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Homeschooling a Child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

By Linda Heinen
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #44, 2001.

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Iam homeschooling two special-needs kids. Some of my friends think that I am very silly to do that. Their advice is to send them off to school because kids need socialization.

I like my friends, but I do not think their advice is suitable for my situation.

My kids are suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. That means that during the birth mom’s pregnancy, she frequently drank, and her baby was damaged. In fact, both kids have retardation due to the alcohol and are classified as having serious brain injury. This brain damage cannot be reversed!

Children with FAS can learn, but often in a very different way than offered in the classroom. They must have a place where it is quiet and with very little activity. These kids tend to be ADHD as well, and are constantly minding everyone’s business but their own.

Our son was happily attending an Independent Christian School until he was in the fourth grade. However, it became apparent that his good buddies were steadily outgrowing him and the gap in abilities was ever widening. Soon he became very unhappy as he realized that he was different and could not do the things that they were doing. So I began homeschooling him, and the lad became more cheerful.

That year I became his scribe and wrote out his oral answers. We even wrote out his stories, which were quite well told. However, the following year we had to go back to basics as he was not using phonics to read, but had begun to guess at what he saw. He was also losing the ability to spell even the simple words he once knew. I used the A Beka program, and he began to improve.

Over the last few years I have used the pick-and-choose method for buying curriculum. I ask him what he is interested in, and search for workbooks and unit studies to match his interests. One year he was interested in knights and the folklore of that era. So we studied the Medieval Times and tied in A Medieval Christmas as well. Later, we studied Ancient Egypt, and he laughed when Mom got squeamish in the mummy informational part of that unit. He went to the local library and took out a National Geographic video on Ancient Egypt and enjoyed it so much. As long as we are able to study a subject that piques his interest, we do well.

Science this year is a unit study on the horse. Besides learning about horses we are reading real novels such as King of the Wind, The Black Stallion, and so on. Perhaps he will learn enough so that he will be able to train a pony and do it well enough to have a career with horses.

Math was a mystery for him years ago, and we will be happy if he learns how to buy food and clothing within his budget when he is older.

In Language Arts we are busy with basic spelling and writing sentences. We also read books relating to his interests. I try to expose him to a variety of materials including comprehension. He does quite well orally, and not so well with the written word. Those with FAS are very forgetful, and a fact they knew for days will suddenly be forgotten. To relearn it causes great frustration for him and for me, because we both know that it could be forgotten again in a short time.

Joe Heinen is learning and growing at home
Our son finds great joy in using the computer. He often puts in the World Book CD and looks up any interesting person or fact that was in his studies for the day. Last week we were studying Mozart’s life and his works, and answering questions from the unit on Great Composers. Later I heard him on the computer checking out some of Mozart’s musical works and then going on to other composers of yesteryear as well as those of today.

Social Studies this year consists of studying Canada. Soon we will be finished with that unit and will move on to Ancient Greece, which is what he chose to study this year.

He is not all that interested in art, but we do look at pictures done by the Great Masters and discuss them in a very simple way. As a little fellow he did not like to color, cut or paste. It took too long to get the result he wanted, and he did it in a hurry.

There are times when he totally lacks the motivation to complete his work for the day. All studies are done on a one-on-one method, and I cannot leave the room as he will wander off to another area. So we limit each day to a three-hour school day. That suffices both of us.

Our little gal has FAS, but it affects her differently. She sees much of life as a joke. If I have to leave her side for a moment, she might stay and work independently, or she might wait for my return. Often she decides that now is the time for her to hide under the table or desk or else run off to her room. When she receives a consequence, she becomes very upset and just doesn’t understand why I didn’t appreciate her fun and games time.

She is able to understand her math and knows some of her facts. Sometimes she has to use her counting cubes or a number line because she has forgotten what she used to know. We are now on the money unit, and so far she is able to do it.

Social Studies consists of studying about “Our Community.” We have completed the section on “The Policeman.” We now have to visit the local police station. When we have completed “The Postman,” we will see how the mail is sorted and stamped at the post office in our town. Next on the list are the Baker, the Fireman, and other people in the nearby town.

We are using a simple unit on Science, and have added a unit on Animals. She just loves all of God’s creatures, big or small, tame or wild. As we live in the country, we have close-up encounters with deer, porcupines, skunks, coyotes, prairie dogs and marmots.

We are focusing heavily on Phonics, and she is using two workbooks plus a book on comprehension and some phonics readers. She is reading, but it is not coming easily. A word that she could read yesterday suddenly becomes a struggle to sound out. We also use a unit study, Come Sit With Me, that uses real books.

If she could have her way, she would have art every day. She is forever cutting, pasting and making things from paper. She also looks at works of the Great Masters when her brother does. She loves to paint and uses up a lot of it at one time, but we are pleased that she has a good imagination.

She has music at the same time as her brother, and listens to the tapes and to the information that we read about the composer. In fact, she often drifts in when I teach in the morning and listens in as we read a novel connected to the history or language unit we are studying on that day.

Our school day is about two hours long, and that is long enough for us at this time. We do read at bedtime, and sometimes read and do crafts in the late afternoon or early evening.

So you can see that special-needs kids can learn and enjoy their studies even if they have to be modified according to ability and not age. It is very important that they succeed at what they do and not be frustrated with what others think that they should be doing!


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