The short answer? The status quo was not working. Resolutions available to us were not moving fast enough, were not permanent enough, or were outright ineffective. Our son was stressed, scared, and his education was stagnating. We were frustrated watching him go through it despite our best efforts to help him navigate the rough waters of being a kid with a couple extra challenges, and something had to change. We all reached the end of our patience and ability to tolerate others’ intolerance with anything resembling poise or restraint, and chose to forge our own path together. The long answer, however, requires a bit of exposition.
Our son was being bullied. Before you might question, we are not “system” haters; each instance was handled quickly and efficiently by school administrators; whatever they did, those mini-offenders learned the errors of their ways and did not repeat. The problem, however, was there seemed to be an unlimited supply of children who felt it was acceptable to treat another person with such disrespect, and they were only 8 and 9 years old. What would they be like at 12, 15, or 17? Administrators assured us that programs were in place to teach children how hurtful and hateful it was, and just give it time to get through to them. But our son came home far too frequently with stories of being pushed, elbowed, shoved, insulted, demeaned, teased, and the rest. It had to stop, immediately, not if and when kids listened to those presentations. We both went to public school… We know how effective those pep talks are. The whole “part of the problem or part of the solution” translated to keeping our son in a hateful environment so he could be a potential target by kids that might or might not listen to wisdom, or doing what we had to do to put him in a safe and loving environment. Hmm. Tough choice. (That’s sarcasm, in case it was too subtle.)
Our son was growing more stressed by the day. So you might be saying to yourself, every other kid in public school manages it so why couldn’t he? Day by day, he grew more withdrawn as his confidence and self-esteem took another blow. At ten. One of the challenges of parenting a child on the Spectrum is keeping them engaged with the world around them. It was always a constant struggle to keep him from disappearing into his internal world before little punks began knocking down our boy to compensate for their inadequacies, and it became a monumental undertaking to engage him each time one of them used him as their personal kicking post. As soon as we got him cheered, it was time to take him back to that place. I put a cheerful little boy in the car, and the closer we got to school, the more withdrawn, nervous, and scared he became, until we pulled up to the curb and he got out with big, frightened eyes, barely mumbling goodbyes. Every day, I watched my happy child morph into a terrified victim before anyone said a word to him.
His education suffered. The more withdrawn he became, the harder it became to get him to focus on school work. Each time a kid treated him that way, he grew distracted for days as he tried to figure out why. Additionally, teachers are just one person with a lot of little minds in front of them; they teach one way, and it was not “his” way. We bought duplicates of textbooks for home, and he would come home each night so we could spend a couple hours “translating” what the teachers said to something he understood, after spending the day doing classwork with minimal comprehension. Academically, he was keeping up, but we often wondered if he was taught “his” way originally, how much better could he do?
And then there were those school personnel without a clue. Okay, to clarify, we appreciated the efforts of most school staff. His second grade teacher, however, was the one that put us on a serious path to homeschooling. During yet another parent-teacher-admin meeting following yet another incident, that woman said, “he is going to have a hard life, he’s going to need to grow a thicker skin.” I can still hear those words with the clarity only motherly fury can sustain. To clear up any concerns, I think I remained outwardly calm despite the many reactions readers might imagine came to mind, and I assure you, all were given serious consideration in that instant. We are well aware he may have a bit more challenge to deal with in his life, but she might as well have said, “the only real fix is to give all his classmates tire irons and let them go to town so he can see what the real world might bring.” I know he’s going to need to learn to handle intolerance, ignorance, and pure stupidity on his own someday. Adults with half a brain generally understand it is our job as parents and teachers to help children build self-esteem, confidence, and poise in the face of such poor qualities before we throw them to the wolves. In my personal experience, only two types of people result from a “sink or swim” upbringing: 1) those that are so beaten down they accept abuse as normal, or 2) those that are so calloused they refuse to allow anyone close. I refuse to accept either option for my son without at least trying to give him tools to stand up for himself with confidence and independence, and that was not going to happen when he was being knocked down – metaphorically, not necessarily literally – on a daily basis.
So each of those points ultimately led us to the conclusion that homeschooling was the ideal situation for our family, despite any difficulties we might need to overcome. It may not be for every family. Other children, families, school systems, and so on might be able to work through those issues. We might have been able to, but it was a gamble with stakes too high that we could not take the chance.
We will figure it out. And probably mess up horribly at varying points along the way, but we will do our best and know it will be healthier for him physically (all that stress cannot be good for a little body), emotionally, and academically. He is capable of learning like every other kid, when taught how he needs to be taught. We intend to give him the tools and chance to be a self-assured person that can someday withstand the real world. In the meantime, we intend to give him a safe, loving environment all the time to be a happy, care-free kid a little while longer.