I know there is a special demographic among homeschoolers that include special needs children. As a parent of a special needs child, I know how important it is to access resources for a child who might need far more support than their typically developing peers. But what if you are a parent with special needs? Do you still have the ability to homeschool your children? Should you even try?
In 2016, I was formally diagnosed with "Bipolar Disorder" by my Western medicine healthcare provider. Because mental health is so stigmatized these days and people throw around words so loosely, I will explain what bipolar disorder is for those who wish to be more informed. The National Institute of Mental Health's website (www.nimh.nih.gov) describes bipolar disorder as "a brain disorder that causes shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks". With me, although I work extremely hard to stay "in the middle" (an informal way of saying "stable" with my moods), I do experience manic episodes where I can stay up for 48-72 hours at a time, creating curriculum, books, cleaning, and organizing; I can also have depressive days where I go without showering, getting out of the bed, and absolutely no cleaning or cooking (for myself or the children).
Any parent who has children under the age of 7 knows how much energy and focus it takes just to keep up with 1 child. So, for me, keeping up with 4 children that are ages 7 and under is PURE MANIA! Regardless of my diagnosis, I was determined in my decision to homeschool my children. Even so, I know that this will be a continuous journey of constant evaluation of my symptoms and how they affect my children.
How do I manage my disorder & homeschool my children?
When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I immediately took the prescription drugs given to me by my psychiatrist. My moods had such a negative impact on my family & friends that I had to do something quick before I caused any more damage than I already had. With our family's homeschooling, I take on many roles currently- primary educator, healer/nurse, chef, maid, janitor, chauffeur, sports manager, etc. For those with bipolar disorder, we tend to get overwhelmed quite easy. These moments of being overwhelmed can lead to lashing out or complete shut down- neither of which is healthy for raising children, nurturing their brilliance, or providing the loving discipline necessary to bring up a well-rounded human being. So, sometimes, we have to just take our "pill" and swallow it for the benefit of those around us.
I went through 3 medication changes before I ultimately decided to trust in more Eastern and natural ways to heal myself and control my moods. Below is my regimen for managing my bipolar disorder while successfully homeschooling my crew:
I. Emotional & Physical Support
I have a wonderful support system! This immediately helps in reducing the feeling of being overwhelmed by the demands of homeschooling. My husband, although he travels frequently, is always available at the drop of a dime to talk to me when I need to hear an encouraging word. He listens to me when I state what I need and even times when I'm not sure what I need, he's attentive enough to do the things he knows will help my current mood or situation. My mother is retired and has come to stay with our family for lengths of time when I need help with demands of keeping up a home. She has come for 1 month before and did all of the cleaning, washing, and cooking- which left time for me to simply focus on the academic/scholastic side of our homeschool days.
I also have great friends who (1) purchase education supplies for our children, (2) assist with meal preparation to give me a break, and (3) pick up/drop off my children to their various activities to lighten my load.
My husband is my greatest supporter. He's an over-the-road truck driver and he's gone 11 days and home for 3 days. He checks on me daily. We do video chat on a regular basis and it helps me just knowing he's thinking of us. If he senses signs of me becoming overwhelmed he orders food to be delivered to the house through Uber Eats or Speedwaiter. Every time he comes home, we have date night! He hires a sitter and we stay out all night...giving me that one on one time to vent, talk, relax, laugh out loud, feel loved and have his undivided attention. A lot of LOVE goes a LONG WAY!
2. Community Support
Some people have the idea that unschooling or homeschooling only takes place within the bubble of the 4 walls inside your home. FALSE! I utilize the resources within my community to assist in our journey because let's face it- HELP IS GOOD & we can't do it all by ourselves. Any free workshops or activities that the children are interested in, might give them exposure to opportunities, or coincides with our homeschool agenda- I schedule it! When I need assistance with math instruction, I hire a trusted tutor who comes in 2 hours per week for only $80/month. I also place the children in teams and learning centers that are STEM-centered to keep them on point and which I just don't have the interest or time to put into learning and then teaching myself.
3. Demonstrate Patience for Myself & My Children
Learning is a life-long journey. I am only giving my children a foundation for character building, self mastery, and education that will be a life-long endeavor and make living a life of purpose, on purpose more manageable and successful. I give myself a break. I give my children a break and realize that Afrika wasn't built in a day. Things take time. They will grasp concepts in time. I will become a more skilled and effective educator in time. That's a learning journey all in itself.
4. DO YOUR OWN WORK!
I am accountable for how I respond to events and circumstances in my life. So, although I do acknowledge having a chemical imbalance in my brain, I still am responsible and accountable for my actions (outbursts and mania- ALL OF IT). My current routine I'm working: