I joined a local homeschool group/co-op during our first year of homeschooling! It was a huge blessing to me because I was so nervous about homeschooling in general, and I made some of my closest homeschooling friends in that group. You know who you are! ;)
As was the case when we were in playgroups before we started homeschooling, the kids' behavior was often an issue and I was on the receiving end of some not-so-very kind comments about my parenting skills. It hurt greatly, and marked me considerably.
When the autism diagnoses came into play, I backed off from homeschool groups. I used the excuse that we needed to spend our time working on therapies, and that was partially true. But the biggest reason was that I just wanted to hide. I was devastated - probably clinically depressed - and I just didn't want to deal with it. It was hard to be out in public with kids who didn't act the way they were supposed to and to feel like people were judging me and my kids. I could take the time to explain that they have autism, but then that would open me up to all of the What Not To Say to the Parents of an Autistic Child. At the time, in the middle of what felt like "the crisis", I simply couldn't do it.
Once the crisis time passed, we joined back up with some friends who had been in the original group and formed somewhat of an informal group. That was great, but it seemed to fizzle after a couple of years. Most of those friends joined various other more formal homeschool groups - and they invited me time and again to visit their groups and see if they were right for us. But I just wasn't ready for that.
Over the last year, as things have started to settle down in our family and being out in public isn't quite such an ordeal as it used to be (for most of us...), I started considering some options for the coming year. Riley has been complaining about being lonely for awhile. She is an extrovert, whereas I am most definitely an introvert. I can handle small outings and I do end up enjoying myself, but talking to people in a group gives me a lot of anxiety and I need a good bit of time to recharge afterwards. At first, I wondered if putting her into school would be the answer. She has been averse to this idea for a long time, and I must be as well since I didn't put her back into school during 6th and 7th grades (the years I refer to as "The Time of Great Testing"! LOL). Her closest friend, and many of the girls she knows and likes from her dance studio, are members of a particular homeschool group. I had been invited by her mom's friend several times over the years to visit the group, and this year, she happened to invite me to come to their High School meetings.
That was just what I needed. Even though the other moms aren't dealing with the same things I am with Austin (special needs, cognitive delays), we share a common theme of doing something that is unusual and frowned-upon in our area - homeschooling high school aged people. I found this group of ladies to be kind and really focused on providing a quality high school experience to their kids. They offered a few parties and other activities for the older kids in the group, and that is what I'm looking for.
I think this group will offer something for each of the kids as well. Reece's good friend is a member of this group, so that's a good place to start. She has a hard time sharing her friend in a group, however, so that will be something good to work on. They offer park days for the younger kids and I plan to take Reece as often as I can. I think she is ready to learn how to manage a somewhat larger group dynamic. Riley knows many of the kids and I will get her involved with as many of the activities as she can manage with her dance schedule and her academic schedule this year. It will be more challenging for Austin. As far as I know, he is the oldest boy in the group, but it's not a bad thing for him to hang out with guys a year or two younger. He just has to want to do it. Now that he's 17, he is identifying more with adults, and would rather hang out with them/us. But I would really like for him to get to know the other guys in the group, and maybe develop a friendship.
So, I applied last month and then waited anxiously for word of our acceptance, which I finally received yesterday. Even though we know close to half of the group, I am considering sending an introductory email to the group to explain a bit about Austin and Reece. I am sure word has/will get around, but I would like for folks to be understanding. We are not dealing so much with meltdowns anymore, but more with verbal issues (which do not seem to be any easier because folks assume the kids are being rude or sassy to adults). But then again, I hesitate to label the kids before people even get a chance to get to know them. So I'll be praying about that in the next couple of day.
There sure are a lot of changes in store for our coming year!
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