Big sister, Little brother…..he has Down Syndrome and Autism!

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She was the apple of her parents’ eyes for a long time until her brother came along.

Growing up with working parents, Joanne became a bookworm and would just soak in books instead of playing by herself while waiting for her mom to wake up after a restful sleep from night duty.

Due to her love for reading, school became a means for her to excel.

Being an only child back then with no constant playmates, she longed for a brother or a sister.

And then, Nathan came along.


      

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Since then, her brother has become her playmate and source of joy for the longest time.

Now that Joanne is finished with university and far from home, she always looks forward to returning home on vacations, even during short breaks, because she knows that they can be the ” big sister, little brother ” team and they could bond to the max during  that time.

Tell us about yourself.

” My name is Joanne and I have one special brother named Nathan.

Currently, I am a student and see my brother only when I go home for holidays. In my free time, I enjoy reading and watching YouTube videos.

I hope to become a Pediatrician and maybe specialize in Genetics so I can work with kids like my brother, who has both autism and Down syndrome.”

How old were you when Nathan was born and how did you know that he was special?

” Nathan was born when I was 11 years old. I knew that he had Down syndrome before he was born and my parents knew that there was a big chance of him being born with Downs due to both my mom’s age and her sister having Down syndrome, as well.

However, it wasn’t apparent that he had autism until he was around 2 years old. This was around the time when he lost all the words he knew and started developing stimming behaviors. For example, he loved rocking in a recliner we had and would flap his hands. “

Describe Nathan and tell us about his development.

” Sometimes Nathan is very loving and other times he can be aggressive. It just depends on the day and how outside factors are affecting him.

I would ask him for a kiss or a hug and would happily oblige, but other times, he would pull my hair.

He tends to misbehave the most when he gets asked to do something he doesn’t want to do at all. For example, if he gets asked to hand someone the remote for the television, he might get upset and would literally stomp upstairs.

However, even things like this we appreciate and are proud of because it shows his growth in personality. He used to not react at all.

Something we are very proud of is that Nate is a very neat person. He takes off his shoes and socks after coming home from school and places them where the shoes belong.

If he sees a cellphone on the table and he knows who it belongs to, he will make sure to hand that to the specific person.

Even if the pillows, the remote, or the house phone are out of place, he will make sure to put them where they belong.

This started a couple of years ago but he has been generally neat overall. “

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How did you and your family react to the news that he was special?

” My family and I were very accepting of the fact that Nathan had Down syndrome. Again, my mom’s sister had Downs and I had visited her in the Philippines when I was younger. It was no surprise when Nathan was born.

In fact, I think it made us love him even more. “

Do you have any fears about Nathan’s future?

” Something that I feel scared of regarding Nate’s future is that people might not be as accepting of him once he is older.

Right now, at 12 years old, he can get away with almost anything because he is young enough and is cute. Once he is older, he will be expected to understand more, to be capable of more.

But what if he’s not? “

Does your family have specific plans for his future?

” Right now, there are no specific plans for Nathan’s future. We are just trying to help him grow and learn, then we will proceed from there.”

How did you and your family cope with the struggles on caring for him as he was growing up?

” My family had the normal struggles faced when taking care of a child, they just happened a lot later and for longer periods of time due to Nathan being slower mentally and physically.

But other than that, yes there were specific challenges related to him being him. He had to have a lot of therapies to get his abilities to where they are now and that takes time, money and sacrifices.

However, Nathan is easy to relate to. It’s easy to relate to the feeling of not being able to do something that others find simple and then feeling so frustrated. I believe everyone has been there at some point.

Even the difficulty of being able to communicate with others is relatable.

That’s an issue I’ve encountered. I can’t speak Filipino and I am not able to communicate with my grandmother. But just like Nathan, I can get what I want to say across.”

What therapies or supports did Nathan have until now?

” I know that he had occupational, physical, and speech therapy throughout his life. He used to get one-on-one with these when he was a baby.

I remember they used the blue exercise ball and would lay him on his tummy on it. I don’t know why though, maybe to learn how to crawl?

Currently, he is attending a special school for 4 hours every day where  they have music and arts therapy as part of the program. The kids are also involved in ball games and exercises.

Nathan likewise  does seasonal basketball and soccer. “

Share with us how Nathan makes your family happy.

Big sister, little brother..he has Down syndrome and autism

” Nathan makes us happy with his interactions with the world around him.

He’s funny without realizing it. It just comes naturally, I guess.

I remember when my grandfather lived with us for a bit, Nathan would copy the way he walked with his hands behind his back.

Even when he says “No way,” to us we are happy because that’s
him communicating with us.

But my favorite is when he decides to show me his love out of nowhere. Sometimes he’ll pull me closer for a hug or a kiss or even just give me a smile. 

He’s able to convey how much he loves me with that smile.”

What activities do you enjoy most with your brother?

” Nathan and I enjoy going to the park together. He loves to go on the swings and feel the wind on his face.

We also enjoy watching YouTube videos together, he likes to watch them over my shoulder.

But our two favorite activities are taking naps and taking snaps. “

You said Nathan is non-verbal, so how do you know if he needs something?

” We share that sibling connection. Out of everyone in our family, I understand him the most.

Most times I just know what he is trying to say or I can anticipate what he needs before he is even able to ask for it.

Generally, since he doesn’t talk, he will grab someone’s hand and gesture it in the direction of what he wants. For example, if he finishes his dinner but wants more, he will grab my dad’s hand and drag it towards what he likes to eat more of.”

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What advice can you give to siblings and parents  on how to take care of a special sibling or child.

” I know it’s hard at times but don’t forget that a lot of people out there are willing to help you: your family, your friends, even your local community.

Do your research into what events you can get your child into.

Don’t be afraid to talk to others at these events so that you can learn from their experiences and from their mistakes.”

Lastly, do you have any experience with Nathan that’s worth sharing?

“Once we went to an aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia. There were some penguins there and I guess that they’re very playful.

 Nate was really young then. Maybe 4 years old? He was definitely in his stroller. He was looking to the side, watching some penguins on a little cliff.

One swam up from the opposite side and surprised him and he was so startled, he went, “AH!” It’s a fond memory that my whole family shares.”

 

Thank you, Joanne for sharing to everyone your wonderful and inspiring experiences and stories about your brother, Nathan.

I can definitely relate because your aunt who had Down syndrome is my sister, Pangga, whom this website is dedicated.

Truly Nathan and the other members of our extended family who are special bring us immense joy in our day to day life.

I am sure, as well as your parents know,  that Nathan is in good hands and you will take good care of him when we are not around anymore.

We are so proud and happy of your dedication to your brother.

How does your special child connect with his siblings? What are the activities that they enjoy together? Please share your experiences with us.

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Special Needs Homeschool….Can My Child Learn?

As parents, we want our kids to learn the best that they can. We always seek for them the best schools, under the best teachers if we have choices.

We assist our children as much as we can with their homework and projects. We see to it that they hand in their assignments on time and they review their lessons way ahead of their scheduled examinations.

When they do good in school, we are the proudest of their achievements. We even buy something for them to celebrate their success.

The same goes for our children with special needs. As parents of our special kids, we always want for them to achieve the best that they can be.

It doesn’t matter if our special child is not able to talk at the age appropriate for him, as long as gradually he is able to communicate, that’s all that matters.

We may have fears of our special child being bullied in school, or questions whether he will be able to adapt easily to his new teacher and new classmates plus the new surroundings.

So, at the back of our minds, we have this question:

A special needs home school…. can my child learn from me?

Is homeschooling the better option?

This is the question that most parents with special needs child will have to address.

Let us look at the pros and cons of homeschooling.

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Benefits of a special needs home school

As parents, we always hope for the best outcome or learning potential for our special kid.

If you have the time and the resources to home school your child, it could be your best option for him.

These are some positive aspects for letting your child attend home school.

  • Specific needs will be addressed. You as the parent who is there for your child 24/7 truly understands what your special child needs, for example you will know what your child is struggling, maybe reading or verbalizing his needs.
  • One-on-one attention will boost your child’s confidence more than ever and he will learn faster.
  • Avoiding many obstacles in a traditional classroom. Communication will be the biggest struggle in school, but with you around in the home school, he can always be open to verbalize his needs or put forward his concerns non- verbally if need be. Bullying would be an issue that can be avoided there as well.

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  • Flexible time and schedule. A structured time and schedule is good, but there will be times that your child would need to move his schedule or you may need to do it yourself for whatever reason.
  • Observing up close your child’s progress and struggles. As the parent-teacher, you will see first-hand your child’s development or what area he needs to focus on.
  • Understanding your child’s inadequacies and coping mechanisms. Only a parent can accept unconditionally his child’s shortcomings.
  • Pacing of teaching can be adjusted depending on your child’s improvement. You don’t have to report to a principal or superior about why your child is still unable to read or identify colors at a certain time and explain why.
  • Comfortable surroundings for your child will let him learn more effectively. You can both be in your jammies and sitting in your bed reading together. He doesn’t need to go out in extreme cold if the weather is not so good.

Drawbacks of homeschooling

Of course attending a traditional school for your child would be the best option if need be, but it is not always possible, or you think making him attend home school is the best because you believe you can offer him the best education there is.

There are negative feedback of course, and would include the following:

  • Social skills will not be optimized. Since he is alone at home with you, he will not develop the best friendships and good communication skills.
  • Your child will test the limits of your patience. There might be a time that you might feel so frustrated if he learns so slow or forgets what he has learned and you feel that homeschooling in not fit for your special child.
  • You might feel inadequate for your child as a mentor having no teaching experiences in school, more so with a special kid.
  • Tantrums or meltdowns might happen many times that are hard to control and as a parent, may discourage you to stop the lessons for the day.
  • In the early stages or even before starting homeschooling especially if a special child has been previously enrolled in a public school, some school officials harass the parents and don’t allow the special child to dis-enroll because of fear of losing funding.
  • Special needs children may lose government-funded special child services such as speech therapy when home schooled.

How to improve your child’s skills as a home schooler

As the teacher for your special child, you can always plan on improving how you handle him. You don’t need to suggest to his teacher in the regular school what you think is the best way to offer him lessons.

    • Let your special child attend group activities like your church’s Sunday school or your neighborhood’s annual picnic to broaden his horizon and meet other kids.
    • Enroll him in extracurricular activities like piano lessons where he can interact with another teacher or other students if they will have recitals or concerts.
    • Let him stick to a routine as much as possible, like the same schedule each day for school, play, and homework. This will develop in him discipline and good study habits.
    • Daily habit of reading if he can, or reading to him if still not able on his own.
    • Encourage him to ask questions, thus enabling him to learn through exploration and discovery.
  • Give rewards for his achievements. There is no better way to encourage him to achieve more if he sees that you appreciate his efforts.

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  • Encourage him to repeat works or projects that are not acceptable at first or second try. Let him feel that mistakes are okey as long as he tries again to correct them.
  • Discuss with him why he did not get good results or scores with certain exams or projects and encourage him to give suggestions on how he can overcome these.
  • Balance learning with fun. Introduce play as much as possible or activities that your child enjoys in your daily lessons.
  • Connect with other parent-teachers ( join home school groups ) so you could compare ways on how to optimize teaching to your child and he can meet new friends as well.
  • Be patient with your child’s progress and just be content of what he can achieve daily. Don’t expect too much.
  • Display his works at home such as in the fridge or a dedicated corner or show to family so he knows that you are proud of his achievements.

Legalities and requirements of homeschooling

While homeschooling is legal in all 50 states in the US and all provinces in Canada, there are different requirements of each state or province where you live.

Call the authorities or agencies in your place just to be sure that they will not go after you and you will be out of trouble.

Some places require home school parents to meet basic educational qualifications, like a high school diploma or GED or a teaching certificate, but most states in the US do not have this requirement.

For Canadian homeschooling, please visit your province’s Department of Education websites for specific requirements. Some provinces may require you to report to them periodically for your child’s achievements. Or you need to tell them before you start home schooling.

I have mentioned only US and Canada here as examples, but if you live somewhere else, this could also apply to you.

Parents excel in giving education to their special needs children

A year-long research was conducted by Dr Steven Duvall in eight elementary and two junior high students with learning disabilities, where five students were home schooled and five attended public schools.

He did this by seating-in on teaching sessions and observed every twenty seconds how the students used academically engaged time during instructional periods. He then encoded data in his laptop which were double-checked by a second observer.

Likewise, Dr Duvall measured the students’ scores in standardized achievement tests in reading, math and written language.

Look at the amazing results!

  • The home schooled special kids showed academic engagement two and a half times more than those enrolled in public schools.
  • The home schooled kids spent only 40.7 % of their time with no academic responses against 74.9 % for the kids in public schools.
  • The teachers and kids in home schools were sitting side -by-side or face-to-face 43% of the time compared to only 6% of the time for public schools. This gave more advantage for the home schooled kids.
  • The home schooled kids showed an average of six months improvement in reading compared to only half a month gain for special kids enrolled in public schools.
  • The home schooled kids showed an average of eight months improvement in written language skills compared to only 2.5 months in kids enrolled in public schools.

Dr. Duvall summarized, These results clearly indicate that parents, even though they are not certified teachers, can create instructional environments at home that assist students with learning disabilities to improve their academic skills. This study clearly shows that homeschooling is beneficial for special-needs students.”

It is  a very positive and encouraging study, so my dear parents, take the opportunity to home school your kids if you can!

What parents say about homeschooling or home education:

Here are two parents who found homeschooling effective for their children with special needs.

JOYCE has this to say – from HE Special-Home Education in the UK-Special Educational Needs 

” My son was thrown out of a private mainstream nursery at the age of 4. What followed was his diagnosis of autism and my decision to home educate. I am lazy and chicken, decided I would rather provide him what he needs socially and educationally myself than spend my days beating my head against the doors of authorities to convince them to provide it. And all that otherwise frustrated time is instead spent enjoying my happy, unique son.The result so far –

My husband and my family are now convinced that we made the right choice. My son is happy and excited about learning. It’s not all roses, he does balk at writing but he excels at chemistry (sorry for the brag).

They have come to see that it works. He can race ahead at what he loves and get extra time for things he struggles with, all in a nonjudgmental environment.

It is so far beyond what I could hope to find for him in a school. His joy in learning is worth all the effort.”

MARSHA IDDINGS shares her feelings about homeschooling her son Matthew:

“The most important fact that I discovered while developing Matt’s home school program is this: You, the parent, will always be your child’s greatest advocate. No other professional knows, cares, or loves your child with the depth that you do. This, more than any other factor, is important in creating a successful learning environment for the challenged child.”

Home schooling could be the best option for your child with special needs

There you go, considering the many benefits of homeschooling plus the positive results of the study done by Dr. Duvall and the awesome and positive experiences of some parents, let you be inspired to start to home school your special kid and erase your worries that you cannot  be the best teacher for your special child, but of course, he can definitely learn from you.

REMEMBER:

You as the parent who is there for your child 24/7 is the only one who knows your special child’s strengths and weaknesses to the core.

You are the only one who can offer him unconditional love and full support.

Your child feels secure with you at home, where it is the safest environment for him.

So, my dear parents, if you have the time and resources, go and home-school your special child!

You can be the best teacher for him. Ever.

Click here and get ten inspirational quotes about kids and parenting.

 

Do you have plans of homeschooling your special child?

Or are you already homeschooling your child with special needs?

We would love to hear from you.

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