Written by Shawna Wingert of Not the Former Things
“You’re probably going to have to put him back in public school,” my son’s pediatrician said as she referred us for testing. “Then the experts can help him.”
My son went to public school through the end of second grade. After three years, it was clear that although he was in the top one percent of second graders in the school district and had perfect grades, he was miserable every single day.
It was also clear that, because he was so advanced academically, he was not learning anything new at all.
It took seeing him painfully try to fit in, hearing kids tease him about his advanced reading level, watching him have meltdowns every morning over having to put on shoes and socks, his teacher telling me that she didn’t need my input, the constant threat of bells ringing, crowded cafeterias, PE on the prickly grass … it took all of this for me to finally take a step back and say, maybe this isn’t working.
Two years later, my son was medically evaluated and we received his diagnoses – High Functioning Autism, Acute Sensory Processing Disorder, and Anxiety Disorder all coupled with a genius level IQ.
All the struggles he had in school finally made sense … and now the doctor was telling us we needed to put him back in?
It wasn’t the first time a doctor had questioned my decision to homeschool.
Another pediatrician told me my sons would be at greater risk for obesity because we homeschooled. When I looked surprised, she said it was because they would not be getting the regular exercise that kids get in school.
In the two years since we began to seek out doctors and other professionals to help my son, I have been in many situations that were clearly not “homeschool friendly.” I have learned a few things that did not work (FYI – bursting into tears at every appointment was one of them).
So, what can we do when we have a doctor who is not supportive of homeschooling?
Create talking points
When the pediatrician said my son would need to go back into the school system where “experts” could help, I was at a loss. Although I had read enough books to know that there were valid reasons to consider keeping him at home, in the moment, I felt unprepared.
Creating a set of basic “talking points” as to why we have chosen to homeschool, and more importantly the success we have seen, has been very helpful in these situations.
I literally have a few bullet points written out in my planner. I read them prior to any appointment to make sure I am ready to respond if necessary.
Take a professional approach
Whether it’s fair or not, I have found that the way I carry myself when dealing with doctors and other therapists is essential. Because they are working professionals, I have found it helpful to relate to them more as a work colleague than a mom needing help.
I sometimes will discuss new research that has surfaced regarding autism or homeschooling with special needs. This is a language your doctor is comfortable speaking, and it establishes you as a valuable resource.
I have also seen success in dressing professionally for appointments. On the days when I have just made it out of the house, hair a mess and yesterday’s sweat pants on, I find I am more easily dismissed.
However, on the days when I have taken time to dress as if I am going to work (and for all intents and purposes, I am – this is my “job”), I find it much easier to be seen as an equal.
It might not be fair, but it has been true every time.
Share what is necessary
Oh boy, this one has been difficult for me. Once I get started talking, it is hard for me to stop (especially when I have been home with the kids all week and now there is another adult in the room – it’s like my mouth finally has the freedom to run). This has not served me well in these settings.
I have to remember the doctor is there for a specific purpose.
For example, if I am going to see the doctor regarding an issue with eating that my son is experiencing, unless specifically asked, I will not bring up anything related to our school environment.
Not only is it not pertinent to the reason we are there, but my doctor is not my family therapist. She does not need to know all the things that we are struggling with, nor do I really need to share them.
If I am specifically asked about something school related, like social interactions or learning differences, I answer as honestly but succinctly as possible.
I make sure the doctor has the information she needs, but only the information she needs.
I make sure she has the information she needs to provide her expertise and then we move on.
Make a change
After working with a doctor or other professional for a while, it may become clear that it is just time to make a change.
If you are not feeling heard, or being treated as a valuable resource as the parent and person closest to your child, I would encourage you to seek out another doctor if possible.
In my experience, if a doctor and I just can’t see eye-to-eye or agree to disagree about homeschooling, it also is true about other aspects of my son’s care.
I am so grateful we live in a time and place where we have access to quality care with well-trained doctors and professionals.
By intentionally thinking through how best to interact with them, we have been able to work through most homeschooling differences, and just get back to what is most important – helping my son.
Do you have experience working with doctors as part of homeschooling a child with special needs?