As you read this final installment in the Is Homeschooling Right for my Special Needs Child, what you don’t realize is that this article in particular was written out of order. I had planned the complete series and was diligently writing and scheduling them in order. Until I had a very bad few days, I thought…what better time to right about the emotional costs of this decision than when I personally am in crisis. You will be happy to know that this allows me time too to edit it…otherwise I doubt few of you would make the decision that homeschooling is the right choice for you and your Special Needs child.
Remember back in the first article, Is School Working for My Child, when I said that public school was in some ways FREE childcare. In that case, I spoke in terms of the negative implications of that for your child who may need more time, love and effort than one teacher with twenty-something other children can possibly give. But this time, we look at that same statement from the opposite angle…school gives us a break from the sometimes overwhelming responsibilities for caring for our ‘truly special gift.’
A couple of weeks ago, I had the ‘bright’ idea to take my daughter and meet her older sister at the mall for lunch, movies and some shopping. After too many long days and weeks cooped up in the house (bad weather contributing to this), I wanted to give my ‘special’ child a ‘normal’ day out. WRONG! What I forgot is that what may be fun for ‘normal’ children can be so overwhelming to the senses of some special needs children that it is almost painful. We have spent the last week literally recovering from my mistake.
I remember when I talked about homeschooling with Emily’s SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator), she was excited about the possibilities…trips to the park, zoo, museums; the list was seemingly endless. I had of course homeschooled my adult children too and fondly remembered the ‘field trips’ we made with other homeschool families…the bakery, the fire station, and the petting zoo.
But for many of us, those things just are not realistic. For one thing, travel is challenging. If you use public transport, your child may be in sensory overload even before you reach your destination. If you drive, you may find it challenging to manage the distractions your child presents while trying to pay attention to the road and traffic (my daughter insists on unbuckling her seat belt if left unattended). And taxis…well, the expense alone can make it virtually impossible.
The reality as I said are long, repetitive days seemingly trapped inside the same four walls with a child that while you always love her/him at time you may not like too much. Depending on the level of inappropriate behaviors you child exhibits this can be anything from sulking (I wish) to violence. I admit it…I have had shoes thrown at me today.
Mind you, in all likelihood, these are the same behaviors that your child exhibited when in school. In fact, until this past week, we had been virtually free of the major meltdowns…laying on the floor, kicking, screaming and throwing things. When Emily attended school, these were an almost daily occurrence because she was so exhausted and overwhelmed by the myriad of sensations she had endured for almost eight hours a day.
The cold hard fact though is that…each night when I put her to bed, I could look forward to seven hours of ‘respite care’ from the school…no charge. Now when I put her to bed after a hard day, I must mentally prepare myself for the eventuality that I will face another hard day of the same tomorrow…without any break at all. This is especially true because Emily’s medical condition (epilepsy) requires night time vigilance as well as day time.
While my intention with these series of articles is to encourage families of all socio-economic means to consider the value of homeschooling their special needs child whom the schools may be failing to adequately support, it would not be fair to you or your child to paint an unrealistically rosy picture. The homeschooling life-style is hard…even under the best of circumstances. It is never a nine to three thing, but rather as I said…a life-style. But for a special needs family, the experience can be isolating, overwhelming and even present physical dangers from flying shoes.
So having shown you…us at our worse…is it worth it? Do I regret my decision to homeschool my ‘special’ little girl. NO WAY! Like I said, the home environment and allowing her to work at her pace means that these meltdowns are less frequent, which must be a good thing for her and our family. I firmly believe (and other parents in my on-line support forums agree) that in the long term this strategy will allow Emily to maximize those talents and gifts that I recognize in my child…and learn to manage/compensate/self-sooth those challenges that she would face…in school, at home or in the ‘real’ world.
But homeschooling, like marriage and parenthood itself, is not a decision to be taken lightly. I hope that this series of articles will help you and your family to make an informed decision that is best for you and your child. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.