Meet Owen. I talk about him a lot here at Maggie’s Milk. Owen is our oldest son, and second child. He’s 8 now (it’s so hard to believe!)
Owen has Angelman Syndrome. You can read more about his health in a five-part series starting here. But this post isn’t about that. This one’s about education.
When I tell people I homeschool my children, many of them assume I don’t mean Owen. They think he should be in school. My own extended family has asked me over and over again why I don’t send him to school. They think it’d be easier. And they are right. I know.
Owen attended preschool at our local school for three years, while I was working full-time as a teacher. Life was easier. In some ways.
Want to know why?
Here are ten reasons why I homeschool my severely disabled child:
1. I am called to homeschool my children.
That means ALL of them. How would it make Owen feel if I sent him off on a bus each morning, but kept everyone else home for hours of learning, love and laughter? I can only imagine the rejection he’d feel. He is smarter than most people give him credit for.
Also, we homeschool because we have serious doubts about public schools in general. Why in the world would I be okay putting Owen in one but not the rest of our kids?
2. I don’t like NOT knowing what happens all day.
Owen can’t talk, and doesn’t really have a viable means of communication currently. That means I’d be sending him off for the majority of his day, and have no idea what was going on. I used to teach in a high school severe-profound class. I know how hard it is for teachers to have time to fill parents in on what happens every day.
But I NEED to know. I need to know about Owen’s days. Some subtle signs of behavior are seizure related. Perhaps he is trying to communicate something. Looking at patterns really helps me to figure Owen out. If we’re apart for over half the day, I can’t look for them.
3. Owen has severe medical issues.
We’re talking issues that have required week long hospital stays. And even more minor ones like seizures that force his body to sleep during random hours during the day. I hated calling the bus garage and the school when Owen was in preschool and cancelling. Again and again. And I hated getting called in to pick him up, not knowing exactly what happened. Not having all of the details about the situation. I’ll just keep him home with me, thanks. That way he can sleep off a seizure when he needs to. I can adjust his schedule (and ours) based on how he’s doing medically.
His Pica is also a major concern. This kid eats everything. I’d rather at least know that the random tissue he picked up and ate was from someone in the family instead of a random kid in school. Finger sweeps have also been necessary at multiple points in Owen’s life to keep him from choking. I know what to look for, and can take care of it immediately.
4. Owen needs routine and continuity in his life.
Trying to balance home and school was hard. I felt like if I was doing something that worked, I’d like them to do it. And if they were doing something that worked, I should be doing it. But trying to find the time to actually communicate those items, that was hard.
At home, there’s no need to inform a teacher that we’re trying this, or then forgetting to update that it wasn’t working so now we switched to this. We can just adjust as we need to.
5. We have a built in social community.
The other kids love Owen. They have naturally figured out what so many teachers struggle with–how to include a disabled person in their day. Owen’s been a shark in the water, a passenger on a bus and a shopper at the store–without ever leaving our living room. The kids are really creative with their play, and love to find ways for Owen to play with them.
We’re surrounding Owen with people who love him. And that’s really important to me!
6. I’m working on potty training Owen.
And he’s figuring it out pretty well. But I can’t explain how I know when he has to go. We’ll call it a mother’s intuition. I know that his potty training success would be far less if he were in school. Remember that Owen can’t tell anyone that he has to go. But by being able to have him here, he’s been in underwear (except at night) for several days in a row. It’s amazing!
7. Expectations for Owen are low.
No one seems to think that Owen can learn anything meaningful, and I do not want his days to be focused on social skills and life training. Why? Because those are taught naturally and modeled for him at home. School time is for academics. And I expose Owen to everything that he can while we homeschool. He’s been engaged in letter play, math, history and science.
I used to teach special education, both in a self-contained class and in a resource room. I had the kids that everyone had given up on long ago. And you know what? They made progress. I loved shocking parents and other staff members by what these kids were doing.
Because I didn’t give up. I didn’t listen when others said they couldn’t.
But since I’ve been in the school environment, I know it happens. People are quick to give up. It’s much easier to assume that someone can’t learn than to actually take the time to try a new method to help them learn.
I’ll keep Owen home and let him sit in on our lessons. I’ll adapt them as I can, add new apps that correlate to his iPad and let him pick up what he can. He may never be able to show me what he learned, but that’s okay. Teaching academics is the right thing to do.
8. Owen would be a major distraction to other learners in a school setting.
Let’s be honest for a minute. Owen is loud. He is hardly ever sitting still. He tries to eat every paper he can reach (and I swear his arms are made out of elastic and can stretch!) In a typical school environment, he’d distract the other kids. A lot. I imagine he’d get taken out of the class. And miss out on all of the academics so the others could learn.
Oh he’d be included for PE and Music, and his teachers would love on him. But he wouldn’t be there for reading. Or math. Or history. Or anything academic. He’d be on his own with an aide somewhere else in the school doing something fun. Not learning from a teacher.
But isn’t he a distraction at home?
But everyone here is used to him. They can push his hand away if he tries to take their paper and keep right on doing what they’re doing. They are used to him. And Owen is used to us. He doesn’t have a new group of kids to get to know every year–a new teacher, possibly a new aide. He just has us. And we’re used to each other.
9. Owen is being presented with the Gospel and God’s love.
This is a major reason we decided to homeschool in the first place. So we can show God’s love to our children and help them to grow strong before being out in the darkness of the world. Much of that instruction is taught during our homeschool time. Owen would miss out on that.
Does Owen have the ability to understand salvation–is he mentally aware enough to realize that he’s a sinner? I have no idea, and thankfully I’m not the one in charge of that.
I do know that I would much rather err on the side of believing him to be capable then not. And so he listens to Bible stories, plays with large blocks while his siblings build pieces of the story, finger paints Bible stories along with us, and is here for his family to love on and show God’s love.
10. Owen doesn’t have to be reevaluated every three years.
Guess what? In three years Owen will still have Angelman Syndrome. He probably still won’t be able to communicate what he knows. And he would absolutely fail the tests that the law says he has to have every three years to stay in the special education system.
And I don’t want that for Owen.
I’ll just keep him home and document progress through a portfolio of goals and progress monitoring. I know that he’s not retarded. I can see the brain neurons firing in his eyes when I look at him. And yet that is the labeled that special education law would force on him once he ages out of the developmentally delayed category.
It’s not fair to be required to give a child a test every three years that you know is unfair. Owen is unable to communicate his responses. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t know anything.
Please know that my decision to keep Owen home doesn’t mean that I don’t like the teachers and aides in our local school. Owen went there for three years, and I know that they would do their absolute best with him. That just isn’t what is right for Owen.
Does this mean that I think everyone should homeschool their disabled children instead of sending them to school?
Nope. That’s a decision for each family to make individually.
Here’s to a great new school year–whatever academic choices are selected for your family!