When Your Local School Lets You Down
What if you do all the right things for your child with special needs in public school: get them the right evaluations, advocate for them, create an IEP or other instructional guideline, and his or her school STILL does not meet your child’s needs?? This is exactly what happens to many parents across the country.
One of the reasons people often become “Accidental Homeschoolers” is because of either inadequate or mismanaged services at their local school for their child’s individual learning needs. This can take the form of a child with learning disabilities who is not receiving the additional tutoring he was promised, a child with giftedness who does not have access to supplemental studies that could motivate her, or a child with attention deficit disorder who has severe organizational deficits, but the school does not (or will not) recognize them.
Most parents in these situations begin by “doing battle” with the school. Creating IEP’s (Individual Education Plan), having multiple conferences with teachers and administrators, and even contacting their local school board may or may not solve the problems. Depending on how much time and effort parents are willing to give to this fight for their child’s educational rights, these struggles can go on for years – – often leaving the child still under-served and the parents exhausted and frustrated. At this point, many parents realize that instead of continuing to do battle with the school system, they could put that energy to better use by educating their children themselves. And thus, a new homeschool is formed!!
For more insight on this type of accidental homeschooling, let’s look at Victoria and Ian’s story….
When Your Child Doesn’t Fit The Mold
Our oldest son Ian was identified as a special needs child in pre-kindergarten. In 2000, he received therapies in his public school classroom. That was the first and last year of consistent school services Ian would receive in the following nine years of his academic life.
By kindergarten, public school was no longer a place of safety, nurturing or learning. Ian would huddle like a turtle covering his ears for comfort from happy shouts of his classmates. Only in the closing months of kindergarten would his teacher realize Ian’s ability to read lips and inability to understand what she said without speaking one on one to him. Her request for services was hidden for years. Before the Child Study Team, (CST) this teacher’s honest plea for Ian was scoffed at.
You see, Ian did not fit the cookie-cutter of special education programs. Contacting the state department of education’s office over an eight-year period was frequent and draining. As Ian continued to struggle with simple directions and comprehension, independent evaluations were scheduled. The district canceled them. Only with the help of a SPAN Mom (Statewide Parent Advocacy Network) would they be rescheduled months later. During one evaluation, a renowned autism expert would be locked out of the school so as not to evaluate Ian. Ian’s primary disabilities, Asperger’s Syndrome, (autism) and Auditory Processing Disorder were “accepted” by his second school district in December 2009 but appropriate programs were not offered. Alternatives like private schools do not have to adhere to education regulations. Tutoring after school seemed impossible with Ian sobbing under the kitchen table during homework and long treks to private therapies since kindergarten. For years, credible reports by reputable professionals were deemed unsubstantiated. Letters to lawmakers and the media fell silent. Two school districts denied the very existence of these disabilities, withheld records, and even tried to deflect Ian’s self-injurious behaviors and anxiety to our home life. It didn’t help when my husband decided to call it quits after our nearly 23-year marriage.
In the classroom, Ian was given a peanut snack despite his severe allergy. Head phones to support his district-diagnosed auditory processing disorder were picking up another teacher’s voice in an adjacent classroom, which would send Ian running down the halls crying. The gym teacher didn’t understand why he was melting down and growling over easy exercises. His first grade teacher blamed me for his “bad” behavior and difficulties. She refused to use his limited education plan saying, “He doesn’t need it.” “He can do it,” prodded his second grade teacher when he would get 90’s and 80’s. Ian’s grades would consistently drop to 40’s and 50’s in the same week.
Special education laws did not protect Ian. On paper, it may look as though schools have to abide by the law – – but it’s rarely enforced. As the state mediator once said, “There are no education police.” Principals and teachers ridiculed Ian for his lack of responsiveness and physical challenges. Five state mediations, advocates and attorneys could not produce an appropriate program for Ian. Years of being passed through the hands of untrained teachers and graded for effort rather than ability took its toll on him. Frequent vomiting episodes, repetitive behaviors and meltdowns highlighted our days. Ian’s self-esteem and academic growth deteriorated. Teasing from classmates turned into bullying and hitting.
When You Must Take Things Into Your Own Hands
Lost learning years coupled with Ian’s fragile psyche brought us to a crossroad that would change our lives. Homeschooling became our only option. The thought of myself homeschooling a kid with needs like Ian’s was initially, frightening. But soon, we had peace, stability, health and consistent learning for the first time in years. Thankfully, there was and is hope. But it was found quite accidentally and with a crash course in home school legislation and academic programs. One of the first Google searches for an interactive learning program resulted in Time4Learning. After checking out the demo, I thought this entertaining, educational program just might work for Ian, then 13-years old. And, Time4Learning’s low-cost, monthly commitment made it even more appealing as a single mom of two boys.
Who knew that lively characters like Jack Reilly, Nigel and Maxine would renew Ian’s interest in learning? It didn’t take long using the T4L curriculum to realize that things were going to be very different for Ian now. The lively characters that appeared in his language arts lessons became like friends we looked forward to sharing our school days with! Lessons on main ideas, idioms, (always tough for Ian) summarizing and daily math practices/challenges soon replaced endless paper trails, meetings and mediations.
When You Come Out on the Other Side
Some days, there are small victories as we move through the day with ease from breaks back into Time4Learning lessons in all his academic areas. Other days, we have monumental breakthroughs. For instance, Ian and I walked to our car after a visit to an office store. He pronounced, “I think that sales guy was trying to persuade you,” quotes in the air, “to buy more things, right?” Persuade the word much less the concept was not in Ian’s vocabulary until a descriptive, funny lesson from Time4Learning!!! A year ago Ian was writing me notes from two feet away that he hated his life. Today, Ian wows his brother and I with summaries of a chapter of a book, video or commercial.
I never thought I would have to home school to protect Ian. But thank God, it is an educational option in our country. Just like any parent, I was motivated by what was best for Ian’s emotional and academic life. Home therapies, support from doctors, brain exercises, changes in nutrition and supplements are part of our homeschooling program for this unique child. Gratefully, in almost nine months, Ian’s reading level jumped over a grade level. Time4Learning, along with these other interventions, have had such a positive impact on Ian’s life.
Love leads us to do what’s best for our children. Time4Learning is there for you wherever you are on the journey.