Special Education

Both of my children have IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) with the local public schools. Both have autism diagnoses, among other things. I cried the entire hour driving home from the psychologist’s office who provided details about just how much my children were lacking in normality, and neither I nor my husband value normality!

My youngest went to the public school for special preschool education one year. My oldest went to two private schools. His first school promised that if he were at, say, an advanced level of mathematics, he could take that level in their school while being with his peers for his other subjects. After we enrolled him and paid the entire year’s tuition up front, as they demanded, they said that his poor handwriting meant that he had to be held back in math. Ultimately, they allowed him to advance a little. But they sent him home with so much homework that we were all frustrated. We could not cope, none of us. So we taught him at home under the “Housworth Homeschooling Plan” which is a 320+-day-a-year program and 2-4 hours/day of work. We discovered another private school for him, and he attended it from the end of second grade to the middle of the fourth. He had a wonderful teacher who was very good with him until fourth grade. In the fourth grade, the teaching deteriorated substantially. I can’t be alone in believing that because the class dropped in half by Christmas when we withdrew him and educated him at home again.

The Housworth Homeschooling Plan involves doing a little every day, with very few school breaks. On the other hand, the schoolwork is usually over in the mornings, with the afternoon free for other things. Initially, the focus was almost exclusively on reading, writing, and mathematics. As the years progressed, we added science, history, grammar, and other subjects as suited us, like chess. Currently, with his checklist/day-planner, he guides himself through much of his work.

Under this plan, my oldest has remained roughly at grade level in most subjects and is a little advanced in mathematics. I know because we test. We are not allowed to give Indiana state exams as a private, unaccredited homeschool. However, some states provide their multiple choice standardized exams online for test preparation, and, using those, I test my oldest child each year. We also use a number of online learning tools: Spelling City, Read Theory, and Math IXL, that record his progress. This summer, Math IXL has a contest that gives away a computer for the child who practices the most. My oldest is really excited – I told him that if he completed all 7th grade exercises with at least a 90% level by August 1, I would buy him a new computer even if Math IXL does not. He’s a third of the way there in two weeks. He has over four weeks and 2/3 to go, but he hasn’t lost interest yet. If he makes it, he will be a year ahead in math by the standards in this program when the new school year begins.

My youngest is more difficult for me to plan for. He is more severely autistic, with irregular sleep patterns, and he is more resistant to even short periods of sustained schoolwork. He has 8 hours a day of Applied Behavioral Analysis; the therapists work with him on school-readiness such as sustained engagement with materials. He can read; he has been able to read since he was 2 or 3. But unlike my oldest, he would never do it on command. For years, we thought he would be our brilliant child. He walked at 9 months, like I did. He spoke about then too. In a rural coffee shop, I bought him a chocolate muffin that I knew he wanted, and he was so happy he said “I love you, mama.” Maybe he was a year and a half, and I bought him a stuffed animal because I was so happy. For the next few years, he would say a complete sentence once: Pick me up (I did). On another occasion: Put me down (I did). But he rarely spoke, never said the same thing twice, and became more picky in his eating habits. We tried putting him in an Indiana University preschool and they rejected him because he would not nap at noon. He would not lie still on a cot. We put him in another normal preschool that was able to provide an alternative to napping. But he didn’t learn to act like “normal” children. It became increasingly clear that he wasn’t going to and that he needed help. So I got the psychologist to evaluate him, and his older brother, and cried driving the hour home. I am crying now.

I refused stop trying to have a second child, which probably landed me in this mess, but I am not going to give up on him now. The child can read and spell nearly anything. I can’t tell whether he can do basic math or not. He doesn’t do it willingly. Sometimes, he will do a problem quickly and correctly. At other times, he puts every wrong answer in the box before he chooses the correct one. We have gone through “Teach Me Kindergarten” and “Teach Me First Grade” math twice now, and I still don’t know what he knows. But we will figure it out. I found him doing a headstand in his room one day recently – a perfect headstand – so there is something in him that maybe we can still unlock.

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