Author: Karen Copeland
Back in January 2015, my husband and I made the decision to remove our son from public school. We “opted out“, for lack of a better phrase, from the public bricks and mortar school system in our city, and “opted in” to a public distributed learning program in our neighboring district.
When we registered with this program, we had no expectations outside of simply having access to curriculum should we need it. What we didn’t expect was to get connected to a Special Education teacher who “got it”. In our first conversations, I marveled at just how in sync we were with our thoughts and ideas. Not once did I feel like I had to explain or rationalize what we were hoping to accomplish with our child. It has been incredible to feel supported and understood.
We knew when we removed our son that we would need to create a unique program and supports that fit for him and what he was needing. This would look very different from traditional schooling, and it can be hard to explain this to others because there is such a focus on academics in education. My husband and I know our child can and does learn, but this happens differently for him. Our son has experienced a great deal of failure and frustration in public bricks and mortar school, and you’d better believe this influences our path for him.
Think about what happens when you start banging a square peg into a round hole. It’s not long before you figure out that each time the hammer hits the peg, little pieces start splintering off, disconnecting. Imagine seven years of having your confidence slowly being chipped away — I don’t want to say school was all bad for my son, however it was the compounding moments of feeling inadequate, misunderstood and failure that stuck to him like velcro, not wanting to let go. He was drowning.
Somehow, the stars aligned and our preferred Behavior Consultant had space to take us onto her caseload. My initial conversations with her were similar to what I experienced with our new teacher. Amazing! Through the behavior consultant, we were connected to an outreach counsellor who would come to our home to work with us. This is huge!
For many families, ours included – trips to the counsellor’s office can be overwhelming and downright exhausting. If I could make one change to how child and youth mental health support is delivered in our province, it would be access to outreach counselling – particularly for those families who have children and youth who absolutely.will.not. attend a session in an office setting.
We were also connected to an outreach Occupational Therapist who was able to provide us with a current assessment and will be able to help us develop some indoor activities for when winter comes again.
Most importantly, we have found two other adults who are providing amazing encouragement and understanding for our son. I have long said that the most important “therapy” we were ever able to provide for our son, the one that has worked the best, is building strong connections with other supportive adults. We are so many things for our children, but the truth is we can’t be everything for our children. I love when my child returns from an outing with a huge smile on his face.
He is trying new things.
He is experiencing success.
He is learning.
A few weeks ago, we had our first “school care team meeting”. On our back deck. In the sun. It was 2 hours long. Everyone got a chance to speak, and most importantly, when my husband and I spoke, we were heard in a way we have never felt before. Previous meeting experiences meant trying to hammer our square peg into that round hole a little deeper. Pieces of him splintering away. In order for him to be a part of the school, he had to fit in. Conform. These were frustrating experiences. This meeting was different.
We felt comfortable.
We felt supported.
Everyone sitting around the table understood and believed in our common goal.
This is not something that came together quickly. It takes time, patience and commitment to the overall plan. There was a period of waiting that was excruciating as all of our supports were being set up and put into place. Thankfully, I was able to check in with a good friend who reassured me that this would pass, that what I was feeling was not uncommon. Things would start moving soon.
For so many years we did our best to try and make our child “fit” the public bricks and mortar system. It took examining this box that society “expects” you to be in, tearing down the sides and doing something different. Connecting with the right people at the right time. Being open and having the courage to change, because I will be truthful, it terrified me to take him out of school. Fear of the unknown. Where would this lead? Was this the right decision?
Yes. Absolutely, one hundred times yes.
Much gratitude to all of our team. We are so pleased you have joined us on this journey.