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Sunday, January 13, 2008

When It Comes to Homeschool and Autism - What's the Goal?

This question has really been plaguing me recently. Many homeschool books (and educational advocates) say you should have a vision for your child. You know - that he should achieve X by Y time... that he should have these skills, live this type of life, etc. That way, even if the vision changes, you can still measure your progress based on SOMETHING.

I resisted this idea for the longest time, becaue the whole idea of "steering" my kids just got under my skin. But for Tommy, it does seem important to know what I'm pushing toward.

One day, I think "this child has what it takes to be a real musician. and it's up to me and his dad to find the opportunities and to push him forward." When I think that way, I focus on getting him to the point where he can really manage situations independently; pass tests; manage people; and, of course, excel in music. I look for ensemble groups, and imagine preparing him for auditions for the Boston Symphony Youth Orchestra.

The next day I think, "if this child can just carry on a conversation for more than two exchanges without reverting to a monologue about his imaginary lizard, it will be a miracle!" Then I focus on social skills training, life skills, and teaching "math you can use."

So which is it? And it's not good enough to see "let's see where life takes him," because we're the folks in charge of deciding what life will actually OFFER!

One big problem with having specific goals (like music school) is that it assumes certain passions on Tom's part that I'm not sure are there. Sure, he enjoys playing clarinet, and he's better than the average 5th grader. But it's not because of a passion for music (at least I don't think it is). Rather, I believe he plays well because he has perfect pitch, and because he enjoys practicing. And he seems to enjoy practicing mostly because it's an anxiety-reducing activity. It reduces anxiety because he KNOWS what it takes to get the music right.

But he doesn't play piano or clarinet on his own. We always have to tell him it's time. He's always a little reluctant to go to lessons, or to the "hot jazz group."

So is it just a hobby? Or is it a career direction? Should we be pushing the life skills - or the academics? Should we be coaching him to fit expectations - or to follow his own path? I know that all these things are important, but a schedule that includes EVERYTHING could give us all anxiety attacks!

Bottom line: when it comes to homeschool and autism, what matters most?


The Glasers said...

While I can see trying to visualize where to lead your children, how can you predict this? All children are unique in their development: ahead in some areas and behind in areas, advancing (or regressing) in each area at their own rate and on their own timetable!

Many times, when I used to plan every little detail in IEP fashion, Pamela would accomplish some goals and not meet others and learn new things on her own that I never even considered. It got to be a farce.

What I do is have daily habits going that work on the basics. Then, I pay attention to emerging skills and do what I can to foster them.

I think working on relationship abilities are very important. Even the most educated autistic person will have a hard time keeping a job if they irritate their co-workers.

I too am working on ways to redirect conversations about Life Alert (I've fallen and I get up), breaking videotapes on You-Tube, the almighty calendar, and other unusual topics . . .

Lisa Jo Rudy said...

Thanks, Tammy! To tell the truth, I'm guessing I'll come around to your perspective after I've been homeschooling for a year or two. Meanwhile, though, I'm SO focused! I think it's partly because I really, really want to prove the schools WRONG WRONG WRONG! Indeed, my son CAN read a novel, write a book report, multiply, do an original art project... Here's hoping I'll get over it in time to actually ENJOY homeschooling a bit more!


Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa
Maybe this will hep a little. First time I educated my son at home, between his age of 3 and 6 it was because he did not use language. He did not know what language was about and the professionals told me he would never talk. So we played with him and played with him until language evolved.
Once he did talk he went to school. The school did not accommodate his need for ‘time alone’ or his style of writing (he had to think the story, write the first word the middle word and the last word , then fill in the rest of the words – so that the story will cover the page from top to bottom in a perfect symmetry!
Nor did the school allow for his ‘fancifully written number 3 + another fancifully written number 3 to equal a fancifully written number 6. What mattered to them was that he stopped writing the numbers in his style – what mattered to me was that he knew that 3+3 = 6 , regardless on how he choose the characters to look like.
The list is too long to post here but after 3 years in mainstream (not every minute of school life was bad – his teacher loved him but the system did not allow for his style of learning) he became depressed and gradually stopped talking. He was 11. One day he had enough and strangled his bully (only for one second!)
Within a week I took him out of school, sold my home and moved abroad. This time I had to focus on making my son happy again. Allowing him to find his voice. The goal was no longer maths or history – the goal was could you talk to us? Tell us what you want? Tell us what you need?
A year later and as I was writing my book he started typing when I was away from laptop. He would ask his own questions and then we’d talk the night away.(I.e. We were doing English and comprehension between 10 pm and 2 a.m. while the rest of the people were asleep!) One of his questions that stuck with me was ‘Why do people need to build bridges in order to talk to one another?’ he meant it in the literal sense of bridges. This lead to: What does ‘trust’ have to do with ‘bridges’? Followed by ‘what is trust?’…

Remind yourself why you decided to home- educate Tommy. Old cliché (Rome wasn’t built in a day). It wasn’t just to prove the school wrong. It was because you love Tommy, you saw a potential that wasn’t nurtured and decided to have a go. Put your blue hat on and see that Tommy’s life is longer than the school years. You are preparing him for life at large.

As for Lizard and the Mayflower boat … perhaps you could ask him if he wants to build a ship for Lizard and then ask him who are Lizards friends and what makes those ‘friends’, friends and not others? Are historians allowed on the ship? Are musicians allowed on the ship? … you get the gist.

My son’s Lizard was Sonic the Hedgehog. I gave Sonic a voice. Sonic (I decided that Sonic was poor at comprehension and not very good at math. If my son got something right I made sure Sonic made a mistake so that my son had to correct him. That way I ensured he understood new concepts – not only repeat words after me. I made it fun so I could hear him laugh. Are you giving Lizard a voice or are you just talking about him?

I stop now
Good luck Lisa , Tommy and Lizard