I May Be Teaching Austen, but She’s Teaching Me, Too

Meagan Cheney avatar

by Meagan Cheney |

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Because I started home-schooling my kids late last July, we are quickly approaching the end of our school year. Throughout the year, I have been riddled with fear about my capability of home-schooling three children and giving Austen, my 5-year-old with Dravet syndrome, the one-on-one attention she needs to thrive with her kindergarten curriculum.

At first, I took it slowly. I told myself I would let her lead. When she was ready to move on, we would move on. But I soon realized that my teaching insecurities were holding her back.

My 7-year-old son, Atlas, quickly moved through two grades of math this year. When he showed me that he had thoroughly mastered a lesson, I let him move on to the next one. With Austen, on the other hand, I was a little — OK, a lot — more cautious. Atlas could do two or three pages of a lesson and prove to me he understood it. I wanted Austen to do all of the pages in her lesson.

Was this fair? Not at all. Luckily for me, she loves schoolwork, so she didn’t complain.

Around Christmas, I realized what I had been doing and challenged myself to make things fair. After all, it was my insecurities holding her back, not her inability to do the work.

Since then, Austen has flown through her lessons, especially math. Since she was a baby, she has easily been able to memorize songs, so as long as you can teach her a lesson in song format, she will understand it quickly. I am not afraid to say that I lean heavily on the show “Numberblocks” when teaching her math. It might sound crazy, but she knows that 10 + 40 = 50 off the top of her head, so something is working.

I’m not trying to say that my child is a genius. I know she has challenges and delays, and we don’t shy away from addressing them. While she is on track with math and reading, she still struggles a lot with writing.

Her fine motor skills just aren’t strong enough for her to handle pencils correctly right now, and they may never be. But I can’t let her delays in some areas affect her grades in others. As long as Austen can tell me the answer, I’m happy to write it down for her, and we work on writing together at a slower pace.

At the beginning of this school year, I was so afraid to teach Austen. I didn’t want to mess this up, and I was scared she would end the year further behind than when she started. Looking back, I realize that not only is Austen capable of learning, but she is capable of teaching, too. She has taught me not to give in to fear, and to keep looking forward, no matter what life throws at me.

Four years of seizures have not kept Austen down. A year without therapies because of COVID-19 has not kept her down, either. She keeps going, fighting, and learning. So will I.

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Note: Dravet Syndrome News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Dravet Syndrome News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Dravet syndrome.