Guest Blogger, Kristin Olliney, is the mother of 7-year-old Isabella, who suffered sudden acute encephalitis when she was just 4. Kristin’s bi-monthly blog, Mommy of a Miracle, talks about the trials and joys of raising a brain injury survivor.
I have learned a lot in the past month about the public school system. I learned that the public school system is like a wooden-shape puzzle. Most pieces fit in the puzzle. Some pieces require a little more effort to fit in than others. With every puzzle there is always that one piece that no matter how hard you try to shove it into the mold, it just does not fit. Isabella is that unique puzzle piece that does not fit.
As I mentioned in my previous blog about Isabella’s first day of school, I moved to our current town specifically for its school system. It ranked very well on the state report card. The special education program was known to be fantastic. I had such high hopes and I honestly never expected it not to work out. The first week of school was horrible. Fighting, kicking, screaming, biting, panic attacks etc., just to walk out the door of our home. Never mind the car ride, the 15 minutes of school and then the aftermath which consumed the rest of the day. The second week of school is when the stress, anxiety, aggression and panic attacks took on a whole new level. It was affecting her sleep, therapies, treatments and it became medically necessary for Isabella to have a home-based program. School is not supposed to be this traumatic. I quickly realized that just because a school system has a great ranking and a fantastic special needs program, that does not mean that it is the right or appropriate fit for Isabella.
I was left with a few options:
- In-home tutoring: I was hesitant to go this route as we had already done that (with little success) in another town. Isabella needs more than in-home tutoring can offer. Also, with in-home tutoring the expectation is that the child will go back into the public school. I already knew that was not working.
- In-home tutoring until out of district placement could occur: I started calling and researching a variety of specialized schools. The problem I ran into is that most programs were for emotional/behavioral conditions or cognitive conditions. Isabella doesn’t fit into any one category because she has a brain injury. While she has emotional/behavioral conditions, they are a result of a brain injury so therefore can’t be treated the same. The few schools that do specialize in brain injury either do not accept Isabella’s age group or they accept her age group but currently do not have any attending.
- Home school: Several providers had mentioned home schooling to me. I knew nothing about it. I decided to research the laws, potential curricula, talked with other parents who home school and to find out as much as I possibly could.
I spent many stressful days and sleepless nights trying to figure out what to do. I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place with not many good options. The more I researched home school, the more I realized this was the best option for Isabella. The laws, the policies, the application, finding and submitting a curriculum–it all overwhelmed me but I knew that she would thrive in a home school program. I knew that I could teach Isabella because I would go to the end of the world for her if I had to. After all, I know her better than anyone.
I started looking into therapeutic playgroups to get Isabella the socialization she needs. I was referred to a facility that would offer Isabella the one-on-one that she requires. They will help Isabella cope with her anxiety, teach her social skills and eventually be able to interact with another peer in a very structured environment.
I submitted my home school plan which included an online curriculum coupled with a few other programs to supplement it. Isabella already has existing outpatient therapies, in-home behavioral and soon a therapeutic playgroup. I received an approval shortly after submitting.
I can honestly say this is the right decision for us. Isabella loves “school at home.” That twinkle in her eyes that I haven’t seen in years–that twinkle is there. The excitement Isabella has every morning when she asks what we are going to learn today–that is how it is suppose to be. Learning is not supposed to cause panic attacks, regression and aggression. The public school experience has caused Isabella to regress so much. It is going to take some time and a lot of work to get Isabella back on track to where she was prior to the start of the public school. I know together we can get Isabella back to where she was and moving in the right direction.
I am not saying public schools are bad. I live in a town that has a great public school. I am saying that not every child fits into that cookie cutter mold. It wasn’t appropriate for Isabella at this time. Will I home school forever? Honestly, I have no idea. What I do know is that this is the right choice for us right now. One day at a time.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost