Living in Louisiana deemed difficult for my son’s educational welfare. The summer prior to him entering Kindergarten, I made several phone calls but to no avail, not one school in the surrounding area had a special need program. In order for him to have an education, I would have to move three hours away, and even then, he wouldn’t come home to me every day. Needless to say, I contacted two states in which I had much support and knew their educational programs would behoove my son. More phone calls later, within a week I had packed up and moved to Indiana. That was just the beginning. Between tests, speaking with the educators at his soon-to-be-school, doctors appointments, insurance fights, neuropsychiatric testing, and traveling two hours away for neurology aspects, we finally seemed ready to begin the new school year.
Signing my son up for school seemed a breeze. I should’ve known there was something amiss! The first day of school begins and already I run into a snag. Someone, somewhere in either their office or the Special Educational Service downtown, misplaced the paperwork. My son was not beginning in a Special Ed class. He was being thrown to wolves and placed in a Gen Ed. classroom. With more children than I could count within seconds, noise that echoed down the hall, and a teacher that seemed frazzled within ten minutes of beginning class; I felt like taking a hold of Chris’s hand and walking out the way we came in. Too late, the teacher spotted us and formally introduced herself and told me where to place his items. I asked her if I could stay with him and was told, “no, every parent feels this way. We can’t allow all the parents to sit in because of fear for their child. It’s like taking off a band-aid, better to rip it off”. I screamed in my head, are you kidding me? Leave my son in this chaos. I stormed out, went to the office, and demanded to speak with the principle. First day or not, someone is going to correct this mistake. Boy, was I wrong. After hearing multiple apologies and that my son was “just at the mark” and they had not received the neuropsych testing, Chris was not able to be in a Special Educational class.
This lasted about 30 days until all the testing came back. During this time, my son was bullied, tormented, run out of the school and classroom multiple times, climbed a 12ft fence before being yanked down, and dried blood from the teacher’s nails digging into my son’s wrist. I had it! I wanted to yank him out! Of course, the school frowns on that and the principle made every assurance that they would document his behavior (which had not been done yet) I’m assuming due to their inapt and inappropriate action and lack there of. Twenty – five referrals later, I was finally in front of an IEP board. Not only were my son’s referrals bogus but there was a stenographic feel to the meeting. Three months after school began, my son was now able to attend a Special Educational Class marked for “emotional disabilitydisability“. Nothing could have made me feel worse than to think Autism is considered an emotional disability. That classification seemed just as inappropriate as the way my son had been cared for in this school.
During every IEP meeting, my son would find his way from his Special class and into the office. He was nicknamed by other children, “radio” because the walkie talkies bellowed his name when he escaped from the classroom. Towards the end of the school year, many tantrums later, being removed from the ‘special bus’, Chris seemed to be improving with his attitude towards the school structure. Three times my son had apparently ran outside of the school and almost into a busy intersection, before they made adjustments to rectify this issue. Not only did I have to go to work early and come back earlier, sometimes take him to work with me, and sit in his classroom on days off, but had become the voice that the principle heard the most! So much so, he asked me to head a PTA for our special need parents.
Chris left school on a positive note but began his first grade year on an uneven one. The system had changed and now social workers were aiding the special need teacher. One continued to put my child in a hold at Chris’s every anxious moment. Ironically, I would walk in and sit him across from me, and have Chris calmed down without touching him. Was that my final straw? You would think so, but as a social worker for special need teens and adults; I understood the challenges befalling outsiders. These social workers were outsiders to my son. What finally set me off was when I picked up my son from school and saw the anger in his face immediately. Not even three blocks down the road, he pipes up and says, “mom, I saw your car again today and I was yelling for you. Why didn’t you stop? I almost got ran over”. SCREECH. I had never whipped my car around so fast as I did that day.
I stormed into the office and again, like dejavu, demanded the principle’s attention to this matter. Instead of him greeting me, the assistant principle showed her smiling face. Like word vomit, I was spraying to every listening ear and watching eye. “How could you not call me and inform me of this? My son actually ran out again and made it to the street! What is wrong with you people? That never happens with me. You have a teacher and at least three social workers and school personnel, and not one could grab my son before he ran out those doors?” Needless to say, I received the blame game. The teacher said it was the social worker’s fault and the workers said since Chris was not receiving treatment through their facility; he was not their responsibility. It was at that moment, I withdrew my son. Wouldn’t you know it, the principle magically appeared. He pleaded and offered positive thoughts on Chris’s improvement but finally heard me when I said, “I get you have a job. I understand scores and funding and how my son adds to that, but understand I have a job, too. I’m not talking about the one I get paid to do. I’m talking about the one that keeps me up at night, has me switching jobs like most change their underwear. My job is being an advocate for my son. It’s also to keep him safe from harm. I am withdrawing him and that’s final.”
I walked out of that school with a million monkeys grabbing onto my back. My mind swirled and I thought, Oh no, what I have just done. Could I possibly have my job, home school my son, raise my daughter, and have time for all the daily things? One look at my son’s face told me, who cares like Nike’s phrase, ‘just do it’. Chris couldn’t read, write, count past 15, and his frustration levels were at the highest I’d ever seen. Not even a year later, my son flourished with me home schooling him. He is now reading at his grade level. Math still seems difficult for him to grasp, but he can at least add, somewhat subtract, and count by multipliers of 5’s and 10’s. His focus is ten times better than I’ve ever seen and he can last longer with lessons. I have yet to see the bouts of frustration and anger I witnessed when he attended school.
I’m not going to say it was easy. Home schooling Chris has been the hardest task I’ve ever taken on in my life. I’ve had to quit jobs, at times live in poverty, and sometimes question if I did him a disservice by taking him away from learning social acclimation. He has thrown in my face how I took him away from “his friends” and even held fits of anger to prevent lessons from beginning. There is one thing that keeps me pushing through it all. I know he is safe with me. I don’t dig my nails into him when frustrated. I don’t have to place a hold on him to keep from “escaping” our house. We have built a mutual understanding and respect around educational importance.
When I sent my son off to school, I was in fairy tale land. I thought they would protect and try to understand his needs. I thought having more than a high school education, people would think and do at a more esteemed level. I was wrong. I’m not saying all schools or special educational departments will fail children with special needs. Unfortunately, the knowledge they possessed, at that time was not to my standards. So, if you are debating on home schooling your child and failing by doing so, please don’t fret. It will take an unmeasured amount of patience, diligence, time and money to see the fruits of your labor.
As per social aspects, my son has become a social butterfly. We walk into stores, playgrounds, restaurants, and offices and not one person has known of his disability unless I chose to tell them. He asks other children to play with him and doesn’t get offended if they say no. He says please, thank you, gives compliments, and shows very little “emotional disturbances”, if any at all. The worst issue I have run across is him giving hugs to everyone he likes. Hugs! Some act like , “whoa, why is this child, I don’t know, hugging me”. The others mostly say, “that’s so sweet. I needed that.” Just like others may need a hug, my son needed to be home schooled. Maybe one day, we will attempt a campus school again. Maybe then, the knowledge and understanding will surpass my standards.