I hate sounding like a broken record but, homeschooling has changed our lives more dramatically then any of us would ever have thought. Yes, we've had to make sacrifices but the rewards have been so great that we barely miss it. This is better for our family then the public school they were in and It's better then the private school Ethan was in. It is by far the best way to educate OUR kids.
I really wish it hadn't taken us this long to realize it.
My mind has been racing this past weekend since I heard about the terrible tragedy in Connecticut. As a parent of three elementary aged children I was horrified and sicked by almost every tiny bit of information that was released since then. I haven't been able to sleep and there is still so much disbelief and shock that it just seems unreal. I home school my oldest and since the news broke I have been in a constant internal struggle with myself questioning if I should keep my 2 others home from now on to. Is that the only way I can protect them from a world so scary?
Then the reports of the shooter having Asperger's shifted my thinking a little. I am sure the the shooters family is suffering just as terribly as the victims families, if not more. Hopefully it has a lot of people thinking differently. I posted 4+ years ago about my thoughts then on Violence and Autism but today I feel a strong need to update my feelings. I still stand by my original thoughts that My son needs me to advocate for him, to be stronger for him. But I've also come to understand him a lot better since then. I'm the one that's changed, and in turn it has changed him.
I think this is going to be devastating for the Amazing Autism Community. Personally, I've already heard comments about how they need to be drugged and locked up at all costs and it has me both hurt and offended and protective. Instead of people trying to understand what is going on and reach out, people are scared and pulling away from something that they just aren't familiar with. My Ethan has already had people push him away because of his diagnosis. He's had parents pull their kids from him and teachers give up on him and this was before Friday! Personally, I am trying to fill that void. I just don't know if only 1 or 2 loving people can.
Ethan lives in a world that he doesn't understand and that doesn't understand him.... on a daily basis he feels this and in turn he is soo much more sensitive to everyone around him. He can't express his emotions very well and he still doesn't even understand why people have feelings other then what he is feeling at that exact moment. That being said, he has an amazing pulse on people. A few years ago my SIL said it best,that "there are some people who soak up others emotions for them like a sponge and then, for better or worse, don't know how to let go of it themselves." Ethan is one of those people. He is a terrible communicator yet he can sense (and then magnify) your happiness or excitement or anticipation (which is why he's the best to be around at Christmas time!). Unfortunately it isn't always rainbows and butterflies, it also applies to more negative and harder to understand emotions like tension, frustration, betrayal, deceit, jealousy, and anger and disappointment. He doesn't even comprehend them himself yet internalizes those emotions and turns them on himself before you have even had a chance to identify them in yourself or those around you. Ethan literally feels your frustration or pain. Often I have put on a happy face for the kids during a trial and Ethan is NEVER fooled by it. He becomes agitated or restless and figgets. It's not just with me either, it's with anyone around him. If his little brother or sister is frustrated and losing his temper Ethan is often in the other room crying hysterically because he can't handle the upset. If the Baby is excited and giggling Ethan is bouncing off the walls and can't contain his joy and happiness. This is why homeschooling him has been soo wonderful. I've been able to fully control who is in his life and who is influencing him. I can see what triggers him and divert it. We started doing homework in the kitchen but that was too close to Daddy who was downstairs in his home office... stressed. By moving upstairs and being two flights away Ethan was better able to concentrate and be motivated and feel more empowered, because he wasn't sensing anyone elses stress. Frankly it isn't that he's full of empathy, it is that he is absorbing others energy. So his violent outbursts tend to be a microcosm of what people in the room are feeling. This translates in every area of his life. If I want him to or need him to learn something I don't so much have to tell him he can do it, I need to actually believe it, fully 100%. When he's around other kids, the same thing happens, if they are are healthy, well adjusted and kind, he picks up on that without talking (and yes, he often comes across as rude to them because of it). If others are feeling threaten and competitive or even testing the waters of life (as many 9 year old boys do) he picks up on that and doesn't understand it the same way as a typical boy does, so he becomes tense and confused and starts to feel like he's being backed into a corner- even if he's not the child being picked on or pushing boundaries. It's both fascinating and terrifying and only points to to me how important it is to surround him with positive influences in his life. No negative news shows, scary movies or shoot'em-up video games, because these things affect him differently then they do my other children.
What I'm getting at is that these kids that are absorbing the world around them need to live in a world that is full of people who are up to the task of positivity and strength and growth. I have changed over the course of the last 4 years and come to understand this about him and most kids like him. But...One mother alone trying to protect her child isn't enough, it takes an entire community of acceptance.
I'm so worried that now foster parents will be less likely to take him Autistic foster children, or more teachers writing off kids and creating situations for outburst so that they get sent to a more severe classroom, it's already hard for Autistic/Aspergers children to have friends, I'm worried parents will teach their children fear and won't allow their kids to play with kids on the spectrum. The more isolated and away from the world and community these children feel the more extreme their emotions become.
I guess I'm just hurting right now and need someone, anyone out there, to understand instead of pass judgement. Frankly, As a country we need to open our minds and our hearts a little more, help others more and build support systems for everyone going through trials to understand that they are not alone. It'll strengthen us all.
We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop and look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot. Eleanor Roosevelt
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. Marie Curie
The last two weeks of my life have been really impactful. In just two weeks I have changed... dramtically. I have been frustrated to tears, I've felt enormous weight and responsibility on my shoulders and I've resented every aspect of my life. I've been the worst mother I've ever been and I've not been the best wife... needless to say I was scrapping the bottom of my reserves and the barrel was empty. I had nothing left to give... or more acurately nothing more I wanted to give.
Between all three kids in three different schools, Ethan in therapy 2 afternoons a week and Owen and Lorali in dance I was in a constant state of runnig around like a chicken with it's head cut off. I hated every minute of it. It was a constant waste. I was trying to surrender myself and my time to the school year. Thinking it was for the best. In reality it was the worst decision ever for my family. Everyone was miserable.
Since school started 7 weeks ago Ethan has been bullied at school. A LOT. He's come home asking what new colorful words mean because he's being called them, he's been scratched, excluded, teased and taunted. He's crying the minute he gets in the car, he is hiding in his room at night refusing to be with the family and I am losing my happy, inquisitive son. NOT TO AUTISM to the school! I've spoken to the school administrators about it but they repeated feel like it's acase of Ethan's perceptions not malicious intent from other kids. It's on the playground, in the lunchroom, in the class and there is really no escaping it. The final straw came when I was brushing Ethan's hair 2 weeks ago and found a big chunk of chewed up food.... I asked Ethan what it was and he said someone in the lunchroom had been spitting on him! He had told the teachers in the room but they had told him to just move seats. I cried for a week, met with the school counselor, teachers and special needs coordinator and still didn't feel like this was something they considered a priority. I was furious at the world for a week and ended up taking it out on my family. On top of this I had been noticing that the work he'd been bringing home from school was SIMPLE. 9+1, 6+4, 8+7, etc. on his math worksheet. With comments from the teacher like "Ethan got 100% on this one! Great job buddy!" What?!? Of course he got 100% That is Kindergarten math! He's been out of Kindergarten math since before he left kindergarten! He is supposed to be in 3rd grade, not 1st! They'd send home journal entries that had two sentences and were 100% illegible. When asked about it they responded with 'We're just glad he's willing to do anything'. What?! Yeah.... They don't believe in him and they certainly do NOT see his potential. Yes, Autism is a diagnosis but it does NOT mean STUPID. Ethan is brilliant and even though he learns differently he loves to learn. He absolutely wants to be the expert on practically every topic he learns. It's a joy to be with him and to see him learn and understand. Don't get me wrong, I think the teachers are doing the best they can but they are doing the bare minimum. They are refusing to seperate from the pack and become the cream that Ethan needs. They're happy with mediocre. I tried to have faith in the system and I just can't do it anymore. I'm done being the fighter.
SO after a long hard two weeks of frustration, arguing, tears and prayers. It looks like it's finally time to Surrender. Surrender to Autism, Surrender to the school system, and surrender myself to improving Ethan's education. No more self-doubt allowed. Ethan needs me. He needs Doug and he needs to know without a doubt that we believe in him wholeheartedly. So Doug and I have decided to homeschool him. In the past I've come up with excuses... I don't know what he needs, I'm not equipt to teach him the way he needs, I don't have a degree, I don't have the time, I don't have the patience.... trust me I've thought of 2 million and 1 reasons why it's a bad idea but ultimately Ethan needs me. He's been in 3 different schools, with 6 different teachers in the 16 months since we've lived here.... it's not fair to him anymore. Parents can not force teachers to believe in thier kids. Frankly, we got really lucky in Bethlehem. Ethan had teachers that believed in him and worked with him and cheered him on in more ways then we as parents did. They knew he was capible and they were not going to let him do anything but succeed. They learned right along with him. How to teach him and how to connect with him were ever changing targets and they were determined to ease his struggles and they taught me to do the same. They taught me to believe in his abilities and use that to his advantage. So while I don't have a degree, and I don't have the best of everything I do have my childs best intrests in mind and I know that he belongs with me. I can put everything I have into him and teach him the way he needs to be taught. I know I can remind him of his passion for learning, I know I can give him his confidence back and I know he will improve and again, exceed all of our expectations.
"Surrender does not mean being passive, it means engaging yourself totally in what you are doing and then letting go of the outcome." -Yogi Amrit Desai
Three kids in school?! What the heck?! Time is going by way too fast around here. Today Ethan started 3rd Grade. Lorali Started 2nd Grade and Owen? He's in Pre-K!!! Three kids, Three schools and Three different schedules. My life is about to get crasy and hectic and I'm brying on the inside but, THEY ARE SO EXCITED it's hard not to get caught up with their infectious smiles.
****just a warning, don't click on the following links if you feel like criticizing my parenting or my my son, I re-read my situation or watch the video clips of him struggling and I break down into tears- and not because I'm pregnant but because it's heartbreaking to see him hurting and knowing everything I do I can't always help him to see how amazing and special he is and let us in to help.****
I thought I'd take today to give a little Ethan update. This school year and this move has been way more then just rough on him. Three schools later and he's still asking for Mrs. Lee almost daily. So right now he's at a public school in our district that is supposedly wonderful with special needs kids and has supposedly wonderful staff equip to handle Ethan and his needs (which, by the way, are not very extensive compared to a lot of special needs kids/parents I've met over the years.) He has an IEP (Indiv. Education Plan), with a few modifications, he's in a standard school classroom and goes out in a resource like setting for a few times throughout the day, he gets speech/OT services regularly there, ect. If you have a child anywhere on the spectrum, with ADHD or any delays you should totally have one. With Ethan we also set him up a few years ago with a BIP(or a Behavior Plan) again.... this isn't standard for the school to give out and come up with on their own but you should definitely have one for your child, even if they aren't having behavior problems... actually esp. if they don't have behavior problems. It basically gives goals/ expectations for a child and his/her behavior in the school but also gives a little help to the staff about what their expectations about the child's behavior and reactions will be. The reason I say do it before there is a problem is that if you don't the is absolutely no protection for you/your child in regards to discipline. Okay, I'm off my soapbox, let me get back to Ethan's situation....
Ethan had an IEP from Barrow County Schools.... It was wonderful. It gave expectations/ goals for him that the school staff was constantly working on, it gave us as parents the touch points that we needed to re-enforce and it also gave step-by-step guidelines to follow if for some reason Ethan ever had one of his Autism Meltdowns (like this or this ) at school. Let's be clear here... Ethan is 9 nine years 2 months now.... developmentally his overall age is 7 years 2 months. (We are super proud of that number) In some areas he is more severely delayed (his gross motor skills age is 6 years 1 month) His logistics and planning skills are 22% below of where they should be for his age, his body awareness skills are 32% below an average 9 year old. He does not have these fits regularly, in fact even after everything he's been through this year with multiple schools he's only had 3 meltdowns, and they were all here at home. He's gotten upset and acted out a little at school but nothing major.
Last week that changed. He completely broke down at school and this went from bad to worse. The schedule was changed, the teachers were impatient, Ethan was fixated on a library book and come to find out.... the teachers and staff hadn't even read his existing BIP. Yeah, it's the stuff Special Needs Parents have nightmares about. After picking him up and calming him down in minutes and hearing him cry all night about how hurt he was and how much he hated school and was scared to go back, my heart started breaking.
They handled Ethan all wrong and eescalated it to the point of no return. AND THEN they tried to suspend my 2nd grader for 30 school days.... yep you read that right.over 6 weeks of school suspension. For a 2nd grader? that is developmentally a Kindergarten er?! Ha! It was so ridiculous it was laughable. Thankfully we did have an BIP in place. Doug went in for a meeting with the school the next day and Ethan ended up with a 3 day school suspension so I've had him home with me this week. We have cuddled, we've read together, he's gotten in lots of Owen time and taught him how to play the Wii sports games, he's played and played with his puppy, he's baked with me and he's gotten his confidence back. Today he even got to spend time with his very best friend in the entire world.... and now he is HAPPY again!
Spending more time with him makes me realize how amazing he is. He's smart and funny and intensely loving and yes, he gets angry easily. Yes, he has a low tolerance for certain textures or sounds, and Yep, he sometimes acts inappropriately for his age but you know what? He's full of so much life and imagination and talent and love that it's nothing but contagious. He's trying so much harder then your average kid to do even simple things like learn to dress himself and express his emotions. It wears on him and it hurts him but he's fighting a hard battle and refusing to give up.
Don't get me wrong, having Autism and raising a child with Autism is hard. It sucks sometimes and it's exhausting and painful but IT IS SO WORTH IT! I couldn't imaging Ethan being anything other then who he is. Shortly after Ethan was diagnosed I scrapbooked my thoughts and they're still exactly how I feel.
A few weeks ago the kids picked out some Valentine toys online (because I pretty much hate bulk candy being brought into the house) and the minute they arrived the kids started pestering me to get working on the classroom Valentine's (I love that they get excited for cute little projects like this.) We spent Sunday morning puting them together.
Ethan picked out some foam airplane kits.... surprise, surprise, right? It's a cute little obsession he has with airplanes and I love that he wants to share it with everyone because of course he thinks they will love it as much as he will. Adorable.
And Lorali chose Valentine's Kazoo's. She is our little music maker through and through. Hers are my favorite. They were a little harder to design but once I had the colors just right, I knew she'd love them.
So what am I hoping for this Valentine's Day? Just a simple little love letter like THIS from my sweetheart.