Pandemic Homeschooling

Here it is! The mother of all homeschooling experiences. If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you’ll know that we were homeschooling Sol for his Pre School year before he started at EtonHouse Malaysia. We committed to a one-to-one home based learning program that allowed him to be creative, work at his own pace and make all the special needs sessions – physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and vision therapy. This was balanced with swimming lessons, capoeira and play dates.

But now we are forced to homeschool when we would like nothing better than to have Sol back in the classroom with his friends and working on his social skills while learning and interacting with his peers, like any 7 year old boy should. So maybe this post isn’t so “exclusive” to parents of kids with special education needs now! LOL.

As parents, we are all forced into sharing iPads and laptops with our kids as they TRY to learn through the screens. And it truly sucks. Let me hear you say it – I HATE COVID-19!!!!!!!

Sol says “I hate this virus” at least once/day. He is very aware that the virus has stopped his ability to leave the condo compound to walk to school, walk to his friends house, go to a park (this one breaks my heart), swim in the condo pool and all the beautiful interactions we fondly remember.

Most weeks I have a call or interaction with another parent who has cried because of homeschooling. I’ve cried too but there have been some blessings. I’m going to outline them here.

Just for the record, I am a working parent who is now homeschooling 5 hours/day BEFORE commencing my work from home. That means my day is front of a screen runs from 8.30am – 9.30pm Monday – Friday. On Fridays, we skip school…….for sanity.

HOMESCHOOLING SOL

  1. Sol is smart. He has fantastic comprehension and a good understanding of the world. He’s great with expressing his view and uses language expressively and occasionally beyond his years. BUT not in a group environment when lots of people are talking and there are too many distractions. Like when nobody mutes their call and all the kids are talking at once, with lots of background noise.
  2. When we join group lessons, Sol is easily distracted by the noise. He has managed to refocus to get the work done but not without me sitting right by his side and keeping him on task. I mute his microphone and bribe him with ROBLOX if he can finish his class work. A girls gotta do what a girls gotta do!
  3. He needs to switch off the iPad around 30 minutes into the group sessions so that we can do the work alone. This is where Sol gets his most productive time. I can assign him 2-3 pages of Math to finish alone and he will do it without me next to him. He doesn’t need my help or support and he understands the work.
  4. We are focused on the basics – Math, Language Arts and Reading. We skip Physical Education, Visual Arts and sometimes Performing Arts – here’s why….
  5. We bought a basketball hoop for Sol and set it up in a common area at our condo. This is so all the kids can use it. When Sol went back to school this year (for the 8 weeks it was open), he was disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to join the Basketball after school sessions as the schools weren’t allowed to offer any sports. He kept talking about it and asking us to get him a basketball. So we did. And the hoop. And here he is.
Shooting hoops

6. A neighbour bought a trampoline and installed it in the basement carpark. BEST ACTIVITY EVER. If you know anything about sensory processing disorders, you’ll know that bouncing on a trampoline is one of the best regulators for the body and brain and assists with learning. Sol is on that thing up to 3 hours/day! Yeah, so we don’t join the PE classes.

Bouncing the crazies out

7. Sol loves art – drawing, colouring, building. He spends hours on this too so, yeah, no Visual Arts.

8. Performing Arts – we have a little entertainer in our midst so enough said. Dance, acting, YouTube videos – we have a full on entertainment network in that little guy.

As a family, we have never been closer. This would be the BIGGEST upside of a forced lockdown for as long as we have had. Through this, Sol always has someone to talk to, hug, play with, hang out with. And we are better for it too. We are working in our office and our kids are nearby. We have had numerous dinners together and family discussions and if we get ONE thing out of this year, it’s that SOL knows how deeply he is loved, how integral he is to our family unit and that he will always have us to advocate for him. I understand HOW Sol learns and I can communicate this to his teachers and help them give Sol the best educational experience too. Once school is back in person…..

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HELLO! I’m a human

While this blog focuses on Sol and his superpower, dyspraxia, there are events and interactions in Sol’s daily life that also make me think about what it means to be human on a wider scale.

After a wonderful month in Bali, resting and connecting with my kids for their summer break, I observed the following scenario multiple times.

SOL to fellow human of indiscriminate age: “Hello!”

Fellow Human to Sol: …………………….. (that’s silence, as in no response – no hello, no hi, just a stare)

SOL: “Hello!”

Fellow Human turns away.

I’ve paused from writing here for a moment to collect my emotions on what I’ve just written because despite the fact this was a few weeks back, thinking about it leaves me with a mash up of feeling. And my key questions are:

When did we stop saying HELLO to one another?

If another stranger (child or adult) said HELLO to you, do you say HELLO back?

Are your initial thoughts “That’s weird! A complete stranger just said HELLO to me?

So in the context of Sol’s dyspraxia, he hasn’t mastered “reading” human emotions or body language or “learnt” to be shy and not to interact with strangers. (Note to self, need to talk to him about “stranger danger”). He completely understands when someone is displeased or angry and seems to experience strong emotion from this. The paradox of a highly sensitive child who struggles to master the social “norms”.

Sol will enter an environment and assume that everyone is good and they are waiting to see him/play with him. He will walk up to any child and say “Hello!”, not “Hi!, a confident boisterous “Hello!”. Nine out of ten children from the age of 5 years and above will ignore Sol or walk away. And the one child that responds positively ends up playing with him for hours. Eight out of ten adults will also not respond to Sol’s greeting.

When did we stop saying “Hello”? I only have my personal thoughts on this and I’m assuming that there is a certain level of inappropriateness to starting up a conversation with a complete stranger. So here is when I think I might not say “Hello” to another human:

  • Walking in a dark alley and man approaches me.
  • Sitting in a bar waiting for my friend and man sits next to me.
  • Standing in the mosh pit at a concert with sweaty humans pushed up against me.

In the interests of actually finishing this blog post, I have to move on as I found it really hard to think of anymore, but if you know of some examples, please leave comments!

Here are some examples of me initiating conversation with strangers EVERY DAY

  • Every time I teach a fitness class, I will walk up to the new person in the class and say “Hello”.
  • I say Hello to every service person – cafe, petrol pump human, receptionist, immigration officer – everyone.

Instead of blaming Sol’s friendliness on his inability to conform with social norms, I’m going to blame it on genetics – he got it from me! And I also don’t care when fellow humans don’t respond back. I don’t start thinking “What’s wrong with me? Why don’t they like me?”. I carry on with my day, as happy as Larry – yeah, who is Larry anyway?

And I search Sol’s face to see if he is sad or hurt by the lack of response and NOPE, he moves on! Searching out the next human that will connect with him and inevitably end up having a great conversation or some decent adventure in the playground.

To give more transparency to how dyspraxia DOES in fact affect social interaction within what we consider normal, here are the examples:

  • Dislikes playing sports with other kids. Dyspraxia is primarily a motor co-ordination issue and therefore physical activity and coordinating the body to learn new skills is more challenging for people with dyspraxia. Sol has been very active and in physical therapy since he was a baby so he’s doing pretty well here and right now, he doesn’t shy away from sports with kids.
  • Struggle to pay attention to the point of being diagnosed with ADHD. Dyspraxia affects “processing” – ordering your thoughts. This affects someone with dyspraxia when they need to remember the order of events or tasks. This can be managed by making lists, notes and lots of preparation.
  • Difficult to understand – as dyspraxia affects the coordination of the mouth, words sometimes sound muffled or unclear. For children, this sets them up for ridicule as they “sound” different. Sol has had speech therapy for 4 years and while his pronunciation can occasionally be challenged, he’s doing pretty well. Volume and pitch can also be affected.
  • Seems immature – children with dyspraxia tend to lag behind on developing appropriate social “norms” (I fucking hate that word now). But it all works out in the wash. Either they become more normal……..or they go on to be the next Harry Potter!
  • Is often anxious – as they need to make more decisions, this can raise their levels of anxiety. I’m not seeing this in Sol at all and I believe this might be in part to having him home schooled for a year.
  • Dyspraxia is NOT an intellectual disability.

I appreciate that the world has Extroverts and Introverts and that I have a higher chance of a naturally Extroverted person responding than an Introverted person. I can accept this. But I had noticed that more and more, we are using our phones to “hide” and therefore shut down any chance of connecting with another human. While we are “connected”, we are not. While I’m connected to searching for the latest trend on Spanx on my handheld device, I’m disconnected from the humans sitting across from me, walking past me, from making any eye contact, from starting a conversation, from potentially having a life changing moment with another human.

So my challenge to you, in the interests of connecting with another human that you don’t already know, is to say “Hello” to a complete random stranger. I recommend that you smile at the same time so they know it’s them you are greeting. The world needs more “HELLO” givers. Truly!