Saturday, March 27, 2010

HS and Disability Support Groups

When homeschooling was considered radical, dangerous, and possibly illegal, most homeschoolers formed "support groups". These became a tradition for some people, and there are still some who can't imagine homeschooling without one, even though homeschooling is now clearly legal, there is now a wide variety of curricula (some of them specifically developed for and marketed to hs'ers) readily available, and hsing, while not mainstream, is generally considered a viable alternative for some people. Some people, on learning we hs, immediately ask which support group we are members of, and are shocked that we are not part of any, and that we actually have very little use for them. We have nothing against people who feel they need such a group, or have found one that fits their needs and helps them toward their goals; our experience has just been different.

As our kids approached "school age", I began reading up on hsing. We had already decided this was the way for our family. So I was well aware of our state's hs laws, hs methods and philosophies, and curricula available. We'd been doing informal lessons for some time, and I had purchased books and mapped out plans for the coming year. But at the urging of friends, we attended a meeting of a local support group. It seemed that most of the moms were mainly interested in doing the minimum they could get by with. Most of the meeting consisted of moms sitting around sharing shortcuts and excuses. (I was the only dad there, and the moms seemed uncomfortable with my presence.) Other than the year BB took classes in a hs co-op (okay, but not worth the drive) we haven't used a hs support group since.

Shortly before GL's diagnosis, when we had a pretty good idea what his problem was, we attended an ASD support group. This was a large and well-organized group. It was founded and run by parents, but it had the size, scope, and efficiency of an institution. They provided heaps of useful information, brought in highly-qualified outside speakers (including some of the biggest names in the field) to their monthly meetings, and sold hard-to-find books at a discount. After the first meeting, I usually attended alone because, even at that age, it was hard to get a sitter. I learned a lot, but after a few months, I stopped going. It was an hour away, and I'd collected all the information I could use for the time being. Then we moved.

Someone put us in touch with a local autism support group. We went, hoping to at least find out how to connect with local services. When you have a child with a disability who's not in the public school, it's amazing how many service providers don't want to talk to you. This was a very small group with a very strong personality in charge. She made sure the group was all about her son. No, actually she made it about her and the cure du jour. Not at all helpful.

So unhelpful that one member, another strong personality, started pressuring her church to start its own support group. They said they didn't have anyone available to organize it. Then a new deacon was elected to the deacon board. He had a son with CP. She went to the deacon board and said, "The church is going to do this, and you're going to run it."

So the new deacon set it up, but the strong personality was clearly in charge. (Just so folks on the East Coast understand, "strong personality" is not a compliment. If you have some friendly advice for a midwesterner, and you want him to even consider following it, preface it with, "You can do what you want, but here's what I might try..." and let it go. Bringing it up again means you're not leaving him a choice, and insures he'll dig in his heels. To a midwesterner, "Here's what you oughta do..." is the same as saying "I'm the boss of you, and you're going to do it my way!" He's too polite to say it, but he's thinking, "Oh, yeah? We'll see about that! Who do you think you are, Yertle the Turtle?") Anyway, at the urging of family members, done in the proper midwestern way, we eventually decided to give it a try.

This group is not about any one disability, although there are several families affected by autism. Neither is it about cures or treatments. And it is not primarily about the disabled child, or even coping with his disability, although we talk about those things, too. It is a place for parents to talk about life, the good, the bad, the difficult, the sad, and the hilarious--without having to explain again and again about autism or CP or whatever to people who just don't get it.

It started out as a very structured group with so many minutes for coffee, so many minutes for chat, an organized discussion of the topic on the agenda, focused on the questions written ahead of time by you-know-who, so many minutes for prayer, and a devotional at the end. I think the reason people outside the sponsoring church were invited at all was to try to sell them on that church. Out of politeness, we tried to follow the rules, but no matter how we tried, we just couldn't stick to the agenda. And we found that that didn't detract from our enjoyment of the meetings. Finally, Mrs. Strong Personality left the group because we weren't doing it right, and because most of us weren't particularly interested in hearing her expertise. We had enough experts in our lives. What we didn't have enough of was friends, particularly friends who "get it". When she left, we all breathed a sigh of relief.

We still get together once a month, we still have coffee, and we still have a devotional at the end, but the emphasis is on friends talking together and praying for each other. I think most of us would still get together even if our children grew up, became completely independent, and moved away. And the Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, and Lutherans are each satisfied with their respective churches, and that doesn't particularly bother anyone.

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Blogger Brownie said...

LOL!! You're not the boss of me!! I "belong" to two support groups: a large one with field trips,etc and a small one in my community. But I really don't like being told what to do. I think that's why I started to resent the school Blondie was going to this year - just drove me nuts that someone else had authority over my daughter.

But I'm meandering on your blog. I don't need a "support" group - but I like getting together with like-minded people.

March 27, 2010 at 4:12 PM  
Blogger Arby said...

I’ve been in a similar situation as you, being the only hsing dad in a room full of women and seeing how uncomfortable that made the women.

Your description of talking to a Midwesterner is spot on.

Your story about Mrs. Strong Personality is unfortunately all too common.

I am very to read that you found a group that works.

March 27, 2010 at 10:19 PM  

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