A few months ago, my husband and I started to seriously discuss my homeschooling our youngest child. The one with Selective Mutism. The one that although has struggled since he entered preschool as a three year old, has made incredible progress with his social anxiety. His academic performance is within the normal range, he ended his kindergarten year whispering to his teacher, even giving a couple presentations in front of his class and parents (all whispered- but still he stood up and "talked"). He now looks forward to attending friends' birthday parties (although he won't speak or whisper to the other children), talks to clerks and waitresses, talks to strangers in the neighborhood, and when visiting new friends' homes.
But this is also the kid that for this entire school year would come home from school angry, frustrated, and sometimes full of rage. Just when I would get him calmed down, it would be bed time and his anxiety about the next day would drive him to tears. In the morning, my usually jovial child would refuse to get dressed and sob that he did not want to go to school. He begged me to homeschool him. We knew that much of this behavior was a result of him not being able to talk out loud or express his emotions the entire day. All his emotions were repressed and stifled.
|First day of kindergarten... note his facial expression|
Once he got to school, his day would go better. He never did talk out loud, but thanks to his teachers and everyone from the custodians to secretaries to the principal to teacher aids, he became more relaxed and comfortable. However, looks are deceiving. Inside he was filled with anxiety. All.day.long. He did not talk or whisper to other children at recess and did not like days when the routine was altered such as when there were parties.
But he made it through a rough school year. And so did I. But then my husband and I decided that what was best for our family was for me to not work outside the home. With that decision meant I could no longer afford to send the boys to the private school they attended. The school we all love.
The thought of putting Christopher in public school terrified him and me. He had made so much progress in and especially out of school with his social interactions. We were afraid if he were to attend public school next fall, he would regress, which is common in some children with Selective Mutism when faced with major changes. Their coping skills are immature and they are not equipped to deal with the "normal" stressful situations that their peers can. For many S.M. children, school is the source of intense pressure and anxiety.
So, we entertained the idea of homeschooling. God had called me home to nurture and take care of my family. Did that also include homeschooling? What did the research say about homeschooling a Selective Mutism child? Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum, a leading expert in the field of S.M., states in her book Easing School Jitters for the Selectively Mute Child (2011) that she is against homeschooling the S.M. child unless there is consistent social interaction with the child's peers. Yes, the parent(s) can provide authentic, "real-world" social interactions throughout the day as the parent attends to errands and appointments. However, learning is a social activity that is optimized when collaborating with one's peers. How would I replicate that in a homeschool environment with only one child? Would attending a co-op setting once a week be enough?
After more praying and talking with colleagues, including my son's guidance counselor, we made the commitment to homeschool next year.
Why Have We Chosen to Homeschool ?
- To prevent Christopher from having to deal with too many changes that could possibly affect his mutism. See, what I have not mentioned thus far is that we are also moving to a new town thirty-five minutes away. In three weeks, he will leave the only house and neighborhood that he has ever known. We think that moving, leaving his school, and entering a brand new school would be too much.
- God has called me to be home with my children as a stay-at-home mom to fulfill my calling as a full time mom who is not distracted my the pressures and demands of also working outside the home. I want all my decisions to glorify God and to be what is best for my entire family. That includes bringing my child home to educate him. To allow him to embrace learning in an environment where he can talk about his learning. As teachers, we know how very vital it is to discuss one's learning. Brain based research tells us that learning is not a solitary behavior. Learning is augmented when done is social situations that involves various modalities and social interactions.
- To capitalize on Christopher's progress in social situations outside of the house. He has worked so hard and now talks in public in almost all situations. Within the last two weeks, we visited two new friends' homes. He talked out loud, played, and interacted with the other children. Children he had never met before.
- We want to help him apply these skills in more structured, "school-like" situations. For example, attending craft time at the library. Participating in sports. Attending homeschool functions and co-ops. We want to remove the stress from a brick and mortar school and work on changing his perception that any school environment is frightening. We will take baby steps to help him develop more appropriate coping skills in dealing with his intense anxiety.
- And eventually, we will help him to desensitize and apply these skills when visiting his older brother's school. If he accompanies me to his brother's school without the pressure of being a student there, then there is a very good chance that he will feel comfortable, may even talk out loud, and be able to transition to the school in a year or two.
- In a nutshell, because his social anxiety is now almost exclusive to school situations, if we remove him from a traditional school, we lessen the stress. In turn, we build off his strengths of socializing in other public places, and then desensitize him to a new school environment, the one his brother will attend.
But this is my story, and I'm sticking to it.
What is your story? Do you have any pearls of wisdom to share as an experienced homeschool parent? I welcome your advice and suggestions!