I think the answer to this question is pretty simple in that a major part of school is the social aspects of learning. For any child special or not school teaches a child a lot when it comes to interacting with others. No parent ever wants anything bad to happen to their child. But keeping a child away from others with only diminish their ability to function in the real world. At some point parents have to put their selfish feelings(i say selfish in a good way) aside and do what is best for the child. Keeping the child away from the world is the worst thing to do to a child especially one with special needs. It's a struggle but in the long run it will be best for the child.
As a parent, you have probably learned the hard way that people will judge you at every turn, and they don't know.
I also have an autistic child who's now 23, and I chose what was best for him, given our situation and my resources. A lot of people made judgments, but as they were not stepping up to help, I did not have respect for their opinions anyway.
Even if it would have been the best situation for that child in other circumstances, this is the best solution for that child with those parents. You have to leave it up to the parents in their situation.
After reading your added notes, I think there may be other family things going on here. You seem to know a lot of details about what the mom does or does not do, given that you have a job and family of your own. Also, what does being illegal have to do with it? Ask yourself if you are letting other judgments cloud your opinion, and how you would feel if someone had a less-than-favorable opinion of your parenting - and believe me, there is someone out there who does! I know from experience.
In the UK it is a little more complicated than it appears. Some Education Authorities always misinterpret the Education Acts as stating that "All children must attend school". This is actually untrue. What the law does state is that "all children, between the ages of five and 16 must be educated". This does not mean they have to go to school. More and more parents are opting for "Home Teaching" nowadays as they are afraid that standards are too poor in schools and schools are becoming too dangerous to send the kids to. However, should any parent decide not to send his / her child to school, they have to be prepared to prove that either they have the ability and knowledge to teach the child themselves and / or prove that they have the means (money) to pay for enough private tuition to meet the National Curriculum. If the parent refuses to send the child to school, he / she faces a heavy fine and / or imprisonment if he / she cannot prove either of the two alternatives. I'm not sure of US Law but I do believe that it varies between States.
First of all, why is your job to judge whether the parent is able to teach her child? I'm really not trying to sound antagonistic, but you're not that child's mother - and as much as your own experience seems good to you, that child's future is not up to your choices.
While school experiences can be largely beneficial, school isn't the right place for everybody - nor is it designed to be. Yes, parents do have to do what's right for their child to get the best possible education - whether that includes school programs, independent tutoring, or homeschool. It really is her choice, whether you agree with that choice or not.
Maybe she is being a bit overprotective - but again, that's her place to determine. Maybe there are factors that you're not aware of, or maybe this is just something developmentally that the child and mother need to grow through. Autism is not the same as Down's, and you haven't specified how high functioning the children used as examples are. There is a very wide gap between high and low functioning Down's kids, and some of them, whatever their level, really are better off home schooling or getting independent tutoring...just like kids who don't have Down's. My son is highly (bordering on profoundly) gifted and dyslexic, and he has some health issues that relate to a severe childhood illness; while he is completely able to function in a classroom and meet the objectives, the school is not the best place for him for several reasons. For those reasons, I homeschool him quite successfully.
Please understand that homeschooled kids of all different ability ranges can have many of the same experiences as a child in school - classes to attend, field trips, sports, music, etc. - but they have them at their level, whatever that may be, and they have them in an environment that is safe for them to grow into. They have their curriculum and activities specifically tailored to their needs...and only the very best of schools can offer that.
My advice to you would be to either be her friend or to stay out of it completely - but please don't be her judge and jury. I'm sure that you had situations in raising autistic kids where people didn't approve of your choices...did their judgment help you in the least? If she is having trouble deciding what to do, maybe the best thing you can do is lend her a listening ear and give her the chance to work things out for herself. Having a Down's child, while they are wonderful kids, is certainly not a cakewalk...and she may just be exhausted and at the end of her rope.
Just please don't equate your two situations - the only similarity is that you both have kids who are different than the norm. Please be understanding and realize that there are many other factors that enter into your individual situations.
Edit...I know I'm probably going to stir up a hornet's nest here...but hopefully at least her children are legal? Or she somehow pays taxes (her husband is legal) to support the schools?
Maybe, if the mom isn't willing to put her child in school, you could help her find resources (like a homeschool support group) that could help guide her and give social opportunities for her and the child. In your state, would she have to register as a homeschooler (calling attention to her illegal status)? I would think that the IEP process and other factors may really be scaring her.
I agree that the child needs a good education, as well as social opportunities on her level, but in the end it really is the mother's choice. I'm not saying that you don't love your niece or desire to look after her, but maybe it would be better to support the mother in what she chooses and help her make the best of it, at least for the time being.
Also, most states don't mandate school attendance at 5...usually it's 6 or 7. Maybe this year could be spent showing her how to set up playdates with neighbor kids, or help her find a support group that can deal with special needs kids?
LEGALLY, the child MUST be educated at home or in the school beginning by age 5 (at the latest 6).
Should the mother or whomever not have the ability to provide home schooling, the child must attend school regardless of having a disability (that does not make a difference).
If she simply ignores the law, she may have to deal with child protective services or worse...
You stated that she is an illegal immigrant.why is she trying to draw attention to her family and status?
Depends on what the mandatory school age is in your state. In some, kindergarten is not required. You have to check with State Ed. Someone could file a CPS report because a handicapped child is not getting services but even then there is no clear cut answer unless the problem is medical. Sounds like the mother is frightened of loosing control of her child and is afraid of what will happen. Perhaps you could encourage her to visit the school with you and have her spend some time there. The professionals in the school should be looking for ways to make her more comfortable. Kids with disabilities do best when the parent and school work as a team.
A parent can refuse to send a child to school. In Florida it is much easier to homeschool than many states, and even then education is not required until the age of six.
The best thing for YOUR children may be education within the public school, but it's not fair for anyone to judge that for another parent and child. It's NOT the best thing for many children. Just because a parent does not have a formal education, does not mean that they are so ignorant that they could not learn along with their child. In fact, in studies it has shown that there is no significant difference between the education between a homeschooled child with a parent with a college degree and that with a GED, and both perform over the average public schooled child on standardized tests.
As for special ed, Florida is actually at the bottom of the list in services in the entire country, and there are parents on the autism support list who complain every day about their child not getting the services they require in that state. It's a nationwide problem, the fact is that kids DO need a lot of work when they have special needs and schools don't have the funding and time to do it all. Sometimes they are even sneaky and say they will provide services, and they don't. I find that many parents are content with what their children are receiving, not aware that there are better things and better ways.
I have two children with autism, and the socialization and independence found at school is not the same that you find in the real world. The stress of trying to fit in wasn't worth it, and my kids have made better progress living in the real world. Homeschooling has progressed my children both academically and socially without having to deal with a false ideal of socialization that doesn't exist after you graduate from high school. I'm really sick of the socialization argument, it's false and has been proven so by independent studies.
All of your additional information I've forgotten, except the general gist. You feel that the child will be too isolated, that the services at school would be better. That may be true, but your question is Is it possible for a parent to refuse school for a handicapped child. The answer is yes, and it's really not for anyone else to say if it was appropriate or not. I'm sorry for you, and I *am* glad you are concerned for your niece. Is it possible for YOU to take the mom to a support group meeting so that she can see the implications of the choices that she is making? Try to support her and help her set up a really competent program at home, and see what else you can do to help.
State Compulsory School Attendance Laws
It is mandatory that the child be receiving education to age 16. The parent can send her to public school, private school, homeschool, etc, but the child must be in school. If she is not, children's services can remove her from the home for neglect and the school district can follow state laws about compulsory attendance from fines to jail time for the parent.
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