Thursday, November 20, 2014

Homeschool - an ALS Challenge for the Soul

My son is, hands-down, my favorite person on the planet.  Sometimes I can hardly believe I waited 42 years to have him.  He's that cool.

I've been a DJ, a stand-up comic, voiced a TV show on the Cartoon Network,  had my own improv company, taught Shakespeare to 4th through 6th graders and got to play with puppets at Henson Studios, but nothing has EVER been as fulfilling as being a mom.  OK - Henson came close.

But along with the awesomeness that is my son, came a challenge.  When he was three, Liam was diagnosed with autism.  Autism is a neurological disorder that falls on a spectrum.  Because it affects the brain, it's very complicated and varies widely from person to person.  The best description of autism is, "when you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person."  The past five years have been about getting him what he needs to be a happy, independent person.

Since his diagnosis, Liam has had an aide in typical classrooms and at-home therapy.  Now, at the age of 8, we've decided to home-school him.  His teacher is fantastic and he has exceptional aides supporting him in school, but the Common Core's increasingly heavy emphasis on inference and analyisis isn't working for my son's brain.  Liam is smart.  He has been able to operate at "grade level" until now.   Third grade is when Common Core shifts from the facts or the "what" of each subject to the  "how" and "why" and even "how do you know?" and those questions do not make sense to Liam.

So we're going to teach Liam in ways that do make sense to him.  We're going to stop working from a place of disability and focus on his strengths.  And since each autistic person is unique, there is no blueprint for Liam.  We have to write it ourselves.  I read as many blogs and posts by autistic writers as I can.  These powerful advocates constantly remind me of how much Liam needs to be presumed competent.  That's where we start.

When I tell people what we're doing, the reactions range from verbal "high-fives" from friends to verbal "head-pats" from professionals who say things like "well, if it doesn't work, you can always try something else."  I'm smart, tenacious, resourceful and creative.  If what I do doesn't work, I will try something else.  I've done stand-up.  I've taught middle-school kids Shakesepeare.  I've failed, figured it out and made it work.  I expect some days to suck outright.  Okay, MANY days will suck outright.  But I also know from years of teaching that there will be good days and a few exceptional days - I call them "lightbulb" days.  Surprisingly, one lightbulb day can be all it takes to wipe out a month of crappy ones.

So where does the ice-bucket challenge come in?  While Liam was in school, I became very involved at the school - volunteering many hours to chair the Arts Committee, attend Governance Council meetings and work with parent volunteers and teachers to help create a new violin program at the school.  This year we were going to expand the arts fair we started when Liam was in Kindergarten.

I also grew close to Liam's at-home therapists and school aides who are all very loving professionals.  It is time to say goodbye to all of it and it feels like a bucket of ice-cold water thrown on my head, but like the ALS challenge, I know that the cause is worth it.  So, I'm moving forward, screaming with shock and exhiliration.  Let's do this!  Tomorrow is Liam's last day of school.

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