Home schooling a child with ADHD/Aspergers/Twice Exceptional (wow what a label!!!!)
I have been asked many times what it is like to home school my son who was diagnosed age three with ADHD and then having started school got a few more labels added namely Aspergers with a mix of Giftedness, together with a learning disability, known as Dysgraphia and all combined together makes for a beautiful but somewhat challenging young man.
I began my home school journey around six years ago when my son having been stood down from most schools (including the one at which I taught) began attending an alternative school in Auckland, that catered for children that were somewhat outside of the ‘norm’. This was a disaster and Samuel became depressed after countless episodes of bullying. My son is a very upbeat person and I really could not stand by and watch his whole personality change before my eyes and all in the name of gaining an education. Henceforth I took a deep breath, argued my case with my husband and decided to bale out of the traditional system and try ‘school at home’.
I was nervous about my decision and really wondered whether I was up to something so ‘different’. I had never questioned school really and certainly had no experience with home schooling, nor knew of an other people home schooling. However, one of the first things I did was reach out and find my local home school community and I really began to tap into what they had to offer. It was not always successful as even within that environment Samuel stood out as different, but it did give me a reference point and somewhere to turn to when I needed help.
At home, to begin with, we really did very little (unschooled), to give ourselves a breather from the stress that had amounted for us both due to what had happened at school. It was a wonderful time where we enjoyed each other’s company, relaxed and planed our way forward. I had trained as a teacher the year before I decided to home school, which is funny because it really fired my enthusiasm for leaving the system! I saw how difficult it was to cater for children who do have extra needs, whatever they may be and it gave me the passion to make a difference for at least one child who struggled against the grain, namely my son.
Another benefit for being a ‘qualified’ teacher it gave me some kudos when people asked why Samuel was not at school. I would tell them he was ‘home schooled’ and that I was a trained teacher and they seemed to accept this as better than if I was not! The fact is ANYONE can home school and my training had no benefits to me other than enabling me to see school both from the perspective of a teacher and as a Mum with a child that has ‘special needs’.
Once we had settled more with our decision to home school and accepted this next stage in our ‘educational’ journey Samuel and I decided that a topic based approach would be best. I initially started by running our day very like school with lessons in 45 minute blocks. This really did not work for us and neither was it necessary. Children with ADHD often lack focus and are easily distracted so I found it good to have a quite space for Samuel where he was relaxed but without constant interruption or unnecessary distractions. We compiled a little timetable to help with his organisation, which he really struggles with, but flexibility within that was the best for both of us. Samuel often hyper focuses (another characteristic of both ADHD and Aspergers) and rather seeing that as a deficit we let it work to our advantage. If Samuel was really fired up about a subject and wanted to work on it all day then that was fine. It was amazing how much he covered in a few hours without all the constant interruptions. I also found that when Samuel chose his topic it gave him ownership that also fuelled his motivation, which is not always there with these children. He is a bright child who thrived on this and rather than relying on a teacher for the answers he really wanted to just problem solve and work it out for himself.
Another benefit we found was that where at school he had been conscious of his inability to write and was embarrassed by it because of remarks by other children, at home he had none of this pressure. We did not focus on writing and indeed I helped to teach Samuel to type and would also get him to use a dictaphone to transcribe his stories which I would then type for him. When he was at school he spent many lunchtimes kept in to write up what he could not do during the lesson. The fact is Samuel will never be good at writing in the traditional sense however many ‘remedial’ lessons he receives so we decided to focus on his strengths and build up his self esteem again.
He has exceptional abilities in maths and computing and I felt unskilled in those areas so we decided to tap into distance education where he was able to do papers at his level, which was above his chronological age. He loved this time and built up a rapport with his distant education teachers that did not really materialise at mainstream school. Mainstream school teachers judged Samuel on some of the more challenging behavioural aspects of his condition rather than on the ‘whole’ person. Samuel at home talking online was not judged and neither did many of those ‘behavioural issues’ surface when he was working in a more relaxed, unpressured environment.
We have carried on in this way over the years until recently when Samuel decided that he wanted to do Software Engineering at University. We approached the local University and made enquiries as to how he could get in without the traditional qualifications. On research for us we found the best way for Samuel would be to enrol in Distant Education full time and he is now doing his OP subjects. He has been accelerated a year and is also attending University one day a week which he is loving. He is now 15 and for me looking back over the years I am amazed at how far he has come. I at times worried so much for his future because I was made to worry. Since Samuel has been home schooled we have really dropped many of the ‘labels’ that seemed to be so necessary for him during his time in mainstream. We have no need for labels at home. He is just Samuel. He no longer goes to all the ‘specialists’ he used to, who tried to ‘fix’ him. I am no longer made to feel guilty because I choose not to medicate him. I have found home schooling to be the best thing that we have ever done and for anyone who has a child with ‘special needs’ it can be so rewarding. I have really seen a blossoming in my child and I hope that my story may help, inspire or encourage others to take that initial step for a better future for our children who march to a different beat. J