Like on Us on Facebook

Like Homeschooling Autism on Facebook

Sunday, February 2, 2014

10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Homeschool

Homeschooling is not for the faint of heart.  It is for the determined, the committed, and the passionate.  But before jumping in with two feet, it can be helpful to ask yourself a few honest questions.  Discussing and sharing ideas and expectations with your family is a critical part to the homeschooling journey, as this is not a solo mission!  I answered these 10 questions myself to give you a frame of reference.  And the beautiful part of being a homeschooler is that all of our answers will and should look totally different.  The goal isn't to fit into a "autism homeschooler mold", but to find your sweet spot in a wide open world of possibilities...because that is what homeschooling offers at it's core - possibilities.

1.  Why do I want/need to homeschool? 

Tremendous anxiety in public middle school caused behavioral problems, inability to learn, and stress at home.

2.  Strengths and weakness of your child

S: Disciplined with schedule, hardworking, charming, funny, creative, loving
W: Short tempered, easily frustrated, loud, inflexible, destructive, demanding

3.  Strengths and weakness of you

S: Resourceful, confident, flexible, intelligent, adventurous
W: Short tempered, easily frustrated, isolationist, sensory overloaded easily

4.  Child's Interests

Jackson loves music, TV & movies, iPad, photography, drawing, and shopping.

5.  Budget

I prefer to make a smaller investment up front so I can make adjustments during the year as he seems to constantly change. We allot $200 at beginning of school year and $50-$75/month during the year.

6.  Space

Our house is not huge and I do not like clutter, therefore I like to keep all his materials and work in the dining room area, but they seem to have taken over a corner in the living room as well.

7.  Time

I am not a morning person.  So my husband helps with the early morning activities. And I like to be done an hour before my daughter gets home, so I can decompress before all the afternoon activities.

6:30-2:00 Jackson

9:00-2:00 Me (6:30-7:30 with Dad and 7:30-9:00 Independent)

8.  Community

We live in suburban D.C. which has plenty of access to services, therapies, socialization and educational opportunities, but it's heavily populated, so all outings need to be in the morning to avoid overstimulating situations for both Jackson and I.

9.  Support Network

No family and limited friends, as I'm a bit of an introvert.  Most support comes from husband and a few close friends with special needs children.  This can cause loneliness and feeling overwhelmed easily, so I need to take periodic breaks during the school day and time away on the weekends.

10.  State Requirements

Virginia's requirements are minimal which makes my life a lot easier!  We do a letter from a certified teacher who has reviewed and approved my son's work from the school year.  Check for your state's requirements here as some are much, much more rigid:

Notice that not one of these questions is about what curriculum to use - that is secondary, and the subject of my next blog.  A lot of people get hung up on WHAT they are going to teach, that they forget that HOW and WHY they are going to teach is more important.  It reminds me of the mistake a lot of couples make when they get married...they focus all their time, energy and money on the wedding, and not on the marriage that follows.  Curriculum choices come much more easily once you understand your child's emotional, social, physical, intellectual, and spiritual needs - all within the confines of your adult realities.

As an optimistic realist, I firmly believe in being brutally honest with myself, but I'm also hopeful that everything will work out in the end:) "What could possibly go wrong??" is the Trotter family motto!

Follow me on Twitter:!/hometeachautism

Like the Facebook Page: Homeschooling Autism

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Broken Things, Not Broken People

I just wanted to post a quick blog about a big lesson I learned toady, one that I have struggled with for years with Jackson.  Earlier today he threw a remote control at our only TV and permanently damaged the screen.  He came up and asked me to "help fix the Tivo please" in a very pleasant tone.  I said, "Sure, buddy" and when I got downstairs, I saw the damage.  I knelt in front of the broken TV and bent my head tears.

As I cried over yet another costly repair resulting from his anger and/or lack of understanding of how to take care of things, he began to rub my back and kiss my head.  He simply said, "You made a mistake and are sorry for the fix it."

I felt like, for the first time, I could put his feelings of remorse in front of my own of frustration or self-pity.  I learned today that people are more important than things, and I'm ashamed to say that it has taken me a long time to get to this point.

Few people outside of autism parents, (notice I didn't say the "autism community" because you really have to be a parent to get this), understand that there is a real monetary cost to autism that blows apart any estimate on how our finances will be impacted by our special needs kids.  We literally spend thousands and thousands of dollars a year fixing, replacing and repairing things that we NEVER anticipated in any reasonable budgeting process.  It can be exhausting and disheartening as the years march on and on...

But today, I feel like I've come to see that Jackson feels a lot worse that I ever could about these situations.  And instead of trying to lie and manipulate his way out of it, like most teenagers would, his only concern was for my feelings.  He is a true servant and the best model of love that I have in my life, and I need to learn more from him and less from the world about the value of people over things.

Follow me on Twitter:!/hometeachautism

Like the Facebook Page: Homeschooling Autism

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Rethinking Homeschooling as a Boy Becomes a Man

Eight grade is a transitional year for many students, Jackson included. So as I entered our 3rd year of homeschooling, I decided to shift my homeschooling focus from my lesson preparation to Jackson's new found wants and needs as a young man.  The majority of homeschooling lesson planning resources that I have encountered seek to ensure that I, as the teacher, am fully equipped with all the materials and tools that I need to present the best content, coupled with the most appropriate educational technique to meet the needs of my child.  And while this has worked wonderfully for Jackson's 6th and 7th grade years, I was feeling a longing for a simpler and more student focused approach.  I felt a lot of stress regarding my readiness and teaching aptitude - meaning that way too much of his success depended on my success as a teacher.  Not a good formula for an effective and peaceful school year!

So as the summer began to wind down, instead of ramping up as the teacher for the school year, I slipped on an attitude of a student and spent that time learning as much about Jackson as I could.  And what I discovered was that my little boy had turned into a man before my very eyes, and I needed to stop treating him like a child and respect the wants and needs of this young man. He needed more say in his daily educational experience.  He needed to feel more in charge of his body and mind.  In short, he needed more freedom, like all teenagers need as they begin the transition into adulthood.

We decided that his anxiety had become too overwhelming and was beginning to consume his daily life.  So we added a mild blood pressure medicine (Intuniv) that has helped tremendously with his angry outbursts and over reaction to stressful and confusing situations.  We also felt that as he stormed full steam into adolescents, he needed to spend more one-on-one time with his father.  So we added 30 minutes of weight lifting to his schedule - EVERY morning at 6:30, the 2 of them watch SportsCenter and lift free weights in our manly, but unfinished, gym space in the basement.  The combination of these 2 things alone, has been remarkable.  But his school-life had to also be adjusted to fall in line with his new wants and needs as a young, proud and confident man. 

So instead of a rigid daily schedule that stressed consistency and continuity of topics and activities, I decided to give him more autonomy over his courses.  We stuck with a loose outline of the day, but gave him a lot of options within that structure that looks something like this:

6:30-7:00  Weight Lifting with Dad
7:00          Make Coffee
7:30          Make Breakfast
8:00          Treadmill
8:20          Shower
9:00          Book on CD & Devotional
9:30          Starbucks & Shopping

10:30-12  Activities
12-1         Lunch
1-3           Activities

After we get back from our daily coffee run and shopping, which includes everything from the grocery store to the cleaners to Target, we begin going through the 5-7 activities that he chose that morning.  After following this schedule for a few months now, I have discovered that he has definite preferences. This has been very eye opening, and has helped me learn more about what he perceives his strength and weakness are. He loves:

1.  Cooking
2.  Baking
3.  Piano
4.  Science
5.  Puzzles
6.  Cards
7.  Social Studies
8.  Photography
9.  Chores
10. PE/Yoga

He is a cool mix of left and right brained strengths.  He is not "an autistic savant" in any one area (like every other TV special on autism likes to glamorize), but a nice, healthy mix of creativity and analytics. He grown in both physical and mental strength, as he can settle his body and mind much more effectively than ever before.  And while I would not go so far as to say he has mastered the art of self control (as I have not even achieved that feat yet), he has come a long way since the school year began.  I attribute his progress to our shift in perspective from how we want to parent/educate him, to how he needs to be parented/educated, as a new and growing young man, who one day might just surprise us all and be an independent and impactful man that this world could learn so much from.  

Follow me on Twitter:!/hometeachautism

Like the Facebook Page: Homeschooling Autism

Friday, September 13, 2013

My Most Honest Confession

Their faces say it all. What starts as judgemental stares quickly change to desperate concern as they watch Jackson go from angry and frustrated to full blown wild animal. The flash point is so intense that it scares people and while they move away, I have to charge in to try and rescue him from himself. It is heart breaking to see him suffer and in that moment onlookers can finally see his pain as I do.  I pull him close as he bites me, pulls my hair and scratches my face because he needs love to recover and heal and while it hurts me, it hurts him more to feel so out of control not knowing why his mind fails him when he needs it so desperately. My anger at autism quickly moves to anger at God as I struggle to understand why He doesn't charge in to help Jackson. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Our One Year Homeschooling Experiment Take-Away

Now that our time as a true homeschool family is coming to a close, I have had more time to reflect on the ups and downs, victories and failures, and lessons learned.  With Caroline going back into public middle school this fall, our homeschool will once again, be just Jackson and me.  And while I love and miss our special one-on-one dynamic, there will be a huge hole in our hearts without her here, because the biggest take away I got from this year, regarding both my kids, is that quantity of time always trumps quality of time with children, especially adolescents.

A great analogy for this truth is the dreaded power outage.  I spent the past two days fretting over losing power during the latest derecho warnings in the D.C. area.  We lose power at the drop of a hat in our neighborhood, as it is filled with large, old trees and overhead power lines.  But as I reflect on the times we have lost power for extended periods (blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, Oh My!), there is always that sweet point where having no power frees everyone's mind and schedule to just sit and enjoy each other and slow down to reconnect.  That is what this year of homeschooling felt like to me...a prolonged sweet spot to reconnect with both Jackson and Caroline, and for them to reconnect with each other.

In this day and age, there is article after article about the need for quality time with your children.  Go on a "date" with your kids so they will feel special.  Carve out 20 minutes once a week to really discuss their feelings over an ice cream sundae.  Make their favorite meal to draw them out of their bedroom for some one-on-one time.  And while all of these are great ideas, that I have done in the past, and are sure to achieve some level of connection, what I discovered was that the most meaningful relational moments occur after spending 2 hours lounging on the couch reading or in the daily routine of running errands together.  These are the unsung moments where connection seems to organically sprout.  A comment about a sports star coming out as homosexual, naturally leads to a causal, but meaningful hour long dialog about gay marriage.  An eye roll over a friend's overly dramatic Instagram post while eating lunch together on the couch, spurs an afternoon spent discussing the parameters and pitfalls of social media in the 21st century, as well as how to manage our own emotions when we feel out of control.

For Jackson, these elongated moments of connection have occurred in a similarly authentic fashion. Before he was homeschooled, he could not bath or dress himself.  He relied on me for every daily need.  His development was hindered by his lack of independence and freedom.  His communication skills were limited to addressing his immediate needs only.  But after 2 years of quantity over quality of time together, our connection has transformed from caregiver/receiver to mother/son...which, to those of us in the autism community, we realize is a significant emotional milestone to be recognized and celebrated.

After spending a year getting to know Jackson and Caroline on a much deeper and more personal level,  I can honestly say that I really like them both.  Caroline is witty and charming, thoughtful and tender-hearted, fearless and ambitious, obedient and trustworthy.  Jackson is entertaining and endearing, hardworking and disciplined, strong and brave, affectionate and loving.  And while it was by no means all sunshine and roses, I hope and pray it was enough to lay a solid foundation for the inevitable rocky teenage years in our future. These special bonds were not created during the big splashy moments of childhood, but in the tedium and trenches of daily life that was spent together, arm in arm, during a year with "no power" other than each other, our books and our coffee shops!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Teenagers with Autism are Awesome!

So what have we been up to the past few months?  Not blogging apparently...  The addition of my 5th grade daughter to our homeschool day has made for very little writing time!  And thanks to my husband's Christmas gift of an Ikea chaise lounge for our bedroom, any down time I get, I find myself curled up on there with a cup of tea and a good book...this introverted mama needs some alone time after all:)

As spring desperatly tries to bloom here in Virginia, I find myself watching Jackson grow into a man before my very eyes.  He just turned 14 a few weeks ago and seems older and wiser with each passing day.  He is tall, strong, handsome and charming.  He is funny, gregarious, extroverted and friendly.  He is musical, athletic, comedic, and techy.  He is moody, loud, disruptive and angry.  He loves YouTube, Netflix, Sports Center and The Colbert Report.  He is 14 and acts more "neuro-typical" everyday...for better or worse.  

His academics are still a work in progress, with math success continuing to outpace language arts.  But he diligently does all the work asked of him and seeks my guidance and approval in all areas.  His mastery of geometry is fascinating to me as it was always such a weakness of mine growing up.  We will tackle fractions after spring break, grades 4-6 is our target level for this unit, and finding good materials is proving to be a challenge, too basic or too advanced seems to be the theme in my search so far.  

I have also really enjoyed our recent science & social studies units on the skeletal system and world geography.  As a professed map-geek myself, I've loved using an interactive globe to learn over 150 countries with him.  He is creating a World Fact Book as well, including a page per country with information such as capital, population, area, distance from United States, continent, flag, etc.  I also loved using the iPad games, Stack the Countries and Bone Scan Bob for these units.  We would love to travel with Jackson once Caroline goes off to college and use that time as a type of advanced degree for him.  

But the most essential and rewarding part of our winter homeschool season has been our community involvement.  Jackson is extremely social and outgoing.  He loves talking to people and trying to make them smile or laugh.  He can walk into a room full of strangers and have them all smiling by the time he leaves.  He has absolutely no inhibitions or awkwardness which makes he a natural charmer and motivational figure in our community.  He can work a room like a seasoned politician.  He randomly gets gifts from people who desperately want to give back to him, because he gives so much to them without even realizing it.  He is so generous with his joy and affections that people look to him for encouragement and rely on him for a "pick-me-up" on a regular basis.  "Where's my Jackson?" is a frequent question I get if I dare go somewhere without him these days.  I love the fact that so many people refer to him as "my Jackson".  There is a special ownership of him and pride in that relationship. 

So while he can drive me up the wall some days with his moodiness, I am thankful that I have a teenager who is making such a positive impact on his community that is not driven by forced volunteerism, adult manipulation for a reward, or college transcript bullet points.  I might not know where his place in the world is yet, but I feel more confident everyday that the world needs him a lot more than he needs the world! 

Follow me on Twitter:!/hometeachautism

Like the Facebook Page: Homeschooling Autism

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Training Up Independent Learners: Autistic and Gifted Alike

I have two very different children that always seem to surprise me with how similar they are!

Today I gave my 11 yr old daughter only one assignment for the entire day...Make an iMovie about the North Korean rocket launch.  This event has meaning to her because she has shown an interest in this region and conflict since she was a little girl.  I remember checking out DVDs from the library when she was in 2nd grade about the Korean War and she has followed the Kim regime ever since.  She has similar fascinations with other countries like Peru, Saudi Arabia and Cuba.  I might have the future Secretary of State on my hands...she does love her some Condi Rice too:)

I sent her away at 9:30 with no instructions besides, "Make a 2-4 minute iMovie on the rocket launch." She sprawled out on my bed with the laptop, snacks and the dog, and at 2:30 she emerged with this:

She layed out her process for me afterwards which included:

1.  Internet research from:  Business Insider, Fox News, and CNN (all bookmarks on the laptop).
2.  Cornell note-taking
3.  Photo selection and editing
4.  Music selection and editing
5.  iMovie creation based on notes
6.  Final editing
7.  Laughing at mom because she had no idea how to do any of that herself!!

And while this project could have been a lot more intensive and in-depth from an informational stand-point,  I really wanted to see if she could independently move through this process without my constant direction and/or nagging.  I have been trying to transition her to a more independent learning environment that allows for her establish the time and tempo required to complete big projects.  I know this will be helpful once she hits middle school next year.

As for Jackson, I have tried creating a similar environment for him in regards to his life skills.  Less than 3 months ago, I was still micro-managing most of his daily activities to ensure he checked all the necessary boxes of personal hygiene, academic work, household chores, social activities and behavioral management.  But as he roars full steam into the teenage years, I have had to step back and give him a lot more independence than I am comfortable with, but know how critical it is that he take on these responsibilities himself.

I am completely out-of-the-loop on ALL personal care and hygiene issues and he has done a tremendous job!  He is the least smelly teenage boy I know, and very receptive to any changes or new introduction to his routine in this area.  So thankful for this!!  He also has no need for my assistance with any of his household chores.  He empties the dishwasher, carries in and puts away all the groceries, puts his dirty clothes in the laundry, takes out the trash, and starting this spring, will be mowing the lawn.  He will do any work you ask, as long as he knows what time you expect him to start work and for how long.  He is a human timer and has an expiration buzzer for sure - but will work hard when he understands the expectation and task.

Academically, since he has been watching Caroline, he has been asking me to leave him alone to do his work.  He occasionally asks for my help, especially in math, but does a great deal of work alone.  I usually supervise from afar or pretend to sweep near him so I can keep an eye on things, but he is wanting more freedom, which is terrific!  Socially and behaviorally, he has come so far, but still has a long journey ahead.  He recently tackled the good manners vs. bad manners issue with great success!  He is very proud of himself when he can be polite in public and have good manners when he is frustrated.  It is hard for me to do that, so I commend him for the effort!

Paul and I were joking that Jackson is the odd combination of autistic and extroverted, which makes for some pretty interesting social situations, but he is learning to shake hands, respond to questions and make better eye contact.  He wants to interact with a variety of people, and has varying levels of success, mainly based on how receptive the other person is to his unique communication skills.

In summary, I am being pushed WAY outside of my comfort zone with these 2 kids.  They are each growing and developing by leaps and bounds, and I feel left in the dust most days.  I am exhausted trying to stay ahead of them so I can prepare the way for the next milestone.  But at the end of the day, I just need to:

Follow me on Twitter:!/hometeachautism

Like the Facebook Page: Homeschooling Autism