If you’re considering the homeschooling path for your child, chances are you’re not satisfied with your child’s current educational setting. Whether it’s a public or private school, some parents or guardians discover the typical learning environment there just contains too many factors that can negatively impact their children. What works well for some children with autism doesn’t work for all.
For example, some kids with autism have a hard time learning in a place where there are noisy halls, crowded rooms, rigid schedules, and the expectation they behave the same way as their neurotypical peers. Because most schools force kids to endure at least some of these conditions, they aren’t always a successful route for learning.
Homeschooling in the US
There are approximately 2.3 million kids ages 5–17 homeschooled in the US today. The rate of homeschooling has grown at a rate of eight percent every year. What’s interesting is homeschooled children score higher on standardized tests: 15–30 percent more than private or public school students.
Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, but each state has specific rules and requirements. Parents and caregivers who are considering homeschooling their child need to check the homeschooling rules in their state.
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Homeschooling a Child With Autism
Some homeschooling requirements include:
- A notice you are homeschooling sent to your state or school district
- A minimum level of education for parents to be qualified to homeschool
- Keeping and maintaining records of grades and attendance
- A set number of hours and days per year the child must be homeschooled
- Standardized tests
Homeschooling is fast becoming a popular alternative education for parents and their children. There are multiple reasons parents may decide to homeschool their children. Some of these are:
School and bullying
In addition to intellectual and physical challenges, children with autism face the risk of getting bullied in school, which can prevent him/her from developing social skills. A 2016 study reveals special needs students are being bullied in school more than students without special needs.
Chad Rose, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia who conducted the study, said: “Schools need to further develop these programs by tailoring social development goals for each individual student to ensure they are learning the social skills that will help them prevent bullying from occurring.”
Rose’s call for schools to enforce better learning services for special needs children seems to go unheeded.
Special needs mom and founder of Wondermoms.org Jackie Nunes decided to homeschool her special needs child due to disappointment with the school system.
In a blog post, Nunes wrote, “Although some school districts do a good job of accommodating kids with physical, intellectual, emotional, developmental, and sensory disabilities—helping them reach their full potential—they are the exception rather than the rule.” Nunes says that homeschooling can provide special needs children with one-on-one attention and tailored learning that fits their learning style.
School and autism-related difficulties
Parents of children with autism know there are certain places, noises, smells, and sights their children don’t like. This includes a regular school setting.
Annabelle Short, a writer and autism mom, wrote about her son in an article: “When I took him into his new class for the first time, I could see his agitation right away. Not only was it a new place that he was supposed to spend the day in without his parents, but it was also full of 20 loud classmates and bright fluorescent lights.” Short decided to homeschool her son before the school year was over.
Some parents, while able to see the benefits of homeschooling, can have reservations in choosing this non-traditional method of education for their child. For one, there is a misconception that homeschooled children do not get much-needed social interaction from other kids their age.
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Another issue is parents are not sure how to homeschool autism. Some parents may not have the time, resources, or right frame of mind to homeschool. As for parents who are willing to homeschool, they may need to figure out autism teaching strategies to go with an autism homeschool curriculum.
How to homeschool autism
To start homeschooling a child with autism, you would need to do the following:
1. Check your state’s law regarding homeschooling and ensure compliance.
2. If your child is still in regular school, learn the steps to remove him/her and transition to homeschooling.
4. Decide on a teaching style:
- Classic homeschooling: a method derived from the Middle Ages, it teaches the five tools of learning known as the Trivium (reason, record, research, relate, and rhetoric).
- Charlotte Mason Method: this Christian-based method is based on the teachings of Charlotte Mason, a homeschooling pioneer where sessions are completed in 15–20 minutes for elementary level activities. This method is focused on child-led learning and gives less importance to lectures.
- Montessori Method: this method fosters art and creativity, providing a visual and tactile environment for young children to learn and play.
- Unschooling: created by John Holt, unschooling is an unconventional, activity-intensive, and learn-as-you-go approach to education. Parents are facilitators rather than teachers and children are encouraged to be free, critical thinkers.
- School-at-Home: is the opposite of unschooling; it follows the same teaching curriculum for children with autism as a private or public school with the exception that it is completed at home.
5. Acquire teaching tools like curriculums, books, and other materials needed to deliver lessons (if applicable)
6. Connect with homeschool support groups in your community and organize events to encourage social interaction.
Autism Homeschooling vs Autism at Public School
Before children are homeschooled, they may have already attended regular school, be it private or public. As a parent, you might wonder what the difference is between homeschooling autism and public school programs for special needs.
Public schools use an Individualized Education Program (IEP), or an equivalent plan, to address special needs students. An IEP is a written plan on how to facilitate a special needs child’s learning. The IEP should be customized to fit the child’s intellectual and physical abilities and designed to improve weaknesses. While this is a great way to target a specific skill, it can also neglect a child’s strengths.
Homeschooling is similar to IEPs in terms of providing a customized learning plan for the child. However, what an IEP lacks can be adjusted in a homeschool setting to include more activities in which the child excels. Public schools may push your child to interact with other students and can potentially improve his/her social skills. However, if your child doesn’t have an easy time assimilating, sometimes this can lead to bullying.
Finally, being in a public school offers other benefits that are not possible with homeschooling. These include therapies, social skills training, and other peer-based activities. However, you can find homeschool support groups and arrange exciting events with other homeschooled kids to encourage socialization.
What are the benefits of homeschooling a child with autism?
As you might know by now, there are schools with separate programs for special needs students. Public schools have the IEP (and private schools offer similar education plans designed for children with special needs). So why homeschool your child with autism?
Here are a few things that highlight what is good about homeschooling your child with autism.
As a parent, you know your child’s likes and dislikes. You can use this to your advantage when teaching different subjects to your child. For instance, if your child likes trains, you can teach math using trains as the point of interest to motivate and sustain your child’s interest.
Unrestricted learning time
Homeschooling allows learning to occur at the child’s pace. There are no schedules to follow, no timers to beat, and no teachers to pressure the child to “finish up.” When your child is comfortable at his/her own pace, learning happens naturally and with fewer instances of behavioral difficulties.
Constant guidance and support
Teachers in school do not have the luxury of time to focus on a single child, nor do they always know what to do when a special needs child behaves unexpectedly. This is not a problem when you, the parent, are the one teaching your child at home. When your child gets frustrated, overwhelmed, or tired, you know more than anyone if it’s time to take a break or keep going.
Flexible learning venues
Homeschooling autism does not limit you and your child to the four walls of a classroom. As long as your child learns the lesson at hand, you can be at the park, in a museum, or on a quiet nature hike. It might be something that deviates from your child’s routine, but it’s a good way for the child to slowly ease into new experiences while learning new things.
Flexible learning tools
When children are in school, they are asked to sit down and listen or read their books. This can be quite restrictive for a child with ASD. It has been proven that children with autism have unique and varied ways of processing information and therefore do not learn the same way as kids without ASD. Homeschooling enables parents to provide different tools for learning not readily available in schools. Gadgets like iPads and tablets, sensory toys, and other autism-friendly materials can be used to motivate and encourage a child to learn.
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Homeschooling a Child With Autism
These are the main advantages of homeschooling a child with autism. When you start homeschooling, you might discover more benefits you may not have expected.
Can I homeschool my special needs child?
Now you know the benefits of homeschooling autism, you might still have doubts and ask, “But am I capable of homeschooling my special needs child?”
While you love your child and want the best for him/her, keep in mind that not all parents enjoy being teachers. After you answer the question, “Is homeschooling right for my child?” you need to also ask, “Is it right for me as a parent?”
What qualifications do you need to homeschool your child?
Other than some states requiring at least a high school diploma to homeschool your child, there’s no prerequisite for parents to teach at home.
However, these are some qualities of effective homeschool teachers:
- Enthusiasm to teach
Not everyone is born with the patience and cheerful disposition most teachers seem to have. If you feel teaching is not one of your skills, homeschooling may not be for you.
Just like a regular teacher, you are now responsible for all learning materials like visual aids, lesson plans, and other teaching tools. Being organized and neat will help model this behavior to your child while maintaining a clutter-free environment conducive to learning.
- Creativity and resourcefulness
Like all kids, your child may not want to do what he/she is asked to do. As a homeschool teacher, it would help if you could find out-of-the-box strategies to lead your child into a desired behavior or action.
Homeschooling takes up a lot of your time, so asking for help with other tasks is of utmost importance. Get your spouse, friends, and family members to help you out so you can focus on homeschooling duties.
Homeschooling is not an easy choice for most parents. It requires careful consideration, and it can greatly impact your child’s attitude towards school and learning. In most cases, homeschooling has been proven to produce great results and happier students.