I want to preface this article by confessing that I am far from being an expert in this area, and that the following observations are based on my limited experience with my nephew who has been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and Sensory Processing Disorder.
C. came to live with us on his seventh birthday. He used to throw himself against the walls, yell and scream for no apparent reason, smell, touch and even taste anything he found in the house or on the street. He could read only three-letter words, did not understand what he read, displayed no social skills. He used to break into tantrums, kick the wall, and spit on the floor at the smallest upset. All we saw were huge behavioral problems until several professionals diagnosed him with FASD, from which develop ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder; there began our journey into the world of physical, emotional, and learning disabilities.
For someone who had been a successful homeschooling mom for over twenty years, the challenges seem insurmountable. How was I to teach this kid anything? For the first few months, I worked with C. on his reading; while he progressed quickly, he still had trouble understanding what he was reading.
My approach changed when I realized that I was the one who needed to learn. I consulted professionals, read books, attended seminars on FASD and began to understand how to help C.
I first learned that this is a physical handicap of the brain that didn’t form properly. This means that C. has a problem, but he is not the problem. His emotional maturity is about half of his chronological age, so I now expect emotional reactions of a four year old. His cognitive pace is slow, his memory is short and often needs re-teaching; he learns by doing and is capable of little if any abstract learning; he is a multisensory learner, a great artist, a compassionate child, a funny kid, a talented woodworker. He can sniff a smell a mile away (☺), describe how anything tastes (crayons are sandy), and forget what he was told one minute ago. His smile is contagious, and his jokes too silly for his age. His most common word is “oopsies” for all the things he accidentally breaks, spills, tears, cuts, destroys. He gives the best hugs and tells me he loves me every day. He is impulsive and loud, but he knows how to describe what he feels and why.
C. attends a private Christian school, and then re-learns at home with me every day. At school, he is allowed to sit on a special stool that makes him balance, he can sip water from a straw whenever he wants, he can use a weighted lap pad to calm him, and he is allowed to chew gum at recess. At home, we use manipulatives, kinetic sand, colors, textures, games, toys, bubbles, wood, Lego, and food, to name a few. I am learning to give him no more than two things to do, encourage him always, and never give up on him. I’m learning to be more patient, to look beyond his age, to read his moods, to comfort his fears. In fact, I am learning that C. is an extraordinary four-year old in an eight-year old body ☺
If you suspect a different “normal” in your child, I strongly encourage you to seek professional diagnosis and help. There are so many resources as close at a stroke of a key.
If homeschooling has anything to offer, it is the freedom to tailor education to the needs of each student, developing their strengths and helping their weaknesses. In the process, we parents also become more educated, more aware, better parents, better human beings.