My oldest son has autism. So do I, which means I have very little empathy —common with autism—but I have a lot of empathy for him not wanting to be in social situations, because I don’t want to be there either.
My memories of middle school are mostly me being lost in the world of social cues, and watching, ravenously, to try to understand what I was seeing. Everything I tried seemed to be wrong, but only after the fact, when kids thought I was weird for doing it.
So it didn’t surprise me when my son didn’t make friends at school. His third-grade IEP (individualized special education plan) specifically assigned a teacher and a time period for her to help him make friends, and still, there were no friends.
But something happened when we started homeschooling: I was able to devote a lot more time to finding friends. We could arrange our schedule around the schedules of other families because we have so much extra time in our lives. And the flexibility enabled us to explore possible friendships for my son very efficiently until we found two good friends.
We have had the same nanny for six years. We started when we lived in Madison, now she still lives there and my oldest son does sleepovers at her house, and she manages his play dates with his two friends, both of whom live in Madison, which is a 90 minute drive from our house. She knows his friendships amaze me, especially the one with the little girl his own age, so our nanny takes furtive photos and that make my heart melt.
We would not have been able to handle any of this if we had to navigate life around school. There are so many aspects to building a friendship. One aspect is proximity, which is what I think people think of when they think school is for making friends. But the other is space and time, which school consumes rather than provides.
If I had understood about how to grow and care for friendships, I probably would have understood sooner that homeschooling is better for socialization. It’s so obvious to me now, and I wish I could have had a small quiet space to find friends when I was young like my son has now.