this for YEARS with teaching staff.  He is quite ABLE, but not always at grade level.  He doesn't need to draw six pictures of the solar system a day because the subject material he is expected to sit through is so above him he has no clue what anyone is talking about.  It is NOT acceptable to simply give him an A for attendance because they "understand" he can't do the work.  They should be giving him work he "can" do so he is not bored and he is getting something out of school.  Otherwise they are just baby-sitting.
I also want my son to have a real curriculum, not one that is the same every year no matter if he has mastered the skill or not.
I printed out the news story above to carry with me, so every time I get that look...."Home school? Why?"  I can show it to them.  This is one of the worst case scenarios, but I am not taking that chance again. 
After Hyperbaric treatment last summer, Tristen's mind was being open up to past memories and he was verbally sharing more than ever.  He told me he remembered his kindergarten teacher spanking him.  He said, "But mom...I was just a little boy!  I just wanted to go home!"  It broke my heart to hear my 14 year old, who was low verbal at the time, express such pain over something that happened so many years before.
The thing was, I expected something was wrong, so I  made it a point to be at that school as often as possible.  I signed up for every party and field trip and showed up unexpectedly with "treats".  He started throwing up every morning at school and I would have to pick him up.  He was never "ill".  I had a feeling in my gut something was wrong.  I questioned staff.  I worried he was being "touched" by someone or mistreated in some way.  No one had any ideas or gave any clues to what could be wrong. 
He was in the same classroom, with the same teacher and aide for first grade when the teacher broke down in tears at a conference and told me that she was a victim.  She told me that most of the school staff and principal was white and they were framing her for abuse.  They alleged she hit a child with a ruler, but could never prove it, even after an investigation.
Tristen new the truth all along.
I hope and pray parents become informed.  We WANT to trust our children's teachers so MUCH because the thought of having to leave them with someone who isnt' safe is inconceivable.  But we HAVE to do our homework and research and CHECK UP!  They aren't going to put cameras in classrooms anytime soon, I'm afraid.  If we ALL start to be aware, it will be harder to hide it from us and things will have to change.

My thoughts and prayers are with all our little loved ones who are embarking this fall on a new school year.  May God be with you and protect you and let us know when we should be alarmed.

Friday, August 2, 2013

IEP Goals

Over the years, I have attended my son's IEP meetings, mostly interested in what progress has been made in the past year.  I am curious to hear if his reading level has improved and if he is keeping up with his grade level in math.  I am interested in how he copes with the day to day tasks in his school and how he gets along with staff and peers.
Every so often, a  staff member would present a goal that didn't really make sense to me. I would ask questions and voice my opinion, but I never really felt like I was taken seriously.  They were the professionals and they knew better.  I would leave feeling anything but optimistic, and most often than not, that goal would remain on his IEP until he changed schools or professionals, and they would change it to something else.
What started becoming apparent to me as I worked as an educational assistant for children with autism, is that there was this unsaid understanding between the staff members that if you helped a child complete a certain task over and over and over again, and lessened the support over time, the child would do the task without support.  This is not always the case.  There has to be some sort of "desired outcome" for the student for this to work.
For example:  Child will learn to button and unbutton jeans when using the bathroom.
Professionals assume that with correct prompting, a child will do this task.  To me, it is as if they believe they can brain washed this if they assume there is nothing going on in their heads at any given time and they will just comply to any command if practiced enough. This could not be further from the truth.
These children, verbal or nonverbal, are not computers to be programmed.  They are real individuals with real thoughts and feelings....likes and dislikes.  The obstacle in helping them learn is that they may not feel social pressure to do something that doesn't matter to them.
For example: In the case of the autistic child who is expected to learn to button his pants.
He may have the fine motor skills to button his pants after using the bathroom, but he has no understanding of social expectation to do so.  Does this child care if he is wearing clothes?  If he is seen by others in his underwear or with his pants down?  If he does not, we cannot make him understand that is socially unacceptable.  Over time, with lots of patience and waiting, you could teach him he was not allowed to leave the bathroom and go on with the next task of the day until he has buttoned his pants.  This would be beneficial as a life long skill, but is there staff available for such a task?  If it were possible to teach this way, he will learn it, but what he has learned is that he has to button his pants to leave the bathroom, not that leaving pants unbuttoned or down would be inappropriate to society.
I remember an IEP goal set for my 14 year old son, during the first year of High School.  Although he attended classes and lunch with the same students he had since fourth grade, he still chose to eat alone at lunch without any social interaction.  The teacher put in a goal for him to sit with his others on his own and to strike up spontaneous conversation with peers.  At this time, he was only speaking to staff when he had a a question.
Yes!  This would be lovely!  To see Tristen being more social with his peers and having real friendships....but when you put in a goal as a professional, you should be thinking about how the student can achieve this goal. The professional assumed that in redirecting Tristen to sit with his classmates and ask them questions, he would just automatically do so over time.  He has autism!  Being social just does not occur to him as being important.  How can you MAKE him think that is important?  You can't.
Tristen is a very sweet and well liked young man.  If you were to tell him everyday he HAD to sit next to a student...he would.  If you told him he needed to talk to them, he would become confused and cry.  He would want to know exactly what you wanted him to say to that individual.  And if you told him, he would say it and then be relieved when the exchange was over and head back to his quiet spot by himself where he feels the most comfortable.
This goal bothered me because I couldn't figure out how to logically execute a teaching strategy so he could be successful.  That is a part of autism I can not change.  I can continue to expose him to the outside world to keep him from reverting too much into his own world, but I can't make him WANT to interact with others.
Almost a year after the introduction of this goal into his IEP, Tristen had made no progress.
This summer we were able to connect with some old friends.  Tristen had another little buddy with Autism when he was in preschool....he knew him a few short years before they had to move away.  It has been around 10 years since seeing his "friend", of whom he could not speak to during the time they had played together with their Thomas trains.  He was SO excited to meet up with his "friend", he ran up to him to say "hello".  Later, Tristen asked me how old his friend was, and I told him he should ask him.  About twenty minutes later, he ran up to him and looked him in the eyes and said, "I'm fifteen years old". This was his attempt at a conversation, hoping to find out the boy's age.
When we went to lunch, it was the first time Tristen had not rushed and fought to be sure to sit by me.  This time, he watched his friend and waited for him to sit so he could sit next to him.  They did not talk or have a deep conversation, but I knew this was huge.
Why?  Because this was HIS decision.  No prompting. No training.  No working.  HE wanted to sit next to his friend.  This was all Tristen and all his work leading him to this accomplishment.  I was so proud of him and the young man he is becoming.  His successes are all HIS.