By Allison Trotter

I’ve been asked to write about our decision to homeschool Jackson, our middle school son with autism, a number of times.  People’s response falls into two camps: extremely skeptical or enthusiastically supportive.  There seems to be little gray area on this issue.  As a former high school teacher, I never thought twice about my ability to educate my child, so the negative response took me a bit off guard until I realized that many people are intimidated by the complexities of autism education, therefore believe it ought to be left to qualified professionals.

As I was brainstorming how to explain our decision to an audience of professional educators who support an inclusive approach to special education, I felt an analogy would be an interesting way to illustrate our situation.

In addition to autism education, I am also passionate about healthy living.  I have been researching and implementing healthy nutritional, dietary and environmental lifestyle choices for over a decade.  I am a huge Michael Pollan fan and have been an advocate for local food before it became the latest craze.  So, it only seems fitting to have the local organic family farm represent our family in this analogy.  On the flip side, let’s have BigAgra business (like a Tysons or Purdue) represent any institutional school system, public or private.

With this in mind, the scenario I present to you is this:  A BigAgra business acquires a small local organic family farm.  What challenges do you foresee in this merger?  What steps need to be taken by both parties to ensure a successful transition?  And, is there ever a time to dissolve this newly created partnership because the two farms are just not compatible?

Inclusion of a small organic family farm into a massive, government subsidized and regulated farm is going to be challenging for sure.  But there are steps that can be taken to respect the integrity of the local farm without compromising the requirements of the big agricultural machine.  Compromise must be made on both sides for this partnership to work, and if it can work, how wonderful for all parties involved!  The local farm gets huge exposure to new and innovative ideas and practices, and the large farm gets a refresher course on the value of individual care and attention to purity and quality of each morsel of food produced.

Sadly, my precious organic family farm, which I had tended with painstaking care every day for twelve long, hard years, with every ounce of heart and soul I had, got plowed over and salted without anyone ever consulting me. One day, it was there, and the next it was gone.

The decision to homeschool Jackson came very suddenly and very emphatically as we were sitting in an “emergency IEP” meeting six weeks into the start of middle school.  We had no idea he was having trouble until we got a letter in his binder requesting a meeting to address his behaviors and lack of academic progress.  We felt blindsided in the meeting because all the reports home up until that point seemed fine. During the meeting, it became very clear that this large public school of over 2,000 students that housed an autism center with over 220 students had only one system. In this system, every student had to conform to it, and unlike our excellent public elementary school, there was absolutely no room for individualization based on the needs of the child. We were essentially told, “that is how we do it here, and Jackson needs to learn to adapt because middle school is tough and he has to figure it out like everyone else.” All of a sudden we realized that our special needs son was a product and not a person.

My local organic family farm was being swallowed up by an agricultural machine that had no time or interest in our silly ideas or sustainable practices to ensure a healthy and vibrant future for not only our food but for our greater community.

So now, we homeschool, and we spend more time out and about in our city, meeting people, sharing our ideas, teaching tolerance and acceptance of diversity, spreading our passion for learning, and growing the highest quality human beings that we can with our small organic family farm of unique and awesome people.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted in 2012 and has been updated with a new featured image and formatting.

Allison Trotter is a former high school government and economics teacher and writes for her blog Homeschooling Autism. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.