January 20, 2012

Autism and Homeschooling Goals


As parents we beat ourselves up over every little obstacle that stands in our children’s way. When they are toddlers we worry that they are not meeting our goals on time. Will they walk before they are one? Will they start speaking more than grunting soon? What if they never sleep in their own beds or potty train? Why don’t they understand that the neighbor’s 18 month old can kick a ball while speaking in full sentences?

Then as time goes by and we watch them make these monumental steps towards toddler hood we lose sleep over the lost toy that they must have with them at all times. We wonder how many times a child can run full speed into a wall before their pediatrician starts making abuse allegations over the bruises that pattern their pretty faces. We contemplate how long after a child swallows an Army Man toy does it take for the object to pass. (It takes two weeks…Apparently they must scout out the area before running for the light.)

And slowly but surely, right before your eyes, your child engages the surrounding world with a happy face, a pleasant good morning kiss, and is off to make his own breakfast. Mom sighs because her coffee cup is empty and wonders if he could manage that task as well.
I think the professionals should send out “before” and “after” shots of this progression to give terrified parents a clue. Or perhaps they feel we’d miss out on the great surprises of the ‘in betweens’.
This past year has been long for our family. My husband was gone around 6 months or so total and that tends to throw us off in a major way. My son, Xander, is the most challenging of my four children during these transitions. It hit me like a ton of bricks at how tall he’d gotten while I wasn’t looking. How strong he is now. How much harder it is to wrestle something away from him that he must not chew on. (Batteries, ornament hook, cat toys, etc.) I was not prepared for this at all. He is seven years old and in first grade.
My next suggestion for the professionals—a magic wheel that spins when the mood changes, the grade level goes up or down, anxiety has met its match, with a full blast alarm that will get his attention so he drops what it is that he should not have.
I no longer look at him as a competitive mom—unless it’s in the ‘my kid is soooo much cuter than yours’ way. I am no longer forcing goals or battling him against himself. I am relaxed even though he is seven, with the strength of a seven year old reacting with a four year old brain. The weight of the burden of making sense of it has been lifted.

My baby, in a big boy’s body, did math homework today. He proudly showed it to his father who could read the numbers as Picasso-esque as they were. His name was carefully written at the top. And then he spent the next few hours spinning in circles.

He is meeting his goals for himself in his own time.

Now that I have gotten you into my nostalgic mush, I encourage you to spend far more time letting them spin and have quiet moments rather than making them conform to a typical child’s schedule. How many hours do they play in Pre-K and Kindergarten? Mental age—does he need an afternoon nap? Should he be snuggling on the couch with Mommy while she reads to him because it just feels better?

Use the blessings that homeschool gives you in flexibility and child bonding. These things are what your child with Autism will want to remember. Even if they are nonverbal, they know what feels best to them.

My son did his math work—unassisted even! Spinning and Star Wars was followed by painting. In your eyes that might not seem like much, but he is exceeding his potential daily. The professionals told us he would never meet their goals, you see.

Little did they know that Xander would be our third child, or that a fourth would follow and we gave all of the lists of goals to God to manage.

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