Social Success at Home
- Friday, April 18, 2008
The verbal processing and working memory challenges are huge obstacles for him. We actually had an educational psychologist confirm this through vigorous testing. On a visual-spatial test, which required no verbal processing, he scored in the superior range. However, on verbal processing and working memory tests, he scored as low as “borderline retardation.” Now, the psychologist was quick to point out that nothing about this boy is “retarded,” but these results show the great discrepancy between his intellectual potential and what he is often able to produce. To help him with this, we use study methods such as acronyms or songs to help him retain information (he learned our phone number to the tune of “Fur Elise” by Beethoven). We turn Bible verses into “charades” by giving physical actions to the key words. I have a visual aid for every single concept of our school day, no matter how minute. It is amazing to see how differently he responds when I provide these supports, as opposed to assuming that he “got it” simply because I said it.
As for assessing him, I have a dual process there. First of all, I like to know what he truly learned, so I bypass the processing challenges by allowing him to “free flow” through narration. This is a Charlotte Mason technique that allows the child to simply tell the teacher what he or she has learned. I type as he narrates, and he’ll “edit” me; he has become quite good at this and often comes up with details I myself had forgotten. On the other hand, I also want to teach him how to answer formal questions, so I create quizzes based on what we’ve learned each week. It is fascinating to watch him recount the information in great detail through narration, only to completely fail a simple quiz on the same subject matter because he has not understood the questions. We are working on picking out the key words of a question, reading over all the multiple choice options before answering, and using cues (e.g., songs, acronyms) to aid in recall. Sometimes he does well with this, sometimes not, but there is progress, and that is the big picture. One thing I can attest with complete certainty: had we left him in that public school setting, he would not be doing anything near grade-level work.
all this, though, I’m thrilled to report that his greatest improvements have been
social! The idea that a child with social delays and challenges is well served by
immersing him in the jungle that is public school, where the law is “survival of
the fittest,” is ludicrous. Children with autism or Asperger’s or similar
conditions will never be “the fittest,” and they often pay terrible
consequences for their inability to navigate that social world. Homeschooling is
not only a viable option for these children, but I will dare to say that it is
the ideal option. We’ve seen it, for sure, but others in our life also look at
Luke and repeatedly exclaim, “He is not the same child!”
What’s made the difference? First and foremost, he is at peace. He spends his days with people who love him. He knows what to expect, and his anxiety level is down to a baseline. That alone sets him up for success! Additionally, he has his siblings to practice social skills with all day. Therapy? Yes, 24/7 and completely free! Conflict resolution, conversational turn taking, compromise, imaginary play, initiating, leading, following—all take place under this very roof, even as I sit here typing these words! I hang back to let them “work it out,” but I also intervene and guide when needed. This provides perfect opportunities to teach and train, in ways that are meaningful and can be applied to social situations in the future. He is getting it, and the progress has been amazing!
But beyond that, he has friends now, outside our immediate family. This was never true before. I have hand-picked a few activities to ensure that each child has opportunities to pursue his or her interests. Seeing the same faces each week in calm, safe environments has allowed Luke to feel comfortable with a network of other children, and they honestly consider each other to be friends. It takes work and guidance, but it is happening. He invited several of them to his birthday party earlier this week. He engaged with them, enjoyed them, and thanked each one personally. In fact, he appeared so at ease and so “typical” that his father and I marveled at the fact that an outsider looking in, at that moment, would never guess he was so challenged. He even caught the eye of a pretty little girl who could not get enough of him! Indeed, it is far too early for that, but to see little glimpses of what may be one day brought much encouragement my way. Our boy is a good friend to others, and he has friends!
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