There are so many things to consider when considering whether homeschooling a child with autism makes sense and is what is best for their overall development.
Many parents realize that their child isn’t thriving in the traditional classroom setting, they tend to seek advice for their struggling learner and may wonder whether they should homeschool.
That advice can come from support groups, technicians that are working with the child, other parents, homeschooling families, the list can seem endless. There are helpful online resources, but I would caution you to use credible sources like the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), when seeking local laws and regulations.
As a homeschool parent myself, I hope to offer advice and ideas in this article drawn from my personal experiences and research. I hope parents considering homeschooling a child with autism find what I have to say somewhat useful.
Autism Parenting Magazine is not associated with or sponsored by any programs or materials in this article. It is also recommended to double check the resources provided in this article as information is always changing.
Are parents capable of teaching their children with autism?
People who consider home education often wonder if they are qualified to teach their child. They worry that they won’t be able to provide the child with autism enough support for their education and development.
I can assure parents that are considering homeschooling a child with autism spectrum disorder, that they are qualified to teach their child or children. There is an array of curriculums available where parents can either follow step-by-step instructions while using the helpful resources the curriculum provides, or they can search curriculum reviews to find what fits their family’s specific needs and child’s learning style.
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Homeschooling a Child With Autism
It is important to remember that parents are advocates for their children and are truly invested in their child’s health, education, and life and want what’s in the best interest of their children. Parents who are considering whether to homeschool are generally motivated and looking for a direction in their child’s education. In this context, it is hard to imagine who would make a better teacher than a parent.
Sources like the HSLDA also provide online resources to support families that have a struggling learner. They cover differing needs, whether the learner is autistic, needs help developing handwriting skills, or any other need in between. There are many homeschool programs available that provide the learning tools and teaching materials needed for lessons to succeed.
How to start, when considering homeschooling a child with autism
There is no one size fits all curriculum available that will meet the needs of every child, every time. It takes diligence, discernment, and a never ending love of learning and research to know what is available and what works best for the child.
As an experienced homeschool mom with eight years of continuing education of what works best for my children, I have learned so much during my family’s homeschool journey. One of my children was diagnosed with autism and one with sensory processing disorder (SPD); each of them have their own needs and interests.
I learned, through trial and error and a lot of research, that my children do the best with a child-led, hands-on curriculum. It has also helped to have frequent breaks throughout the day so that they are able to process what they have learned, along with token charts, visuals, and goals to work towards each day, week, semester, etc.
I was able to come to what works in my homeschool by figuring out what learning style my children have. Once I figured out my children are kinesthetic (hands-on) and auditory learners my next step was talking to them and working towards figuring out what they are interested in.
After we discuss what they are interested in learning, I am then able to seek out ideas of what to teach, following my children’s interests, state guidelines, and things we may be working on like handwriting and coordination skills. We really enjoy lap-books and projects that allow creativity that are also open-ended, while teaching my children what we discussed and provide opportunities to practice skills we may be working on.
There aren’t many curriculums that are all inclusive, so I had to make sure to fill in any gaps I noticed were necessary. For first time homeschooling families, filling in those gaps can be scary and I recommend that, if parents are concerned, they can either check out a reputable homeschool website or hire a homeschool evaluator or consultant who can help figure out where potential gaps could be and point families in the direction to fill those gaps.
What are the benefits of homeschooling?
The benefits of homeschooling children with autism spectrum disorder will vary depending on the homeschool family and any special needs that should be met. Some reasons may include, but not be limited to:
- Flexibility: the ability to choose what is best for the child, being able to work around appointments, etc.
- Customizable: once a parent figures out what their child(ren) needs, they can purchase an effective homeschool program and add to it helpful resources that help with the success of the child(ren). They can also provide necessary brain breaks and outdoor time that the child may miss
- Knowing what the child(ren) are learning: along with being able to customize curriculum to child(ren), parents will know what their child(ren) are learning and how, this also allows the parent to teach things that the public school is unable to teach
- Safety: there are safety concerns that public schools are unable to meet because of the sheer number of children they are educating
- Success: although guaranteeing the success of an individual is difficult to measure and maintain in both the individual and public school, knowing and learning about successful families can help provide the support and knowledge homeschooling families can use and be inspired by
- Experiences child(ren) may miss out from: there are field trips, meeting different people and professionals, that help to shape out what a child may be learning and since they are homeschooling, the parent can plan the interactions based on whatever lessons the child(ren) are learning
- Having the ability to meet individual needs: parents can call on the support of the people that are already working with their children, whether it is therapists, technicians, or other professionals within the network providing support for the child. The parent, along with the other people, can meet together discussing what the child may need and what can be incorporated into the homeschool day that may help move the child forward in their sessions
- Developing social skills: children with autism spectrum disorders typically have a hard time working on and practicing social skills. Children who are homeschooled tend to have more social activities that help develop social skills like varied field trips and activities
Is there a curriculum that is specific to children with autism?
There are curriculums that will state they are specific for autistic children and their learning needs. I can say, from my experience, that there is no curriculum that covers all the needs of all children with autism.
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Creating that curriculum would be very difficult because, although there may be similarities, there are more differences between individual autistic children and how they learn and understand the world around them. Many caregivers have benefitted from using a homeschool consultant when checking out the different programs, especially those that say they are for teaching autism.
It is wise to remember that, if someone declares they have an all-in-one curriculum, to double check the program online, talk to other homeschooling families, and check out different curriculum reviews. That way a parent can check out what other families are saying and get ideas for whether or not the curriculum they are considering will work for their child(ren).
So, there are curriculums that could do an amazing job supporting an autistic learner, they are not all inclusive and most require additional resources. Finding a quality core curriculum and working around it using inspiring ideas from a site like Pinterest or adding interactive games based on what the child(ren) are learning can help cement what is being taught.
Can I really teach my autistic child?
Most parents are fully capable of teaching their children and providing them with a quality education. There are guidelines for each state, province, etc. Those guidelines can be found online, and I have personally used the HSLDA website because they have up to date information.
It is important to note that there is support for parents that are starting their homeschool journey and those that may have been homeschooling a child with autism for a while. There could be a support group near you that also provides children the opportunity to connect, work on skills, and make friends with other homeschooling families and children.
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Homeschooling a Child With Autism
There are support groups that can be specific, like caregivers with children within the autism community. So, not only could a parent be homeschooling, they would also be teaching children with autism, and being around other people who understand and have ideas can help point families in the right direction.
Sometimes personal stories about homeschooling can help people put themselves in someone else’s shoes and learn new ways to move the homeschool journey forward. There is more than likely another homeschooling parent who has experienced similar circumstances and found ideas and tips that worked in their homeschool.