Written by contributor Hillary Boucher
We started to notice the gap in his expressive language around 18 months old. Other kids his age were pointing at things, trying out words. Him, not so much.
I didn’t pay any attention. Our eldest son spoke early and has always had an impressive vocabulary. I had already promised myself that I would not compare and would trust that he would bloom in his own good time.
He turned two, then two-and-a-half and there started to be other signs that he was struggling: intense tantrums and mood swings, extreme clinging to parents (mostly me), and clear signs of stress.
We began declining social invitations and found it difficult to bring him to the grocery store or even to the park. It was just too hard on all of us.
At his three-year-old well check-up the nurse practitioner scolded him repeatedly before asking me incredulously, “Is he always like this?” I was furious by her lack of professionalism and quite frankly, her lack of compassion. I was also confused and not sure how to help him or our family.
But the experience with the nurse practitioner furthered my belief that external support systems weren’t right for us. They would label, judge, and lack the compassion I wanted for my little guy.
It took me nine more months before I finally took him to be evaluated.
They were professional, kind, and followed my lead as the expert of my child’s well-being. All the testing was play-based and I stayed with him the whole time. They gave context to the information they had gathered and we worked together as a team to figure out what he needed.
I was pleasantly surprised and quite frankly, relieved. In the end I felt very good about accepting the services offered to us.
He went on to receive services, first in our home through an early childhood program, and then transitioned to visiting the therapist at our local neighborhood school twice a week when he turned five.
And I’m happy to say that he has absolutely blossomed. The therapists we have worked with have provided us with helpful skill building exercises, strategies to help him overcome his challenges and moral support. It’s changed the quality of his life, and our family experience, for the better.
I wanted to share our story in case you ever find yourself needing to additional support and resources for your child.
Here are a few things I learned along the way.
Set your child up for success.
You know your child — use this to your advantage. Set up the evaluation and therapy times when they are most likely to be cooperative and happy. Get creative and frame the experience in a way that will help them feel the most comfortable.
Go with the flow, but define the story of the experience.
It was important to let the therapists do their work with minimal interference from me, but it was important to my son that I was very close by. I did everything I could to have him feel comfortable, but also did my best to not interrupt the evaluation unless asked a question or looked to for confirmation. I did my best to trust their process.
That being said, I found that I had a strong influence on the feeling of the session. I spoke with the evaluators before the session and explained where I was coming from, what I was most concerned about and what I hoped for as an outcome. I found them to be very responsive and accommodating.
Get informed and think about bringing an advocate.
IEP (Individual Education Program) meetings can be intense. In our case I was at the table with the local school principal, school psychologist, kindergarten teacher and head of special services.
I wished I had been better prepared for that meeting.
If I could do it again I would have planned it so my mom, a long time educator who has participated in hundreds of these meetings, could have been in attendance. I know she has attended them as an advocate for friends and family in the past. Even bringing someone who knows and loves your child can help.
Develop thick skin.
There may be a bias against homeschooling at the above mentioned table. There were definitely some inferred “school might be just what he needs” comments when I shared some of his social challenges.
I just ignored it and did my best to stay focused on being the best advocate for my child. Afterall, as homeschoolers we’re used to the misinformed stereotypes thrust upon us.
I hope that you won’t find yourself in this situation, but if you do, I want you to know that support is available and can be a profoundly positive experience.
When I look back I only wish I had started the process earlier.
Have you had your homeschool child evaluated? Receiving services? Was your experience similar or different than mine?