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.
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.
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.