We didn’t start homeschooling for the benefit of Bryce, my son on the spectrum. Our road home started when he was three years old and enrolled not-so-happily in a public two-day-a-week preschool. His older brother (who really needs a name here), had passed happily through a Montessori for ages 4 and 5, lost his love of learning at a different Montessori in first grade and entered our public academically talented program for second grade. At seven, he’d seen what school after kindergarten was about and was stymied at what it had to do with him. His father and I knew the public program was our last best option for reasons ranging from academic fit to logistics to cost. So by December, when our older was slipping further away in misery in the classroom (too loud, too long, too unchallenging), we switched gears and became a homeschooling family the following January, nearly 7 years ago.
Bryce stayed in preschool. And when he turned four, he started the first of two years at the same Montessori where his brother had thrived. Bryce thrived, too, although his social deficits were noticeable even in that welcoming, nurturing environment. Come time for first grade, we gave Bryce the choice: homeschool or go to school. He chose home. Each year, the choice is always presented: home or school. Each year, his answer comes with conviction and a hint of desperation: home!
So here we are. Homeschooling with Asperger’s. And with anxiety, ADHD, sensory issues, and a bunch of other little stuff that sometimes isn’t that little.
Most days, I’m glad we’re here. I’m always grateful that I’ve had the option, even post-divorce, to educate my kids in a way that works best for them. That’s what brought my older son home some seven years ago, and that desire keeps us here, even on the days when I’m ready to pack one or more of them in the car, immunization cards and proof of residency in hand, and drop them off at the buildings they’d call school if we’d made a different choice. Homeschooling is a privilege paired with responsibility for all of us, and I don’t hesitate to sing that refrain when needed around here. It’s not exactly a morale booster, but it is effective.
The decision hardly goes unchallenged by friends, family, and strangers, the latter who don’t know about Bryce’s ASD diagnosis and either think homeschooling is great or hold that their children would never listen to them and they wouldn’t have the patience anyway. Gentle challenging comes from those closer in and know how difficult some of our days are, knowing how much I struggle to find a way through Bryce’s defenses and worries on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps he should try school, they say. Perhaps he’d learn from the other kids how to manage social situations. He’d be on top of the class academically, and he’s enjoy that, they say. He’d do just fine.
Perhaps. Although I don’t think so. The thought of navigating the school system (again) with a twice-exceptional kid (gifted with learning challenges) still gives me chills, even seven years after leaving school with my older, also twice-exceptional although not on the spectrum. And while I could buck up and do it if we absolutely had to, I don’t absolutely have to.
As for Bryce? He hates the idea of school and completely has it nailed why he should never go: too many people, too much noise, not enough hard academic work. It’s hard to argue with that list. A room full of 30 other kids his own age means far more than 30 relationships to navigate. All the relationships between the other kids play into the dynamics of the room. Bryce’s social skills are coming along, but he still prefers humans in small doses (me, too). Homeschooling allows us to choose our socialization opportunities more closely and make academic time largely about academics, not about navigating relationships. His online classes allow some of the classroom experiences, like raising a hand and waiting to be called upon, without the noise and bluster of a physical classroom. Religious education class and karate give him some “live” class experience without the all-day of school.
The noise. I’m with him there. All three of us, for as much as we talk, don’t do so well in a loud environment. We’re introverts and prefer intense quiet when working. Come college, quiet places for study abound, and classrooms (labs aside) are generally quiet and orderly. I doubt Bryce would place himself in a noisy, crowded environment for word when the time comes, so this learning preference now should be adequate for his future needs.
His academic concerns are likely spot on as well. He’s a serious history buff and has been since age 5. Discussion about the nuances between earlier and later ancient Roman weaponry or comparison and contrasts between the falls of ancient civilizations and the current peril of modern ones is hardly elementary school classroom material, nor is Lord of the Rings standard fare in the 4th grade reading class. I’ve neither the will nor desire to tug both ends of the accommodation string, and without stimulating content in history, science, literature, and math, he’s likely to lack incentive to bother with the classroom.
“Besides,” he’ll whisper, “I’d get teased.”
He would. Teased and, likely, bullied. It’s happened in the warmth of our small, accepting UU church. It’s happened at day camps. He swallows it, unsure of how to respond, then explodes hours or days later, either at his brother or I, before finally bursting out, “How can I be nice to you when I was teased earlier!”
Why is he teased? For the usual reasons, plus some. He chews his shirts, doesn’t care about popular culture or style, struggles with athletics, and moves in the slightly unique way many on the spectrum move, especially when running. Did I mention his tics? The two psychologists who have cared for him blanch when I mention even considering returning him to school, urging me to continue educating him at home. But we don’t stay home because of their urging. We stay home because it’s the best option for now.
So we homeschool, and while we didn’t come home because of his Asperger’s, his Asperger’s is a mighty good reason to stay home for as long as he wants and I can continue to do it. Homeschooling isn’t for every family, and I’d never encourage one to jump in the homeschooling pool without a long look at the lifestyle (love it) and demands (high). As I always say to those who ask when we’ll stop and “let” the boys go to school, “It’s working now, and as long as it works for all of us, we’ll keep doing it.”