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How the decision of HOMESCHOOLING my child saved him from regression and brought light in his eyes?

[ 11 ] 20/04/2014 |

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Guest post by Nutritionist, Mirela Burhuc*

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Romania… It was the year 2008, one of the worse years of my life. One week in a hospital of infantile psychiatry and back home with a “label” for my child: autism and severe mental retardation with significant behavioural disturbance. That time I had no clue what that meant and I wasn’t prepared for the long battle that followed soon after. But I moved forward because there were the only steps I knew. And yes, with my heart in my throat…tears…breakdowns.

A divorce … and a struggle to find some strength in learning how to be a single mom…to fight the adversities of a world I hardly knew. But that time, in Romania autistic children’s chances were prevented by unawareness, ignorance and indifference and only because of the increasing number of such cases of disorder, a campaign began with the purpose of spreading information at a national level so things were merely at the beginning and no education or system with learning support assistants was available in entire country.

I have started to analyse what chances I have in my country to succeed in “bringing back” my child. I found NONE and no support unless I was able to pay more than 2000 euros a month for private therapies and bringing consultants from outside the country. That was IMPOSSIBLE considering that wages range around 300-400 euros per month and this only if a single parent who had an autistic child could afford the time of having a job.

I started to struggle between my job and my child till I had to take a tough and risky decision: to give up on my job and dedicate my full time to recover my child as much I could. I took courses of ABA (applied behaviour analysis) and used my teaching’s skills (I was a teacher for 6 years) to educate my child.

But it was the beginning of trials and errors.

It was the time of FRUSTRATION.

Meanwhile he received a new diagnose along with autism: ADHD and later on Dyspraxia. As if one was not enough.

It happened that I got in touch with someone from Malta and I was adviced to give it a try and talk with someone from a foundation helping children with special needs. So I did.

25 of May 2009 – a short trip to Malta and my child was put on a waiting list for therapy. I was told it will not take too long but I waited more than one year and…nothing. Worries started to be bigger but I wasn’t just waiting but fighting every day for my son to recover. It was harder day by day not dealing with specialists, no money enough and no chances for my son to be integrated in groups of children because no kindergarten was accepting him.

I decided to move with my child no matter what. Disappointment. Once arrived in Malta I have found out that my child is not anymore on the list and that I have to get in touch with someone from the government and wait for some advice.

I wrote an email to the person in charge with special needs from MEDC. She answered back explaining how is the situation in Malta and that I have to register my son in a State Primary School, to start the process for statementing and to ask for a support assistant, assuring me that every school caters and is prepared for children with special needs. And I did so, although I had some very strange feelings about this because the first intention was to get some One to One therapy for my child (his difficulties were far beyond the ability to cope in a school environment due to so many sensory and motricity issues). But I thought she knows what she is talking and I hoped that this sort of Inclusion will work, thinking the schools have enough experience in this field.

But what a mistake I did!!

Summer 2010 – scared and with a confused child having tantrums at every step, fainting and panicking, with so many health issues that I hardly coped with, arrived to Malta.

And so it started. I had 3-4 months before school would start as it was summer and I decided to get my son used to the country and made a personalized program at home for him, teaching him English language (he wasn’t able to speak back in Romania, he just knew 10-20 words and mainly had not much meaning for him), teaching him to read and also playing and following him in his world to be able to understand how he learns and what makes him happy, confused, frustrated, anxious.

I dedicated 8 hours a day of full interaction for 3 months, “lessons” held at home, in the park, at the playground, visiting so many places and showing him the world he was always afraid of and the results were AMAZING. I started to have eye contact from him and so many smiles I only dreamed of and he improved vocabulary with more than 200 meaningful words, he started to read and also make additions. Just 3 months and the improvements were so visible that made me believe I can do more with some other help.

The time for school was coming and I felt excited but anxious too. And I confess I had my doubts about this decision. I went to the school from the town I lived in and talked with the head school, presented all the medical documentation regarding my boy and the registration followed its course. BUT the Statementing Moderating Panel took the decision to offer my child a shared support assistant after a meeting when they asked me only 3 questions (he can feed himself, he can use the toilet by himself, he can dress himself? – and it was NO to all the questions) and they didn’t even talk with my child or assess him. And ONLY in 5 minutes they decided my child need SHARED support assistant but received this announce at home by post. I thought is so UNFAIR and worries started to grow. I was stunned: what kind of assessment was that?

Anyway, school started and we got an LSA (fortunately in the classroom there wasn’t any other child with special need or support so the shared LSA was having the full time to give to my child). But the school’s environment was ….exhausting and terrifying for him. Noise, so many colors in the classroom, total chaos for a little boy with sensory issue and suddenly he shut off. I put my hand on his heart and I felt he is panicking, I watched his face turning pale and my heart shrank but I let him there, hoping, how much I hoped that my instincts are not right and that he will be just fine and cope well with new situations.

After first few weeks I was told that the LSA is changed with a new one. I was very concerned and I didn’t agree on it especially because it was a time of adjusting with a new person who in my opinion should not change in the first one year. But I couldn’t do anything and no one gave me an answer why so…a new LSA came and all the bad things started rolling one after the other. It was so obvious that my son wasn’t able to connect with her and the personality of the LSA was not so warming. More than that, the teacher told me that she can not communicate with her and she doesn’t like always how she is managing my child but when I asked to have a meeting and discuss the issue, she refused to tell in front of head school or in front of her.

That WASN’T right! Days were passing and I noticed a change in my son’s behaviour and also he started to regress. I lost the eye contact and the smiles! He started to lose weight and he was more anxious and pale. (you just see in the attach files 2 photos I posted before starting the school and after few months and you can judge by yourself how it affected him even physically and also his reactions were so different).

At school he wasn’t given the full packed food I gave and when I asked why, the LSA told me that my son is not in mood to eat (what ????) so just imagine how a child with hypotension can cope with learning being hungry? I asked urgently for a meeting and for the IEP because they were delaying it. I think that was the moment when I just noticed no one from that school was prepared to make the Inclusion working and they didn’t know how to do it and more than that, they had no idea what AUTISM means. I talked for more than one hour and brought with me a file with all likes and dislikes of my son, how I am teaching him at home and the worries, the questions, the complaining. In the end they just told me thank you for making light and they confessed they never knew what it was all about. In a private discussion the teacher told me she can not make the impossible as she has so many children to look for and one child who needs special attention is too much for the classroom.

I didn’t know what to do, to say thank you for the honesty? But …REALLY? That wasn’t helping my child’s situation at all and it was almost tragic. To take my child and run from that school….so frustrated and angry and confused. The IEP summary was fake and as present strengths of my son there were written: good behaviour (of course, he was so tired, hypotensive, and shut off that he was acting like a puppet whose strings you just move and once he didn’t react they saw this as a good behavior), willing to learn (kidding me, right? He was just “forced” and because he didn’t talk in sentences to say what he likes or what not, they didn’t bother to see beyond that lack of reaction), ability to comprehend (that was too much, my son had Dypraxia, he understood if he was taught and many times the connections were mechanical), understands english (what they meant by UNDERSTANDING? I have taught him vocabulary and they resumed at it so they got the conclusion of understanding), can read letters and words (that was TRUE as I taught him myself), good in numeracy skills (obvious as I taught him for 3 months and he liked the numbers very much).

When the MAP session report was done, everything was written there, were my words, totally different from what they noticed or better DIDN’T notice because in fact they didn’t do any assessment of my child. I was still seen as a crazy mother only because I cared and wanted the best for my child. They started to feel me like a pain in the….because I was every day there and involved till my strengths got lost.

There is a limit, you know? A limit when too much stress can put down anyone. Soon after, the LSA started to get sick more often and she was missing one week or more weeks and my child was changing again LSA’s or he was given students to take care of him. He wasn’t fed again and kept untidy, with clothes out of trousers, loose shoelace. I was just praying things to change but his LSA came back after long breaks and this time I noticed that at the end of week my son was limping, he couldn’t walk properly anymore. I asked the LSA what was wrong with him, if he felt and she said: I didn’t notice something is wrong, is nothing! During weekend he was recovering and then again once at school he started again to limp. Something was definitely wrong and because my child wasn’t talking I took him to the doctor thinking that he might have some issue like appendicitis or worse. The doctor noticed the limping and he sent me urgently for a radiography but nothing was wrong. Next day I went to investigate at school and asked the teacher few questions in private. That is how I found that the LSA was pressuring my child’s hand to write and the table was too small for him as well so he developed a sensitivity who was showing in limping. And later on he was diagnosed with scoliosis.

I continued to believe things will change if I try to involve myself harder (though i so much needed a job and time to keep up with it) so I started to prepare materials for my son at school, to do schedules with visuals etc. No one did that for my child and the LSA was following the curriculum only, instead of making a personalized program for my child who was definitely learning slower and differently.

But one day just close to the end of scholastic year I had a moment out with my child at the playground and we were alone there. We had a walk and then play and he smiled at me. And I said: enough, I am moving you from that school. Next day I told the headschool that I can not continue like this and just before the last day, the autistic support team’s representant came to offer support and asking me why I am leaving the school. I was tired, I couldn’t tell much, I waited one year for someone from the Support Team and they came only when I decided to leave the school. I told them I decided to find a private school and they told me I will not have any support there. As if I had any in a state school, right?

I moved to a private school next scholastic year and although everyone there was wonderful we changed again 3 LSA’s in just 2 months and my son was kept just like a doll in the classroom and it was no proper involvement in helping him socialize with other children and after a while I was told to keep my child at home till they find a new LSA.

That was the moment….i just realized I wasted so much time and my son just got tired, stressed, lost weight and got unhealthy and he regressed.

NOT ANYMORE! With all the people against my decision blaming I am not a good parent keeping him away from “education” I flew away back to what I started to do first time I came to Malta: create a “minischool” from home and how right it seemed and still seems and what a wonderful child I have!

I am sorry for this long letter but I felt right to give you a full image and to raise awareness that a decision like this, of homeschooling your own child is NOT a caprice of some crazy lazy parents but is a decision based on some sort of experience regarding the present educational system and the abilities of a child of coping in such environment.

We know and have examples that typically developing children attending overcrowded schools can demonstrate poor academic achievement, high dropout rates and rare entry into college. But just imagine the students whose neurology scrambles and shuffles relevant and irrelevant information and whose sensory systems make sustained focus difficult.

My whole experience was such a mess and my child regressed a lot and he was driven to despair in such environment that didn’t offer him something designed to accommodate his unique learning characteristics. I don’t have the time to recover him after all school attempts nor the money to go to the clinics but I tried and I did my best to integrate him. It just didn’t work and I am not doing it again when I see how beautiful he can progress with homeschooling and getting to know the world around him with no stress or fixed timing and switch from math to English, to PE, science and forth.

This decision was the best I took in all these years and recovered him a lot, I have studied all the therapies and made a personalized one for my child’s needs and also I applied something that most people from the educational system forget to: when a child doesn’t learn the way you teach, it should be wise to teach the way he learns!

That is something everyone should think about and unfortunately a school is not the right place for such special education because the environment, we want or not to confess, is not prepared entirely to make these children thrive or at least not all of them who have multiple conditions and who need a quiet place to learn things. I knew that I am taking a big risk but is the only thing I don’t regret in all these 3 years and half in Malta: homeschooling and I am proud that I became a strong mom, a friend, a therapist, a teacher, a nutritionist for my child. And he is a changed boy. From the first day I brought him to Malta, screaming and crying and having tantrums at every step we took outside, covering his ears at every strong noise or panicking at school because he was overwhelmed by the multiple signals from everywhere etc, till today it’s been a terrific roller coaster and I still wonder how I still breathe.

And trust me, Is not easy financially speaking and we hardly survive, sometime not having basic food or not being able to pay the rent because I have to work from home and I find it exhausting but I didn’t have options and no one gave me any support and if i have to put all in balance i would prefer to see my child happy and homeschooling him with all the hardships.

But if anyone dares to tell that homeschooling isn’t necessary or it has negative impacts on the child I will definitely say:

IT has to be a right of parents, it has to be a choice, and option in every decent country who respects education and freedom. We can not act like ostriches hiding our heads from seeing the reality not matter we want it different.

I know how hard it is to be a teacher, I got through this as well. I know how hard is to keep on coping with all kids in the classroom and connect with all or give special attention to one or other. But that is not an excuse. And if there is such a gap why things are not changed? Why this stubbornness?

And if anyone would tell me again that I restrain my child from socializing I would tell: what form of socializing is that of spending 6 hours in a classrooms with few breaks and moving like zombies from one class to the other? This being said, I can not breathe a sigh of relief knowing that if my child is staying in the same room with other children, he will truly socialize and will easily integrate into society as an adult. Is more than that when we talk about socializing and is not everything black or white.

Socializing is a complex process, it involves free interaction, genuine conversations, respectful behavior, teamwork, empathy, respect for the written and unwritten rules of the group, peaceful conflict resolution skills, and more which unfortunately school can not support. They do that more at the playground or when we have family visits or going in a trip to see new places and meet new people.

I almost lost my health and my child’s health with all the stress involved in this story and I can not be stubborn to see what there is NOT: an educational system that caters for every need and perfect teachers who really care. For sure they are but not enough and I don’t want to try and see if I have the luck next time. The truth is that they owe me big TIME. So, ENOUGH! I really hope someone will see with opened mind and heart and will understand the tremendous advantages of HOMESCHOOLING:

– Children can learn what they want, when they want and as long as they want with no restrictions of time and pressured by the curriculum.
– They can spend more time out enjoying activities that can make them grow healthy and have more rest
– The self-esteem for those who are more shy will stay intact and no competition will make them give up only because they can not be like others.
– Children are beautiful individuals with beautiful gifts and they have to be treated this way and helped to discover and improve their abilities.

But you know why I plead more for HOMESCHOOLING? Because there is one thing more important than education nowadays: the emotional stability and this is what builds our children and what parents can offer every single day unconditionally.

Childhood and youth are ages of vital energy, of dreams, courage to have ideals and defend them. It is such an important time to build strong base for the life and difficulties that may arise. We can do it right or we can fail. And as a parent I want to do it right and I believe HOMESCHOOLING should be my RIGHT! And my son deserves it as many other children who find it hard to cope in the “normal” educational system.

A big thank you for all the parents up here who stand up for their rights, for their children, for their future!

A big thank you for having the patience to read a story though I believe everyone here had their own struggles.

Wish you all plenty of wisdom and this wish to come true!

Hug you all!

Mirela Burhuc

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*Mirela Burhuc is a highly educated, strong mummy, with her driving force being the love for her son. She graduated as a teacher from the Faculty of Letters, History and Theology in Galati, Romania, and later on enrolled to the Faculty of Psychology and Sociology. Her studies were interrupted in 2008 when her child got diagnosed with Autism and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), along with severe mental retardation and significant behavioural disturbance in a hospital for infantile psychiatry. A painful divorce followed shortly after, and since then on her life has followed many different routes. She now lives in Malta and works as a nutritionist; Diploma in Nutrition with Distinction by The Blackford Centre for Nutrition. To achieve the Diploma, she had to pass 15 written assignments, all based on practical, real life clients.  You can read more about her story, her services, and get in touch with her on www.healthashore.com/

Category: Guest posts

Comments (11)

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  1. Theresian Pisani says:

    Hi Mirela, was a pleasure reading your story and was interesting to get to know your story a little bit more in detail. So sorry to hear all the pain and hard times you faced and it is absolutely shocking what LSA’s and school staff members did and said about your child. I am glad you found the right path and all the best for the future, I am sure your hard work is and will contunue to pay off and your precious boy will grow up in a strong man !

    • Mirela Burhuc says:

      Hi, Theresian, thank you so much for your words and you know that we really treasured you a lot!The short time we had you at the private school was wonderful but unfortunately the whole system has to work together to create the right Inclusion. And there is still a lot of work. I believe that someone has to rethink how the education for children with special needs is given. Unfortunately people like you are rare in the educational system and through Learning Support Assistants. Hope that where you are right now is better and you are appreciated for your warmth and dedication! Best wishes!

      • Theresian Pisani says:

        Glad to hear from you . Oh appreciate your comments, it was a pleasure getting to know your boy and I learnt a lot from him. I work in a children’s nursery , it’s what I love doing and it’s so much fun being around children ! Take care and all the best !

  2. Wow what a story, and what incredible courage. I applaud you and your beautiful son. More and more people are understanding the system cannot serve their children.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h11u3vtcpaY

    • Mirela Burhuc says:

      Thank you, Lilia and yes, the youtube video is inspiring, appreciate! My best wishes!

  3. Sarah says:

    Your story moved me Mirela. I too, have a child with ASD and dypraxia and its been a roller coaster for us with different LSA’s and all the challenges of school. WE are getting through it wonderfully now thanks to finding someone who is perfect for my son but it took years to get there so I can totally empathise with your situation… But I cannot imagine how terribly hard it has been for you – changing countries, having no support, financial struggles, lack of understanding from the so called professionals… I admire you so much and I think you are an incredibly strong and courageous woman. I wish you and your son all the best for the future. He is very lucky to have you as his mother. xxxx

    • Mirela Burhuc says:

      Hi, Sarah, thank you so much for your words! I am so happy that your experience brought to you something good for your child in the end. Wish him all the very best and may him have all the love needed to grow up strong and happy! Hugs!

  4. Natalie says:

    Wow what an amazing story are u still living in Malta now?

    our son is 8 he has adhd and other things we are thinking of moving to Malta but I am a little worried regarding schooling for him and help he can get
    how do u think this will be for us as well will we get the help we need

    Hope u can help me

    • Mirela Burhuc says:

      Hi, Natalie, sorry, i just saw the message yesterday. Thank you for reading it and no, unfortunately i am not living anymore in Malta. Being a single mom, i couldnt survive there, financially speaking and as you read, i couldnt have a proper job because i had to look for my child all the time. Now we live a tragi-comedy because i have a child who learned to speak in english and we went back to our country, Romania, that has only one national language: romanian. Now, i am afraid that my answer will not be a good one for you. It is based, of course, on my experience there (so, it will be kind of subjective) but also the experience of many parents i have met there during all 4 years i spent there.

      I dont know exactly what kind of issues your son is having but from what i have noticed and experienced, the system in Malta is not yet prepared to really cater for these children (no matter what people say).

      But if you really need to move in Malta i would suggest a private school if you can afford. They pay a lot more of attention and you are treated like a human. Maybe that is the world nowadays: you receive better service if you pay, which is not fair at all but that is how it is.

      My son had multiple issues and for sure the idea of putting him in a state school wasnt good at all, and i regret i didnt follow my instinct. If you would need a support assistant, that will be a problem as well.

      You may contact me via email: miraburhuc@gmail.com and i would be very happy to give you more details if you want so you can take the best decision in this regard.

      Hugs!

  5. Mirela Burhuc there's a comment for you from Natalie below. Maybe you can help her by giving some advice?

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