A Personal Account of Home-Schooling an Autistic Child VS. Using Public School
Most of us parents of Autistic children and teens have an issue at some point in time with the school system that your child goes to. Whether it be a problem with bullying, and IEP issue, or just plain administrative/teacher issues, most of us have been there. We are our children’s voices and their advocates.
I have often said that if you make it from kindergarten to senior year without a single problem with the special needs department than you haven’t done your job. Of course, this is a generalization that has no fact to it. There are people out there that are part of wonderful school systems and have no problems… it just seems the parents that do have issues are a larger group than the ones whom don’t. Let me tell you a little about my journey with my oldest Autistic child with various school systems and programs.
I, like most parents back before homeschooling programs, enrolled him in a local pre-k program specializing in special needs children. My son was put into early intervention as soon as he was diagnosed at 4. He promptly started in Speech and Occupational Therapies in said pre-k and had an IEP implemented with the school district. I was lucky enough, at the time, to be in a small town with a district-based pre-k program that was fantastic. They were very frank with me always and help mold me into the special needs parent I am today.
The teacher told me at the first IEP meeting that I babied my son too much because of his Autism. As you can imagine, at the time I didn’t take her words so well. Over time I learned from them and honestly owe a lot of my son’s current development to the guidance of that woman and her staff. He continued with the program in this town for about 2 years before we felt he was ready for kindergarten. That’s when we had to move the first time. That’s also when the bullying started.
The new district we moved into was larger. It was as if they didn’t care so much about the bullying my son was facing as they did about their image. I refused to leave him in the school in our neighborhood, it had low ratings and said they had no special needs program. I wanted to do a choice transfer and they bus him to the school that could accommodate his IEP, as is. This was where my first major issue with a school district came in.
In said district you are allowed to do what I was asking for, as long as you transport your child to the school yourself. I was asking for bus transport to a school further away because his IEP said he was to be bused. I fought tooth and nail to get this accommodation met by the IEP team. In the end I was victorious; with one catch. They made me call the surrounding schools and find one willing to take my son that I also was in approval of. They basically washed their hands of me and said they’d sign off on whatever I wanted to do. Locating a school within the district was a daunting task that I shouldn’t have had to do myself. They were just mad because I brought an advocate to the meeting and got my way.
Special needs parenting hack: If you are having issues with an IEP team, contact an advocate and ask them to come speak for you at your next meeting. They will be able to tell you if you will be able to be successful in what you are asking and help you get said requests in the meeting. IEP teams also tend to hate when parents bring in advocates.
Despite the school I picked having the best special needs program for Autistic children in the town, the troubles started almost instantly. At this time, he was 6, nonverbal and being picked on daily. As he was medicated the year he was in first grade for the first time and started to develop speech he was more able to communicate these actions to me. I started to realize how bad the bullying was. Then he was beat up on the play ground and all parties were kicked out, including my son. They called it a “cooling down period.” He continued at this school for a number of years with a multitude of issues varying from IEP issues to issues with teachers. It was a nightmare. At this time, we were in Indiana and had found out that we were moving to Arizona. I was hopeful that the school system would be better. I was in for a sad awakening.
Over the next 5 years we moved to Arizona and then to Washington State. I spent a great deal of time fighting with the schools in both states. They were deplorable. The conditions of the schools were awful and the level of experience of the teachers was subpar. In Arizona the school refuses to bus anybody that lived within 10 miles of the school. As most children came from immigrant families and did not have transportation you’d see 5 and 6 year olds walking 10 miles to and from school, alone. In Washington State the school was falling apart. They didn’t even have a cafeteria, they ate one classroom at a time in a trailer on the school property. If it was raining they had walk across the campus to lunch and get soaked. I was so discouraged by their issues, the bullying and the paraprofessional never showing up to school that I ultimately pulled my son out of public school while we were in Washington and homeschooled him.
My experiences with homeschool I will write about later in the article. After 5 years away from Indiana we were forced to move back. With the move came the only option of sending my son back to a public school. From day one it was an issue. They didn’t care that he had a current psych evaluation from a school or a diagnosis, they wanted to throw him into general education classes-which he had never done-and evaluate him from there. I left him under those circumstances for the first day with strict warnings of what he would and would not do. To no surprise to me, I got a call 2 hours after school started to come get him. He wandered out of the class and the building multiple times and they were not equipped to handle him.
I picked him up and they told me not to return with him until a meeting was set up to discuss proper placement. This took 2 weeks, that’s 2 weeks my son was off schedule and melting down constantly. That’s 2 weeks of school he missed. In the meeting it was agreed to put him in a special program at another school just for Autistic teenagers. He loved the program and I loved the teachers. What I didn’t like was the bullying that started up immediately. I wrote an article about the bullying he has faced, if you’d like to read it follow this link.
After 2 years in the program my son was strangled in the bathroom at the school. The doctor called it a strangulation by hanging. Due to a lack of adequate action by the school I chose to pull him out and homeschool him again.
Homeschool is the best option for my family I have found. I used two different programs over the years and do prefer one over the other, but either is better than the bullying and constant IEP violations by the public schools. Homeschool gives us the opportunity to work based on what schedule is best for him, not what schedule is best for the school. I didn’t have to give up anything but my time and some energy to make this a possibility for my child.
There is no bullying and they provide all the therapies his other school provided, via a webcam and the internet. They listen to parents as we are the ones that direct and teach our children. One program I used I did have a lot of special needs program issues with, but we were able to work most of them out. The other program I used I had no problems with. I loved them. I also love the extra time I get to spend with my child and the fact that I get to see those “lightbulb” moments when he learns something for the first time and I get to sit there and participate in his therapy sessions and have a say in the way that they go.
Overall, homeschool is a great option with many programs to choose from. With an increasing number of families choosing to homeschool as an option, it could be argued that homeschool programs such as K12 and Connections Academy are the future of our education system. Only time will tell. It’s the only option for my family though.