I was hopeful we could enroll Beth in a cyber school (a government-funded homeschool option where the cyber school provides a curriculum, Individualized Education Plan [a document that outlines goals for special needs kids], hands-on materials, and courses over the internet) for Kindergarten next fall. But after speaking with the cyber school special needs coordinator, it quickly became clear the cyber school was not for us. The special education coordinator said that my daughter would need to sit and participate in live classes via computer for hours a day. And with the way my child learns best, in short sessions spread throughout the day, I knew it could never work. So, I said thanks, but no thanks. I took a deep breath, tried not to feel alone, and started thinking about life as an “official” (i.e. I have been teaching her preschool concepts, but now she will be in Kindergarten come fall) homeschooling special needs mama.
In the Minority
It is hard not to feel alone if I believe the common perceptions of a homeschooler. A friend of mine recently sent me this article on homeschooling:
Here are some excerpts from the article that were particularly striking to me:
- “The God-fearing, flag-waiving, gun-toting homeschool crowd embodies the American spirit of mutual self-reliance.” Well, that’s not me at all, except I think of myself as self-reliant.
- “The modern homeschool movement comes largely by Christians aghast over an academic establishment overrun by progressives.” I AM a progressive. I am not really aghast of the academic establishment, I just think I can give my anxious child more specialized instruction in a calmer environment at home.
- “Homeschooling represents a microcosm of traditional Americana and a rebuke of government meddling. Hence liberals hate it.” Yep, you guessed it, I am a liberal.
- “The homeschool community reflects a cross-section of Americans…” At least this fits me, because I am in the cross-section somewhere!
First of all, my experiences with homeschoolers have been positive (more about that in the section below), and I believe the above statements are sensationalized, as are all news articles. But after reading this, I did wonder just how much of a minority are we by not choosing religion, school safety, or school quality as a reason to homeschool. All of the census info is online, so this was an easy question to answer.
According to my state’s information (http://www.education.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/home_school_statistics/7428), and U.S. census data claiming that 3.6% of the parents say their primary reason for homeschooling is special needs (http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/tables/table-hsc-2.asp), I get that there are about 16 people in my county with children 11 and under who are homeschooling due to special needs. A small number indeed.
The Homeschooling Community
If you cut it up like I did above it feels lonely. But one thing I have learned from the homeschooling community is that ages, abilities, and even religious beliefs, intermix. Homeschoolers are all driven by one prevailing desire: to teach our children in the way we want them to be taught. I have been interacting with two closed groups on facebook, The Special Needs Homeschooling group and the Autism Spectrum Disorder/Asperger’s Homeschool Group (1), and the combined membership is close to 1000 people. Questions are posted, and then several people answer with very innovative, informative, and helpful information. Some people are religious, but those who are less religious aren’t afraid to say so if, for example, they ask for curriculum suggestions and they don’t want the emphasis to be religion. The groups feel very welcoming to me and the information I get from the group is outstanding.
There are many ways to homeschool, such as unschooling (learning through real life and the child’s interests), the Charlotte Mason Method (which emphasizes going outside as much as possible in Kindergarten), and various structured learning programs that mirror typical school classrooms. My most likely approach will take the best from a variety of homeschooling programs, which is called eclectic homeschooling. I am currently contemplating the right “curriculum” for Beth, but belonging to the groups above helps me relax and realize it is okay to think outside the box and to change approaches as you go. Also, I found a local mom who is homeschooling her special needs child in Kindergarten next fall, and we are going through our nail-biting decisions together.
As for social opportunities within the homeschooling community, there seem to be more opportunities as children get older. A lot of people start out in public school in Kindergarten, decide it is not working, then switch to homeschooling later. But we have plenty of weekend opportunities with our friends and their kids, and with families in our local special needs groups. Also, since Beth is developmentally younger in terms of social skills, we will continue to do preschool activities (play dates, music class, etc.) during the week days with local stay at home moms. That will work for at least another year, and it is enough for Beth right now.
So, onward on this homeschooling journey. I am not sure how long we will be homeschooling, but it will be at least through the next school year. One thing is for sure, it will be interesting!
Inbox me on my FB page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fumbling-Thru-Autism/102482513246303) for more info. You have to be seriously considering homeschooling your child to join the groups.