Friday, May 18, 2007

Social Skills, Asperger's, and Homeschooling

I just read something about Asperger's kids that I'd like to share, it's a major reason why I've chosen to homeschool, and decided to ignore the advice of the developmental psychologist who told me she needed to go to school for the socialization.

From Parenting Your Asperger Child by Alan Sohn Ed.d, and Cathy Grayson, M.A.

"Schools tend to focus on academics. Many Asperger children have fairly well-developed academic skills. It will be the cognitive, behavioral, social, and emotional issues that will be the most important ones for your child to learn. You will be your child's most important teacher because you spend more time with him than anyone else and, also, because he needs to demonstrate the appropriate skills in the real world, not just in a classroom."


My first question about this quote is, does a child in school really spend more time with his parent than anyone else? You factor in the time you spend rushing your kid off in the morning, about an hour, not really quality time either. After you pick them up, she needs a bit of time to decompress, play a game on the computer for an hour. After that, you talk to her about the phone call you recieved from the principal and explain to them how it's innapropriate to pretend you're a barn swallow during math or some such thing, then she has homework you can both cry over. After that is dinner. After dinner, Dad wants to play with the kids, as he should. Story time. Bed time.

My second question is, what's more important to my child's life, the classroom, or the real world? Is a classroom even marginally close to the experiences of real life? In the real world she is confronted with more choices, but also allowed more choices. She meets people of all ages and goes everywhere I go, the grocery store, the homeschool co-op, the roller derby....In the real world, she's not under a microscope and can develop coping mechanisms without being overly-traumatized at the same time.

And is a classroom a very good place to address the most important "behavioral, social, and emotional issues", or does the classroom environment just exacerbate the problem with social skills?

I sent her to school on the advice of an otherwise really great developmental psychologist. I thought I was finally doing what was right. What I didn't know was that the child spent the whole day at school performing innapropriate behaviors that the teachers had no time to address, or didn't observe. Other children spent a good deal of time being entertained or bothered by her behaviors, or teasing her. And two months later at a meeting with the principal and the 5 others (teachers, nurse, administrators, and a psychologist), I find out about 15 other major incidents that they saved up just for this meeting instead of calling me about them that day. All the opportunities to educate the child in social skills were neglected in that time and the anxiety and behavior become worse and worse, and the her reputation suffers. Did you know in my daughter's public school last year they waited a month to tell me about my her removing her clothing in the cafeteria? And that they blamed her for this incident instead of the kid who told her it was fun and okay to do it? It was clear my kid was not in full possession of her faculties. I should have taken her out of school the moment I heard that story. My bad.

Anyway, why spend 12 years teaching a child with a social disability how to survive in a school environment, only to later have to teach them how to live in the real world? Why not teach them how to live in the real world first and introduce them to the idea of school when they are old enough to go to college and have a handle on what to do with their life? I would say a young adult with asperger's is more likely to find comfortable social groups at a technical college, a group of D & D geeks, or in the AV club, when they are older, without all the baggage of being an outcast in public school growing up.

Homeschooling my child has allowed me to introduce her to situations more slowly and tackle social and behavioral issues when I see them. I can tailor a program just for her to help her navigate the real world. I know the kids she plays with, and the parents understand the situation, many of them are dealing with similar issues in their children as well.

So now we're part of a co-op and developed a small group of friends, and we're in gymnastics, and she's beginning to get educated not only in balance and coordination, but personal space, interrupting, and volume control. We've begun to do a lot more schoolwork with a lot less tears, but it's because I really have decided to devote my time to my child and am blessed to have the means to do so. I really do spend more time with her than anyone else, and I am her most important teacher. Little by little things will get better, and poor behaviors will be replaced with new appropriate ones, and I will hold her hand less and less. One day she will grow up and disconnect from me, and leave the nest.

It's funny to me how this has come around to a bird metaphor, because she's in love with birds, and believes she will find a way to fly someday. She'll have to fall a little more than the others, and I'll have to be there to pick her up more than most moms, but she will fly, because I am here with her on her journey, and am able and willing to teach her how to navigate the world with a more positive outlook, and I am here when she needs a place to rest.

25 comments:

wenso said...

Yes YES yes yes yes.

Schools just aren't equiped to be there for these (and arguably many other) kids. And you've gotten to see first hand how this is true...from the point of your child.

And socialization...that word that is under all of our HS skins...is just what you saw. Kids using other kids (and adults too) for their own entertainment. How does any of that teach her how to be in the real world? The answers that come to mind horrify me.

That she was punished for taking her clothes off and the other child had no consequences tells the whole story really. The teachable, socialization moment was missed utterly and completely. No, it is not ok to take advantage of other people, to manipulate them for a laugh. How about using that as a teaching moment about Aspergers...about differences in people...about compassion and personal responsibility.

Sorry, that is just not being taught in public schools. And they're crazy to keep thinking that their experts have more to offer.

You've got it right on! Need help distributing this letter to every school board, administration, the US Dept of Education, etc?? This message needs to be heard, because somehow they've got a lot of people convinced just the opposite is true...

Michele said...

That might be a good idea. Where do we begin?

wenso said...

county school board comes to mind

what about a feature article in one of the 'alternative' presses or even a letter to the editor of the local newspaper...

i wonder is the asperger support group would know of a good way in to get the word out (or are they too much a part of the system?)...

hmmm

dreia said...

Interesting!! I agree totally!

I am an Asperger's adult.

I dropped out of school at 14 and was allowed to do a study-at-home program, and eventually completed my GED.

I didn't start learning social skills until I left highschool. Highschool was not a good place to learn them.

I think I do better, socially, than a lot of Asperger adults my age who completed highschool... most of my social growth was during that same period (age 14 to 16).

interfaithpeace said...

With all due respect to those people struggling with the best decisions for themselves and/or their children...

I ran a child care center for 11 years, worked as a preschool teacher for several years, have a Psych degree, and raised my own children. I also watched a number of friends raise their children.

I know many families with this story: Overprotective, smothering Mom (or Dad)of only child helicoptors over infant and then toddler. Child has few opportunities to socialize with same aged-peers. Normal socialization problems (children biting in day care, germs, children squabbling, separation anxiety, etc.) cause Mom to feel stress. Mom keeps child away from peers more as a result, or only allows socialization when she can completely manage and control it.

Child grows up with significant social skill deficits from lack of experience, and over-reliance on primary parent. (I am not talking about normal clingy behavior in toddlers. I am talking about the Mom who is still spoon-feeding her 2-4 year old).

In a few instances Mom (or Dad) further adds to the problem by deciding to homeschool, to avoid these "problems". Child's social skill deficits sharply increase, as peer's social skills continue to develope and this child's do not.

Child is labelled with a diagnosis indicating very poor social skills, such as "aspergers", "cognitive processing problems", "social anxiety", "depression", etc. Adult child is forever stigmatized and social skills are arrested due to lack of age-appropriate social experiences.

Sadly, I know a number of great families who chose to go this route. I love them, and wish they would have listened to experts early on who said, "Step back and let your child interact often with peers. Handle your own anxiety, if necessary, and change your focus. Let your child grow up as a separate person from you". Or as my street-smart friend would often say, "That family needs another kid or two!"

In all fairness, I also saw the reverse situation sometimes:

Parents who spend little to no time worrying about or protecting their child, or giving him or her their undivided attention. These children often grew up in the center of a crowd, with parents who left them in day care for the maximum number of hours possible. Anger, aggression, and inability to concentrate on schoolwork seemed to become their modus operandi.

I was not a perfect parent. I made mistakes. Most of the other families I knew were not one of these extremes or the other. Most were somewhere in between. The situations I described above are pretty extreme, but they definitely do exist, in tragically significant numbers.

JMHO.

interfaithpeace said...

P.S. I do have compassion for people with Aspergers. Teasing, bullying, and other types of humiliation or unkindness should never be tolerated by anyone, to anyone.

Anonymous said...

Dear interfaithpeace,
I believe you are suffering from a misconception about Asperger's Syndrome. AS is not caused by overprotective parenting, as doctors believed in the 1950s and 1960s. Unfortunately many teachers in our school systems lack the proper understanding of this disability. AS is a neurological disorder whose cause is still debated but medical experts agree that genetics is a factor. Brain scans of people with AS show a physiological difference when compared to the brains of "normal" people. People with AS tend to be very intelligent academically but lack the ability to interpret social cues correctly, a skill which comes from the frontal lobe of the brain. Children with AS must learn cognitively the social skills which "normal" children possess instinctively. Children do not have AS because the parents hover. Parents tend to "hover" because our children have a disability which requires assistance if they are going to learn to cope.

Anonymous said...

"I ran a child care center for 11 years, worked as a preschool teacher for several years, have a Psych degree, and raised my own children. I also watched a number of friends raise their children."

Wow interface, all that behind you yet you still believe Aspergers is caused by overprotective hovering parents. Just confirms how clueless so many "experts" in such areas really are and people wonder why we take our kids out of school to homeschool with attitudes like yours.

Anonymous said...

Hey....You are right on the mark. Thanks for sharing your story. Everyone should read this.

Elle said...

I realize this post is old, but I was googling Aspergers and homeschool and came across this post. My daughter has been homeschooled since 1st grade. We had her tested in 5th grade at our public school and overall, they have done a good job. She is getting OT and speech therapy, but really it just seems like they play games. I'm thinking "I can do this at home". she is struggling in math/reading and they are helping her with that too, but I just feel like she isn't learning much in Math there. Maybe reading. And yes, she has done better with interaction, but she still will not talk to anyone unless spoken too. The school says she has autism. I think she has Aspergers. I haven't had her medically diagnosed. She only goes to school 2 hours a day, but now she will be going in a year to the middle school and my gut hurts just thinking about it. Your comment about teaching them about the real world and then how to be in a classroom struck me. That is so true! I have major fears about her socialization. If you can't socialize...you will suck at most jobs. So that is why I have sent her off to the public school. However, I'm really thinking they aren't going to make her outgoing. She might stretch a bit there, but why can't I do this at home? We can get involved in groups too. It's much for me to think about I guess. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this! :)

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old post, but I can't help feel so offended that Interfaithpeace would even suggest that as a result of a parent who wants to over protect their child and keep them from social situations, the child gets a diagnosis such as asperger's, etc. !!! Really??? I completely agree with the other moms posts that public school is not the place you want to just throw your child in to to learn how to socialize! I don't have asperger's and but come from a different background, and I remember the isolating feeling of being in high school, the feeling that you're all alone, the other kids were looking for the weak link! Is that what I want to teach my asperger's child?? I put my son in social situations. I put him in basketball at the Y in the 5 year old team and b/c he started spinning in the gym, the other 5 year olds immediately started with, "have you thought about taking ballet?" At 5, they know who to pick on and what to say to be cruel. Is that what I want to teach him?
I think I can do a better job in teaching him to be aware of other's feeligns, to care, to have a kind heart.
Thank you for your posts. I really an just struggling as to what to do for school. Private schools specific for kids on the spectrum would be the best, but it is so expensive too!

Karen said...

Thank you so much for writing this. It has only been two weeks since my 7 year old son with Asperger's has been out of school. His level of anxiety has disappeared and he seems so much happier. I have been researching homeschooling and feel in my heart this would be a better option for him.

Anonymous said...

I pulled my ADD/Apspie son from in 8th grade after years of struggling with 'experts' and well meaning teachers, counselors and administrators. My son suffered so much abuse and bullying, as well as issues with academics... it was a nightmare. One day we reached a breaking point and I walked in the next day and withdrew him. For over two years we have enjoyed homeschooing. The stress and pain are gone. We are in a great home school coop, boy scouts, church group and social skills group in which he now peer volunteers because he has 'graduated'. He is doing well in his academics and I have my happy, sweet son back. Two years ago I was worried that his fear, depression and frustration would lead to suicide. Homeschooling saved my son's life.

Anonymous said...

We also "homeschool" or rather choose non-public school programming (with coops and home and...) My Asperger's daugher really got into birds.. You should consider 4 H. My daughter became overall county champion, competed on the State level and interviewed Temple Grandin. Oh and she was Fair Royalty. Talk about learning social skills. Public School just stressed her out making it next to impossible to truly learn anything. She also has social opportunities at a local place called Autism Ask...awesome.

Sharon

Anonymous said...

I am fourteen, a girl and have aspergers, an extreme anxiety disorder and ADHD, I am obsessed with animals, cats and parrots particually a I found school near hellish. I missed fourty-two days, was rushed to the ER twice because of anxiety attacks and was dismissed twenty some days until the nurse got in trouble for dismissing me and I was allowed five mintues to pull myself together then return to class. The second ER trip resulted from one of these.
Teachers blamed me for not working well with others I did not know well and ignored my IEP, forcing me to do simple work like "Dan sat on a Bench." And finding out what was wrong with the sentence even though I am known to read and understand Stephen King in around three days. I was doing addition and subtraction and such and considered no better then retarded because the school department knew next to nothing about aspergers.
I was taken out of school just this year, I hate homeschooling sicne I miss people but yet I would come home crying and screaming every day over school. I wasn't given the aspergers title until the fifth grade though I could have had it as early as perschool had the staff told anyone any of my behaviors such as sitting up and down, making animal sounds and avioding everyone. I was the "Bad Kid." to everyone in the preschool.
I think most people with aspergers are misundestood, by the time I was pulled out of school I was on adavain, and other antianxieties and antidepressants and barely thought clearly, it was the only way to get me to school. Have to say, happier now that I can form clear thoughts rather then staring out a window alot.

Michele said...

I know you posted this anonymously, but I wanted to make sure you had my email address if you want to talk to my daughter. She's 14 and she's the one diagnosed with Asperger's. She also has a lot of anxiety. Maybe you would be able to talk about these things with her. I'm sorry things have been so hard. There are a lot of us out there that care about you and if you can pull through this rough spot you may come out knowing yourself a lot better than most people...that might help things get better, because you will have the tools to teach others about yourself. Hopefully the people you deal with in your life will get the education they need without you having to do that, but sometimes that's the only way. (Michele) onelmichele166@gmail.com

mauricesmama said...

I live in Tennessee and am a single parent. Working on getting disability. Does anyone have any ideas on how to be a single parent without disability and homeschool at the same time? Are there any special government services?

CT said...

What a relief to find this post. We are pulling out my Aspie son from school to homeschool just for this kind of reason. Punishing the child when he goes to the teacher and the teacher dismisses him then it escalates. Punishing him for farting and chewing on straws. Ugh. We do know our child and I do know what to do. Too bad I had to take so long to be confident in that. Thanks for your post about teaching them to live in the real world. So true!

Anonymous said...

I too am googling asperger's and homeschool because I am seriously considering pulling my daughter out of school. She HATES it and has already had one suicide attempt brought on in big part because of the stress of school. My biggest hesitation is that she is the quintessential stubborn asperger kid. If she doesn't see the point in learning something, she digs in her heels. I don't want to trade one set of issues for another! Have you come up against this issue with your own child? I would welcome any resources or advice.

Hadassah King said...

Amen. A child was never meant to "socialize" among peers, but among adults - parents, grannies, older siblings etc.

Anonymous said...

Thank you

Trish Townsend said...

Thank you so very much for this post. I have been struggling with homeschooling or public schooling my 7 year old boy since he was in pre-school, having done a little bit of both. He is, as most aspies are, hyper intelligent and far above his grade level academics-wise, but far below his age emotionally and socially. He doesn't even completely understand when he's being teased or provoked so that he'll cry, which happens often. His school simply blames the issues with his not being in school enough, but toward the middle of last year he began actually throwing up from anxiety of going to school. I have decided to find a program that works for us and homeschool again, though it is against most of my families, his therapist and psychiatrist, and of course the schools, recommendations. He just does so much better, and there are many other opportunities to socialize in an environment where he is not overwhelmed and tortured by having to conform to 30 other students, ignore distractions (which is impossible for him) and sit quietly to do ten worksheets. I just wish that people would understand that as parents we are more familiar with the particulars of our childrens manifestation of asperger's and more equipped to deal with it than those who don't need to work with them on a daily basis one on one.

Samantha Anastasiou said...

Yes, I am right there too. I've always known I should home school my girl, but, for reasons I couldn't. Now I am making it happen, seeing her completely broken down by exactly what you have described. I have realised I am her teacher and no one knows her better than me. She is 12 and I am going to do everything I can to rebuild my daughter. The public school system is a jungle, and our society is full of mean kids to be honest. Our whole society seems to be more and more unaccepting and cold towards people who don't fit the mold. It's a shame. Thank you for the reaffirming message, and for all of those who talk this socialization BS , a pen of pigs have more social skills than kids in schools these days.

louise jones said...

This post really struck a chord with me. I may even print it out and include it in the letter I am about to send my sons school, taking him off the register.

Thank you so much for this articulate, intelligent and insightful blogpost. I agree with everything you have said 100%.