I answered the door at dad’s house. We were having some work done so the kids and I were there homeschooling for the afternoon. A woman was at the door. As I walked out with her to explain what needed to be done, she looked back and saw my three kids standing there very curious but politely watching. “Why are you all out of school today?” She asked with a nice smile. My 9 year old replied, “We are homeschooled.” And that woman’s smile turned into a snide “Oh!” She turned and gave me a quick dirty look and then face changed back to an appropriately polite face After all – I would soon be writing her a check for $380.
You see this stuff happens all the time – and thanks to the mass populous my kids are aware of it too. I mean – how many of you had your school choice be the brunt of a joke in Horton Hears A Who? “He is pouch schooled.”
After last week’s post – I had a handful of people in our community and strangers online who contacted me. Most of them were parents with autistic kids. Most of them said their autistic kids had no friends. One mom said, “She is tolerated at school, but does not have friends”. One parent said, “He has never had a friend and is in high school now. How did your son have a different experience? ”
So I had to think about that. It’s difficult to answer any questions about spectrum kids because they are all so different. There is no standard one size fits all. However I definitely can see patterns in the friendships my son has built. Most of his friendships come from our homeschool community.
Yes homeschoolers – those unsocialized children. It’s funny; the only time I hear the term “unsocialized” is in reference to dog training or homeschoolers. I really think Tim Hawkins is the most entertaining when taking about those unsocialized homeschoolers. But I digress…
Let me paint a picture just to lay this whole idea of the “unsocialized homeschooler” to rest … We homeschoolers are crazy social. We have our own field trips (and we have a lot of them). We have park days, holiday parties, library times. And then there are these days:
Mom A: “I can’t do it today- it’s not working and I am about to loose it!”
Mom B: “Oh we aren’t getting anything done. Want to come over and let the kids jump on the trampoline?”
Mom A: “Be there in 15 minutes!”
I do take advantage of a homeschool program. My kids basically go to school one day a week. They have classes with licensed teachers and even have the whole lunch room/ recess experience there. My social extrovert daughter has tons of friends there My autistic son has none. So clearly – just being a homeschool kid does not mean you become friends with my son.
Where my son has forged friendships is where families are together building bonds. That’s what homeschoolers do. Its like we have generated our own community that is not based in man-made schedules or organizational goals. It is based around mutual experiences and a lifestyle choice that admittedly, feels a bit rebellious most days. Even the moms get really close. Just the other day, my friend Linda stopped by to drop off something. Two hours later, we were sitting on a couch crying over the shared understanding of losing our mothers recently to cancer. Our kids were off playing and deepening their own friendships.
And, these friendships cross age, sex, religious, and cultural barriers. Boys and girls play together. It is nothing to see an eighth grader running off to push a 5 year old on a swing. Kids don’t form clicks around cultural or religious barriers. Do they have disagreements and misunderstandings at times? Sure. Do you see stuff like the girl drama you see at school – no!
But, I know many parents can’t homeschool. So what are the truths I can take from the friendships my son has built and how can that be used to help autistic kids form friendships in their own community?
This is where church comes in; because he has forged friendships there too. And while churches are a different kind of community, they also tend to build communities where families connecting to other families are the core. Again, divisions between ages and sexes are not so pronounced and the churches I have been a part of valued diversity.
So what is it? What factors lead to those friendships? Authentic, familial community groups – I feel like many of our kids, even the non-autistic ones need connections to their communities through more groups like these. Groups where they are valued as individuals and contributors. Groups where they are surrounded with multiple adults who care about them. Groups where adults can model to kids how we care for, value, and respect all individuals.
I shared this with a friend who said, “Oh you mean like in the past – Old School like? Small communities that care for their members.” Maybe that is what it is. Maybe my homeschool community and my church community give me two small communities within the larger one that my family can connect to. And so, today, my heart is full of gratitude for my homeschooling community and my church community for valuing not only my children – but me as well.