Wednesday, February 9, 2011


As a middle school teacher, I often sit in on annual case review conferences for special education students. The law requires that regular education teachers like me be present for these conferences to make sure that students are placed in the least-restrictive environment for their educational needs. The guidance counselors and special education teachers know that I don’t mind being part of these meetings because I sympathize with the parents, having been part of case reviews as a parent when Alex was younger and receiving special education services. Recently, I met with the parents of a special needs child and had a very nice conversation with them, discussing some of the things Ed and I had gone through when Alex was middle-school aged. Also present for this conference were my good friend the guidance counselor and a representative of our county’s special education cooperative whom I did not know prior to this meeting. After the parents and I discussed various issues, this special education representative wanted to know if I would answer some of her questions. Generally, I am fairly open about our experiences, but what I thought would be just a few inquiries about Alex became what felt like an interrogation and made me somewhat uncomfortable.

While I answered her questions directly and elaborated when she wanted more details, I later analyzed some of the things she had asked me and wished I had told her that they were really none of her business. For example, she wanted to know how we had discussed sexuality with Alex. Who asks any parent that? I was particularly uncomfortable with the parents—whom I had also just met that day— sitting there because they seemed uneasy with the topic, too. I told her that we had not gone into a lot of detail with Alex because we were concerned that he might obsess over the ideas, as teenage boys often do. Additionally, I explained that we had taught him basic socially-appropriate behavior about modesty and keeping his hands where they belong so that he doesn’t make others uncomfortable. Furthermore, I went on to explain that Alex learns best by reading, and he has read a few books about puberty and development on his own and seemed satisfied with what he’d learned from them. [An especially good book about the topic I highly recommend is Mary Wrobel’s Taking Care of Myself: A Hygiene, Puberty, and Personal Curriculum for Young People with Autism. Alex found this book at our public library, and I was so impressed with it that I ordered him a copy online from Barnes and Noble.] Anyway, she probably thought I was old-fashioned to hand my kid a book instead of sitting down with him and discussing “the birds and the bees,” but we know what’s best for Alex. Another topic she seemed to want me to explain was why we decided to home school Alex. For some reason, some people find home schooling strange, but we know that choice was best for Alex, who needs one-on-one instruction. Since that explanation didn’t satisfy her, I went on to detail how he had been restrained in a seatbelt chair and made to hold a sign that he could read that said, “IGNORE ME!” in special education preschool, which we felt was not appropriate. Of course, she posed the typical argument against homeschooling—socialization. (I wonder if people think we lock home schooled children in closets.) After explaining that we took Alex to library programs, concerts, sporting events, and other activities, not to mention all the various therapies, I went on to tell her that as a middle school teacher, I know that kids like Alex are easy targets for bullies, and I was not about to subject him to that humiliation and upset. My friend the guidance counselor nodded her head in agreement, as did the parents, which seemed to close that particular topic.

Next, she wanted to know about Alex’s future plans. Had I known that he’d been contacting companies about his latest invention, I could have told her that. Instead, I decided to answer honestly and tell her that I don’t know what the future holds for Alex. Since Alex turned eighteen last year, I’ve gotten more questions about what he’s going to do in life, and I just can’t answer that right now. Although he’s legally an adult, he’s still immature in many ways. While he’s made quite a bit of progress in the past year or so, he’s still not ready for higher education, nor is he ready to hold down a job. However, we have hopes that he will eventually find something fulfilling to do. In the meantime, we continue educating him ourselves and giving him opportunities to develop his potential. Of course, we know that God has a plan for Alex’s future, and we stand on that promise. Finally, with the inquiry nearly over, the woman asked if I would have done anything differently. Now this was a question I could answer confidently. Looking back over Alex’s childhood and the various things we have done, we have no regrets. Certainly, we made mistakes at times—most often out of love for him—but we did the best we could with the knowledge that we had. Most of all, we sought God’s guidance and prayed earnestly. In the end, that’s all that really matters, and the progress Alex has made has been a testimony to God’s faithfulness in our lives.

“So they said to him, ‘Please inquire of God, that we may know whether the journey on which we go will be prosperous.’” Judges 18:5


K. C. said...

I'm sorry the conversation turned into an interrogation. I can't imagine asking such personal questions! It sounds like you handled it with your usual grace, though.

Mom said...

I find it ironic that some special ed educators question or criticize the choice of parents to home school their child, and yet they often twist and turn and do everything possible to avoid taking students into the special ed program. Moreover, those students who are accepted are invariably mainstreamed or farmed out into regular ed classes. In other words, they don't want to do the work, but they want to question and/or criticize those who are. I think this is mainly because of the vast amount of paperwork that is required by the state for each special ed student. The state seems to think that filling out a million forms about a child is somehow beneficial to the child when, actually, it's just bureaucracy at its worst. There are many very good special ed teachers who truly care about helping students, but their time and energy is usurped by bureaucratic paperwork. On the other hand, there are some special ed teachers like the one who put the "Ignore me" sign over Alex who should be taken out and horse whipped.

Fred Haeberle said...

Pam, I am so impressed with what you and Ed have accomplished as parents, it frustrates me to read this blog entry. You guys have done everything right and accomplished so much it is unfair to ask if you would have done anything different. All decisions were made at a time with only the facts and knowledge available at that time. To do anything different would have required knowledge of the future and some way to know the future results of you decisions.
I think one of the misconceptions of "home schooling" is the imaginary image of un-schooled or untrained parents trying to teach their children. Perhaps the lady asking these improper questions was home schooled by untrained parents. At least, it seems like she may have been absent from the "socialization" class when she was in school.
Keep up the good work and don't worry about "what will be." You are all in good hands.

Pam Byrne said...

Dear K.C., Mom, and Fred,

Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful comments; I really appreciate your support. I think that a lot of special ed personnel really don't know much about autism, and maybe they need parents to teach them. After the meeting was over, I wish I'd found my maternal grandmother's strong voice and let the woman know what I really thought of her questions. ;) I hope she learned something, but my reason for being there was to support the parents, and I think I was able to do that. I hope so.