When my 2-year-old daughter was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in April, it came as no surprise to me. She had been showing signs since 18 months or so. I already had her in the state's early intervention program getting combination speech and play therapy and occupational therapy. The official diagnosis only helped to reassure me that I was correct in my assessment and I wasn't crazy.
We are a neurodiversity-friendly family. My husband is autistic. I love and accept him for who he is. Autism makes parts of his life more challenging but also gives him gifts of looking at and thinking about the world differently.
We feel the same way about our daughter. We love her unconditionally. We want to assist her with her challenges while also supporting and accepting her differences. For example, she is mostly nonverbal. We want to encourage her speech while also giving her the options to use gestures, sign language, picture cards, an iPad AAC app, or even learning to spell words as equally valid forms of communication.
My husband and I have been talking about homeschooling for years, since our daughter was a baby or perhaps even earlier. Both of us believe we would have been better educated for our careers if we could have stayed home and pursued our own interests. We are both highly educated professionals. My husband felt that school was mostly babysitting and often taught himself out of his own books in classes. I felt that school was a lot of busywork, especially subjects I had little interest in. I had to wait until university to take a class in my profession.
Schools are also full of bullying. My husband got the worst of it, but I didn't escape it either. Kids can be cruel and the teachers did little to nothing to stop it. Fitting in and peer pressure are difficult for neurotypical kids, and even more difficult for kids who are different than the norm.
Fitting in and being normal are not values I want to pass on to my children, not to my presumably neurotypical baby son and definitely not to my autistic daughter. The more I researched applied behavioral analysis (ABA), a common autism therapy, the more disturbed I was on its emphasis of discouraging odd behaviors and reinforcing "normal" behaviors.
None of my daughter's behaviors are bad (except for the typical troubles of most curious and energetic toddlers). My daughter is a gift to us and to the world. Why would I want to change her to be someone she isn't? Instead, I strive to love her fully and completely for who she is.
Last week we attended our first meeting with the school district. When my daughter turns 3 later this year, the state will transition her therapies to the school district. But the meeting with the school district did not go well. In a very short time, I could see how unhappy my daughter was with others trying to control her, discourage her adventurous behavior, interrupt her play, and ignore her wishes which were clearly communicated through sounds and body language. That was the first of five required meetings before I could even visit a special education preschool or talk with any school district therapist.
But I already knew what a preschool classroom might look like and I already knew what the therapists' intentions would be. Their primary intention would be to normalize her and get her “school ready.” To follow instructions and commands blindly because an authority said so. To ignore her body's desire to move and to sit still because that's what's most convenient for adults. To communicate verbally because that's most convenient for others. To play with peers even if she isn't interested in doing so. To tell her how she naturally exists is bad, and how they want to change her to be is good. And don't get me started on the ingrained sexism in most early education environments where girls are cute, pink, and delicate and boys are dirty, rough, and action-oriented.
This is not to say I think schooling is bad. School can be great for most kids. I intend to raise extraordinary kids who are self-motivated, critically-thinking leaders who are confident in their knowledge of who they are. My daughter is naturally this way.
And so, the decision to home educate (unschool or world school) fell into place. Already my child is learning the basics of early education without much help from anyone else.
She is fluent in the use of her iPad and watches shows or plays games involving shapes, colors, pattern matching, numbers through 100, letters, and spelling. She found a kids baking series and has discovered a love of baking. She loves animals and recently started hippotherapy (horse riding). She loves her daddy's fish and coral tanks and sometimes watches nature documentaries of her choosing. She is very athletic and enjoys running, climbing, bouncing, swinging, spinning, and swimming.
And most importantly, my daughter is happy. Her joy with life is apparent. Her curiosity is insatiable. I have no doubt that she will do great in life, perhaps even take over the world. It is my great pleasure as her mother to facilitate her learning in the best way for her: by following her lead.
How in the world can I homeschool my child, care for a baby, and run my small home business? Well, so far it hasn't been any different from what we've already been doing. I read to the kids every day. I get her books, toys, and iPad apps I think she will like. I recently took her to the library for the first time, and although she chose to run through the aisles in the sheer joy of being there rather than pick a book, in the future I hope she will choose her own reading material. She already chooses her own shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and YouTube. I take her to church, talk to her about God, and pray with her. I even read to her the highly technical articles and papers I read for my profession. As she gets older and her needs get more complex, I will rise to meet her needs. This may include signing her up for more classes or clubs, exposing her to new events and places, or finding more knowledgeable people to answer her questions. When she is a little older, I hope to join a homeschool co-op for projects and field trips.
I'm excited for this next adventure. We may homeschool for a short time or all the way through high school, it's up to her and her needs. We may homeschool my son and any future children as well. The great thing about homeschool is its flexibility. I feel very positive about this step in our lives.