There are things I don’t realize I hope for until the moment when I realize they won’t happen. In that moment I am smacked with sadness just as I have to figure out how to readjust my expectations. It was somewhere in November or December that I realized Link’s high school education was going to veer sharply from the standard path. He needed it to. I needed it to. Yet I still had to find that part of myself which had expected “normal” and make it let go.
The new plan is a partial home schooling arrangement. Link does most of his coursework through online packets. Most of the time he does that work in the computer lab at school. Sometimes he does that work at home. He still has a few regular classes on campus. I’m functioning as the enabler, assistant, and aide. I don’t make the curriculum, but I assist him in understanding what he is expected to do. Link loves this new format for school. For the first time he isn’t constantly overwhelmed by noisy classrooms where the coursework goes so slowly that he tunes out and misses important assignment details. He doesn’t get surprised by assignments being due when he didn’t even know he had one. He doesn’t have to fret over knowing he has an assignment, but not being sure how it is supposed to be done. All of the instructions are right there in front of him, patiently waiting for him to absorb them and do the work.
I can see how this arrangement is going to be good for him educationally. We’ve spent years adapting his school work to allow him to keep up in a regular classroom. Now he has to struggle with types of assignments that he’s never done before. But instead of simply failing an assignment and rushing onward because the class can’t stop for him, he will be required to re-do assignments until he has learned the necessary skills to move onward. In the areas where the assignments are easy for him, he doesn’t have to sit around and wait for other students to catch up. For a student like Link, who has some significant learning disabilities that impact some of his educational capabilities, this is brilliant. Especially since Link also has some off-the-chart educational advantages in other areas.
It seems like a perfect plan, but I’ve spent quite a lot of time being afraid that it won’t work. I fear that it will cause as many problems as it solves. In this plan Link has to sit for hours in a room mostly by himself. He has to keep himself working. He’ll have to work longer and harder hours than he has been used to doing. Unlike regular classrooms, those hours will all be focused thinking. Some of the skills he’ll have to learn are how to run the necessary software and format assignments for himself. There won’t be a teacher there tap-dancing and trying to keep him engaged. Instead it is just Link, the material, and Link’s own motivation. It is very possible that Link will not step up. That he won’t work at a rate sufficient to keep him on track for graduation next year.
This is one of those hidden hopes which I have had to acknowledge: I really want my son to graduate with his class. Ultimately the decision to do so is up to Link. I’ve done everything in my power to turn that goal from impossible to possible. Now he has to do the work to make it happen. It has been important for me to see that graduation goal. Even more important is for me to consciously recognize that I may have to sacrifice the graduation goal in service of a much more important goal: preparing Link to be a self-sufficient adult.
This is one of the other potential drawbacks of this plan, social isolation. In order for Link to be ready for adulthood, he needs to interact with other people. He needs to learn how to socialize and make friends in ways that he hasn’t yet learned how to do. He needs to figure out how to communicate his needs and how to listen to the needs of others. Sitting in a room by himself does not help him accomplish any of the important social learning which happens in high school. We’re going to have to figure out other ways to make sure he learns those things. That will mean more work for us as parents. This whole plan is a lot more work for me than the standard educational route. On the other hand, I’d much rather do this work than what I have been doing in the past few months. I was constantly manageing emotional crises as Link began to despair and consider himself a failure in all things. This new educational approach means that for the first time in years, Link can picture himself succeeding. We are both very aware how fortunate we are that the administration at his school is willing and able to support this plan. There are other schools in our school district who would not do the same.
We are now at the end of the first week and we have mixed results. Link loves it, but we’ve been confused by assignments frequently. I had to purchase and install Microsoft Office to make sure we had the same tools at home that Link has at school. We’ve spent lots of time just figuring out how to find necessary information, how to take the tests, how to submit assignments. And at the end of this first week, Link had a moment of despair because he could see that the work was all going too slowly. He thought he would fail at this too. I told him it is too early to tell if this will work. We need to keep going, ironing out the wrinkles, giving this our best try. So we’ll keep rolling along bumping our way over weeds and gullies as we travel parallel to the standard path.