My interview with Author Samantha Craft of EVERYDAY ASPERGERS
By Maria Lawless of Awesome Aut[odidactic]ism Blog
Good morning Samantha! Thank you so much for taking the time do this interview, we appreciate it very much. You have so many interesting things to offer with your new book EVERYDAY ASPERGERS, your EVERYDAY ASPERGERS Blog and Community, as well as a wealth of information on Education and Advocacy with regard to Autism -especially in women and girls on your website MY SPECTRUM SUITE. Your personal experiences in Home Education are what I would like to focus on today. As I mentioned previously, I have decide to ask about homeschooling as I know there are many mothers who are choosing homeschool our Autistic children, myself included and many who are themselves Autistic. So I will just go over a few questions, based upon the most common I have had from parents that are considering, or just starting out homeschooling.
Let’s get started.
We found our child was actually regressing -physically, emotionally, mentally and in coping skills, and being held back by the school system and that was what made me begin to research homeschool. What was the driving force behind your decision to home educate?
Thank you for setting aside time for this interview and thank you for your kind words. I can relate to what you are saying. I have three sons. I home schooled my middle son two different times, at the start of third grade until sixth grade, and again at the start of seventh grade. He is now 17 and entering junior college as part of his high school completion. As a former schoolteacher of pre-kindergarten, elementary, and middle school, I have some insight into the educational system that the traditional parent might not have. I have sat on both sides of an IEP (Individual Education Plan), as a teacher and as a parent. I was fortunate to be aware of my child’s rights and to have studied the disability laws, as well as No Child Left Behind Act, at that time.
When my son first started school, over 12 years ago, I advocated for my son and other children with special needs. This included meeting regularly with the assistant superintendent. I even founded a small support group for parents of special needs children. My son managed to do fairly well in traditional kindergarten, because he was in a structured environment, where he could move about freely and only attended half-day with the other students. By first grade he required a fulltime paid assistant. Much needed assistance that I fought hard for him to receive. I believe he was one of the first children with ASD to receive a full-time, one-to-one paid helper. He did well with his assistant in first and second grade. The assistant was brought on to give my son direction, modify his assignments, and protect him from self-harm. (He had attempted to climb trees, run off campus, stack chairs on desks and stand on them, prior to having an assistant.) I had to go to the school and document all of my son’s behaviors to get him the assistance he needed. The school district, at first, wanted to place him in a special education class with children with severe emotional challenges. I adamantly refused and cited laws to make our case.
He is lucky to have you as his mother and advocate.
One morning my daughter looked at me and begged through tears for me to homeschool her. I looked at the dark circles under her eyes (she had been up all night worrying about school the next day) and the scratches she had from clawing herself, and how she was cupping her hands up over her sore tummy, and I decided, no more school. I had been researching it for almost two years and I had already started filling out the forms, I just knew I had to pull her out that day. I took her to her Doctor, and upon seeing her stress levels and hearing our story, he gave me a 3 week medical certificate to keep her home while the exemption application was processed. It only took 9 days to be approved, I was elated. Was there one incident or one day that it clicked for you, and you decided, that is enough?
I am so glad that decision worked out for you. It sounds like you took a lot of time to plan and consider. For us, it was more sudden.
In one instance, in sixth grade, we placed him in an accelerated program at the traditional public middle school. Within a few months, he was extremely depressed, had suicidal thoughts, and hated school. The last straw was when a cluster of his peers waited for him to sit down at the lunch table, and then together, as a large group, stood up all at once, and left him alone, as they walked to another table, shunning him. No child should have to endure that. I homeschooled my son from that point onward, without pause. At that time, until now, he joined a local, homeschool charter school and attended part-time courses and we did the rest of the schoolwork at home. Now, in eleventh grade, he has joined a program where he can complete high school at a junior college. His anxiety is very low now and he functions at a very independent level. He is even going to take the transit city bus to school!
It sounds like he had a hard road, you must be so proud of his progress. I has planned on doing it sooner, but due to falling down my stairs and getting a concussion and then Post Concussive Syndrome that held me off. My brain was in a scramble for a year, so unfortunately the home education had to wait as I was not in any shape to guide her.
For us, it got to the point of no longer being and ‘if’ we home educate, but rather we ‘must’ do it now, to help our child thrive. We had several reasons, but mostly she was not getting the support she needed. What issues or problems were you facing within the school system?
In addition to not initially finding the support my son needed and having to literally save my son from harm’s way, the biggest problem was the student bullying and one of the teacher’s behaviors. My son did okay in first and second grade, producing standard work. At that age, having a full-time assistant was acceptable. The other children were still young and didn’t take particular note of my son’s helper. In third grade, with the change of a grade and teacher, he was no longer being serviced as needed and faced ridicule from his peers. The teacher assigned his one-to-one personal assistant to do general classroom work for her, such as instructing small groups of children and making photocopies of worksheets in the workroom. At that point, I was too tried to keep fighting for his needs at the public school. Plus, the children were older, and began bullying my son in the lunchroom. After a few meetings, and a few meltdowns at home, on my son’s part, as he could only hold it together for so long, I made the decision to homeschool. I’d felt I had done as much as I could, up to that point, to try to make the public school system work. Following the start of third grade, I homeschooled my son for three years, and then, when we moved out of state, I had him repeat grade five at the new, local school. I reasoned, it was a new group of children, my son was older, and repeating a grade would give him a heads up academically and socially. He did all right, as he attended school with his new friend, our neighbor, and the school was only a block away from our house. No modifications or assistance was needed. However, there were a few instances where he struggled socially and where the teacher sent home letters of concern; by the end of the year he disliked going to school.
Well it sounds like you made the right decision. It is amazing how much we struggle to make the school system work for our kids. The sad part is, it is largely due to a lack of funding and thus training, and that is a shame.
Now, when I notified the principal, he said, “I think you are making a very bad decision. I also think she is more influenced by learned behaviour, and blaming Asperger’s for all of her issues is a very dangerous road to take.” All that did was give me more resolve to prove him wrong. Did you face any opposition from the school principal or his teachers regarding pulling your son/s out?
It’s hard when professionals force their strong (often bias) opinions on parents. It’s always better to consider all sides of a situation.
My son’s therapist was the one that suggested I not over-protect my son and said I should not pull him out of school and that he needed to “toughen up.” That was when he was being bullied in sixth grade (the lunchroom table incident). Fortunately, I knew a depressed child with ASD did not need to be exposed to social situations with hormonal teenagers to toughen up. No child should have to endure humiliation. I remembered some books I’d read in the past; I believe even a quote by Attwood, that stated the problem wasn’t my child but the other children. I would have done anything at that time to assist my child. Going against the wishes of a “professional” wasn’t difficult. I knew my son best and I had an educational background. I’d been through enough with the school district in the previous state we lived in already, that I wasn’t deterred by conflict of opinion.
Yes, that is what I felt as well. I just knew I was doing the right thing. His dissent only strengthened my resolve.
We are very blessed to have full support in our decision from friends and family and even from her Doctors. Did you get support from your friends and family in your decision to home educate?
I didn’t get support but I didn’t get the opposite either. I think my extended family trusted my expertise and choices. Plus, they knew my son and some of the challenges he faced.
I think we are blessed in that regard, many people face opposition from family, friends and professionals.
We found a hug improvement in the family when the stress of school was taken out of the picture. The whole house dynamic shifted to a more peaceful one, but most noticeably the children get along much better now. Do you think home educating made an improvement in your home and family life and the relationship between your sons?
That makes sense. Yes, homeschooling made a 99% difference. I’d say 100%, but like to leave a 1% margin of error. He changed overnight; literally, into an anxiety-free child. I’d say his anxiety decreased ten-fold. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my family. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. My son never had another meltdown again and absorbed the learning materials, for the most part, with eagerness. He didn’t like learning, per say, but he appreciated not having to go to an environment where he was ostracized and had to excerpt a great amount of energy in order to try to fit in. He also was tired of his teachers not truly getting him or misinterpreting his words or actions. My life changed from one of constant worry to complete freedom. I was fortunate to already be a homemaker. I think if we’d had to take a financial blow to homeschool that would have added other stresses. But still, the rewards would have out weighed the sacrifice.
That is so great, I could see the improvement in my daughter right away as well. The reduction in her anxiety was amazing.
For myself, I see how my daughter blossomed by being able to move at her own pace and do things she was passionate about, video editing, art and music. Did you find that your son/s found some of his passions through being homeschooled?
I think so. We had a more structured curriculum then it sounds like your family incorporated. My son discovered what books interested him and what subject matter he preferred to spend more time doing. One year he was struggling in writing; so we took most of the year off writing and he read and read. After a year of focused reading and a year of maturing physically, writing came much more naturally to him. Now, I am comfortable saying he is a better writer than I am, and out-writes any college student I’ve ever come across. My son also enjoys history and philosophy, and subjects with higher-level thinking. We were able to focus on aspects of society, such as slavery, the Native Americans, the equal rights movement, which broadened his ability to understand the world and apply empathy.
I think part of Sophia’s issue with school is that she was bored. She started doing sign language at 6 months old, and went to school knowing her alphabet, colours, animals, how to write her name and several words, how to read and loved drawing and creating so she was always advanced in her work.
We do a mix of Eclectic, Unit Study and Unschooling, in that our daughter directs the learning based upon her learning interests, but I make sure to provide materials and activities which cover a scope of educational areas within that interest. We also have curriculum workbooks for the required work, which she gets out and does herself. What type of homeschooling did you do? Did you use a combination or just develop your own style? (Traditional, Classical, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf, Unschooling (Interest led), Topic Study, Eclectic, etc.)
I actually made homeschooling my special interest, and ended up building a 100-page website about homeschooling in six weeks time! I traded in a bunch of books my dad owned and stocked up on used books. There was not much information online about homeschooling at the time and not many resources gathered in one place. Typically you had to search multiple places or order a book to get information. I wanted to provide a free service. My website served to help others for several years. I explored different homeschool methods, discussed learning styles, and provided curriculum ideas. I focused on a combination of traditional and classical. As a former teacher, it was easy for me to incorporate lesson designs and my son strived from having exact lessons, check off lists, and goals. At home, I taught different subjects using a variety of tools and resources. We also partook in daytrips, watched documentaries, and incorporated art.
Is that website still active? I would love to see it! We are so lucky to live in this digital age and have all the information literally at our fingertips. We also an extensive home library and we go to the library regularly. My husband and I love reading too so that helps.
I think choosing to home educate was definitely the best decision I have made. Seeing the improvement in my child’s health, confidence, and social and coping skills is the most rewarding aspect for me. What are a couple of areas that you saw major improvements in, with your son/s?
As I mentioned earlier, his anxiety lowered immensely. Other areas of improvement were writing and comprehension. He historically stored very high on state testing, and remained above many of his peers academically. I loved that he got a chance to expand on an assignment if he wished, or shorten another, depending. I’d say it was a very wise decision on my part. But I tend to make wise decisions in general. lol.
Very good, yes I agree watching them expand on their work is so refreshing. That aspect is such a bonus as they can fully immerse themselves in the topic to the extent they feel they need to, in order to understand it.
What advice would you give to Spectrum Mums, who are also on the spectrum who may be thinking about homeschooling?
Follow you heart. Get support. Seek out alternatives. There are charter schools, homeschool organizations, and many families with experience homeschooling. You can get an inner-district transfer; some parents even move cities or states to get the support they need. Don’t let obstacles deter you. You know what’s best for your child. Seek out information. I strongly believe where there is a will there is a way. If you choose the public school route, which was wonderful for my oldest son, then know the laws. Visit Wrights Laws on line. Check out books from the library. Find a free advocate. Write a letter to the school district asking for a professional evaluation of your child and get a formalized plan started. Don’t go to meetings alone. Document everything. Be your child’s advocate. It does get easier. And time does heal wounds.
What drove you to write your book EVERYDAY ASPERGERS?
That’s a huge question. In brief, I was called to write and felt I had to share my story. The book was a combination of stories from my life I wrote over ten years ago and from excerpts of my extensive blog by the same name.
I love your book. I enjoyed the way it was written, in small excerpts and blips of your life. It was so relatable to my own life. You definitely need a box of tissues nearby from both tears of sadness and of laughter. It is defintely a labour of love. Thank you for sharing your story.
Can you give us a brief overview of SPECTRUM SUITE?
I wanted to start a company that supported my book and gatherings and also gave a voice to autistic literature and art. It’s a small company that works toward celebrating neurodiversity through the arts and literature. I interview authors and artists and host free gatherings. I also provide interviews and guest speaking. You can find us at myspectrumsuite.com. I’d also like to mention the company that I work for, ULTRA Testing. We employ adults on the autism spectrum to work from home in the USA, as software testers. You can find us at ultratesting.us.
Your website is great. It really is an extensive resource. Yes, thank you I meant to mention them as well, what a great company.
Thank you again for taking the time to answer our questions. It was so great getting to know more about you. Most of all, thank you for being the voice for so many of us who are still finding ours.
You are most welcome. This was an interesting change to what I normally discuss. I enjoyed the process. All the best to you.
For more information on Samantha Craft and her wonderful book, website and Facebook community, please see below.
EVERYDAY ASPERGERS Softcover Book:
EVERYDAY ASPERGERS E-Book:
I will add these links to the Resources page as well.
Thank you for stopping by.