Saturday, September 12, 2015

Halfway through the first term? Already??

We are almost halfway through the first term of this school year already! I'm not sure when my life was switched to "Time Warp Mode" but even the girls are starting to comment about how quickly time is flying by! Since I have an hour or so before I have to be anywhere, I figured I would continue to neglect my housework an post an update for anyone who may still have the patience to wait for me to post.

All in all, things are still going very, very well! The 2nd week was harder than the 1st week, but that was to be expected with Reece's dance classes resuming and Riley's chemistry class starting up as well. Also in the 2nd week, Reece decided that she wasn't going to do any of her school work while I was not at home. And since I'm not at home very much on Tuesdays and Thursdays - well, you can imagine. However, once she was reminded of the rule: "No dance if your school work isn't done." that quickly became a non-issue.

We are on a full academic schedule now and are mostly managing to get everything done. Some days and weeks are better than others - this week was one that was harder to get everything done. This coming week will be similar with a couple of appointments. I protect our Mondays and Wednesdays as much as possible because we are actually home those two days until mid-afternoon, but those are the days that have to be used for appointments. So it's very hard. There is more school work going on late in the evenings and on weekends than ever before simply because we're home.

Riley has been doing a phenomenal job with all of her new responsibilities! She loves her college class (dual enrollment) and is doing a really excellent job! She is teaching a Modern dance class this year to 9-11 year olds and loves that as well! She is not yet enjoying her Chemistry class, but she is still glad she didn't take it at college. She has also been spending her Sundays taking the classroom portion of her Driver's Education class which has made for busy weekends for her- but she only has 2 more classes and then the 3 in-car driving classes and then she's done with that. The driving portion we will do closer to time for her to get her license. But it's better to get the classroom part done now while her weekends are not filled with Nutcracker rehearsals, plus one of her best friends is taking the classes so they can go together. 6 hours of driver's ed class alone is monotonous! Riley also had her choreography chosen for the upcoming Emerging Choreographer's Showcase in 2 weeks! Such a busy late summer for my big girl!

Reece has been doing very well with her lessons. She is at that age where she wants to sleep all the time, but she also has lots of dance, so she has to learn to manage her time. And she will. I just have to learn not to freak out over it! Algebra 1 is going even better than I expected, and I hope it continues! Dance classes are also going well, even though she added lots of hours to her schedule! It's long and hard work but she is rising to the challenge!

Our favorite graduate is also doing well! He has a new job that is during the days in an office. It's brain work but he is learning valuable skills that will help him in the future! And we actually get to see him now and he actually has a life! It's super! Due to his mother being crazy busy, we haven't completed his application for the music school. It's my goal for this coming week! But, again, I have to be home to help him! LOL

So that brings me to the teacher - me. Everything is still going well with the academics and the school work. The girls are being cooperative and are both working hard for me! I'm able to keep up with the planning and that always makes me feel good. But all the driving is wearing me out completely. I'm driving 500-600 miles a week, all in town, stop-and-go, type traffic. It's exhausting and I am really, really tired of being in the car. Riley is eligible to get her license in January, so we are going to move forward with that, and then figure out a way that she will be able to use a vehicle to drive herself even a few days a week. That will make my life so much easier. I had her drive pretty much everywhere this past week and she did quite well. Atlanta traffic is not easy at all - so many impatient drivers! :( Thankfully this year she goes to dance earlier and misses the bulk of the rush hour craziness that we drove in last year. I'm not sure her driving will make it immediately easier for me because I'll be so worried, but in the long run it will be a major help!

So that's what the last month or so has been like at the Black Pearl Academy! All good! Very busy!

I'm planning a post for this coming week that talks about how our Charlotte Mason education has prepared Riley so well for her college class! It's very exciting! Please check back!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

School Year 2015-2016: Reflections on the first week

I am a bit hesitant to write this post. You'll see why in a few moments, I'm sure. Hopefully I'll be able to get all of these emotions out of my head and onto the page/screen and they will reflect what I'm feeling in my heart.

We started the 2015-2016 school year this week. With Austin's graduation this past spring, the Black Pearl Academy has now become an exclusive All-Girls' School! It was so weird to take the First Day of School pictures and not include Austin. But he has worked hard these last 13 years and he has completed his journey! Now he moves on to the world of adulthood, and his sisters are quickly following in his footsteps. 

We took Monday off because it was the first day of public school and that is "Not Back to School Day" for us and has been since that very first day in 2002! Tuesday we began our lessons, and Riley started back to her dance classes. We had a few appointments to fit in for everyone this week but we worked Tuesday-Friday and then we were done for the week. With a few exceptions, everything that I wanted to get done this week we were able to get done. 

Friday afternoon rolled around and I realized something: I had not cried one time this whole week! 

Does that surprise you? Have I ever mentioned that I have cried at least once during the first week of school every single year? We are up to 14 "first weeks of school" and for the first time ever I didn't cry! 

I simply had NO IDEA how hard it's been on me to homeschool Austin all these years. It wasn't his fault! Please do not get me wrong! It's the nature of his cognitive disorder and the seizures that affect his frontal lobe and the autism. Austin has always worked very hard and done his very, very best! I am very blessed that he is the kind of kid that he is - and very fortunate. I can only imagine how many more tears would have been shed if he had also been resistant to learning. 

But what I am realizing for myself is how much stress I have been living under all these years. For the first few years, until he was diagnosed, I assumed the problem orginated in my teaching or the curriculum I was using. After that, I fretted over his future job and college prospects. And in more recent years, I lamented that he had to deal with this frustration, especially when his baby sister would ask if she could give Austin the answer to the question I was asking him. :(

So many tears. So much anxiety and so much stress. No wonder I haven't enjoyed homeschooling. 

And it didn't stop there. All the time I had to spend one-on-one with Austin meant there was less time to work with the girls in the same way. I was always rushing around trying to give everyone time and I never had enough of it. I was always having to tell Reece to "wait just a minute" until I was done with Austin. Most of the time I was able to get everything done. But it took a toll that I'm not sure I realized until this week when I no longer had to do it. After all, it has always been this way... I didn't know any different!

This week, I not only didn't cry once - but I also had mental and emotional energy left to make dinner (the one night I was home at dinner time LOL) and to do my housework! I can't tell you the last time I didn't feel utterly drained and completely spent at the end of a day of homeschooling. 

I think I'm finally seeing why people actually LIKE homeschooling and why they would WANT to do it! I have been feeling like I HAD to because God called me to do it and my special needs kids needed it. 

I guess my point in sharing this is to let you know that if you're teaching a child with special needs and you're feeling stressed out and like it's not very much fun - you're right! You ARE stressed out and it's NOT very much fun. I encourage you to try to find the joy and happiness in what you're doing and not cause yourself so much stress. With all of the mistakes I have made with Austin, he has turned out to be a really kind, responsible, and mature young adult. Will he go to college? No. Will he live independently? If he can make enough money in a job, he has the ability to live on his own for sure. Does it matter? Only as much as he's wants to be like everyone else and be independent. Did putting myself under so much stress all the time change anything? No. 

Was it worth it? Yes. I just wish I had not worked myself up so much. I wish I had allowed myself to enjoy it more. I'm going to make a point to do that for the remaining 5 years I have left to homeschool my girls! :) 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

First Day of School 2015-2016

8th grade - and not at all happy to be up so 'early'!
11th grade

The student body of the Black Pearl Academy
I have to admit that it was very weird to be taking pictures of only the girls this morning! Austin was at work so he couldn't even do a cameo or a photobomb! LOL

We are looking forward to a busy and exciting year of home (and outside the home) education!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

School Year 2015-2016 plans

Well, after a busy summer with lots of excitement, it is time for me to start looking towards the new school year. I finally placed my book order over the weekend and the books are starting to trickle in.

Riley will be an 11th grader this coming school year. So hard to believe that she is a Junior! It's even harder to believe that she is officially a Dual Enrollment student and this coming year will be her last year of taking any classes at home. I wanted her to start off DE classes with something that she is good at and enjoys, and just one course per semester, so she will take English 101 in the fall and English 102 in the spring. She will take Chemistry at the place she has taken all of her high school science so far, but this will be her last year to do so. At home, she will finish Algebra 2 and Latin 2. Her dance classes will count as Advanced Dance 1.

And that's pretty much it. She will have a few books to read to finish up some half credits in Economics, Government, and Personal Finance. But since Government is a college course that is required for college graduation, she may end up taking that next year for credit instead (it would fulfil both the high school requirement and the college requirement). I am in the middle of researching the basic college graduation requirements for the University System of GA to see which classes are universally required so we can try to get some of those knocked out next year.

Reece will be an 8th grader. It is her last year before high school but she will be taking 2 classes that can count towards high school graduation: Algebra 1 and Classical Astronomy. If Algebra 1 takes longer than a year, or if the Classical Astronomy high school supplement seems to be over her head, then I won't stress out about counting them for credit. There is plenty of time.

She will be following a modified Ambleside Year 7. I learned quite a bit from completing AO years with the big kids and I am not nearly as concerned about modifying it for her as I was for them (particularly Austin). In fact, it will be interesting to see if there will be enough of it left to be considered AO by the time I'm done. LOL I've already chosen a different spine for middle ages history - a book sold by Memoria Press that was written in the 1920s by Dorothy Mills. It's perfect for her age and I think she will really enjoy it.

For Grammar, she will finish Season 3 of Analytical Grammar. Latin will be Third Form Latin with Riley (which pretty much finishes up the Latin Grammar). Logic will be The Thinking Toolbox. Vocabulary will continue with Vocabulary from Classical Roots, though it seems redundant with the Latin exposure she has.

Writing is the big one for her - the one I really want to focus on. I have so many good curricula for writing and I can't decide which to try first. I am leaning towards Writing With Skill but if there is compelling reason to choose one of the others (IEW or Teaching the Essay from AG) then I will feel free to switch! LOL After all, I own each one of them! I would just need to get the student materials for WWS or IEW.

It's not as teaching intensive for me this year which is good because my schedule is very driving intensive! Once Riley can get her license and a car then everything should settle down considerably for me. But the earliest for the license is January and the car? Well, she hasn't had nearly the time to work to save up money as we had hoped for. So I can't say for sure when she could possibly drive herself.

I'm planning to go into a little more depth about the changes I've made for Reece! Check back for those early next week!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Austin - Black Pearl Academy Class of 2015!

Me and my graduation boy!
Graduation last night was fantastic! I'm so proud of how well Austin did with the ceremony and I'm so proud of myself for not sobbing during his speech! LOL Here is what I said about/to him last night:

Graduation Day – May 29, 2015

Austin, I know how little you enjoy being the center of attention, so I will keep this short and sweet.

In August of 2002, you and I sat at the kitchen table together after saying the Pledge of Allegiance and began the journey that has brought us here this evening. We have been through many ups and downs together in that time, including years of struggles in social and academic areas that had no explanations or answers. Even after the diagnoses – 2 years apart – of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Epilepsy, the struggles continued. Through it all, you never gave up! You have persevered in the face of many adversities.

I look back on days when you would wake up and you had forgotten things that you had mastered just the day or week before. The frustration was overwhelming. You could have thrown up your hands and given up. Nobody would have faulted you for doing so. Instead, you pressed on – always giving 100% of your best efforts to your education.

The specialists told us that we shouldn't homeschool. They told us that we couldn't do it. And with any other child, perhaps they would have been right. But they only knew your diagnoses, and not your character. They did not know that God had created within you a kind and compassionate heart, a desire to be respectful and obedient, and a drive and determination to work hard. Could they have ever predicted that you would work practically full-time in your Senior Year - 3rd shift – while continuing to take a full course load? That you would work all night and then come home to do lessons with me before going to bed? Or that you would work all night, come home long enough to take a shower, and then go play drums for the worship service at church every Sunday?

This determination and perseverance also showed itself on the baseball field from the time you were 7 years old until you were almost 16. It wasn't easy to handle the noises of the crowd, players, and coaches as well as the lights on the field, but you learned how to handle it! With hard work and the selfless dedication of your father's coaching and guidance, you became a starting pitcher with a wicked change-up, a strong hitter with 4 home runs to your credit, and a 5 time All-Star.

Additionally, God has blessed you with an incredible musical talent. One of my favorite memories was during some testing that you were undergoing for auditory processing disorder. You struggled mightily with every single area, except for the 2 sections that involved musicality. In both of those areas, you got every single task correct. The audiologist told me that she had never seen results like that in all of her years of experience. I never could have dreamed that one day you would play in a rock band, just like your dad, and that I would go to a concert and see your band's name on the marquee. You have a true gift for playing the drums, and I am thrilled that you have also chosen to use your gift to bless others in Praise and Worship. I know you still have many accomplishments ahead of you with your music and I cannot wait to see where it takes you.

Your path after graduation may not look like everyone else's. That's OK! I know the future that God has for you is a good one and I encourage you to always look to Him for your hope and strength. If you only ever remember one thing of all that I have tried to teach you, I hope it will be “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.”

Austin, you are truly the bravest and strongest young man I have ever known. I could not be more proud of you.

It is therefore an honor and a privilege for me, along with your father, to present you at this time with your high school diploma. Congratulations!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cross-post: I can't do this.

This entry was originally posted on my training blog, Running Through the Castle. But I think it's applicable in the homeschooling/autism world as well. Please note that it has not been edited or proof-read before it was published. 

When I was a kid, I felt like I could do anything I set my mind to. School came easily to me, and while I was not athletic, I didn't really care to do anything in the sports realm so it wasn't an issue. I think the first time I remember wanting to do something and not being able to do it was in 7th grade when I tried out for cheerleading and not being selected. I sobbed and sobbed. And I never tried out for cheerleading again.

Unfortunately, that moment started me on a dangerous path. If I couldn't do something right away, I just didn't try again.

I can't do this.

It didn't bother me, honestly. There are things that everyone cannot do in this life, after all. Right? No big deal.

Life continued on from 7th grade, as it does for everyone. I continued on through high school and college. I graduated both, and worked part-time jobs and had friends and lived my life. I didn't dwell on the cheerleading thing. It was just a simple fact of life: "I wanted to be a cheerleader but I couldn't do it."

In college, I was studying to be a teacher - because I wanted to change lives. I loved young children and wanted to reach them from their earliest years because I felt like that was when I could impact their lives the most. My college advisor told me I was too smart to be a teacher. I should be an accountant, since I was working in banking and enjoyed it. I was shocked and dismayed. I got through my practicums and student teaching semesters and learned so much about education and children and teaching and I still loved it. I met and married my husband and joined him in another state where the job market for teachers was much more precarious. I applied, interviewed, and got rejected. I finally got hired in a daycare center making 50 cents more than minimum wage because I had a college degree. I had graduated cum laude and scored in the top percentages on my Praxis (teacher exams). Working in the day care center was not at all enjoyable. I took my knowledge of education and development theory and tried to make changes in my classroom, and I lasted only 2 months.

I can't do this. I took a job in a credit union, which I loved, and never looked back at teaching.

When I got pregnant with my son a short time later, I decided that I wanted to stay home with him for at least 6 months to a year (after my daycare experience). I worked part-time in the evenings to save money to allow this to happen. We moved to yet another state where the job market was better for teachers but they wouldn't recognize my out-of-state teaching licenses from 2 neighboring states. I was paying back my student loans on my husband's tiny income and the savings we had built up while I was pregnant. So it made economic sense for me to stay home as long as possible.

Besides, our son was challenging. He cried. All the time. Hours and hours of crying. I'd lived 24 years of a life where things I tried to do came easily to me. I was facing something new - I'd never been around newborns before. I'm an only child! I did what I had always done with new situations - I read and researched. "What to Expect the First Year" - the title was so promising but all it did was add to my disappointment and anxiety. What I was supposed to expect each month was clearly laid out in the book. But my baby didn't do it.

I can't do this.

Except that I had to. Because he needed me to. Because he's my son and if I don't, who will? What daycare would hold him all day while he cried? I joined a group for Stay At Home moms so I could share my experiences with folks who would understand. Except they didn't. Because their babies weren't like mine. Their babies ate and slept and smiled and played. Mine didn't sleep. As our babies grew into toddlers and became mobile, theirs played nearby while they moms talked. Mine ran away. As the toddlers grew older, moms got pregnant with their new babies. I had miscarriages.

I can't do this.

We had our 2nd baby about a year after all of my friends did. And she was so much different than her brother. But he was only more difficult and his behavior more perplexing. I wasn't able to tend to her as much because I was still trying to make sure he didn't run away or hurt himself when he would fling himself into the walls. The doctors said he just needed time. And I needed a parenting class. The folks at church gave me books to read. Playgroup friends stopped inviting us over. I put my son in preschool so they could teach him to behave. They had about as much luck as I did.

With my 2nd baby, I was determined to do everything right this time. So I wouldn't mess up this 2nd baby like I obviously had the first one. I was going to breastfeed her and carry her in the sling so she wouldn't cry so much. Breastfeeding lasted a week - partly due to bad information from the doctor - and partly because it was hard. And since it was hard, it must mean that I can't do it. So I didn't. I got out the bottles and spent the next year hiding that fact in shame.

I can't do this.

I could go on and on for the next few years, but I think you're probably getting the point. The thing I didn't realize at the time was that I was internalizing this sense of failure. It was ALL ME. I suck. I can't do this. And instead of trying to figure out how to do something that was hard, I just gave up. Because things had come so easy to me when I was younger, I had never learned to persevere in the face of adversity. All I knew was that if things didn't go right the first time, something MUST be wrong and that wrong thing must be ME!

3 years after #2 arrived, baby #3 made her arrival as well. Now, I had learned my lesson and I did everything 'right' during her pregnancy and when she was born. I had developed diabetes early in her pregnancy, so I ate right and exercised and had a natural childbirth! I breastfed her (for 2 and a half YEARS, because I guess that made up for the others, huh?? LOL). I also started homeschooling shortly after she was born because my son was having a horrible time in Kindergarten. And I was a teacher after all, so surely I could do it.

OK, so you're reading all of this and you're asking yourself what this has to do with running and triathlon. When am I going to get to the point?? I'm almost there... don't give up now!

So now I'm 30 years old with 3 children (2 of whom are not acting like all the other kids I know). I'm homeschooling. We are still living on one salary. Things are hard. By the time I'm 35, I have two children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. By the time I'm 36 1/2, we have added Epilepsy to our list of stuff that we're dealing with. I remember that afternoon driving home from the EEG with Austin, and then having the doctor calling us frantically to tell us that numerous seizures had been recorded on the EEG. All I could think was:

I can't do this.

And then hours later, that fateful message from my friend asking me to run a half marathon with her in 18 months. My dad's response was "You can't do that!" Even though I had said it to myself so many times over the years, in my wearied state, I didn't see that. In fact, I was GOING to do this.

And, as you all know by now, I did do it. I did a 5K, then a 10K, and then that glorious half marathon. And more of them afterwards. And a sprint triathlon. And I got so hooked on the feeling that I could actually DO something that was hard when everything else in my life was spiraling out of control that I had to just keep moving on and on and on.

The marathon was next, of course. That's just how things go. Up and up and on and on. Everything had gone so smoothly in my 3 years of racing and training that I just took it for granted. Until I got injured while training for the marathon. I ran the first marathon I had signed up for, walked the half of the next one, and walked/ran the Goofy Challenge. And then I decided that, when it comes to marathons:

I can't do this.

Back to the old mentality. If it's hard, if it doesn't just happen and come easy, then I obviously can't do it. It didn't even dawn on me that I had fallen back into that way of thinking. It had been such a part of me for my whole life that I never realized that my whole thought process was wrong!

I recovered from that injury - slowly and steadily. I learned better how to balance my family's needs and my own need to prove to myself that I am worthy and not a failure at everything I try. I trained for and completed a Half Ironman last year. And in that time, I not only worked out my body -  I worked out my mind. The hours spent swimming, biking, and running allowed me the time to reflect and to pray and to let God show me exactly where I had been wrong.

But the very best part of this journey for the last 3.5 years has been what I have been able to pass on to my children. That just because things are hard doesn't mean you can't do them. That it is the process of DOING that is the important part. It is in those hard moments that you are developing the character of the person you are becoming. And you are developing compassion towards others who are struggling because you have struggled. And if you cannot do it that first time it doesn't mean you give up and stop trying.

And that, my friends, is why I am trying for Marathon Maniacs again this year. Back in 2011 when it didn't happen, I assumed that I couldn't do it. And I accepted that as fact. But in these interim years, I have learned that I do not have to accept that as fact. That I can keep trying. I can keep training. I can keep on enduring. And if I try again and I fail it will teach me new lessons for the NEXT time I try. Because you just can't give up.

And that little baby who wouldn't stop crying? Who would run away and fling himself into the walls? Who would scream if we took a different driving route to church? Who cried when "ea" said /ee/ as well as /eh/? Who would one day learn something and the next day could not remember it? Who had a 10 minute long convulsive seizure shortly after my first Marathon Maniacs qualifying attempt?

He's graduating from our homeschool next month. He has been working third shift stocking shelves at a grocery store for the last 10 months so he can pay his car insurance and save up for music school. He works all night, does his lessons in the mornings, then goes to sleep and does it all again. On Sundays, he works all night and then goes to play drums at his church for free. And despite having every single reason in the world to throw his hands in the air and scream at the top of his lungs, "I CAN'T DO THIS!", he keeps going. He has shown me that in all of the times that I thought I was failing him, and all of the times I thought he would be better off with anyone but me as his mom, that God knew exactly what He was doing when he placed that little guy into my life. And I am blessed beyond measure for it.

There will come times in all of our lives when we look at our circumstances and we think, "I can't do this." Trust me when I tell you that that is a LIE. It is in those moments when you think you are failing the worst that you are the most powerful - IF you DO. NOT. GIVE. UP.

So please don't give up. Don't give up in running. Don't give up in triathlon. Don't give up with your children. Don't give up with your spouse. Don't give up with your parents. If you fall, it's OK to be frustrated and mad. Have some chocolate. It really helps. Cry and scream if you must. But then, get back up - brush yourself off - and give it another shot!

I can do this. So can you!

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Spring Break 2015

Ahhh, Spring Break! Even though our school year has only 5 weeks remaining, we decided to go ahead and take Spring Break. I had envisioned 5 days of rest and relaxation, but when you have teenagers that is simply not happening.

I did get a LOT of work done around the house on Monday and Tuesday in between taking Riley to work and to see friends. Yesterday, we girls got haircuts (trims, really, since we're all enjoying our long hair right now) and Riley worked and then the girls and I went to the park for a picnic and a walk around the lake. Today, I worked out and took Riley over to spend the day with a friend. Tomorrow should be a nice day of hanging out for Riley and I plan to run some errands.

Austin hasn't had nearly so exciting of a Spring Break - he is working full time this week so that means lots of sleep during the day. Welcome to adulthood, kiddo! :)

Reece has had the most relaxing of all the spring breaks, and she needs it. She has done so much physical growing in the last few months and it is wearing her out completely! She told me on Monday that she is enjoying being this kind of bored because it gives her time to think. Yesterday after our walk the girls spent some time swinging and talking - apparently Reece has been coming up with ideas for stories and Riley encouraged her to write them down. I witnessed Reece doing so this morning!

We have 7 weeks left until graduation, and 25 days of instruction. This has been an emotional year for me but I feel like I'm in a really good place right now. The last couple of weeks have been draining and trying, but I think that the kids and I are all coming out of it having learned lots of valuable lessons! I wish I had time to write it all down, and I will definitely try to - that was another thing I was going to do this spring break: blog! LOL I have so many things to share that I think are important, and I simply don't have the time to sit down to compose my thoughts!

In the meantime, check out this picture of me and my babies from Easter Sunday (which also happened to be my birthday this year):

Easter Sunday 2015

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Austin and the ACT

In this post, I'm going to try to explain my reasoning for having Austin take a college entrance test despite the fact that he is not really college bound. I will also address my reasons for not pursuing disability accommodations for Austin for the SAT or ACT. (For the record, he is taking the ACT this coming Saturday. I am not having him take the SAT at all, for reasons that I will address as well).

Reason #1 - Georgia homechool laws say he needs to be tested this year. 

The state of Georgia requires testing at the end of 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th grades.  So he has to take a standardized test. He can take the ITBS (which he probably will in April) to satisfy this requirement. Or the SAT. I chose not to do the SAT, though, based on his PSAT scores and some discussions with friends who teach high schoolers with ASDs. Apparently kids with ASD do better on the ACT. So ultimately I decided to have him take a traditional college entrance test even though he won't do well enough on the test to get into college. And even if he did get in, he really is not capable of college level work at this point in his life.

So what's the point?! That brings me to the next reason.

Reason #2 - Because everyone else is doing it.

I'm not sure how it works in other states, but in Georgia - and especially in the area where we live - the assumption is that all kids will go to college. Period. End of the discussion. Even the kids with high functioning autism - gotta get them ready for college/into college. College. College. College.

So taking the SAT is something everyone that Austin knows is doing, or has already done. He took the PSAT last year in 11th grade because everyone else was doing it - and it was great for him! He could talk about it with his friends on Facebook. They all had the PSAT in common.

Reason #3 - Because it's better to have a low score than no score.

Ok, this is a reason that I'm not altogether sold on but I am going with it because it was given to me by experienced homeschool moms that have gone before me. I'll have to get back to you on this one.

So that's why he's taking this test at all.

Now on to the disability accommodations. There are a number of accommodations you can apply for when it comes to these tests. You can find the College Board accommodations for the SAT and the ACT accommodations by clicking on those links. The most appropriate accommodation for Austin would be extra or extended breaks. However, this would just extend an already stressful day for him. And that is the biggest factor in this test. The stress. Many kids with autism could benefit from extra time or a quiet place to test. Austin does not need those accommodations to level the playing field.

The bottom line is that all the time in the world and all the breaks in the world are not going to get Austin any closer to the right answers. He is just not there cognitively. There is nothing wrong with that. On his standard IQ tests, he scores in the borderline intellectually disabled area. While I believe this number is low, when he was last tested and the tester showed me examples of how he thinks, you can definitely tell that he is not a typical learner (but unfortunately he also does not have any traditional LDs aside from the not-so-helpful "Cognitive Disorder Not Otherwise Specified").

My goal has always been to get him as far along as he can go. And I have done that. He is actually doing better academically this year than I thought he would - with the exception of a massive case of Senior-itis striking him! LOL So perhaps he will want to go to college or technical school (we have no traditional community colleges in Georgia - all colleges, universities, and technical schools require an ACT/SAT score to get in) one day and could get in under more lenient 'adult learner' requirements. With an additional 4-5 years of brain development, this really might be a possibility. I wish he would allow me to continue to homeschool him through age 21 like kids with disabilities are entitled to do, but he won't. I remember reading somewhere that kids with high-functioning autism usually function around 75% of their chronological age. That puts Austin around age 14 right now - and he's grasping Algebra concepts much better this year than he did when he was chronologically 14, so that makes sense.

I wish that we had traditional community college in our area where Austin could be admitted without regard to his test scores and just take one class at a time. Or even 2 classes. He works so hard and he would do the very best he could - and he could certainly use accommodations for that. Unfortunately, that is not an option here. Music school is still an option he wishes to pursue, but it is $24,000 for a 2 year certificate program that does not lead to a degree and none of the course work will transfer to another university or college and I do not believe it's worth it for him to take on that much debt for such a program. We are still planning to tour the campus this spring, and he currently has $1000 saved up towards his tuition, but it's not a path I'm completely sold on right now.

I arrive here at the end of my longest blog post in months and wonder if any of this makes any sense! LOL I hate talking about this sort of thing in such a public forum. I do not want to make Austin look bad or to embarrass him. He really is an amazing young man! He has been working so hard for all of these years, doing the very best he can. And he has the unfortunate luck of being my homeschool guinea pig! But I want to share all of this journey in case anyone else is out there and starting out wondering if they can really homeschool a child with ASD or seizures or cognitive disorders. You can! But it's not going to look like everyone else's homeschooling - and certainly it's not going to look like the public or private schools - and that can be very unnerving. Trust me, I know!

I will close this post now... if something doesn't make sense, or if I can elaborate on any of my reasons, please post a comment and let me know!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

10 years?!?

I was looking for a picture for Throw Back Thursday, and I discovered that I missed a very big day - my blog turned 10 years old on January 15th!!

I simply cannot believe that I have been writing here for 10 whole years! So many things have changed - and many things remain the same! ;)

Here is the very first post I ever wrote:

The first blog post on the Black Pearl Academy blog!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Burnout. Revisited.

If you've been wondering how I've spent the first 3 weeks of January, you aren't alone! I've been wondering the same thing! It has been a whirlwind as we return back to homeschool lessons, outside classes, dance and drama, part-time jobs, exercise schedules, and rehearsals for the upcoming ballet "Cinderella". We even added a new student driver to our family when Riley got her learner's permit! And this morning she took the SAT to attempt to get into dual enrollment at the local college for her Junior and Senior years. And last but not least, since we weren't really all that busy or stressed out, we added a new kitten to our family!

We now have only 4 months until Austin graduates from high school. In 2 weeks, he will take the ACT. We are doing this more to fulfill the homeschooling law in Georgia rather than for college admissions. It is unlikely that he will score high enough on the test to get into any college. And that's OK. He really could not handle college-level material at this time anyway.

This past Tuesday I attended my homeschool group's month support meeting where the topic was, coincidentally enough, Burnout. As you know, I've been experiencing burnout for a number of months now. It waxes and wanes but has been really intense since the first of the year. During the meeting, I decided to listen to the workshop by Susan Wise Bauer that I had previously purchased and listened to. It was too cold to ride my bike outdoors this morning so I took to the trainer and tried listening to the workshop instead of music. It was fantastic and I think I will have to do this for other workshops! I was afraid I wouldn't be able to focus on it, but I didn't have any trouble!

One of the big realizations I had today while revisiting this lecture was that my expectations for what homeschooling would look like are way out of line with the reality. When I first started homeschooling, I guess I assumed I would have 3 little "Niffercoo"s to educate. We obviously didn't know yet that autism was a factor, so the vision in my head was what it was like for me in school. I loved to read and I loved school. I liked workbooks and learning things and everything always came easily to me. When I took standardized tests, I always scored in the 99th percentile and I never really had to study.

Right away, it wasn't like that. And since we didn't know yet about Austin's autism and epilepsy and the accompanying cognitive and memory problems that would accompany those two diagnoses, I had to assume that it was a problem with curricula - or a lazy child - or a problem with the teacher. As you know if you've been reading this blog over the years, I have tried just about every curriculum out there, in every subject. I was searching desperately for "the thing" that would make homeschooling work. I harped on my poor son until he hated learning - because I assumed that, since he wasn't learning, he was simply being lazy. And I blamed myself for the entire situation. If only I were a better teacher. If only I weren't so busy with this crying baby. If only...

If I knew then what I know now, I would have done so many things differently. Obviously. My biggest regret always will be how I sucked the enjoyment of learning out of my son by giving him such a hard time. It was just like with his behavior and the meltdowns that never seemed to go away no matter how strict we were or how hard we focused on discipline. He was dealing with things that were simply beyond his control. I wish I had been more understanding and patient with him and not assumed that he was doing all of this willfully. I could blame the conservative Christian parenting culture we were wrapped up in during his early years - but in the end, the buck stops here. It is a testimony to Austin's character and true willingness to be obedient that he never gave up despite everything being so hard and his mom dragging him down. He is an amazing guy and always has been! Most kids would have given up or turned very defiant in the face of those circumstances.

A second area that has lead to this burnout is external pressure - be it real (negative statements about homeschooling to me directly) or perceived (comments that could be completely innocently but I take them negatively). You see, I had not planned to homeschool. In all honesty, I had not planned to be a Stay-at-Home-Mom. I am the first college graduate of all the women in my family. I know that there were "big things" expected of me. Since I chose not to return to the work place, the "big thing" was going to have to be the perfect raising of my children - and then, their education. I made a career out of raising and educating my children instead of being primarily concerned about relating to them. Not a good thing, but also more common than I realized in women my age and in the area we live. Mommy Wars are mighty and active in Metro Atlanta!

When it came to end of the lecture and the "how to fix this" suggestions, I listened to them intently, looking for a solution. And I slowly started to realize that in my life, there are simply these big factors that are working together to make homeschooling a huge struggle. And most of them I simply cannot change. I have 2 special needs students. That is the biggest factor. Could I put Reece in school? Yes, and I've been considering it for high school so I don't have to go through this whole "School to Life" transition alone (another blog post for sure!!). Would she be OK? Until this year I would have said yes. But this year has been such a struggle for her and we're seeing lots of self-control regression. In Georgia, once the child is in 9th grade, you are pretty much committing to homeschool for all of high school because homeschool credits are not accepted back into the school system. So we have a year or so to decide if we will pursue something like that for her. God has not opened that door for any of the kids, though, despite my literal begging and pleading! LOL I'm not really expecting it to change now.

The other big factor is our "out of the house" time. Riley has taken on a huge commitment to this new ballet company. It involves a huge amount of time for her to be gone and for me to drive her around. But this is important to her! And it's a wonderful opportunity for her! I am fortunate to be able to partner with my mom to allow Riley this special chance to perform several full-length ballets each year and to take classes with some of the best teachers in the Atlanta area. And it's only available to her until she graduates high school, which is less than 2 1/2 years away. It will be over in the blink of an eye. Truly it will.

So the lecture came to an end and I thought to myself, "I get it now." I am burned out. Some of it is my own making and some of it is a result of circumstances that I simply cannot control." Some of it will be ending in 4 months. Some of it will be ending in 2 1/2 years. And all of it will be over in 5 1/2 years when Reece graduates high school! If she goes the dual enrollment route, it could pretty much be over in 3 1/2 years. A drop in the bucket of time!

My biggest challenge to myself will be to attempt to reconcile that vision of the 'perfect homeschool' I had when I started this journey 13 years ago with the real-life children that I have. And try my hardest to remember that I am first their Mom, and then their Teacher. And above all remember that God has a plan for each of us, and I need to Trust that I am not so mighty and powerful that I could screw it up by anything that I do or don't do!

Here is hoping everyone has a blessed weekend!