I never desired to homeschool my children. Even if I was a SAHM, I would still send my children to public school. The thought of homeschooling never crossed my mind until I was left with no other options.
Shelby County Schools (SCS) had served us well in our early years. Even with a diagnosis of autism at the age of five, SCS for the most part made accommodations for my daughter, and we were pleased with her progress. She was enrolled in one of the best schools in the city for elementary and it showed. The principal made every single IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting a good one, and I felt my daughter had the support she needed from the staff. Of course there were a few bumps in the road and we did have a few teacher unwilling to cooperate, but for the most part elementary was a great experience. My child loved school. It left me hopeful that maybe, just maybe, public school wouldn’t be so bad.
If you know anything about IEP meetings, you know it’s a battle. You go in there feeling like you’re headed to war; getting equipped with all the tools necessary to fight for your child. The struggle is real as they say. Over the last 10 years, I’ve had some great meetings that left me feeling like everyone involved was as passionate about the success of my child as I was; then others that left me in tears, broken and defeated. I would make a mad dash for my car to have a meltdown before anyone could see me. I never understood why the IEP meetings had to be like this. I assumed the objective for everyone was to provide the child with a learning environment favorable to them.
Why do we have this “all children are the same mentality?” They’re not! Disability or not, each child is unique and special and should be treated as such.
Middle school is when things started to go downhill. Now, as far as the teachers, they were great! Words cannot express my gratitude to the teachers that ensured my daughter had the best experience possible and took her autism diagnosis into account so things were tailored to her learning style. The counselors checked in with her, spoke positively into her, and gave light to her strengths. Awesome right?! But our problem came when my daughter showed a love and great ability as an artist, freehand drawing, and she wasn’t allowed to take any art classes.
This may sound like a small thing; but, when your child has a disability and you know college isn’t an option, you want to equip your child with knowledge in a skill that, once finished with school, they can get a job and be successful. I was looking ahead. I knew she had the skills to be great, but she needed a good base and the recognition that came with entering art contests or having art as an outlet to get away from the challenges of academic life. Also, I thought that her talent would allow us to get into a good high school. The principal and assistant principal shut me down at every turn. Because she didn’t score well on standardized testing, she wasn’t able to join the more advance art classes. Even having an IEP didn’t help. I spent her entire three years of middle school fighting for something as simple as an art class and was told no.
By focusing solely on academics, my daughter started to hate school. Nothing was good about school, because she didn’t have an outlet there. She had to take academic enrichment classes when other kids had art, photography, choir, or band.In her eyes, there was nothing “fun” at school. Our kids have natural talents, and if they aren’t being nurtured because they don’t do well academically when compared to their peers, everyone suffers. Not every child is college bound. I will not force her to attend college if she has no desire. There should be options at EVERY school in Shelby County for our children…not just some.
So when she hit high school, I was lost. I knew the school in our district didn’t meet her needs. I tried open enrollment, but the schools that were known for being exceptional for children with special needs (SN) were already full. So, I made the decision to enroll her in a charter school. Initially, that worked in our favor because of the small setting and more one-on-one involvement, but that soon gave way to behavior issues and attitude changes with her trying to be like the other kids. And we were back in the same situation of the school not offering anything other than academics for my child.
I asked for help. I contacted her school about the plan to create extra-curricular activities and other programs for the kids. I contacted SCS to see if I had any options with enrollment outside my district. I called the area autism centers to see if they had any insight on the right course of action. Each time I was met with a brick wall. I reached out to other moms with SN children, and then I found out I wasn’t alone. There were a lot of us that were lost with no real solution. I felt like SCS failed us. I felt like I failed my daughter.