This article seeks to explain our rationale for choosing to homeschool our SPD child, to highlight our overall approach, and to provide insight into the experience itself.
From the moment he came out, he was different. Not different in his preferences, or his favorite brand of cereal. Different in the way he experiences the world. He didn’t see a plane, he saw an AIRBUS A380. He didn’t just see a construction truck, he saw a “belt-driven bucket excavator.” We’re talking about a boy who said “helicopter” at age one, and kept a serious face for most of his baby and toddler years.
Yes, in so many marvelous and inspiring ways, he is different. So naturally, when it came time to decide how to provide him a free and fair education, we chose something different.
Sensory Processing Disorder kids are often on the autism spectrum, are usually highly intelligent, and often struggle to stay focused. The symptoms associated with how they process sensory data falls on a spectrum that spans from minor discomfort to excruciating revulsions. It is paramount to present learning material in a manner that is visible through the lens in which they view the world. The comfort in knowing that he is with us, and receiving the best, most individual attention possible, is what drives us.
At a brick and mortar school, our high-functioning son would have been mainstreamed, without the need for a heavy ESE schedule. His teachers would have been responsible for adaptations and accommodations based on his IEP, and believe me, I would have been residing in their hindquarters to be sure they were doing their best.
But would his hand-flapping, “stimming,” and tendency to mimic people’s actions and words be fodder for bullies? If a teacher erased the whiteboard, he might have stood up to begin following her hand motions with his. Would his teacher snap, or humiliate him? Would the other students not be granted the time they deserved because the teacher was so focused on correcting him? Would the sound of the bell cause him to wince or his heart to race?
Side note: It took us a while, but we found the Best Toys For Sensory Processing Disorder, that actually help with his stimming a great deal.
All of these scenarios swirled around in our minds as we chose to keep him home.
After spending eight years in the public school system as a teacher, I saw how special needs children were handled. Some were handled extremely well, with dedicated caseworkers who made sure their needs were met. Parents of those who did well were very active in the school. They were there on a regular basis, checking in, attending meetings, and generally rubbing elbows with the administration. This kind of involvement helped to ensure that if there were cracks, their child was not slipping through them.
Sadly, for children in lower income, underperforming schools those ideals just aren’t in place. There, many special needs children are handled by underpaid, overworked staff members and teachers, who often rode the turnover merry-go-round, a problem that plagues our public education system. Many were young and inexperienced, some took the jobs because they were the only positions left to be filled. Their parents were often struggling with raising children as single parents, and working multiple jobs. They didn’t have the luxury to pitch a tent or to helicopter behind their children at the school site.
So we buckled down and did our research. We spoke to his therapists, doctors, and neurologists, and we learned how to decode his behavior and read his queues, but most importantly, we LISTENED to him. On those tough days where he can’t gather his thoughts, he isn’t forced into an eight hour day away from us. We can put the books aside, and embrace him when he needs us most. The best teacher in a classroom of thirty can’t hold a candle to even a mediocre homeschool parent who sits one-on-one with their child. After all, individual time is the Mecca that many teachers yearn for.
When other parents hear about our choice, the dirty myth that homeschoolers are not socialized adequately enough flies at us like a poison blow-dart. But just like a ninja, we side step it and catch it in mid-air.
Yes, all children, but especially those who struggle to decode what is occurring around them, need social exposure. Otherwise, what will they do when it’s time to strike out on their own? They need to understand the complexities of relationships, trust, hurt feelings, triumphs and tragedies. BEHOLD the power of homeschool coops and groups.
Our group is wonderful in so many ways. It’s diverse, it’s zany, it’s large, and it’s loving. We go on huge group campouts, we have weekly park days, and we have weekly group lessons. There are easily 100 kids involved. They have their inner circles and cliques, but they intermingle and are part of a larger group that is growing up together, just like a generation in a standard school system. I’ve never seen such acceptance in a group as diverse as ours. In a given week, our son is with his friends multiple times, and they are learning and taking in the world together.
Homeschooling Sensory Processing Disorder kids is not easy. You are their caregiver, teacher, caseworker, and parent all rolled into one. With the proper effort, it can be done.