Home schooling

‘I may give him a greater life’: Dominique, a courageous mom who stop her job and is homeschooling her autistic son Nathan

Dominique is the mother of a 9-year-old son, Nathan. He has non-verbal autism. He has been enrolled in home schooling for 4 years. An environment that the mother considers necessary for his positive development.

It was a surprise for Dominique to learn that she could not re-enroll her son Nathan in homeschooling, which she has been doing for 4 years now. The administration rejected his request, citing a delay in submitting the necessary documents. Dominique, for her part, tells us that she sent these documents by regular mail on July 25. The resident of Anderlues then had no choice but to turn to the schools. But his request would have come again too late there. “We can register them until September 15, except for children who come from another school, which is not my case.”, complained the mother with the orange Alert us button. She feared she would lose her family benefits if her child was not enrolled in an institution before October 1. Eventually, at Dominique’s insistence, the administration allowed re-enrollment for home schooling. The mother feels relieved and happy because she believes that this form of education is necessary for the positive development of her son, a 9-year-old boy with non-verbal autism. We now generally speak of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to define autism, the forms of which are almost as varied as there are cases.

Nathan cannot speak, which hinders his relationships with other children. “To communicate, he uses pictograms and has a communication tablet”, describes Dominique. He also has supersensitive hearing, meaning he hears sounds that others cannot hear. “All outside noise disturbs him. It makes him anxious. And aggressiveness, because the only way for him to show that he is not okay is to stand out with aggressiveness.”, the mother tells us. On the other hand, Nathan has all his cognitive abilities. “Nathan has a high potential and has all his intellectual functions”Dominique informs us.

The simple fact that he had changed the teacher because she was sick, he had a crisis. He screamed, started hitting himself and came to rip his jeans

Homeschooling as the only option

Nathan was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 1/2 years old. At first, he attended ordinary schools, but was unable to stay there for more than three years. “Nathan was very resistant to this situation, because he could not understand himself from the teacher. (…) There’s always been this problem of understanding”, says the mother. When he was 7 years old, the little boy had a lot of trouble staying calm in class. “Children with ASD are very nervous and cannot sit still”. Social relationships with other students are also complicated. “For the little he will be upset, he will hit a child”give us as an example the mother.

In addition, Nathan needs constant help at his side, especially to anticipate changes in his routine. In fact, it must be located in time and space. “The simple fact that he had changed the teacher because she was sick, he had a crisis. He screamed, started hitting himself and came to tear his jeans.”.

She continues: “He has fine motor problems so he can’t hold a pencil properly. It always takes someone to put it in place.”. A help that ordinary education teachers have not always been able to provide due to lack of staff, as the young woman has pointed out. She also called on the early intervention service to bring in an educator to accompany Nathan and give advice to teachers. However, the educator devoted only 4 hours a week to the child, which according to Dominique was insufficient.

Homeschooling ended up being the only option. “Seeing that it didn’t work well with schools but that it had all the potential to follow a normal schooling, I chose home schooling.”, she explains. Special education is, in turn, an option that the mother rejects, judging that her son risks regressing given his high potential. “Nathan is not very manual. What interests him is computer science, math and science, so he doesn’t find himself there in this lesson.she tells us enthusiastically.

Teaching methods adapted to Nathan: pictograms and tablets

To devote herself solely to her son, Dominique quit her job as a service voucher manager. She sees this environment as more suitable for her son’s needs. “For Nathan’s positive development, it is important that he continues his education at home in a space where he feels safe and surrounded by all the methods that allow him to progress.”, she informs us. After a positive assessment of home schooling control, she continued this type of schooling. “According to them, we had a great plan for the future and Nathan was evolving.”she recalls.

To accomplish this learning, Dominique uses distance learning courses and tries to adapt them to her son’s needs. In particular, she uses the game to teach Nathan some subjects. She also uses pictograms and drawings to help the child understand certain instructions. “If it had to be underlined, I would draw a line for him instead of letting him read the underlined word.”. Then Nathan works a lot with a tablet, a medium that suits him best. Then it goes to the sheet of paper to learn to write. A program, called Tiwood, also allows Nathan to read on his tablet. In fact, he must match the pictograms with the sentences he reads.

Significant financial costs

In addition, the child undergoes therapy on a daily basis (speech therapist, occupational therapy, music therapy or even physio-psychomotor). This monitoring requires significant costs (about 1100 euros per month). A financial burden that is even more difficult for Dominique since she is alone, Nathan’s father has died of cancer. Also the mother of a 14-year-old daughter, Dominique only has a family pension of 1,300 euros per month combined with orphan allowances and a specific allowance for Nathan’s disability (around 650 euros). Despite the limitations imposed by his budget, Dominique wants above all that his son can evolve. “We can’t get out of autism, but I can give him a better life by trying to give him autonomy. If he can write, read and speak, he will have open doors.”she concludes.

Nearly 1,122 students are enrolled in home schooling at FWB

For the 2018-2019 school year, home education was attended by 1,122 students in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. Currently, homeschooling remains exceptional for people with autism. But it is impossible to quantify the percentage of autistic children, as parents are not required to make the declaration.

Can it be said that this education enables students to reach the same level as those attending regular education? According to the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, there is still no database that would allow measuring its effectiveness, but it may see the light of day soon.

Also, children enrolled in home education are subject to a control of the level of studies at least in the year during which they reach the age of 8 and 10 years. They can also be convened on their own initiative, at the request of the Government or the Home Schooling Committee. Then, they must also pass certification tests (CEB at age 12, CE1D at age 14, and CE2D at age 16).

Obtaining these certificates is especially one of the conditions for access to home schooling. However, if the child does not meet this criteria, the parents may apply for a waiver and be granted the right to enroll the child.

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