If you were at Hospitality Lane and read my very first posts then you have read this...it is the story of our special son and how we came to Homeschool. I apologize for the length but it is necessary to truly understand who we are and the experiences we have come through...at least, in part.
It wasn’t that we had never thought about home schooling. In fact I had decided that I could not do it. After “home schooling” our first son for kindergarten I knew I was a failure. He was not responding academically. So we then made one of the larger mistakes of our lives. We handed our firstborn son, Jonathan David, over to the Public School System.
Now this was one of the best schools in one of the best districts in Central Pennsylvania. The teachers were very nice and caring people. I believe that the principal was very well intentioned. It wasn’t long before his teacher caught on that our Jonathan had some learning “issues”. One thing I have learned about schools and learning issues is that their answer to the problem is to structure a schedule chock full of those things which the child is weakest in. From morning to dismissal our Jonathan was faced with failure. He never got to do the things he was strong in. While his class was having social studies or science, he struggled to read or do more math or tried to get his pencil to cooperate. When he came home he got to do more, in the form of homework. What did we know? We weren’t professionals. We just tried to do what the teachers felt was best for our son.
It seemed so difficult for this sweet boy to catch onto even the simplest of concepts in math or even knowing where to begin writing on a page but he knew the name of every dinosaur ever “discovered” and animals were no strangers to him. Their habitats, likes and dislikes, he knew them all. He even found ways to distract the teachers and get them talking about his favorite subjects. They would find themselves sidetracked by a child who could use his words and communication skills to his advantage. This child was not stupid!
This was confirmed when I was called in to request my permission for Jonathan to undergo testing to find out what was “wrong” with him. The IQ test came back strong. Our child was intelligent. They discovered a “processing delay” that was interfering with his learning process. To understand where this most likely came from we have to go back to how Jonathan began his life.
In March of 1991 as I was into my ninth month of pregnancy, I began having dreams that my baby wasn’t normal. I would wake up terrified and have trouble shaking off the feeling. The routine ultrasounds were normal and I was reassured that everything was fine. After passing the due date it was decided that labor would be induced at the York Hospital. Warren and I were as excited as we could be. This was our first child and we knew nothing about what to expect other than you can read in those books or pamphlets the Doctors give you, or perhaps what we remembered from our Lamaze classes.
Labor was fairly normal and the delivery would have been, as well, had it not been for the need of a vacuum delivery. It would seem that in a “teaching hospital” such as York that this necessitated the observation of about ten lovely students. Yep! It was a special moment. But Jonathan was delivered and did not look bad, considering the plunger that had so recently been attached to his head. Then he began to cry. It was a soft, gentle cry. I, being very naive said that it was a nice cry and I could live with that. How wrong I was! Pretty soon the nurses said they were going to take our son and get him cleaned up. We were euphoric and began calling family. I called my mother in State College and she said she was on her way. Warren’s parents weren’t far away in southern York County so they were in quickly.
After the initial rush of phone calls we were ready to see our baby again, but the nurses didn’t seem to be bringing him back so Warren walked out to the nursery where he was shocked to find a team of nurses and doctors working frantically with our new infant. He returned to my room confused and shaken. Soon after, the pediatrician we had chosen came into the room and told us that our son had a very unusual and very serious birth defect. This was called a diaphragmatic hernia and our son had a 50 percent chance of survival. He would need immediate surgery and we would have to wait three days to see if he would survive, this, his first challenge in life.
A diaphragmatic hernia happens when the diaphragm does not close in development allowing the stomach and intestines to grow into the chest, suppressing the lung development. This explained our son’s gentle cry. To fix this defect a pediatric surgeon must immediately open up the baby’s chest and move the organs to their proper places then stitch up the diaphragm. After this is done, you must wait and see if the lungs are capable of inflating and working on their own. This process takes three days. Our doctor explained that in the York Hospital five infants had been born with this condition and three had not survived. Our son was in serious trouble.
Of course we gave our consent for surgery and as my mother came jubilantly to the hospital to meet her first grandson, she was met with the news that she must visit him quickly as he was being taken down the hall to surgery. She may never see him again. Talk about highs and lows. This brought new meaning to those words for all of us.
Jonathan survived the surgery to begin the waiting process for his lungs. The findings of the surgery were strange. Not only did he have the diaphragmatic hernia, but also some extra spleens. They were removed. After putting things back as they should be in his abdomen, Jonathan’s appendix ended up on the wrong side so the wise surgeon removed it, as well, so that it would never fail and be undiagnosed because of its placement on the wrong side of his body.
The first time we saw Jonathan after surgery we were struck by two things. One was his size. This child was a whopping 8lbs 15oz next to preemies that were less than 3 pounds. The second thing that really sticks in my memory is the size of his chest. After having everything up there during his time in the womb Jonathan looked like a linebacker!
My father had arrived by this time, coming separately from Mom after learning that Jonathan was ill. He had stopped at the hospital gift shop and picked up a sweet stuffed lamb. This little lamb stayed with Jonathan in his incubator the whole time he was in the hospital. That lamb is always in the picture in my mind’s eye as I look back on those days.
There were so many tubes and so much equipment. We waited. They sent me home. That has to be one of the hardest things a parent can do. Leaving the hospital without your child. It isn’t natural. But it was necessary. They were right. I needed to go home and get rest. I could visit my son all day but I was taken home at night. They knew that if Jonathan survived we had a long road of healing and just plain newborn sleeplessness to get through.
After the three days had passed it seemed that Jonathan was going to make it. He came off the respirator and breathed on his own. We visited him in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) for two weeks and then were allowed to bring him home. His doctors were amazed. They called him a miracle baby. Children with this birth defect simply do not go home this quickly!
Maybe you have received a phone call or email with a prayer request for a parent and child who are suffering illness. May I just ask you to take a moment and really lift them before the Lord immediately? It really does make a difference! We know that God could just as easily taken Jonathan home to Heaven. And He would have been every bit as Just and Powerful as He was in his healing of our son but the prayers of the people sustained us and encouraged us as things were so intense and difficult.
Because of the time spent in NICU Jonathan was followed up by a developmental specialist. She was very pleased that Jonathan was doing everything on schedule or early. His bright mind and gift for communication at an early age kept all of us in the dark about the struggles that were yet to come apparently as a result of the lack of oxygen and/or the medications used.
As previously explained, the early days of school were challenging for all involved. They were so difficult with a very dark day happening unexpectedly. I volunteered at the school in Jonathan’s classroom and that of his younger brother, Mikey. On this day the school principal called me into her office and showed me a note that Jonathan had written. In his poor handwriting he had struggled to write that he wished he were dead. Oh, the pain and agony that went through me as I vaguely remember the principal saying that we should consider parenting classes and she seemed to place the blame on my dear husband for making Jonathan do the homework that this very school had insisted be finished nightly. I knew then and there that things were out of hand. We had observed anger building in our naturally gentle child. We had observed him begin to bully his younger brother. We knew something wasn’t right but now it was beginning to come together for us. How many adults was our pleaser son trying to please? I counted. Mom, Dad, Teacher, Teacher’s Aid, Specialist, Principal…and more! How was he attempting to please? By doing things that were impossible for him to do. He simply did not have the ability to accomplish the tasks set before him each and every day. He surely did try, though. This child is one who craves peace and approval. He worked so hard to try to provide that for all of us.
As we came to the understanding that there were processing delays we understood why classroom learning was not working for Jonathan. The tests revealed about 20 minutes from information intake to the ability to express it back to someone. In a classroom you simply do not have that luxury. The class has moved on. Jonathan was left terribly behind. I mourned the future that I had expected him to have. I cried for the pain that he had already suffered and what was to come. This came as a shock to me as I did not strategically plan out his future in my mind. It was just kind of there, all of those expectations that you hold for your firstborn son. How could I expect his future to be normal now? Ask yourself, what is normal? Interesting question.
While we were made aware of his deficits, we were also being told about his progress. In their defense, I believe the teachers felt there were true gains, however, in reality any information that was apparently gained was lost quickly in the weeks to follow. I did not become aware of this until we had taken a huge step. The day we were made aware of Jonathan’s statement of despair began a process for me of learning all I could about home schooling. Warren and I agreed that pulling Jonathan out for a “catch-up” year would be a good solution. I could then work on the processing issues, get him back on track with his class and put him back in the following year. O.K. so I was still naïve!
The principal at the school was very supportive of our decision and allowed Jonathan to attend all music and gym classes with his class over the year he was out. This worked out nicely as the classmates all really liked Jonathan and were happy to see him several times a week.
I recruited the help and support of a Special Ed teacher from the district who was also a family friend and shared our values. We agreed to meet quarterly and review Jonathan’s plan. Remember, I already “knew” I was a failure at home schooling. I needed the confidence that came from this woman.
It did not take long for me to begin to grasp the importance of what we were doing. The very first day of our home school experience we snuggled on the couch with our books and opened with prayer. Two really big hazel eyes stared up at me in amazement as he said, “Oh, Mommy, we could never do that in school!” What a huge smile was on his face. I was hooked! This kid would never go back to school.
Jonathan began to learn. As we met quarterly with our advisor she would document progress. We would spend time learning through his strengths. Jonathan liked dinosaurs so we read together about dinosaurs. He liked science so his writing assignments could come from science topics. I could pace the lessons so he could keep up.
At the same time, our middle son had been through kindergarten and was now in first grade in the same public school. Each morning he would get on the bus, often in tears. I was feeling such a pull in my heart as I let him go each day. This lasted only through that year and then Mikey joined our home school.
Our second year of home school began in Lancaster County as Warren got a new job. We now had three in our home school. Miss Chelsea Lynne began kindergarten. What a ray of sunshine! Chelsea made teaching easy as she loved learning to read and write and is currently pursuing the life of an author at the tender age of 12. She is building web pages and writes music, as well.
We joined a co-op of home school families in the Lancaster County area and found a new kind of support. While it took the children a while to make friends they have now built bonds that will last a lifetime. Each year as it is time to begin co-op the excitement builds in our home. I have found myself on the co-op committee serving with an absolutely outstanding group of women. I am finding that there are many, many children who learn differently out here in our home school community. I have learned of many sacrifices that parents are making to meet their children’s needs. I have sought out and found many resources that are available to our children with learning “issues”. It has finally sunk into this insecure brain that there is no one on this planet who can love my children as much, know them or want the best for them as much as my husband and I do. With God’s help we will produce the people that God intends for them to be.
Today Mikey is 15 and works part time at our local Agway. Jonathan is 16 and a history channel buff. Really! I don’t think there is much he doesn’t know about any weapon used in battle or most wars. Jonathan is still a struggling reader, having been through vision therapy and many phonics programs, tutoring and computer helps. Does that hurt his exposure to great literature – heaven’s no! He raids our library’s books on tape library as often as I will take him there. Who would think that this young man would love the library? He actually was reading at a 9th grade level when last tested so I can’t even tell you that his silent reading is behind that much. He really struggles with losing his place as his eyes really don’t like to track that well. Jonathan’s biggest deficits remain in math, where he works at about a third grade level. But science, communication, history and Bible are strong and important to him. He recently joined our church and is very active in it, operating the overhead projector and taking the offering. He is a very key person in the Youth Group and cares very much about those around him. I am extremely proud of the young man my son is becoming and am thankful that God led us to pour ourselves into him and did not allow my insecurity stop the process.
If you are struggling with a child who learns differently, I would encourage you to seek God’s will and follow His still small voice in your heart. These children are loaded with potential and we are being given the tools to find and release it!