Socialization: How We Teach Matters as Much as What We Teach!

“If a child cannot learn in the way we teach, we must teach in a way the child can learn.”
– Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas, UCLA

I like planting! I plan what, when, where, and how. I know the who: me. So if my crop fails, it is my fault. Same with my planning school work for the next year. I do it much the way I plan my garden, with a lot of the work done mentally in my head and an awareness of whether conditions are right for what I am planning/planting. Then I peruse my favorite catalogues. I do a lot of mental work before I ever start. I look at what we have done and what do I/we need to do to get to the next level.

I am getting to the end of the year. Which means I not only evaluate (not formally, although you could) what we have accomplished. I am required to submit an end-of-the-year report to the local superintendent and the Department of Education. This is helpful, because I have to look at what we did and what we accomplished and put it on paper. I am better with hands-on.

As a home-schooling mom, I get asked a lot about socialization. How and where can you find social situations for your child when they don’t attend public school or a school for the blind? I have been asked about this issue for 20 some years. I and many other home schoolers are criticized on socialization issues. I think I can socialize Vinnie as well from our home/family setting as a public school can with a 1:1 aid. In pre-school, I found my son spending all his time with the aid and not with other children. He was in a setting with children, but not with children, if that makes sense. I figured I could do at least as good a job with this.

I use the medical model for services and my natural (community/family) supports for social interaction. There is overlap in everything. I’m a “twofer” person. I don’t look at learning as having one single goal, but coming from a variety of experiences and learning more than one thing from each of those experiences.

Vinnie is now 7, soon to be 8 in July. Whew, where did the time go and where did this school year go? Vinnie was discharged from physical therapy (PT). We have a Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) twice weekly. We see the Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist about 2 to 3 times a month. Occupational therapy (OT) once a week focuses on strengthening Vinnie’s fingers, tactile ability, and skills of daily living.

Vinnie has speech therapy twice a week, to work on volume and conversational speech. The nice thing is we work in education with all the extra therapy services, a “twofer.” Then we have what is called section 28 services. These services can either be home-based, community-based, or center-based. I prefer center-based at this time and probably until age 12. Section 28 services provide a 1:1 aid/tutor. There is a service plan in place with goals. I use section 28 services to increase socialization and social skills. While we don’t generally think of these services as opportunities for socialization, they are. Vinnie practices his skills in a variety of settings with other adults outside the home.

Your child’s first social world is his family, whatever shape your family takes. We have regularly family activities with extended family and with adult children who are grown with their families, who have children the same age our youngest children. I have different grandchildren visit throughout the summer and school vacations. We have all ages and ability levels within our extended family structure. I love family gatherings. Back to that planning thing, if I host, I can manage most issues that come up for my child/ren without leaving. When we go to other family gatherings, we plan what we need and an exit strategy if someone gets overwhelmed, overstimulated, or just plain overtired. If it is a long drive, we take the motor home and home is always with us.

Church Family is another social group that follows a child to adulthood. There is Sunday school, Bible School in summer, Youth Groups, etc. Sometimes you may need to change churches to find one that is accepting and accommodating of your differently abled child. We changed churches when we moved, because the church folks wanted the twins to go to child care vs. Sunday School. It wasn’t out of malice. It was because the Sunday School person didn’t feel comfortable. In our present church, I am asked how to make the Sunday school experience more meaningful. I give some ideas and they come up with some of their own. My husband and daughter play in several community bands. Music has always been part of our life. Most of us play instruments. Those that can’t sing make a joyful noise, keep time, or sit back and enjoy the music. We go to these concerts, mostly free.

There is a great community theater here which puts on a number of plays throughout the year. They also have a two week (It is only a 4.5-hour day, more manageable for a child who couldn’t tolerate a full day program.) theater camp for children ages 5 to 14. Once you age out, you can come for free and volunteer as helpers. The kids work on all aspects of the production from acting, singing, set building, and costume design. They break down into small groups, much more manageable for my kids, and then they put it all together with a dress rehearsal and the play at the end of the two weeks. What a great way to learn social skills and the arts! This is my favorite. As a parent, you can choose volunteer a few hours or the whole time. In this way you can monitor your child, yet give them an independent social/camp experience. The big theater production this year in the fall is “The Wizard of Oz.” Lots of extras, so my little short munchkins can be little short munchkins!

There is also the option of taking advantage of programs provided in the summer by your closest center for the Blind. For us it is Perkins School for the Blind in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That is about a 200-mile trip one way. They do have some great programs that we want to take advantage of as soon as our son is old enough that we feel comfortable leaving him for a week. There are also camps. You might ask your TVI if they can pay for some of these things. You could also check into scholarships. The local school might fund a week at the closest school for the visually impaired to work on a particular skill. Every state and community is different, so ask and keep asking until you find/get what you need/want. You don’t have to do it all or pay for it all if you opt to home school.

I do have the option of using the local school for some classes. It is my responsibility to transport back and forth, which is the next town, about 10 miles. One of our friends takes her 7 year old to the school for gym and music. Our children socialize, using our natural community supports. Not everyone has that luxury. Ours is a mobile society, much more so than when I was a child growing up. Our home-schooled children learn to socialize with people of all ages, not just same-age peers. The children also learn how to amuse themselves. They don’t always need someone to organize or do that for them. This is not one size fits all. We’ve had to adjust, learn new routines, try new things, and learn different ways of coping and experiencing life. Like the quote at the top, we’ve had to change how we do things to meet our children’s needs. One of the great joys of home schooling is the strengthening of the family bond.

There is no magic. It is all about hard work, consistency, structure, and planning, with a little serendipity thrown in. We are scheduled to take a tour of our local TV station in another week. We just called. They said yes. There are so many opportunities out there. Sometimes you just have to ask.

We are taking a look back and wrapping up this school year. We are planning and planting for next fall!