I was homeschooled for a few years off and on as a child. My parents used various methods and curricula (or no curricula at all), mixed in with various schools, the gifted program, moving around to new schools and programs–lather, rinse, and repeat. I swore that I would never homeschool my child. I would go crazy. I wanted maybe two children, tops, and they would go to school so I could catch a break. Homeschooling moms were crazy.
Well, I can’t say the last sentence is wrong! Some days I do feel absolutely insane. Sign me up for the loony bin. But we are doing what is best for our family, which didn’t turn out exactly as I had designed it in my head as a teenager.
My oldest child was born while I was in college and working full-time, trading shifts with hubby. My daughter, The Sponge, was adorable, charming, sweet, and we realized we really wanted more. So we had another shortly thereafter, giving us two girls two years apart.
That second girl, The Drama, was an extremely challenging babe. She ended up in Early Intervention, where she received therapy for severe sensory issues, speech and communication issues, and hearing issues from hidden/symptomless ear infections. So when The Drama, my wild child, began to surpass her elder sister in areas of self-control, attention span, ability to sit, ability to listen to anything read aloud, and more, I realized that perhaps The Sponge wasn’t quite on a normal developmental track.
The older she grew, the more pronounced her issues became. The children around her grew, matured, and settled. She did not. My visiting parents commented it was a miracle she was still alive. At 5.5 years, she was still running in front of cars in the street. She ran off wherever and whenever the fancy struck, honestly seemed not to hear people speaking at all; she literally seemed to have a disconnect between her brain and her body. In the moment, she was unable to control herself in any way, even if it meant putting her life in obvious and grave danger. The filter between “what I want to do” and “what I should do/reality/safety/rules” seemed to be completely missing.
She was even unable to handle her once-a-week 50-min Sunday School class without getting in trouble. We tried diet changes, supplements like omega-3 oils, and routines. She continued endangering her own life. When even my friend, a super-hippie, energy-work lady, recommended I take her to see a doctor, I was more than ready. At least it wasn’t just me!
During these formative years, The Sponge maintained a strange relationship with learning. She would hide in the back room, grab the workbooks I had bought for fun at the thrift store, and work through pages and pages and pages and pages without stopping. She could draw for 8 hours straight, but not sit still for two minutes for an actual lesson without nearly going insane. She would literally cry if an audiobook was turned on. She read on her own at three, but would cry and run away if I tried to teach her phonics. She adored logic, infinity, and negative numbers, but couldn’t add and had no grasp of place value. The Sponge was capable of upper elementary science as a preschooler, drank it in like, well, a sponge, and would chatter away about advanced details of anatomy and physiology.
So, how do YOU think school went for her?
First she went to preschool for 2.5 years, thanks to the generosity and love of the nursery school teacher at our church. Preschool was two hours of art, playtime, snack, and behavioral expectations aimed at children younger than she was, in a group of 4-6 children. That she could handle. Usually. She also rattled off constant questions to the teacher on why things worked they way they worked, why the crow was black, on and on and on. In such a small group with such young children, that was fine. She had a late birthday, so she was in preschool and half homeschooled for her kindergarten year (age five), simply because she couldn’t go into a school at her age.
When she was finally old enough for kindergarten, I signed The Sponge up for a multi-sensory charter school. It sounded fabulous on paper. Yet despite being a charter school, the academics were the opposite of rigorous. The packet she was to complete by the end of the year? Apart from knowing her address and phone number, she could have finished the entire thing on her first day–if she could have sat still long enough to fill in more than a few lines at a time, which she couldn’t. She was still at a preschool level of attention and control.
She had a long bus ride(starting at 6:45am!) to a place where she already knew what they were learning, and she was bored out of her mind. This does not help a hyperactive kid, by the by. Before the end of the first week, she was lying and faking sick to try and avoid school. In kindergarten. The fun one.
After many fruitless attempts to contact the (hypothetical) school psychologist, I finally pulled The Sponge from that school. I found a charter school that offered one day a week of all of their fine arts programs to homeschoolers. They were happy to place her with her age peers in first grade for the day. I enrolled The Sponge there and she went once a week for the entire year. She still lied and threatened in order to avoid going in the mornings, because in her words, “I HATE SITTING STILL!” but I thought one day a week was worth it. It did not teach her to sit still, or improve her mental functioning in any real way, but she drew, sang, learned, made friends, and always came home cheerful, which was a welcome change. After that year, though, I knew a traditional school setting was not in the cards for this girl.
Her learning was so asynchronous as to drive a normal person insane. She was five grade levels apart in various areas. She could not move past one-step math problems. She could not hold the first number in her head while she did the second part. Making ten? Adding past one place value? Not possible. Minute anatomical details and high-level science? Easy. This coincided with the recommendation of similarly anti-medication-minded friends to seek help for her issues before she got herself killed through sheer inattention to the world around her.
At an assessment at the pediatrician, she scored extremely high for ADHD and we began Adderall. The change was immediate. She was The Sponge, but with access to her brain. She could pause in that split second and make a choice; for the first time in her life, she could actually control her actions. She could hold numbers in her head, learned place value, learned how to write properly, and shot ahead in reading over the next year. Understanding her condition, her Sunday School teachers allowed her to color in class, which improved her behavior and her ability to answer questions tremendously. That year I homeschooled, and she learned and thrived.
Something else was still wrong, however. It was indefinable, but something was still not right in her brain. Things improved, but only partially. We regularly had to up the dosage of her medication, as it seemed to lose its efficacy. Tics began to show up and increased in prevalence. There was something else just…off in her thoughts and behavior. The pediatrician recommended a full evaluation by a professional.
Extensive testing found the missing pieces. The Sponge was diagnosed with a combination of Asperger’s, ADHD-Combined, and anxiety, plus Tourette’s. That was it. Asperger’s was the big missing piece in the equation. Her medication was switched to a non-stimulant, which reduced her tics and insomnia, plus an anti-anxiety/anti-tic medication that also boosts the effectiveness of ADHD medication. Two small pills, no stimulants. Elegant.
As it was a non-stimulant, the medicine took months to build to effectiveness. Thankfully it was summer, and I could send The Sponge out with her sister to play with friends, a new occupation once the medication began working–previously she had no interest in playing with actual people, only herself and her own games and experiments. In the period between stopping the stimulant and getting the non-stimulant up to an effective range, I was the parent of a hyperactive 2-year-old (ADHD Mode) or 30-year-old (Asperger’s/Anxiety Mode) in an 8-year-old’s body.
The medication is balanced now and she is capable of schoolwork again. The grade levels of her subjects are growing closer to normal, the asynchronous gaps shrinking. She is in a 13-week social skills program. Initially we all thought this program would prepare her for traditional school. However, as the weeks have gone by, I’ve seen how holding it together for the several-hour program takes all of her self-control, how she loses it when she comes home, how her anxiety spikes afterwards, and how she obsesses and over-analyzes the various parts of the program and every person in it. She could possibly manage to follow the rules and sit in a school setting next year, but it would take every ounce of her self-control and she would implode from the pressure.
In addition, she has very slow processing speed, so the work itself, if she could pay attention to it, would take her twice as long as everyone else. She would be doing homework the entire evening. Homeschooling is generally much more efficient than public school and can be completed in a fraction of the time, thanks to a lack of any busywork or crowd control or waiting for others. With The Sponge, we need a full school day of time to finish her work in this one-on-one setting. She would never manage to get it finished in a distracting environment where she is using every ounce of energy to sit still, remember the rules, follow the rules, plus not yell or blow her nose on her shirt or cry under her desk. She is thriving in homeschool: learning, closing gaps, and expanding her horizons. Homeschool is the best place for her right now. (She will be in a drama class with PS kids next year, though. She always needs some social practice!)
So, my kid is one of those Weird Homeschooled Kids. However, she would be the Weird Miserable Bullied Public School Kid or the Weird Miserable Bullied Charter School Kid if we didn’t homeschool. You can’t change Weird, but you certainly can tailor an education and life experience to Weird!
Faith–Faith is a highly distractable mother of four. She believes in doing what is best for each child and has experimented with various combinations of public, charter, and home schools. Her oldest child is diagnosed with Asperger’s with ADHD-Combined and anxiety, and she suspects her third child struggles with it, also. Faith is an unabashed feminist and “crunchy” mom, strongly LDS with a passion for knitting, avoiding cooking, and Harry Potter.