Homeschool veteran and special needs mom Kristen Pratt is our guest today. I love her practical approach to homeschooling and I asked if she would share some thoughts on special needs homeschooling with my readers. Her article took a different twist than I expected, but it is definitely a good read. In fact, all special needs parents will appreciate it, whether or not they homeschool.
Do you have a favorite hiking trail? Our family had our very own in our back yard. It wandered through about three acres of mostly wooded land. It became very natural to walk the trail, avoiding hazards such as the gaping woodchuck hole in the middle of a hill that led to an open field. We all knew to step to the side of the path in that one deceivingly grassy section to avoid mud-caked shoes. We even discovered hidden secrets like the wild blueberry bush at the back end of the property. At what seemed like the end of the trail, we knew to veer right for a hidden way back to the original path. We didn’t have to look up to know where the deer stands are located. We could have navigated that trail blindfolded.
Parenting for us has become like that well-worn path. We have 9 children: 3 married, 1 just graduated & 5 more still homeschooling. We have grown accustomed to some of the pitfalls and easily avoid them. We have learned from tripping over logs in the path. We know to look for the hidden treasures. While each child is unique and we continue to learn new things, the path is comfortable and our stride is sure. At least it used to be.
We adopted a little guy from the Caribbean about 11 years ago. By a year-and-a-half old he was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Parenting our son is like walking that well-worn path in the darkness of night. We knew it would be a little bit of a challenge but we know the path well. It would all be ok. After all, the doctor thought he was only mildly affected. (Boy was he wrong!) We were not prepared to slam into a tree that mysteriously appeared in the middle of the trail. That big root we fell on really hurt the shins! We are certain the path doesn’t go in this new direction! And what about that river that nearly drowned us? This is what it can feel like raising a child with special needs. Everything you know about raising a child is changed, moved, and sometimes makes no sense. The well-worn path is sometimes unrecognizable.
How do we parent and homeschool a child who struggles with the simplest of tasks? It isn’t easy. We cry. We get frustrated. We grieve. Do not pass by that last sentence quickly. We grieve. We grieve a lot. My banner for raising our son is to shoot for the stars and hope we get a couple of inches off from the ground. Sometimes we do not get off the ground at all. Sometimes it feels like we end up in hole. That is when I grieve. This does not mean I give up. It means I accept the limits of today and feel a natural sadness. It stings. Our son has lost so much and we have to cope with that loss. Until I grieve, I cannot accept reality and plan for the future.
Our son is supposed to start 6th grade. As I began to plan the new school year I found 6th grade takes a big leap into the abstract. Our son cannot understand abstract. He has hit a wall (or tree) and there is no way around it. That hurts. My son has no ability to understand this loss so I grieve for us both. Until I grieve it, I cannot accept it. I need to accept it in order to help him where he is at, rather than where I want him to be. The homeschool teacher side of me wants to fight. My post-grieving side knows I will do more harm than good if I do. Instead I developed a plan that will engage him where he is. However, his books will not say 6th grade. I admit that still stings a little.
How about you? Do you have areas you haven’t yet grieved? Is it setting you and your child up for frustration and failure? I fight it, too, sometimes, but I am getting a little better at recognizing my need to grieve. It isn’t giving up; it is letting go. It is letting go of something that doesn’t exist anywhere but in our hopes, dreams, and expectations. Yet, it is real loss worthy of our sorrow. It is essential that we grieve for our own well-being and also for the success of our child. Pray and ask God to help you identify the areas you need to grieve. Study up on the steps of grief in order to understand the process. (affiliate link) At the other end, you may still feel some sadness but you will be able to accept reality and make better decisions with the goal of helping your child grow as much as possible.
What do you think of Kristen’s thoughts on grieving and progress? I’d love to hear in the comments!
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Kristen Pratt is a homeschool curriculum editor for www.Master Books.com. She loves helping put together “curriculum with purpose” in a way that is easy to use and engaging for students. She is married to Randy, who also works for Master Books (NLPG). As an owner of Pennywise Learning (now owned by CBD) she has helped thousands of homeschool moms navigate curriculum choices. Kristen has 20 years of experience homeschooling her nine children and has had the pleasure of seeing four of them graduate. She continues to homeschool the remaining five children, including one with special needs.