Friday, September 20, 2013
Because I Love Him...
(If you are receiving this via email update, click on the title and go directly to my webpage to view the videos at the end of this post, they do not transfer via email)
I'm often asked why I chose to homeschool Sam. I can always respond accurately that it is because of his medical needs, low immune system and inability to fight infection with typical medications. Most people are very comfortable with that response. I can refer to both his home program and his critical care pulmonologist that requested that I homeschool Sam. I have people to back up that claim.
But the reasons that I homeschool Sam go much further than that. I have friends that are teachers, aides and even some in administration. I took time to train and become a parent liaison in our school district. I respect the role of teachers, therapists, school psychologist and those in the special education area. As in any organization there are great, dedicated people and then there are those that are not as passionate about their vocation. The good comes with the bad. My personal experience in the school system was pretty good, nothing major went wrong but being a logical person and looking at class size, available resources and Sam's level of need I wondered if we could do more at home.
Jeff and I decided on the day that Sam was born that we would love him, enjoy him and work with him to the best of our abilities. Funny thing...if you would have brought up homeschooling at that time...I would have said "NO WAY". As time went on and Sam had more and more health issues including a brain injury from oxygen deprivation, I realized that our abilities were going to be tested more than I could have imagined. While in the ICU with Sam I was told he would probably not walk due to right side weakness, his speech would be limited or he may not talk at all and his cognitive abilities would be substantially reduced. All I could think about...was where did that doctor get his crystal ball?? This was an infant, a child that had not even been worked with...to me a child who's potential was unknown. Because God knows me best he knew that was what I needed to hear because that was the push I needed to prove them wrong. I'm stubborn and I often question that which I don't understand and don't even get me started on how I have questioned and tested the medical community in every aspect of Sam's journey. That same questioning has rocked my faith but over the years as more challenges have presented themselves and I have gotten through I have learned trust, trust in that which I have no control over. I am not strong enough to make it through the challenges in this life on my own, it is only by the grace of God that I continue on. Trusting God has become easy but trusting anything on this earth is still a challenge for me.
Due to Sam's issues beyond Down syndrome we sought out help and expertise on how to work with Sam and help him reach his full potential. NACD (www.nacd.org) has been a driving force and friend in our journey. I started working with Sam and NACD when he was 18 months old. Although Sam had been in the state's "Birth to Three" program since he was 6 weeks old...I just didn't feel it was enough. Everything I researched and read about encouraged me about the brain's plasticity and ability to make new connections but the direct input and the amount was something I felt we needed to improve on. Studies showed that children receiving early intervention were doing better than those that had not but in my mind the percentage was still too low and Sam had more than just a few issues going on. Sam's therapists were excellent but they only saw him once or twice a week for a short period of time. Working with NACD allowed me to work with Sam every day and give the input he needed to re-learn how to use the right side of his body, to crawl, to walk, to run, to learn to read, to improve his processing, to work on his vision issues, to strengthen the areas that were weak...to help him grow and develop.
As I worked with Sam and saw things change I began to understand and feel the joy that comes with helping another person develop on a level that I had never experienced before. I had taken for granted my other children's development and I realized that it isn't until a child can't do something, something fundamental to their development that you can either feel powerless or dig your heels in and work on it. Sam and I bonded on a whole different level. It wasn't just about doing program or working the muscles it was about building trust and forming a working, loving relationship. To see Sam crawl, walk and then run (things he was never expected to do) and know the hours of deep pressure, input into his muscles, work on his gait and balance that made that possible is an accomplishment like none other. To watch Sam read and know that I taught him how to read makes my heart smile. To see Sam accomplish a set of instructions and chores and know the steps that we had to go through to get there humbles me. To hear Sam speak, to hear him communicate and know the hours of practice we have put in, the hours of oral motor and endless attempts at conversation we have gone through is...priceless.
I remember when Sam was born, he was on oxygen for the first day or so and I wasn't able to hold him. As I sat in my hospital bed...I wondered...after learning his diagnosis of Down syndrome...would he look at me or would he look right past me? Would I see something in those eyes, a light, an indication of something or would he have a blank stare. I knew nothing about Down syndrome and that lack of knowledge scared me. But what I do remember is the moment they brought Sam to me and placed him in my arms. I turned him upright so we could look face to face and as I held him he looked directly into my eyes, directly into my soul. I could see that there was so much inside this little man, so much he wanted to share and tell me and I decided at that moment that he and I could do this. We were going to be okay...no matter what.
I'm glad I didn't have that crystal ball...the future would have overwhelmed me. As Sam and I worked together we learned how to work together, what works and what doesn't. I sometimes think as people read my blog they think that Sam is easy to work with, compliant and a child that looks forward to his program. Well, you would be very, very wrong (I'm sure Ellen Doman will vouch for me on this). Sam has fought through much of his learning but has learned despite it. Often times children with Down syndrome are thought to be gentle, loving, happy but I'm sure most parents of children with Down syndrome and teachers and therapists that work with them will tell you they have a gold medal in being stubborn. Sam was doubly blessed with a gold medal in being stubborn along with two parents that gave him stubborn as a genetic trait. Sam has hid program elements, fed them to the dog, ripped them, thrown them away and scattered them on the floor too many times to mention. Sam has yelled, cried, screamed, spit and thrown books to discourage reading. Have we had behavioral items on program, yep...too often to mention.
Now don't get me wrong, Sam has the other traits of gentle, happy and loving...when he is doing something he wants to be doing. Very much like his older brother Ben...Sam is not fond of school. Ben and Sam liked the social aspect of school, seeing friends, being part of a group but that is pretty much the extent of it...oh yeah...lunch and riding the bus was fun too. As for academics these two can make any teacher's day a nightmare. Over the years I have figured out that each of them have very specific learning styles. With some modification I could adapt Ben's to life in the public school, not without it's challenges, but it was doable. Sam, so far has been a whole different challenge.
So much of Sam's learning is built on trust. He will try something or work on something because he loves me and he trusts me. Sam loves to see me get excited when he learns something, acting excited and actually being excited are two very different things for Sam. He can read acting and he may tolerate it for a while but he really wants to see true excitement. It is a lot to ask of any teacher everyday. Which leads me to another reason I homeschool. I have spent years trying to figure out the best ways to work with Sam and if I am honest...I'm still trying. Some things I have figured out and can now run with, others are still a work in progress but all require a level of patience that even I find hard to maintain. Sam is one child and I am working with him one on one and we struggle. I often read about and know children with special needs that are doing very well in school. Many of them appear to have fairly good speech and have learned to adapt to the classroom setting. In my day to day work with Sam I think he would either choose to withdraw, stim and learn nothing or fight and quickly wear down anyone who is working with him so that his behavior would become the main focus and learning would still not be occurring. I also know that if Sam were to come across someone who didn't care, wasn't passionate about teaching, chose to see his behavior as the only problem it would be detrimental to his continuing to learn. I have had my moments with Sam when I have wanted to give up, to give in to let someone else fail at this and be able to say "It's not my fault". But that's where I come back to my commitment to Sam, maybe the reason God chose me to be Sam's mom. I pray...and we go on.
Sam's physical issues are another reason I homeschool. Sam has limited mobility and he does need to recline at times to take pressure off his hip, not the best set up for a typical public school classroom. Sam and I have figured out how to work together at a desk, in a recliner, laying down, inside, outside and in a body brace. We got this.
But if you want my real answer as to why I homeschool Sam....it is because I love him. Sometimes when a person is challenged or difficult or stubborn it just takes LOVE to get past all of it. I work hard with Sam because I love him, I believe in his abilities because I love him, I get past his behaviors because I love him, we figure out how to work together because no matter how many mistakes I make...he still loves me too. Sometimes like the song says...all you need is love.
Here are some videos from our recent attempts at ramping up Sam's home program. They are not the best of the best, I have always promised to be real on this blog, to show the good, the bad and the ugly...but no matter what...I LOVE THIS LITTLE BOY AND THANKFULLY HE LOVES ME TOO!