Friday, May 21, 2010

Educating Our Children: A Question for All Parents

I received a comment from Subvet on yesterday’s post concerning homeschooling. He wrote:

The "social factor" is the prime reason my two autistic sons are in the public school system. We felt they needed daily interaction with the same peers. Were we wrong? Are autistic children in more need of this than regular kids? I'd appreciate the views of yourself and the other commenters here on this. If the wife and I have been barking up the wrong tree we'd sure like to change it. Thanks.

I have a lot of respect for Subvet. I wrote about him last November. He is the only blogger that I am aware of who regularly writes stories about the men and women who serve our country and leave their lives on the battlefield. This man understands honor. He is a career veteran of the US Navy who spent much of his time underwater on submarines. That wasn’t an easy life. I must admit, I enjoy his saltier dialogue when his writing topic makes him angry.   Subvet obviously loves his family. On her blog, Mrs. Subvet wrote, “My Husband "Subvet" says that when our first son "Sonshine" was born the sun rose on our world, when our second son "Alligator" was born the sun laughed and when our daughter "Sugars" was born all the flowers bloomed. That says it all.”

I cannot answer Subvet’s question because the educational choices that we make for our children are highly personal choices. There are a multitude of factors that are considered when parents choose the right school setting for their children, including but not limited to the community in which they live, the school district within that community, their economic status, political views, religious views, talents and abilities. My reasons for homeschooling my children and for placing one child in a public school part time are quite different from those of my readers. My reasons for completely homeschooling two of my children are different from my reasons for placing one child in school part-time. They are not easy choices.

Homeschooling isn’t the right choice for everyone; however, homeschooling should be a choice available to everyone. In the land of the free, citizens should have the right to choose homeschooling if they want to. No matter how many times I write it, I know that I have readers who think that I am rabidly anti-public schools. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I am highly critical of some aspects of public schools. I’m highly critical of some aspects of private schools and homeschools, too. I’ve taught in all three. Each family makes the choices that are in their children’s best interests. Probably the biggest challenge in deciding whether or not to homeschool is the least understood aspect of homeschooling. Homeschooling is not simply recreating a classroom in the home between nine a.m. and three p.m. each weekday and then going about normal life. Homeschooling is a lifestyle. It takes enormous commitment.

I am throwing Subvet’s comment out to my readers for response. I encourage you to share your ideas with Subvet.  Since the majority of my readers are homeschoolers, I invite you to share this with your readers.  The homeschooling community covers the entire spectrum of student abilities from high achievers to special needs kids and everyone in between.  I know that my regular readers will be respectful in their replies, but to new readers to this blog or the drive-by responders, please keep your comments respectful. Stay focused on the topic. I will delete inappropriate comments as well as comments that are personal attacks.

Subvet wrote:

The "social factor" is the prime reason my two autistic sons are in the public school system. We felt they needed daily interaction with the same peers. Were we wrong? Are autistic children in more need of this than regular kids? I'd appreciate the views of yourself and the other commenters here on this. If the wife and I have been barking up the wrong tree we'd sure like to change it. Thanks.

What do you think?


Teacher Mommy said...

As you said, Arby, the educational choices made for one's children are so very personal. I think it's impossible to tell Subvet that he's wrong about his choice. I would need to know more: Does the school system where he is have strong and effective support for autistic children? Do he and his wife agree with the kind of education their children are getting? Has their choice been working?

I've experienced most of the different kinds of educational systems out there: I've been homeschooled, I've gone to private school (both religious and non), I've gone to boarding school, I attended a public university, I teach at a public high school. The main exception is that I have not experienced a charter school. There are advantages and drawbacks to every one of those options. I strongly believe that one of the strengths of the American educational approach lies in the varied options available.

I know that the school where I teach has a phenomenal program for autistic children, both mainstreamed into classes (for the higher-functioning students) and in a separate area (for those who need a special setting instead). We have families who move into the area precisely because of the strength of that program.

However, not all schools have that strength. So perhaps other approaches need to be investigated in those cases. Likewise, not all parents have the necessary elements to create a better educational environment at home, either--whether that be financial or otherwise. I think it's unwise for anyone to tell families in Subvet's situation that there is a One Size Fits All answer.

Decisions need to be based on the individual family and children. If Subvet's sons are thriving and doing well where they are, then they are not "wrong." And that would be true whether they are autistic or not.

Arby said...

Big Doofus wrote on Facebook:

The "social factor" has done wonders for my teenager the last two years. Worst two years of our lives. However, we all have the right to make choices for our own kids (at least for now).

Michelle said...

I have to totally agree with Teachermommy. This choice is for your family to make. If your children are thriving and happy, if you're happy with the curriculum, then I think you should be happy with your decision. I don't think you're wrong at all. You want what we all want, and that's what's best for our child. As homeschoolers we often try to encourage people to try it out if they are having issues with the public school system. If you have having problems, please explore the option of homeschooling and well as other options that are available.

We are blessed to be able to have these different choices in our country!

I will also note here, that a friend of mine has a severly autistic child. That child does attend public school and is doing well as they have an excellent program. Subvet, good luck and prayers to you and your family in your decision making process.

The Pirate Mom said...

I don't have an answer for the Subvets either, except to agree with what has already been said. It is an individual choice by individual families. I always tell people we are taking it a year at a time. So far, the choice has always been homeschooling. We are looking at a time, maybe in a few years though, where one of ours may go to public or private school. It's hard to imagine right now, but it may happen.

One thing about can always try it. What's to lose? Take the kids out for a semester, a quarter, whatever. See if it works. If it doesn't, put them back in. I guess I don't really know how that would affect kids with the special needs that are being discussed here, but if it's something that one is considering, it might be worth exploring the possibilities.


Subvet said...

Arby, thanks for the kind words. Glad you enjoy my writing, even the "salty" posts that occasionally show you can't teach old dogs new tricks. Thanks also for taking the time and space to have this discussion on your blog.

Teacher Mommy asked; Does the school system where he is have strong and effective support for autistic children? Do he and his wife agree with the kind of education their children are getting? Has their choice been working?

1) The school district we're in is notorious for NOT having a strong program for special needs kids. So far our own dealings have been mixed. After a rocky start where I had to put on my "jerk" persona (Arby knows every CPO keeps one handy) they've been fairly responsive. The teachers have been fantastic, our problems were with the administration.

2) The wife and I definetly agree on education choices for our kids. There has been disagreements but we've worked through them. Ladies, you'll be happy to know I always wound up the discussions with "Yes dear". She's more often right than not.

3) So far the choice seems to be working. Our oldest boy (6 yrs.) is finishing kindergarten. He's at or above the norm for academic achievment and his behavior has improved to where he's mostly like the other boys, i.e. filled with snakes, snails & puppy dog tails. Since I posed my question that started this post we've had his ARD for the end of the school year. Everything looks good and on track for next year.

The other boy (5) , not as far along the autism scale as his older brother, has presented less problems for his private preschool teachers than his brother did. He'll start kindergarten next year in the same public school we have the oldest one in. So far the school administration is on the ball regarding him.

Arby, I think what "Big Doofus" describes covers a lot of kids when they become teens. Something to look forward to.

Michelle, thanks for your encouragement and kind words. Good to know evenly the severly autistic kids can be mainstreamed.

The Pirate Mom, taking it one year at a time sounds like great advice and I'll keep it in mind. We're fortunate to not have to jump through a lot of hoops if we eventually decide to homeschool.

Thanks all. I appreciate the advice, prayers and kind words.

Papa Bear said...

I have a 13 yo son with autism. We home school, but are planning to transition to the public school at some point. I have some thoughts I'd like to add, but I need a little time to get them together.

Anonymous said...

I have a wide range of education experience and I agree with everything Arby said. (I am not just trying to get on your good side.)

I also came over to leave two blog posts I thought you and your crowd would enjoy.


GingerB said...

I don't know what to say, because autism baffles me. I have a friend with two kids on the spectrum (and a husband) and this friend has her five kids in four different programs, none of which are homeschooling but with each placement to play to that child's strengths and needs. And she would tell you that she takes the autistic kids on a lot of outings they don't start out wanting to go on because it is part of her therapy plan, and she sees huge benefits in the social interaction aspect of schooling. Huge.

Linda said...

If it's not broken, don't try to fix it. I think the dangers lie more in high school.

Subvet said...

Pappa Bear, I'm waiting for your further thoughts on the topic. Having a 13 yr. old with autism means you've probably covered a lot of ground.

TheExtras, thanks.

GingerB, it baffles me also. Thanks for the input regarding social interaction.

Linda, high school is something I try not to spend too much thought on. The teen years might turn me into a "helicopter parent" always hovering around trying to protect my kids. But as I tell the wife, childhood is survived by well over 99% of children. The parents might be another story!

S.K. said...

I was planning to leave this on your previous post, but this is fine. I think when it comes to homeschooling, the most important factor is whether you are doing it for the kids or for yourself. I know some people will say, "Oh why would you ever do it for yourself, so much work." But trust me, I've seen too many families who did it just for the sake of controlling their kids and not for the sake of education. I went through a phase of thinking that homeschooling was only for parents who couldn't handle letting their kids out of the house, but I've since realized that not every family was like mine. And my family has changed quite a bit since I left - for the better. My husband's family was a sad example of homeschooling for all the wrong reasons, where the kids' education suffered greatly as a result. But I think they are the exception by far since I haven't met any other families like them.

In summary, if your decision is based on what you perceive to be the child's needs and not your own, it's probably the right one, whether you choose home or outside school.

Henry Cate said...

I believe that in general homeschooling is a much better choice for most children.

With two little boys, my suggest is Subvet give homeschooling a good college try for a year and see how it compares.

Subvet said...

S.K., doing it for our children's needs is what we keep foremost in mind. Not knowing what to expect regarding autism, we're winging it and sometimes on a daily basis.

Henry Cate, thanks for you advice. We may still do that, it'll depend on what the future brings. As I said to S.K., sometimes this is a day-by-day thing. Thats probably true for everyone, if the truth be told.

Thanks to all. Appreciate the kind words, thoughts & prayers.

jugglingpaynes said...

Subvet, I would suggest doing a Google search of "blogs about homeschooling autistic children". I have run across several in my years of blogging and you may find some in similar situations to your own. I consider it a good way to peek into the life of homeschooling on the spectrum. Sometimes, we just need the support of a community to take the leap. Good luck to you and remember, whatever your decision, it will be a good one because you do it out of love for your children.

Peace and Laughter,

Kristin said...

In my own experience, I received more bad influence from classmates than good. I made choices I would not have made had I not been exposed to the other kids and I don't think being teased for being skinny or picked last in gym helped prepare me for the real world.

That being said, it really is up to parents to decide what is right for their children. I find that "socialization" is what the anti-homeschooling crowd uses most to try to discredit homeschooling.

I've posted a good article by James Dobson on my blog here:

Krisin's Mishmash.

Forgive me if the link doesn't work. I'm lousy at html.

Anonymous said...

Autism is such a confusing label since it can mean so many different things. Personally, I have a child with Asperger's, and I've done a lot of researching and thinking, applying it all to him. Obviously, what I've concluded for him may not apply to your children, since autism does encompass such a wide spectrum.

I was always determined to homeschool before I had children. When my oldest ended up having Asperger's, I did a lot of research about it, and concluded that it was a good thing we'd decided to homeschool him anyway because that's what would be best for him. My reason was that the main idea I got from all of the Asperger's books was basically that kids with Asperger's tend to grow up to be perfectly fine adults, as long as they aren't damaged during childhood from kids picking on them. They will be quirky as adults, but quirky-ness is more accepted in adults, particularly for people in jobs that people with Asperger's tend to flock to. The kids who are picked on may end up being resentful, shy, angry, or something like that, because of the bullying, and it's those characteristics, not the Asperger's itself, that causes them to have problems as adults.

All of the books assumed conventional schooling, and there were chapters upon chapters about how to train the other kids to accept the Asperger's kids. Many of them recommended actually pulling the kid with autism out of the class and telling the other kids specifically why they shouldn't pick on Johnny. That idea just rubbed me the wrong way.

Homeschooling allows us to avoid the bullying so much easier. Part of it is because I can supervise interactions, but the main reason we don't have problems is because we do activities with a wide range of ages. In my child's case, when he was 6, he acted like an "average" 6 year old in some ways, an average 5 year old in other ways, and an average 7 year old in other ways. In a typical classroom, kids would be able to notice that he was not average because all of the kids' birthdays are so close together. In a group of kids ranging in age from 5-10, it's not so noticable because there are some kids with each of his characteristics.

Also, homeschooling has the benefit of me simply being able to see him more often and identify his weaknesses. Children with autism have to be trained to do things that other kids would just pick up on their own. When I watch him interact with people, I can see which behaviors need some tweaking, and then we can work on those things at home.

Obviously, for kids somewhere else on the spectrum, this may not apply, but it's how everything has worked in our family.

Kristin said...

It sounds like you made a good choice. Kids can be ridiculously mean to kids who don't fit in. I can't see subjecting an especially fragile child to that.

Lauren said...

Schooling children can also be a joint effort between the school of placement and work at home... (which can actually mean "fun" at home).

Anonymous said...

All good parents do what they think is best for their particular child at the particular time but they are flexible and continually reevaluate things as their children and environment change.
If school is mostly positive now and your children seem happy and are learning social cues from other kids, I certainly wouldn't change anything. Just keep an eye out for how the dynamics of the the classroom and your children's social relationships might change over the years.
My own brother is autistic and school was a living hell for him, mostly in late elementary and middle school. He was relentlessly teased and he was ostracized for his odd, but not aggressive or disruptive behavior. Academically he was very bright, but he dreaded school. Finally my mother found a Catholic High school that lovingly protected him and he flourished there. But he sure would have been happier and grown up with less emotional baggage if he had been homeschooled or found a different kind of educational placement for elementary school than our local public schools.-----