These pics are just two examples of what Shayla taught herself to do in Blender, a 3D graphics program. She follows tutorials found on YouTube.
I promised an update on the homeschooling, and this is the latest development. Don’t worry – it’s good news.
Yesterday (Thursday), we had her IEP (Individualize Education Plan). How can a homeschooled child have an IEP, you ask? Here in British Columbia, Canada, the Ministry of Education has incorporated a model of public-school curriculum with homeschooling families. We receive appropriate assignments from her teacher, take them home and work on them together. We meet again in two weeks, review the work, and receive the next assignments. It is called “Distributed Learning” or “DL” (parents also have the option to take over the curriculum for full homeschooling, but we opted for DL). DL is flexible, with a mix of classroom electives and kitchen-table work. However, her autism presents challenges which are itemized in the IEP, along with plans on overcoming or working around them while pursuing a publicly funded education.
Just an itty-bitty back story. Both our kids have ASD, our (almost) 15 year old daughter and our 9 year old son. Dimitri, our son, is getting along alright in school (though they have recently started the testing for dyslexia on my request), but Shayla did not thrive (sorry, sweetie).
Every year, we would enter into her IEP meeting with hope that this year would be the year we figured it out. We would find that right combo of staff and curriculum and classmates to turn the key. We never did.
I should point out that we have made great progress in the ten years she’s been a student. All of us – most especially Shayla – have put in tremendous effort to make school a rewarding and productive experience. We’ve been mostly blessed with great people on our teams (some we were happy to see leave), but by the time we left an IEP meeting we felt slightly ill, like everything was going to be exactly like the years before and that someday, somehow, it was not going to be all right.
Shayla is smart. I don’t mean like Rain Man splinter-skill smart. I mean, she can leave you dropped-jawed in awe with what she accomplishes. She just doesn’t thrive in a classroom. She needs unlimited time to complete tasks, reminders to stay on task, tasks that spark her interest and creativity or, if not, a teacher who can make a dull assignment manageable. She needs absolute silence as she works, no movements in her peripheral vision, and no distractions. She needs someone with her to see when she needs to move, eat, break, or just be brought back to focus.
Her IEP’s always emphasized her struggles. She was never “smart”, according to her IEP. She had skills and strengths, but for kids like her the IEP is not about skills and strengths. It’s about plans and strategies for staff to react to those times when her challenges win.
I strongly suspect that Shayla is a 2e (twice exceptional) kid. Her autism is combined with intellectual and creative gifts. (Hint: I strongly recommend picking up the book, “Bright, Not Broken” if you have a child with autism, ADHD, ADD, or any type of mental or behavioral diagnosis.) She doesn’t “study”. Study involves memorizing information handed to you by an adult with the understanding you will be expected to prove your memory skills later during a test. She “learns”. She finds subjects and projects that excite her, that trigger her curiosity and her desire to achieve. When one “learns” something one doesn’t have to “study” for it, because the information has been perfectly processed and integrated into their daily life.
I know Shayla tried her best in school. She puts serious effort into managing her challenges, but she’s human and challenges are hard because, well, they are challenges. But she very often succeeds. I know, because I know what her challenges are and I know when they come up against her. I know she doesn’t react the same way all the time, and there is a whole host of circumstance that can affect her. So I know she works hard at being the best she can be, likely harder than most adults.
I have often said that sometimes – just sometimes – miracles come disguised as disasters. Sometimes, when all has been torn asunder and you must pick up the pieces, you realize you had them in just a bit wrong, but you had gotten used to seeing them in that way you never considered it could be better. That’s what happened to us all last year, when we effectively fired that high school and said, “We love her and we are not letting you near her again.” We had to have someone really terrible, really cold and disrespectful not only to us but to Shayla, to make us see that she had to get out. She wasn’t thriving before, but we – all of us – went into each year with fresh hope. Now that she’s out, I can see the opportunities we have to set her free of her challenges and let her shine, opportunities that, by the nature of the public-school model, we’ve never had before.
This is what yesterday’s IEP meeting brought me. As per usual, we worked from last year’s copy and made our adjustments. And we were slashing that thing to bits. This challenge, that challenge, all of it no longer relevant because she is out of the classroom.
Previously, all the work involved in utilizing the IEP fell to the Education Assistant, a woman (usually) who had the hardest part of the job for the lowest pay. We – me, my husband, and Shayla – were dependant on the EA to help reach these behavioral goals with a result that could be quantified with a number. When the everyday was poised for successes and setbacks, how do you measure overall growth? “Your child has had a 20% reduction in Recognizing Personal Space, but a 30% gain in Proper Hygiene.” The measurement is subjective. Has there been a drop in reminders, prompts, and outbursts? That has as much or more to do with her external management (school staff) as her internal management (self-regulation), a fact we learned last year.
She no longer has an Education Assistant. She has parents. We are not the front-line soldiers in a bureaucratic system. We are the ones the bureaucratic system had to answer to. If something works, we do it. If it doesn’t, we let it go. For the first time we have the responsibility to fulfill that IEP. Us. Her parents. And you know what? I’m revved.
I know I could not have done this a decade ago. I owe a debt of gratitude to the amazing staff we’ve worked with through the years she attended the brick-and-mortar schools. Many thanks to Alana, Cathie, Melissa, Carmel, Lisa, Kyla, Mrs. M, and others who gave us this foundation. Thank you for being there for her, for us, for nurturing her during your time with her not because it is your job but because the kids in your care are more than a job. Thank you for giving us the confidence and security to leave our precious child with you, and thank you for showing us how school should be so we recognized when it wasn’t.
This feels good. It feels like we are opening doors rather than closing. She has smarts, she has family, and she has support. She is going to rock this.