Autistic, Parenting, Homeschooling and Acceptance

Mara Fritts is the mother of four, she is diagnosed AS, and she sits on the AWN Board of Directors.

I started Homeschooling when our oldest son was 7 years old, after fighting a school system that would not listen to my pleas that there was something different about him. I saw it. Why didn’t they? Why did they say that our son was normal when his teacher said there was something different with him? I saw him as being alone and not understanding why he was having issues at school. Why didn’t all the children throw gravel at other students when they were frustrated ?

When our son was 5 years old, he started Kindergarten in a private school. They said that he was too immature, so they put him into the preschool. Our psychologist at the time said our son has Attention Deficit and Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and that he needed additional observations. We were told the public school would also do testing on him, so we sent him.

From the beginning, we had issues with getting the school to observe our son. They were supposed to look at him at the beginning of the school year. After several months of not hearing anything and many phone calls, they finally had the Occupational Therapist (OT) and the school psychologist look at him. They said that everything was normal. His homeroom teacher, who was a former resource teacher, disagreed with this. She helped us place him in a behavioral program from the local university. It was the only help she could offer. It was based on rewards, but he wasn’t really interested in earning anything. Over that summer, our son went to a private OT to help with the hand weakness and balance issues that his pediatrician diagnosed him with. The balance issues were something else that the school missed.

Since it was “just” ADHD, we sent him back to his previous school. Our pediatrician gave us a prescription for a stimulant to help our son get through his day. What was the little pill that mommy gave him in the morning that made him sit still in class, when all he wanted to do was look out the window or spin his pencil on the desk? Over the course of a few weeks, we began to notice there was a change in our son’s behavior since he started the medication. He became meaner and less tolerant of others. He was short with me and the world and these fits, whatever they were, began getting worse. I heard from his teacher that he was still doing fine. I knew him better than they did. I knew something was up and I was crying inside thinking that there was something that I was not doing to help this. He was bringing home all of the work that they were giving him in class every day. Why was I sending him to school then?

Our pediatrician would not increase the medication. Instead, he referred us to a psychiatrist who told us he would not increase the medication our son was on either. He would not touch him at all. There was something more going on and no increase of medication was going to help it. He suggested that we call another psychologist that dealt with behavioral issues, but never said why. I was dumbfounded.

One day, a note was sent home to us saying that our son was throwing rocks on the playground. I stopped the medication and continued to be told that everything was just fine. After two weeks, I pressed his teacher and she finally said that he was annoying the other children. It seems our son would just sit in the back of the class, quiet and not doing anything while on the medication. For the exception of the days when one of the older students would sit with him and help him one on one, the school work that he was given was never completed. The other children had found pity on him and were trying to get him to play with them. Now he was coming out of the shell that was around him and the son that I knew was coming back. Why couldn’t he be himself and go to school? Why wasn’t it alright to flap in the class and bounce like a ball when he was happy? So every day after that we did his work at home and I no longer asked why it wasn’t getting done at school.

It was a choice that I made out of love for my son. I knew that I didn’t want to make anyone have to sit with him. I figured that it was just going to be another fight. If I could not get him a one-on-one para-educator from the school, I knew where I could find one. She was at home doing the dishes and getting ready to pick up her son every day at 3 o’clock. It was at that moment that I accepted my job as a homeschooling mom.

I had to first have my son unlearn school. It took me about 6 months before he calmed down. I found out that he wasn’t a child that had behavioral issues with school work. He had classroom issues! The confines of the classroom made his eventual diagnosis of Aspergers with ADHD just unbearable for him. He likes to play with things in his fingers – it helps him to keep his thoughts moving.

My son taught me a lot that first year and continues to do so. If something isn’t working with the homeschooling we have to change it. We have beat a few things to a pulp before giving it up for something more relaxed and fun. Recently I learned that he still hates to do extensive writing assignments, so Charlotte Mason didn’t work for us. I have no idea what I was thinking!

Then, there was his little brother. Ah, yes, another challenge! He did much better in a classroom in preschool. But how long would that last? I decided that I would add him to our school. I wasn’t going through the school troubles a second time. So last year, I taught two grades at once – Kindergarten and Third grade! I was getting good at this! Why stop there? I added Preschool to the mix this year.

I have a few rules in my homeschool. One is stimming is allowed. You can get up from the table to check something out that you think about. Standing is alright as well while reading. Being noisy and talking about an assignment with your classmate is allowed and encouraged! We don’t have snow days we have sun days! You would also be surprised how much you can learn about dealing with people around a sand box. Learning about how to talk to people and other life skills are also essential to our program.

When I first embarked on becoming a parent I had no idea what was going to happen. No one knows how its all going to pan out. I still don’t. Over the years, Julian has become a fine tween of ten years old. He still flaps, and has a short temper at times. Do I think that he would be as strong as he is by going to school? Maybe. With the one on one help and the tailor-made education that our children have received, it was the right thing for my family.

I want to make a difference in my children’s lives as we all do! I thought that he was alone in this unknown land called Autism. I was diagnosed with Aspergers a few months after my oldest son was. Since then my wonderful husband, my seven year old son Asher, and four year old son Xander have joined Julian and me with the ASD diagnoses. Our two year old daughter is still on the fence but everyone is equal in our home. I have never felt so much love and support in one place in all of my life. I can’t wait to tackle high school with these kids!