Homeschooling and the Intellectually Disabled

I’m one of those people who spends a lot of time complaining about the state of education in America yet fails to attend even a single PTA or school board meeting.

My only excuse is that I’m too tired in the evenings because I get up at five A.M. My husband likes to point out that the family members from the 1800’s I’m researching for my next book probably got up even earlier to milk cows and probably went to school meetings, but he doesn’t go to PTA meetings either.

When we took in our now adopted daughter, our local, tiny school was very accommodating despite M’s first day from hell when she announced she was going to kill herself with knives and made her fourth grade classmates cry.  In my typically controlling way I dressed “M” to look “normal” and hoped for the best. By Friday she was in the psych ward and would stay there for months before returning to the now wary school.

Again the staff took her in with open arms (much to their credit), but there were problems.  M’s trauma had forced her to become a very charming manipulator. She was hungry all the time so they gave her access to treats in every classroom (despite our pleas against the practice) and gave her free lunches even after we insisted that it was unnecessary since we packed her enormous lunches every day.

This was the first button pushed for me. I’ve always found it galling that, despite the obesity epidemic among our children and the mandatory health education classes taught in schools,  teachers still give out so much “food” in their classrooms. The school psychologist was the worst offender, but it seemed to be common practice especially among the special education teachers.

It was obvious that some on the staff considered us overbearing  quacks because we noticed an uptick in insane behavior whenever school was in session and whenever M was allowed tons of junk food — and she was getting tons of junk food daily.

  • She ate breakfast at home.
  • Just off the bus she ate a second breakfast and loaded milk and muffins into her bookbag from the Share Table to snack on during the day.
  • She ate the lunch we packed AND another lunch.
  • She scarfed down the candy offered by her special education teacher and during counseling.
  • She was even given money to buy MORE food from well-meaning volunteers when she said she was hungry. Yes.
  • This happened DAILY.

The school psychologist even told us that the staff’s job was not to monitor children’s eating habits.

I countered that if a mentally disabled child with impulse control issues was deathly allergic to peanuts the staff would probably monitor that, but to no avail. For three years we begged them to stop overfeeding, to stop being manipulated, but it only got worse.

By the end of last school year M had convinced certain teachers to keep secret clothes for her in bins so she could change into them at school and change out before coming home.

She had teachers who gave her their own pierced earrings to wear despite the fact that we told M she had to wait for her ears to heal after she let them get so infected that the skin was growing over the backs of the earrings.

M has strong compulsions related to her abuse and frequently sought out inappropriate and terrifying things on the internet — things so terrifying to her that she insisted on being taken to the mental hospital a few times so we asked the school not to give her a Chrome Book.

Here again is a pet peeve of mine: if we are being told that too much screen time is frying kids’ brains then why are we giving them more screen time in school?

I once quipped during a special education meeting that pretty soon teachers would be unnecessary. The staff members laughed uncomfortably. My husband rolled his eyes. Of course M was secretly given access to the Chrome Book.

One teacher who took our concerns seriously said that M might do well in her class if she would just settle dowwn. She had so many balls of lies and craziness in the air she was like the Cat in the Hat on steroids.

Her double life led to sleepless nights, suicidal thoughts and rage. She fantasized about living at school or at a friend’s where she had vaped once. At our most recent school meeting (just before the Covid lockdown) the staff suggested M be put in total special education lockdown. They didn’t say lockdown. They were nice about it, but admitted their belief that she couldn’t possibly pass the state exams to graduate high school. M cried when they suggested she could still “graduate” with her class but would not receive a real diploma.

Now I’m not unrealistic. I don’t think she can pass the state exams. The idea of M languishing before a computer screen munching on cookies for the next four years just seemed wrong. To be fair, the school district does not have the means to offer truly individualized care for their struggling students. Kids with disabilities have to share space with other kids who may have behavioral issues. There’s not a one fit computer program for the problems kids come to school with. We talked about special schools, but we live far away from most and they can be really expensive. My husband and I would take turns saying, “We don’t want to homeschool but …”

When Covid swooped in to take away most freedoms, one freedom remained: we could bite the bullet and give homeschooling a try. I informed the superintendent (who is a nice guy) that we would be keeping M out of school for at least the rest of the year. He probably sighed in relief as I was becoming more and more aggravated and annoying. I immediately bought a CURRICULUM FOR SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS and my husband installed a huge white board on the landing to our basement.

All kids are at home now, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be sending M back ever. M hasn’t had a single episode of crazy, suicidal spiraling. She’s sleeping a solid eight hours. We aren’t fighting — AT ALL! 

M is conjugating LATIN verbs(!) and reading Greek Mythology with great enthusiasm. She’s developed a love for Laura Ingalls Wilder and no longer has to deal with dystopian themes like the ones constantly being fed to her at school. She’s not using a calculator to do simple math. It’s challenging but that’s the very thing she needs. Now M doesn’t get on honor roll just for showing up with a smile. She works. She’s intellectually disabled not doomed.

I admit that the idea of doing this for the next four years is daunting, but so far the experiment has been far more fruitful than I could ever have imagined.

How about you? Is anyone bothered by the double-mindedness of educators who constantly reward children with food or do you think I’m nuts? ♥♥

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M taking an afternoon nap after a productive morning 🙂

 

 

 

Foster Care to Adoption

Happy Thanksgiving!

For us this holiday comes a week after adopting our foster child.

Some readers may remember some of the more harrowing events of the past three years — years filled with doubt, fear and moral dilemmas.

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This girl is thrilled that I can finally share her picture!

This summer after a host of obstacles (some created by the system and some by us), we were asked to make our final decision. I’ll be honest, my husband and I hardly spoke to each other for the month of August as we each grappled with the finality of the decision. I realized that I’d been sort of waiting for this girl to do something bad enough to justify backing out.

Foster kids have a way of pushing you to your limits, and I wondered what my limit would be.

The county gave us a month to decide. No more hoping the kid would do something insane so we’d have an excuse  to say goodbye. We had to decide if we could love this girl “as is.” Plenty of people told us to cut our losses. Even the county workers had said this girl was a “hot mess,” but … my heart said she was already family. One day as I walked the dogs my decision was made. Biblical love is really hard. You have to lean into the pain. You have to work harder and you occasionally have to step back to see how far you’ve come.

I’m basically a selfish person who wants to write books and ride horses all by myself. I don’t feel like helping others all the time, yet in some deep way I know we’re called to do it.

My husband was driving home from work one day and suddenly felt that he was Jonah fleeing God’s calling on his life. Despite it all he knew McKenzie was already his daughter.

Not quite the Hallmark happy ending but that’s real life for you.

Once the decision was made, a weight was lifted. Maybe that’s God’s grace. McKenzie has come a LONG way. We all have.

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McKenzie with my niece (her new cousin)

At the adoption McKenzie gave an impromptu speech before the judge. Three years ago she was so jacked up on meds and so traumatized she could only drool and occasionally threaten to stab people. Now with her two sisters (adopted by another family), her new family, and countless county and foster care workers in attendance she spoke from her heart with power and eloquence about finally having a family. I was so proud of her. Even my son got choked up. The county workers were sobbing.

I didn’t cry, but I did feel at peace. I remembered the day I first met McKenzie. I told my husband that I already felt like she was my daughter. That feeling ebbed and flowed over the three years, but on adoption day it was as if we’d come full circle.

 

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Just some of the members of McKenzie’s new family. The entire family is coming to our house to celebrate Thanksgiving and the adoption!

The Tenafly Road Series

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”