Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Square Peg: A Story About Overcoming Adversity

After walking down the steps of the church basement, the preschool teacher pulled me aside and said, “We need to talk.”  The little parochial school was host to about thirty 3 and 4 year-olds. That particular day while twenty-nine other children played happily in the finger paint, my son shrieked at the touch of the paint, hid like a turtle under a desk with his hoodie up over his head, and refused to come out for the rest of the day. That, combined with the fact that he tended to vibrate and literally bounce off walls, suggested to the preschool teacher that Aaron was not her average student. He was a square peg and they only had round holes, she didn’t know what to do with him.

Over the next four years a series of teachers, physicians and so-called experts were brought in. They all had an opinion on what caused all this odd behavior, as did every person I met on the street. They gave us diagnosis after diagnosis, but I always knew they were wrong. Finally, the summer after third grade we met a doctor who recognized immediately what was going on. Her own daughter had been dealing with sensory issues and had been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. There was nothing “wrong” with my son, he just didn’t fit a one-size-fits-all education system. Particularly since the grade school he attended was built with an open classroom concept, meaning there were no permanent walls or doors. Every sound in one end of the building could be heard at the other. For a child with souped-up hearing it was an awful lot like daily torture.

I consumed every book and webpage about the subject at the time, hoping to figure out what to do to help him. The school did their best to try to accommodate, even assigning him a full-time aide, but the school had never worked with a student like Aaron and the whole concept of public school goes against everything a child with sensory issues needs. We spent four or five hours a night trying to complete homework since he couldn’t focus enough in the classroom to finish assignments. He was miserable, I was miserable, it wasn’t working.

Finally, during one of the regular meetings with the school staff, it came up that the teacher had been physically forcing him to make eye-contact with her every morning before entering the classroom. The very thing you should NOT do to an Asperger child. She should have known, she was given an information packet at the beginning of the year. Clearly she’d never bothered to read any of that information packet. I made the decision right then and there to homeschool from that point forward. If I couldn’t get one grade school teacher to understand or care about what he needed, there was no way six or more each semester at the high school would either.

The decision wasn’t a popular one. Teachers, administrators, family, friends and physicians all thought I was making a huge mistake. I wasn’t even sure it would work myself, but I knew sending him to torture every day wasn’t worth it. We spent the first six months just decompressing from all the stress he had been under, while I compiled a curriculum to meet his specific learning style. When we finally sat down to get started it became clear that during all the years he was in school he always thought he was supposed to know the answers ahead of time. He never once realized he was there to learn them. No wonder he was stressed out!

We read books. Lots of books. Real books, not textbooks. We studied history, in order, following a timeline (a novel concept to education in Indiana.) We joined other homeschoolers for socialization, for field trips, and moral support. We visited museums. He joined a blacksmith association, took fencing lessons and basically immersed himself in whatever subject he felt like studying.

It was the best decision I ever made.

Then the day came when he wanted to study things I couldn’t help him with. He wanted to study Criminal Justice. At the same time, the local high school started allowing homeschoolers to take classes ala carte. They offered dual-credit courses in Criminal Justice, however students were required to be full-time students. I was very reluctant at first. We faced many of the same issues we had the first time around with the public education system, but this time he was determined. He knew what he wanted and knew just because the teachers and administrators didn’t think he could do it, didn’t mean that it was true.

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He was still a square peg, they still only had round holes, and there were still plenty of hurdles to face daily. The system in Indiana teaches to the test and while he knows the information, he simply doesn’t test well. Everything he wanted for the future hinged on that test. They strung him along for what seemed like forever and we didn’t even know for sure if he would until two days before, but he graduated last night.

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During the ceremony the faculty recognized all the students that had signed up to join the military; the crowd giving a standing ovation. Aaron wasn’t included because even though it has been his life-long dream to join, he couldn’t sign up without knowing if he was getting a diploma or not. When we asked him on the way home how he felt about that he said, “I thought what the crowd did was awesome. It didn’t bother me not to be included, it just wasn’t my time to shine.”

The thing he doesn’t realize is that he has been shining all his life. Louis Kossuth once said, “It is the surmounting of difficulties that makes heroes.” I’ve never known anyone who has had to surmount more difficulties to receive an education than my son. As far as I am concerned, he already is a hero.

29 comments:

johnmayersquare said...

That is so awesome!! Congrats to you all!

Wendy said...

Congratulations to both you and Aaron. I don't think you have to worry about him making a good life for himself.

Me and My Stitches said...

Love this! And good for you for stepping up and being a great parent. So many people look for the "easy" way out of things. Usually easy means...let someone else deal with it!

Diane Cayton-Hakey said...

My sister raised a step daughter with Aspergers. I applaud you and your son for both shining brightly!

Gale, Ky quilter said...

I got cold chills reading this! Awesome story about an amazing young man! I am so proud of him and don't even know him and proud of you, too, Mom by trusting your heart and making the right decision. He has a bright future ahead of him. Best wishes and God bless. :)

melanie said...

Wow...

Karen Anne said...

Yeah, Aaron!

Winona said...

Congratulations to both of you. What an awesome story! Thank you for sharing it with us.

Michelle said...

What a very inspiring story! I hope that many can hear about his story...he will shine!

Tombstone Livestock said...

Congratulations, I wish home schooling had been more in "vogue" when my youngest was in school. But, she made it even with obstacles they put in place, and is quite successful in her career, yes career, not just a job. WTG mom, and best wishes to your son.

Elaine said...

What a beautiful story. Congratulations to Aaron and you too for perservering!!

Anonymous said...

I will be passing Aaron's story along to my friend whose 10 year old has Aspergers. Congrats to both you and Aaron -- the sky's the limit!


Jean - MN

Jayne said...

Hooray! Congratulations to Aaron on his high school graduation. And kudos to you for standing up for your kid and homeschooling him.

Michelle said...

What an amazing testimony about an amazing young man and his equally amazing mom. Thank-you for sharing your story with us; I'm honored!

I'm gonna tell Mom! said...

Congratulations!
Kim

Florida Farm Girl said...

Bravo for Aaron!! And for you for recognizing what was best for him.

Theresa said...

Congratulations to both of you!!!

phaedra96 said...

I had to choose the homeschooling option when my young twins were in first grade. Boy-round peg/girl-square peg. Who knew a child who would not read in kindergarten was"destined to fail"? Having had an older daughter who would not read in first grade but reading sixth grade material in second; I figured that was what we were dealing with but the public school system knew soooo much more than I, her parent. Sho' nuff, folks--she was reading WATERSHIP DOWN for a book report that next year. I hand it to you and Aaron for sticking to what was right for him. He will go far with that attitude. No 'poor me' for him!!

Ocean Breezes and Country Sneezes said...

Congratulations from a public school teacher! I so happy that you did what was best for your son, so many parents don't or aren't involved - at all!

All my best to your son for a lifetime of learning!

Bonnie Jo said...

CONGRATULATIONS!

I cut a poem out of the newspaper many years ago...from an Ann Landers column. I love it.

KIDS WHO ARE DIFFERENT
Here's to the kids who are different,
The kids who don't always get A's,
The kids who have ears twice the size of their peers,
And noses that go on for days...
Here's to the kids who are different,
The kids they call crazy or dumb,
The kids who don't fit, with the guts and the grit,
Who dance to a different drum...
Here's to the kids who are different,
The kids with the mischievous streak,
For when they have grown, as history's shown,
It's their difference that makes them unique.

Copyright 1982 by Digby Wolfe

The Barn Door said...

Wow....with tears in my eyes, I congratulate you both! What an amazing mother you are and what an amazing son!!
Karen

thecrazysheeplady said...

Way to go! Both of you!!!

Julie said...

Congratulations to both of you!!!
You are a special mom to stand up for your son and to stick it out. The system - public and private - often can not deal with those square pegs.

From a retired homeschool mom who has heard this story more than once and is always happy to hear a happy ending to the tale.

Michelle May said...

Bravo! Bravo! Bravo to both of you! Bright and shining stars indeed!

Anonymous said...

Dear Christine

Thankyou for your wonderful post about your amazing son Aaron. I am a teacher in Brisbane Australia and it brought me to tears ( filled with happiness ) You are all to be congratulated for your brave decision. For 26 years I have been the square peg in the round hole institution and many times the adminsitrators would have loved for me to leave and never come back however I bealive that every child learns differently and there is always someone there to help with their unique eduaction... NEVER SETTLE!!!

M said...

Awesome mom. I cried reading this.

Nancy K. said...

Thank you for sharing Aaron's story, Christine! It is quite similar to my son's, except I didn't pull Ben out and home school. I don't think that I even knew that was an option!

I am so proud of both Aaron AND you for taking your own path and reaching your goal! And I wish the brightest of futures for you both! Clearly, there is nothing that you can't do...

Anonymous said...

I too send my congrads..Thanks for the uplift and sharing the story!
My best to you both, Linda

JeanneLee said...

Congrats, Christine to your dear son! I remember you asking about hsing on Simply Sentiments years ago...so glad you took him home to school. Sounds like he got the best education and now he is graduated...how very proud your family must be!

Jeanne Lee
(P.S. We just graduated our third child from hs and have three more year till our last one will graduate.)