Children with autism often struggle in mainstream classrooms, where their sensory needs cannot be adequately addressed, and their developmental delays often result in painful social ostracizing and bullying. Homeschool is not always the answer to these problems, but it is one option for families struggling with the school system. Homeschooling gives you the flexibility to adapt to your child’s needs in the moment. If he is spinning wildly around the room, there is no point in trying to teach fractions! Instead, take a 20-minute sensory break, then come back to the math lesson.
Before you decide to homeschool your autistic child, keep in mind that assuming full, personal responsibility for his education can be daunting, especially if – like me – you have no formal training as a teacher. However, it can be truly amazing how much children learn if you simply provide the right atmosphere and encourage them to explore.
In the three years that I have homeschooled my two autistic children, I have learned a few things that will help if you are currently homeschooling or are considering transitioning out of mainstream schooling.
Borrowing From the Classroom
Structure and routine is crucial for the autistic child. If your child is transitioning out of a mainstream classroom, he will recognize certain elements of the school day. Create a daily visual schedule similar to what his teacher used in the classroom, and let him be “Schedule Helper” each day. Using a schedule that he already associates with school will help him transition from playtime to school time, and will help him understand that even though you might be sitting at the kitchen table, he is still “in school.
classroom management tools help autistic kids transition into school time
If you have an extra bedroom, den, or family room, you might want to consider setting up a dedicated classroom. This will help you keep school supplies from migrating all over the house, and will help your child transition into school mode.
If, like many autistic children, yours has sensory needs be sure to speak to his Occupational Therapist about integrating sensory diet activities into your homeschool routine. I plan a 15 to 20 minute sensory break at the very beginning of our day, because one of my children needs alerting activities before he can focus and the other (my sensory seeker) needs calming activities. I find that addressing their sensory needs first makes the entire day go much more smoothly.
Sensory activities, such as swinging, help some autistic children maintain focus
Keep small sensory items available in your school space. I keep a plastic rice bin handy because I find that burying his hand in rice helps my son focus on his work. He also sits on a large yoga ball instead of a traditional chair. Yes, my son bounces while he listens to me read, but he can tell you exactly what happened in the story. If he had to sit on a stationary chair during the same story, he would be so distracted he wouldn’t even hear the words.
One of the hallmarks of autism is difficulty in social situations. Our children have to learn social behavior just like they learn reading and math – it’s an academic subject. We read social stories, discuss and role play social situations as a regular part of our school day. We also participate in extra curricular activities that give our kids a chance to practice their social skills in the real world.
Extra curricular activities allow kids to practice
social skills in real world situations
Learning Styles and Curriculum
|Homeschooling allows the |
flexibility to adapt to your child's
preferred learning style
Every child has a different learning style. Some are highly visual, while others learn best by hearing or doing. One of our kids learns best on the computer, so he does his more difficult subjects electronically. Another learns best by listening and discussing, so we accommodate that preference. They will not always have the option of learning through their preferred style, so we make sure to push them outside their comfort zones every so often, usually with a subject they are already comfortable with.
There are a lot of curriculum options available to homeschoolers. Sometimes we’ve found that a curriculum that looked great on paper simply didn’t work well in practice. That’s ok, because we aren’t tied to it. When our Kindergarten math curriculum became too easy for our younger son, we put the book away. He’s finishing the school year learning hands-on math topics such as telling time, identifying and counting currency, and measuring. Next year he will move on to a more advanced math curriculum.
Homeschooling, fundamentally, allows us to do what works for our individual kids. It is a legal educational option in every state, but the rules and regulations for homeschooling vary widely. Some states simply require that you declare yourself a homeschool, while others require strict testing and record keeping. Research your state’s requirements before you decide to homeschool your child.