I had a terrible middle school experience back in the early eighties. I became the target of a group of mean girls who harassed me at every opportunity. They followed me as I walked home from school, cornered me behind the public library before I could escape into the safety and quiet of that beloved building, kicked and punched me, pulled my hair, called me “weird” and “ugly.” I stumbled home, crying, to an empty house, where I cleaned myself up and looked good as new by the time my parents got home from work.
I came to hate school. I visited the nurse’s office frequently claiming I was sick and had to go home. I played hooky, got caught, and suffered in-school detention. No one asked why I, a student who made the honor roll every semester, was skipping school or feigning illness on a weekly basis. It didn’t matter; I had to go to school. That’s what my parents did; that’s what I had to do. So, when my own son, who has Asperger Syndrome, started coming home from school saying he hated his life, I understood.
“Managing a traditional school day is stressful for him, so when things don’t go as planned, he often falls apart.”
Henry’s * a great kid. He’s smart and kind and well-behaved. But he doesn’t quite fit in. Managing a traditional school day is stressful for him, so when things don’t go as planned, he often falls apart. When he was younger, this wasn’t such a problem. But by fifth grade, the social gaps between him and his peers had grown much wider.
At his last Individual Education Plan meeting, I tried to explain to the educators and administrators that Henry simply wasn’t ready to change classes six times a day with seven different teachers on a revolving Day A-F schedule within a rotating trimester system, inside a school where 1200 kids pour out into the hallways every time the bell rings, every one of those kids trying to find their place within the social hierarchy.
Even with a fantastic fifth grade teacher, Henry was still struggling at social times such as lunch, recess, and gym class, and there was no way he’d be able to handle these situations at the middle school level without adult guidance. However, the school could neither offer him a classroom with less transitions nor a dedicated aide to assist him during these difficult times.
As middle school approached, Henry became more and more anxious, regressing into behaviors we had worked hard to overcome months or years before. He knew our huge, traditional middle school was going to be agony for him. I knew it too.
I couldn’t afford a private school that would accommodate Henry’s need for fewer transitions in his day and a smaller classroom setting, so I could either initiate a legal fight with the school district, with no guarantee of an acceptable result, or focus my energy on another solution. Hesitantly, I decided to try homeschooling.
I was able to redesign my part-time work schedule so that I could work longer days on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and be home with Henry during the week. My husband was able to work from home on Fridays to make it all work. I knew of no one who homeschooled, so that first year was as much about academics as finding social opportunities for Henry, learning my district’s requirements for home educators, and finding outside classes for subjects I’m not competent to teach myself.
“I was able to redesign my part-time work schedule so that I could work longer days on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and be home with Henry during the week. My husband was able to work from home on Fridays to make it all work.”
Our new schedule hasn’t been easy, particularly for Henry’s siblings. Working all weekend every weekend means I miss their sports games and social events, but I try to be there for them after school and in the evenings. My husband now spends his weekends coaching and/or cheering for baseball, softball, and volleyball, as well as attending children’s birthday parties, chauffeuring our kids to social activities, and helping with the house and yard work.
I’m constantly exhausted as I try to build a writing career while also working an unrelated part-time job, running our household, being available to all three of my children as much as possible, attending night classes to finish my college degree, and completely facilitating the education of my son. And yet it’s all worth it.
Henry is thriving. This year he’ll take English and Latin with other kids in a small class setting. He’ll participate in Robotics Club and Chess Club. He’s playing town baseball. He gets together once a week for gym class/free play with a large group of other homeschoolers—kids who set up basketball and dodgeball games, pick teams and work out rules together, and incorporate everyone of all abilities.
Henry also attends a psychologist-led social group where he builds his social skills with other kids who are on the autism spectrum, and he maintains a connection to the public school by attending a pragmatic speech group. His social interactions are positive and educational now, rather than negative and demoralizing. Family and friends have commented that it’s like we have a different child. Henry’s learning; he’s laughing; he likes his life again.
Homeschooling did not become legal across all fifty states until I was in my early twenties, and flexible work arrangements were a rarity until the technology boom of the last decade. For me, living in a Women’s Nation now means having the opportunity to do what’s right for each of my kids and still work to help support my family financially, while also pursuing personal goals and dreams. It means having the option to try something new when the traditional path isn’t working. It means having choices—choices my mother, and hers before her, did not have.
[*] Name changed for privacy.
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