Josh is in our basement workshop, working on a project with my husband. They’re making an outdoor bean bag game to play outside this weekend when our older kids come home for the holiday weekend. I can hear his happy banter with his dad as they work. Every so often he says, “Ha-ha! I did it!”
They’ve been sawing and painting for the past day, and Josh is very excited to see the project coming together. Most 17-year-olds wouldn’t get so excited about doing this. But Josh isn’t like most 17-year-olds because he has developmental delays.
When he was a baby, I sometimes wondered what homeschooling him would be like. I’d become accustomed to the pace set by his three older siblings. I wondered how much longer it would take him to learn the things they learned by certain ages.
This is why it’s good that God doesn’t give us the ability to see the future. The person I was back then would have been pretty freaked out to know that we would spend years (literally) working on the alphabet and basic counting, or that at age 17 he still wouldn’t be ready for Saxon 54, the wonderful math book all three of my older kids used.
Several years of working on simple concepts wore down my naïveté and helped me see that Josh wasn’t going to do things on his siblings’ timetable. You might be thinking that should have been obvious to me once I got his diagnosis when he was 18 hours old. But there’s a difference between knowing a fact and living the reality of it. I had to live it to really realize it. Then I had to accept it. And finally, I learned to make other plans when it came to his education.
I could have continued prepping him for traditional math, trying year after year to get him to the point of learning multiplication tables. After all, the experts say that people with Down syndrome have a learning curve that goes up almost all of their lives. Those who don’t learn math by age 10 may learn at 15 or 20 or later. That would seem to make a case for keeping at those multiplication tables until he finally caught on.
But what kind of life would that be for him, forcing him to do the same work over and over, making him miserable? There are so many other things he needs to learn, things he will need to know in his life. Our time is better spent working on useful subjects that he has an aptitude for, making the learning much more pleasurable. So I taught him to use a calculator. Why waste precious time trying to learn those darn times tables?
Instead, my husband and I both make time to teach Josh to work with his hands, which he loves. He’s very creative and enjoys working with color, so my husband has been teaching him how to paint with watercolors. They make craft projects together. Josh also helps his dad mow the lawn and trim its edges. He’s very proud that he’s allowed to use the weed whacker.
In addition to working with Josh on basic reading and math skills, I teach Josh about cooking. He loves to make meals for our family, and especially enjoys the praise he receives at the table when we eat his creations. He also makes his own breakfast and uses the microwave to make his lunch.
One of his sisters got him a cookbook that he loves because it’s got plenty of pictures of ingredients. He’d use it every day if we let him, but the recipes aren’t the healthiest. So most of the time, I try to include him in what I’ve planned for dinner instead of using his cookbook. But he does love that thing, and brings it to me if he sees me making out the grocery list.
His sister who still lives at home also cooks with him. As a culinary student, her homework assignments are often made in our kitchen. A few weeks ago she asked him to help her make a strawberry cheesecake from scratch. It was delicious
These activities teach Josh a variety of skills while letting him enjoy the relationships he has with all of us. He’s a people person, so relationships are really important to him. We enjoy our activities with him, too. But it took us a while to get to the point to where we could look at them as educational for Josh. It wasn’t easy to let go of the idea that he should be studying certain subjects at certain ages. Once we accepted that he was different, we could embrace and enjoy who he is at each age and what he’s capable of doing, or not. Facing facts is certainly not easy, but it does make life easier once you do it.
Of course, we were fortunate that we had a diagnosis for him shortly after his birth. It hit us hard at first, but at least we knew what we were dealing with. I think it must be harder if a child has delays or difficulties that are not obvious or even present at birth, such as autism or delays of unknown origin. The slow dawning that something is wrong is very painful for those who love the child. But it is what it is. All you can do is pray for help in accepting your child’s situation and diagnosis, because once you accept those things, you’re in a position to look at your child and his future as an open slate, unencumbered by the expectations you have of your ‘typical’ children, and instead full of possibilities that will educate your child and bring him joy.
I recently read about a homeschooling mom whose son was dealing with multiple developmental issues including Asperger’s. He struggled with traditional high school subjects because they were so hard for him, and as a result, had come to hate homeschooling. I wondered if his mom had actually accepted his disabilities yet. It occurred to me that if she had, she could get rid of the world history and grammar textbooks that cause her child so much frustration and replace them with musical instrument lessons or art classes, subjects that allow for creativity and self-expression. And she would not feel guilty about it, either, if she had faced the facts of his situation. I pray that she was able to find a solution to her son’s painful difficulties, because I know how hard this road must be for her. When it comes to disabilities, acceptance is key.