Freedom from Four White Walls

The best part about homeschooling Jackson has been the freedom we have regarding "out of the classroom" activities. We are not limited to 2 field trips a year or 1 CBI (Community Based Instruction) per month. We go out and about every single day. We go shopping, walk the dog, visit parks, libraries, and monuments. We meet all kinds of interesting people and ask a zillion random questions. We learn new life skills and practice, practice, practice social interactions.

Children with special needs have many developmental obstacles to overcome. Being stuck inside a classroom all day limits their ability to practice many of the critical life skills that they will need once they become adults and are expected to integrate into a "neurotypical" society. So Jackson and I take every opportunity to head outside of our dining room table-top classroom and explore the world around us. I categorize our excursions into 3 main groups with each one having it's own set of rules so he knows what to expect and can mentally prepare for each trip. This minimizes behavioral outbursts that are usually a result of confusion over expectations on his part.

1. Shopping - Every day, after we do our Morning Work, we head out to run errands. We typically leave the house around 10:00 and come home by 11:00. This is our time to practice everyday social and communication skills such as asking store employees for help, paying for items, counting money, waiting in line, talking with a quiet voice, using lists to buy only a few items, making hard choices about wants verses needs, etc... During these outings, he is allowed to have his iPod. This is important because the iPod gives him a tremendous amount of comfort and security that allows me to challenge him with harder social and communication tasks because he is already at ease and calm. Our favorite errands are grocery stores, coffee shops, big box stores, and anywhere that has enough people and commotion that any of his verbal or behavioral miscues go generally unnoticed.

2. CBI - Community Based Instruction A few times a week we try to do a CBI trip. CBI stands for "Community Based Instruction" which is a well known part of most special needs curriculum around the country. While it has always been a favorite activity of Jackson's, the public schools have decreased the number of outings to only a few a year due to decreased funding, transportation issues, behavioral concerns, and rapidly increasing numbers of special needs students per classroom. This has been a big disappointment for us since the community is such a critical part of his learning environment. The purpose of a CBI trip is not as much social/comunication skills practice as it is life experience gathering. It is our opportunity to show Jackson how many cool and exciting things are out there to see and do, so when he gets discouraged or frustrated with his limitations, we can remind him of all that is possible and not just what is impossible for him. So, thankfully, now that we homeschool, I can do as many CBIs as I want! We have already gone to the library, movie theater, mall, restaurants, lakes, parks, sporting events, and a college campus in the last 2 weeks. And there are so many more places try, such as farms, train stations, local museums, military bases, nature centers...the list goes on and on! I often allow the iPod on these trips, unless I think it will be disruptive or distracting. I want Jackson to take in the big picture during these activities and the iPod helps him focus and tune out any irritating sensory things that might derail the experience. These trips typically last an hour or so, and that can be a long period of time for him to "hold it together".

3. Field Trip At least once a month, I would like to take Jackson on a full day field trip. These outings are much more planned out and academic in nature. This month, we went to The White House. We spent a week learning all about it here at home before we ventured downtown to check out the real thing. I try to give Jackson a very detailed schedule of the day so he knows exactly what we will be doing and when. He is not allowed to have an iPod during these trips because I want him to be more actively involved in the learning process. I do allow him to take pictures which helps me guide him to certain objects of interest for us to discuss or highlight topics we learned about previously. I asked him to make a movie of our White House field trip using my iPhone, thinking it would be a cool way for him to capture the day and help him remember the important parts. But the craziest thing happened, he immediately switched my phone from video to camera and began taking pictures of all the protestors. He was fascinated with them all. He took pictures of their faces, their signs, their megaphones, their tents...He was drawn to the people around The White House, not the actual building itself.
It was a remarkable moment for me as I watched him study these people and show such a genuine interest in their emotions and faces. As we proceeded to walk around Lafayette Square and down towards the Washington Monument, he must have taken over 100 pictures of random people. What struck me about his desired subjects, was that he did not take one single picture of a man or woman in a business suit. Here we are, standing smack dab in the middle to the most powerful city on Earth, with very important people swirling all around us on their Blackberries, drinking their Starbucks, and he completely ignored them. He only took pictures of everyday people. It was neat for me to see humanity through his eyes and see what he values, not what the world tells me I should value in a person. I am excited to see what both Jackson and I learn on these adventures! Some of my other field trip ideas are the Newseum, Library of Congress, Great Falls, Mount Vernon, Baltimore Aquarium, Bull Run Battlefield, the list just goes on and on.

I had a lightbulb moment when we were sitting in our public school IEP meeting a few weeks ago to discuss Jackson's behavioral outbursts since beginning middle school. When Paul and I were discussing some of the techniques we use to manage Jackson's behavior, we talked a lot about how we do it while out and about in the community. The head administrator of the autism program looked at us with a shocked expression on his face, and said, "you take him out?" It hit me at that very moment that this man and that entire program would never "get it" in regards to not just Jackson but to developmentally disabled individuals in general. It broke my heart that this man did not believe in Jackson and never would. We pulled him out of that school the next day. So yes, "I take him out" and I love every glorious moment of seeing him discover the world around him and all of his potential in that world.

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  1. Allison- my graduate degree was in Transition for students with special needs and for my first five years of teaching, I coordinated Fairfield's transition program (CBI, job placements, peer relationships) for students 15-21. Hooray for you for demanding that Jackson go out in his community and be a part of it! I enjoy hearing the things that you are doing and the ways that you are sharing all that he has to offer the world. Kudos, Mom :-)


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