Guest Blogger – Neches Phelps

 

What was supposed to be a mid-semester break from our year-round charter school turned into a homeschool trial.  We were faced with a choice: file a Level 1 complaint and fight for accommodations that my child wouldn’t see for 6 months to a year, or homeschool.  I don’t remember much from those first three weeks. My husband and I did some google searches, downloaded some curricula samples that we thought might be a good fit, and then I started working with what we had and accumulating what we didn’t.  

 

I’d really like to say that as a former educator and administrator that everything went according to the schedule that I had planned, but that simply wasn’t the case. Some things seemed way too easy; others way too hard. And sometimes it was both within the same curriculum!  When I asked an experienced SPED homeschooling mom for advice, she simply responded by telling me to follow my child’s lead. I wasn’t quite sure what “following my child’s lead” would mean. Where would his love for numbers and rock music take me? I didn’t have to wait long.

 

While jumping on the couch one evening, he said, “Mom, what’s your favorite Queen song?”

“I don’t know.  ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’?” I shrugged. 

He said, “’Bohemian Rhapsody’ is from the album A Night at the Opera and was released in 1975.”

 

I wasn’t quite sure what “following my child’s lead” would mean. Where would his love for numbers and rock music take me? I didn’t have to wait long.

 

I realized that he had been studying the Greatest Hits Queen CD sleeve while we had been listening to it in the car.  Sure enough, he knew them all! On Thanksgiving day, he told us that this was the exact date that Freddy Mercury died.  His love for rock music had met his obsession with numbers. This was too easy, I remember thinking to myself. “When is Freddy Mercury’s birthday?” I asked. He had to find out. 

 

Conversational skills were born when he started to ask people when their birthdays were, how old they were when Freddy Mercury died, etc. He must have seen a picture of Freddy Mercury driving a car because he started to ask people how old they were when they first drove a car. That led to some very interesting conversations as he discovered that some people started driving a tractor first or that they were quite young when they first got behind the wheel.

 

We did what I call “Freddy Mercury Math,” read Queen lyrics, and studied our family trees. Did you know that Roger Taylor (Queen’s drummer) has a son named Tiger Taylor who plays drums in The Darkness? (Neither did I.) And we talked about death.

 

The traditional educator in me still isn’t entirely convinced by the idea of unschooling.  But the mom in me says that we are going to be celebrating the Queen band members birthdays and writing their biographies this next school year.  I have a calendar filled with important dates that I don’t want to miss, and I’ve researched some reading and math curricula to help fill in some gaps.  It turns out that following my child’s lead isn’t going to be so difficult after all!

 

 


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Guest Blogger – Charl Rae Cobb

 

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Lao Tzu

The term “special needs” is a term that covers a broad spectrum of medical, developmental, congenital, and psychiatric challenges that other people might not face (or yet have identified). I’m not sure any parents ever anticipate it. We certainly did not. Yet, from my son’s birth, it became obvious that he would have significant allergies to deal with his entire life. Fortunately, he was born into a family that has multiple generations of allergic and asthmatic individuals to empower him with education, information, and support. And fortunately, homeschooling has allowed us to meet our child’s many special needs in a way that nothing else has.

 

Identifying our child’s special needs

We were so excited to be pregnant! We did all the “right things” to have as healthy a pregnancy as possible.  I planned to breastfeed to reduce the risk of our baby developing allergies and asthma (prevalent in my family medical history). However, our precious son was born allergic to all milk proteins (even mine) and reacted to all the formulas the doctors recommended.

How ironic that I, who can’t tolerate any alcohol so I never consume mixed drinks, would be concocting cocktails (“shaken, not stirred”) containing H1 and H2 antihistamines and decongestant prescribed by the doctors in hopes our infant could absorb enough of the latest formula to maintain enough weight to stay above the “failure to thrive” designation at each check-up. He also had breathing treatments prescribed around the clock and as needed between the regularly scheduled treatments. To see him now, well developed and healthy, you would never know the battles we fought to gain each ounce for 6 years and the battle to breathe normally without needing rescue inhalers for each physical activity.

His first pediatrician told me she suspected he was having headaches. Since headaches, eczema, abdominal pain, diarrhea, rashes, and a host of other symptoms he was experiencing are well documented to correspond with allergies, I hoped they would be eliminated as we identified and addressed the specific allergens he reacted to. What we did not know is that the headaches would continue and eventually worsen leading to a diagnosis of abdominal migraines.

 

Homeschooling has created a better learning environment for our child.

 

Meeting our child’s special needs by homeschooling

Due to our circumstances, I carried medical insurance through my work. Thus, while I worked, our child was at a highly recommended daycare or preschool during his early years as well as spending lots of time with my parents (who are very well versed in raising an allergic and asthmatic child). I was able to change departments at work so that I could take our child to all the doctor appointments (many were out-of-town) and be available when the daycare or preschool called for me to pick up my sick child or give another breathing treatment. We also wound up changing daycares and preschools due to bullying incidents. Verbal and physical bullying, the refusal of the school administration to establish/accept a 504 or IEP plan, and being told by the teacher and administrator that he needed to “just sit still while the rest of the class catches up to him” would eventually lead to us withdrawing our child from first grade and officially privately educating at home.

 Along the way, different teachers and administrators made unsolicited comments about our son’s various behavior traits which prompted me to take him to a development pediatrician. She ruled out any diagnosis of autism but stated he was “normal” if a bit anxious (which I relate to the multiple bullying incidents) and possibly gifted (but not tested at that time) and suggested homeschooling him.

 

Meeting our child’s special needs by homeschooling

  • Homeschooling has allowed us to better control his environmental allergens and exposures, improving our son’s physical coordination (including eye tracking), attentiveness or focus, and occasional hyperactivity. 
  • Homeschooling has allowed us to identify additional special needs. We have identified symptoms of dysgraphia and have taken steps to help him cope with that. (I found the  dianecraft.org website to be helpful in understanding dysgraphia and some strategies for addressing it.) 
  •  Homeschooling has allowed us to find support from other parents. Our local homeschool support group was invaluable in providing insight from experienced veterans who informed us of resources like the various co-ops, curriculum, and clubs in our area. “The Way They Learn” by Cynthia Ulrich Tobais was another resource that helped me structure our homeschool program.
  • Homeschooling has created a better learning environment for our child. We are able to answer questions when they arise (rather than having to wait to get home because the teacher would not answer them or steer him to a resource). We can  share successes and frustrations in learning new ideas, understand how various mathematical concepts apply to real life situations, take field trips and create projects to reinforce history or science, and master content before moving to the next level (vs moving on because administration dictates). The flexibility of homeschooling our special needs child at home has also eliminated the stigma and penalties our child was stressing over when his multiple doctor appointments were criticized by teachers and administration of traditional school and documented on his report cards. 
  • Homeschooling also provides more opportunities to grow together as a multi-generational family unit. 

 

As parents of a child with multiple allergies and asthma, we had to move from denial to acceptance with lightning speed because the very life of our child depended on it. Did we ever “go back” and experience the other stages of grief—denial, anger, sadness, guilt, etc.? Of course, we are human. As Christians, we also constantly trust our omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Lord who created this child to provide the resources to meet his needs and the loving support to meet ours so that he can live the fullest life possible and be the unique individual he is designed to be. We are thankful that homeschooling has allowed us to meet our child’s (indeed, our family’s) physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional needs in a way that is unparalleled with our previous personal experiences.

 

 


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By Peggy Ployhar

When our family started our homeschooling journey it was because of the needs of my oldest child. In no way was I prepared or equipped to handle teaching my son who was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome only the month prior, nor did I fully understand how severe his depression was, but I knew in my heart keeping him home to learn would keep my son from slipping any further away from me than he already had in his 8 months while attending private school.

Watch our story here.


This journey started 17 years ago for our family and through it, our entire family has dramatically changed. I would say for the better. Homeschooling is a hard road, but homeschooling a child with extra learning, emotional, social, and behavioral needs is also often an isolating and lonely journey. Some families are able to push through this isolation and build a small support community, but for others, the needs of their child(ren) create barriers too large to overcome on their own.

 

 

Opportunity Complications
As I described in the video above, our family created our own support and many families can create their own tribe if they dedicate a good amount of time and energy to the task. But for families who homeschool children with a more complicated diagnosis or family dynamics, the solution for finding time to rest and opportunities to do activities and develop relationships are not as simple as pulling a few families together to create community. Instead, these families must rely on someone else to do the support legwork for them. Otherwise, they just continue the journey alone as best they can.

 

I would like to introduce you two homeschooling families who have been part of SPED Homeschool since we launched our nonprofit in 2017. SPED Homeschool board member Elaine Carmichael and SPED Homeschool team member Shanel Tarrant-Simone. Both of these hard-working homeschooling parents are mothers of boys on the more complicated end of the autism spectrum.

 

Elaine shares her story here about how after homeschooling her typical children for many years in a loving and nurturing co-op, her support system crumbled as her youngest son’s needs grew greater.


Further on in this same interview, Elaine also shared that even though her son just turned 18 this past year, there really is no place for her family to turn for the respite and help; respite she and her husband need and buddy opportunities so her son can have experiences similar to other kids and young adults his age. 
 


When I emailed Elaine last week to ask her some questions about the hurdles they face with integrating into their community and what it would mean to her family and her son Aaron to have reliable respite and buddy opportunities, here is how she answered my questions:


Q: How difficult is going out in public with Aaron? What roadblocks are a constant hindrance?

A: “Roadblocks are sights & sounds that overwhelm Aaron which most of us take for granted because they don’t bother us or we can ignore them.”

Q: In what ways does bringing Aaron out in public without help hinder your family’s ability to integrate into society?

A: “Having an extra set of hands can be a tremendous help. Aaron will try to run if he is uncomfortable with a situation.”

Q: How could having a consistent, trained, and caring buddy/helper for Aaron improve your family’s ability to participate in your community?

A: “It would be helpful to have “buddies” to come alongside us to allow us to go to dr appts, date nights, to a Bible class together, or both be able to be involved with choir & music rehearsals and worship services at the same time. Those are just a few. Maybe even be able to attend activities of our older children and granddaughter, knowing Aaron was enjoying good company.”


Q: Why did you choose to homeschool despite knowing the school could have helped provide some respite or buddy opportunities for you and Aaron?

A: “We continued homeschooling Aaron after his siblings graduated from homeschool. We felt it was still a calling God has given us. We had also heard many stories of the struggles families had with public schooling their special needs kids.”

 

Q: What else would you share with families/individuals about the advantages of homeschooling Aaron?
A: “We have the advantage of setting our own schedule, especially with dr appts and therapies taking time in a day. We can work around our son’s poor sleep schedule. We don’t have to concern with bullying or teachers who don’t understand Aaron’s needs.”

 

In the same way, but with even greater demands upon her time and resources, SPED Homeschool team member Shanel has raised and homeschooled her nonverbal autistic twin sons as a single mother. Shanel deals with similar issues as Elaine in caring for her boys who also just recently turned 18, but an added stress to her life is the sad truth that as a single-parent she often walks this road almost completely alone.


Opportunity Possibilities
SPED Homeschool understands a special needs homeschooling family’s need for respite and opportunities intimately because we have experienced those same needs within most of our own family’s homeschooling journeys. It breaks our hearts every time we have a new member join our Facebook support group asking for help in connecting them to local resources and not having anywhere to send them.


But we are not satisfied with providing just an online support for these families we have a heart to serve. We instead want to meet their greater needs and develop local support groups in communities throughout the United States through a program we are calling SPED Strong Tribes. These tribes will focus on filling 5 basic needs: togetherness, respite, opportunities, networking, and growth. Each of these components are being covered in blogs this week before our campaign to increase awareness of the essential nature of each in supporting special needs homeschooling families.

 

To learn more about the SPED Strong Tribes campaign and how you can help build stronger special education homeschooling families by partnering with us in this campaign, click here.

 

We have also created this simple video to explain the whole program. 

Thank you for sharing this information and partnering with us to help our isolated families get the respite and opportunities they so greatly desire and need.

For more information on the five basic foundations we will be building into our new SPED Strong Tribes, check out all the blogs in this series:
Homeschooling Families Strengthened by Togetherness
Homeschooling Families Strengthened by Respite and Opportunities
Homeschooling Families Strengthened by Networking
Homeschooling Families Strengthened by Growth

 

Did you know SPED Homeschool is 100% donor funded? 

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(all donations are tax-deductible)

 

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