Their first child, Adam, was born with cerebral palsy, and in comparison, Ben seemed fine - just a little eccentric, like his refusal to finger paint or touch food without a spoon or fork. However, by the time Ben turned 2, the couple sensed he was exhibiting something more serious than idiosyncratic behavior. For instance, he still didn't speak. Instead, Ben babbled in his own language, which his older brother translated for their parents.
That year a physician diagnosed Ben with Sensory Integration Disorder. Yet, the more Leslie began researching, the more she suspected Ben's behavior was indicative of a similar but more disturbing disorder, autism.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every 110 children has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and to Leslie and Mark, Ben's hypersensitivity to the environment, his inability to relate to others socially, and his obsessive-compulsive tendencies were all signs that pointed to the disease.
Because of Ben's tendencies, the Meyers prayed about where Ben should go to school. She and Mark knew their son didn't belong in a public school, where he ran the risk of being picked on, overlooked, and underestimated by his peers. Plus, few teachers could dedicate the time Ben needed, nor would he thrive around slammed books, loud voices, and occasional chaos.
At home, Leslie could control distractions and routines. Ben would also receive one-on-one attention, and he would be taught at his personal level, rather than his age or grade. When he was finally officially diagnosed as autistic at age 9, his parents were relieved. Though Leslie had homeschooled Ben since kindergarten, her decision to homeschool her son was confirmed as the right decision, and she now felt she could truly reach him.
"This was the missing piece of the puzzle," Leslie said of the identification of her son's disease. "Then it just hit me one night. This was God telling me I was supposed to homeschool."
Autistic students are homeschooled in many ways, including Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), the Charlotte Mason method, and unschooling, so choosing the right path can be daunting. After years of homeschooling with paper materials, which kept Ben bored and Leslie busy tapping him to regain his attention, they began to look for an alternative that would let him learn at his own pace in his own time.
With Ben's knack for technology, Leslie decided to try Switched-On Schoolhouse® from Alpha Omega Publications®, the same computer-based program his older brother used. Ben took to it immediately, completing his first year of SOS with B's in every subject but math. According to Leslie, SOS works well for Ben for several reasons, including his need to read a passage multiple times for full comprehension.
"The computer is very patient, and he can go back and read it as many times as he needs to," she said. "I really think we wouldn't know what to do without SOS."
She said computer learning also gives Ben the diligence to finish lessons, independence to work on his own, and self-esteem because he doesn't have to pick up a pen.
"His handwriting is pretty atrocious," Leslie admitted, "but this gives him the confidence to not have to worry about handwriting or have to concentrate on his handwriting and forget his answer. And nobody has to sit and be his scribe."
Today, Ben is a well-adjusted 14-year-old who reads at his own grade level, though he retains some autistic behaviors that will probably never disappear. He balks at any change in routine, so Leslie announces dinner five minutes early to let him adjust to the fact that he'll be transitioning to a new activity. In conversation, he's blunt to the point of not knowing when he's impolite. In addition, Ben will probably never be able to infer or anticipate a need. For example, when he's the last one out the front door, he has to be reminded to close it.
Despite the daily hiccups, Ben has made astounding progress in the past decade, which his mom attributes primarily to homeschooling. The family plans to use SOS throughout Ben's high school career, which begins this fall.
"Above all, special needs children need to grow up knowing they're normal and loved," Leslie said. "Special needs kids just need to be homeschooled to excel. That way, you can meet them where they are. If it's third grade math and eighth grade science, that's what you do."
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