I have lived in the world of special education for 15 years. My older son went through public school with autism and thrived, but those same schools didn’t know how to educate my younger son, who has multiple disabilities. I spent years trying to make it work, but by middle school my son needed a change and needed it fast. We became a homeschooling family.
I was apprehensive going in, but homeschooling has worked so well for us. Our special education services have been exceptional and the two homeschool charters we’ve used have gone above and beyond to assist my son with everything, adjusting classes, providing occupational and speech therapy, and supplying special education teachers and materials suitable for my son. Right now, our current charter is applying for hard to get SAT accommodations, including music as a concentration aid, since my kid does better on tests with Metallica blasting in his ears. Our guidance counselor at Sky Mountain helped gather the information and submitted the request before winter break.
So we’ve spent the last five years with a strong support network and a team of people working to get my son the education he needs. But my son is now a junior and has decided that he wants to leave the state and get as far away from home as possible. He wants a four year college where he can study writing and art. He is ready to move on. And that is terrifying for me.
I have always been my child’s fiercest advocate and federal law allows me to stand up for his needs. Because my son has an independent educational plan (IEPs), he is protected. The charter is responsible for my son’s academic success. My son has benefited from hours of services and I have called the shots from day one. But soon I won’t be able to do that anymore.
My son will be an adult soon, and he’ll be in charge of managing his own disabilities, with far less required support. Colleges are only required to provide accommodations, not services, and only if they don’t create an undue burden. They are not required to ensure success, only equal opportunity. Professors do not receive notice of a student’s disability; students approach the instructor. The university is not required to seek out students who need support; the student must prove they need it. In public school, all documentation, testing, and evidence gathering paid for and managed by the school, but many colleges require the family to provide their own documentation at their own expense.
And I won’t necessarily even know if there’s a problem. Once my younger son is an adult, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) will keep me from receiving information about my son’s schooling, even though I am expected to pay the bill. Legally, the college can’t tell me how my son is doing. If he needs help, if he’s failing classes, if he’s struggling – I will only know these things if he chooses to tell me. I have been my son’s advocate in the public system, both traditional and homeschool charter, since he was 3. When he goes to college, that will end.
So we need to use the remaining time before he leaves college very well. He doesn’t just need to prepare academically; he needs to prepare to manage his own disabilities, to become his own advocate, and to evaluate his own success, and I need to teach him how to do that. It’s another advantage of homeschooling. For years, I was the expert in his disabilities and his accommodations, and now I am teaching him everything I’ve learned.
Obviously, this requires careful planning, and it means that our high school process doesn’t look like most kids – even most kids who homeschool. My son spends as much time learning how to learn – how he learns – as he does learning chemistry or world history. He has discovered alternative note taking formats, methods of organizing his writing that match his unusual nonlinear thinking, and when and how he does his best work. He’s experimenting with adaptive technology and class formats. He has discovered that music is a powerful concentration tool. Next year, his senior year, we will test college readiness through dual enrollment. He can start college before leaving home, before leaving his high school safety net. It will be a final year in which I can help him as he learns to succeed. And that year will be the last time his education will be transparent to me, the last time I can step in. Two years from now he will be a first year college student, a grownup, and it will be up to him.
Homeschooling has allowed my son to learn how to learn. A carefully constructed, personalized high school program has given him a way to reach the future he dreams of. And soon he’ll be out of his safety net, out of the nest, becoming the person he was meant to be.