Our special ed son is graduating finally
As a special ed mom who has been homeschooling for more than a dozen years, it is with awe our son is graduating in less than a month! I’m so thankful for God’s guidance, His presence (especially when we didn’t feel it), and His unfailing faithfulness along the way.
I want to share the THANKSGIVING that has been on my heart to encourage the rest of you along the way. There were many years when I never dared look very far ahead as just getting through the day was all I could do. Brain-fog was a persistent problem due to numerous allergies which thankfully he has less of in recent days. It actually wasn’t until about October that it began to sink in that Christopher was going to graduate this winter! I’d lay awake in the mornings before my alarm went off, in awe, with my heart overflowing with Thanksgiving, thinking back on how hard it was to dare to look ahead to even know when he’d enter the next grade.
I thought back to our early days of homeschooling, how DESPERATELY we longed for a friend for him, just one friend was all we were hoping for. Christopher and I went to every activity that we felt might yield opportunity to make a friend, only to be ignored or rebuffed each time. Most of the local homeschoolers are into sports in a very big way but we aren’t and Christopher’s coordination was so poor until he was about 15 so he had no interest in sports; this hindered us making friends. After hearing about the co-op classes for a long time by other kids, I finally asked some moms one night how we could get involved. I was speechless as the moms had just been talking about co-op themselves, but the one who answered my question lied outright, saying she didn’t know of any co-op classes and I think the others were too surprised to contradict her statement. I came home trying to keep from bawling as I kept asking, “Lord, is my son THAT bad that they actually lied about co-op classes?” I decided I’d never ask again since it made people lie. I didn’t dare tell my husband how lonely we were as his family had been putting constant pressure on us to put Christopher in public school or even give him up for adoption, saying we were not doing a good job parenting him as he wasn’t obedient or doing as well socially or academically as his sister’s grandsons.
Through the years God’s faithfulness has been so precious. Once we finally had a diagnosis of high-functioning autism, I then took some classes for instructional assistants working with autistic children and that really helped! I can’t remember what I changed now, but those classes sure relieved a lot of the STRESS of homeschooling. I evaluated curriculum in a new light too as I realized certain art bothered him; he needed pictures to be complete, not partially colored nor sloppily done.
Homeschooling helped me clearly see the benefits of strict diet (in his case gluten-free/milk-free along with avoiding many other allergens) and which natural supplements or biomedical protocols helped or didn’t help Christopher. Things began improving and he’s no longer considered autistic, but classified as Aspergers. Thinking back to how hyperactive he once was, how impossible it seemed for him to grasp simple phonics and math, how many times we repeated classes using different curriculum the 2nd time so he never noticed he was repeating the class over, and homeschooling year around so he’d not forget things, I can hardly imagine what life will be like without schoolwork always needing to be done. The past several years I have worked part-time or short-term full-time positions. At first my husband, who is retired, helped with his homeschooling but as Christopher got into highschool my husband couldn’t help him any longer as he had dropped out of school to support his mom when he was starting highschool himself.
When Christopher was about 13 I began to realize we HAD to get him a diploma as my brother-in-law who was about 60 was out of work and due to the high unemployment, companies were requiring a diploma for janitors or even for people to mow lawns. It eliminated them having to go through as many applications and because so many needed work, they felt they could get higher quality workers by requiring a diploma. Many guys dropped out of school in the ‘60’s and worked hard all their lives, but for about a year my brother-in-law could not find a job because he didn’t have a diploma or GED. I had a computer so I’d search every day for work for him. I became concerned about Christopher having trouble getting a job when he became an adult. I knew he NEEDED to have a diploma as he was not going to be going to college and as a homeschooler, that looked hopeless as I could not afford the expensive homeschool online programs that would supply a diploma.
One day I saw one of the few friendly homeschool moms in a store and she mentioned in confidence (as some homeschoolers feel web academies are bad) that her kids were doing online classes with Clackamas Web Academy due to her son’s music lessons which required 8 hours driving time each week back and forth. She had only been with the online classes a few months but it had really alleviated a lot of stress for her. I had been very burdened about Christopher getting a diploma so asked if her kids would get a diploma that way, and she said yes. So I began looking into web academies and didn’t like what we saw with some, but I called CWA. The person who answered my questions is no longer with them but she had felt the curriculum was evolution-free (it sadly is not). I was thrilled after talking with her and felt this was the answer for Christopher to still have the benefit of one-on-one teaching but also be able to get a diploma. We had been using Christian curriculum as much as possible through the years so Christopher was very upset to discover evolution in geography as well as in science. But they allowed him to write a lengthy report about the origin of man as he viewed it and how that compared to their version, rather than do the first geography unit which had upset him so badly. We still faced questions from that unit on every major test, but I would explain, you can give an answer that you know is what they are expecting you to say, or you can purposely choose a wrong answer and get a low score, or you can click “help” and tell the teacher that you know they want ‘b’ for an answer but you do not agree with their theory on the origin of man, that you feel… That way he could get a better score on the tests, as the teacher did respect that he disagreed with their theory and it showed that he knew what they wanted for the answer. So many people are so steeped in evolution, they don’t even realize how much of it they take as truth, so I think his resistance each time it came up in a subject may have helped the overseeing teacher see there is a lot of evolution that is so widely accepted, it sort of surprises them that someone takes issue with this or that.
Now, in a month, just after turning 19, Christopher will have more than the necessary 26 credits to get a regular diploma as we did some fun classes to make his remaining English credit more tolerable this year. He doesn’t care if he “marches” in June (but his aunts care, so I think he will), all he wants is to be DONE with school! He has been homeschooled since he was 5 (actually we did some preschool stuff before then), and because he couldn’t remember anything after a one month break that first year, we never took more than a 10 day break after that, until he had a job the summer he was 17. So he’s put in a lot more hours of schooling than most kids to get a diploma.
As for that long-term prayer of seeking a friend for him, he eventually got 2 very good friends. They live more than an hour’s drive away but before they started college, they used to have chess matches in their home once a month so we’d go over for those, and we have attended concerts, photography classes, missionary conferences together and had some awesome hikes. A couple years I organized some homeschool tours of a missions headquarters and the last year I did it, we met this other family. Unknown to us, we were an answer to their prayers, as we introduced them to hiking, missionary fly-ins and spelunking, and they introduced us to concerts (they have music scholarships). We moms are dear friends too.
I share all this to encourage you to stick with whatever seems to work for your special ed child. None of us holds “the key” that fits for all of our kids. As the parent of your child, with the Lord’s guidance, you know better than any expert what is best for your child. Don’t be intimidated by others’ comments/demands. Do what you feel in your heart is best.
As for the local homeschoolers, now that Christopher is a teen, most of their parents like his walk with the Lord, so after all these very lonely years, some of the parents are friendly to me. Christopher sort of grew up in nursing homes and retirement centers due to elderly relatives. His youth group sings frequently at a local care center, and because of his enthusiasm and willingness to do this, other boys now do it more willingly. And the girls like him because he’s not off in some huddle with the other guys discussing sports and if they want to play a game, he is ALWAYS the first boy willing to play and that gets other boys more willing to participate. One mom told me recently “We brought apples besides [whatever other snacks they had brought] so Christopher would have something to eat this week” as she knew he can’t eat most of what people bring for snacks so she (or her daughters) had thoughtfully brought apple slices also, with his needs in mind. It was one of those moments when it’s hard to keep the tears back – he’s finally accepted! May your child find that acceptance also, I pray.
Richest Blessings for all your hard work you do as homeschooling parents,