As more children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), more parents are looking for alternative forms of education for their children. Any parent with a child on the autism spectrum knows that traditional education models can be challenging for children with ASD.
Private programs tend to be economically exorbitant and public school special needs programs are growing in demand and size as the prevalence of autism continues to increase.
Resultantly, homeschooling is becoming a popular option among parents with children on the spectrum. As a fellow homeschooling parent with a child on the autism spectrum, I get many inquiries from other parents who are interested in doing the same. It is exciting to see others who are considering this option as homeschooling can be quite beneficial for children, adolescence, and teenagers with ASDs.
There are many homeschooling methods available to families who choose this educational route. Parents can use traditional school-at-home methods or conversely choose from a variety of other approaches such as Charlotte Mason homeschooling, classical education, or unschooling. This is what makes homeschooling beneficial for children on the autism spectrum – they can get a tailor-made education that fits their individual and unique needs.
There are a variety of other factors that also make home educating a child on the spectrum rewarding and successful. Among these elements are the ability to provide the child with one-on-one lessons, interest-based learning, and technology-based instruction. Each of these dynamics have proven successful in our homeschool program as they have given our son the opportunity to grow and learn at his own pace. They have also made his learning experience less-anxiety inducing and more enjoyable.
Studies have found that low teacher-student ratios are beneficial in all educational environments. Most specialized autism programs tend to have one-on-one or one-on-two teach-student ratios, which is one reason why they tend to be successful. Though, these programs are also expensive to implement because they are resource intensive in this and other regards. Public school special needs programs employ similar methods though they usually don’t have the funding available to maintain such low teacher-student ratios.
Home education provides the ideal environment in which to work one-on-one with a child on the spectrum because it doesn’t cost as much to maintain. The home can be structured in a way to minimize distractions and maximize focus. The parent can easily work one-on-one with the child, which enhances the overall learning experience. This decreases the time it takes to teach new skills and reinforce acquired skills. It also allows for immediate information processing, feedback, and correction, which is one reason that home education programs are also successful.
Individuals on the spectrum often have intense interests about specific topics that can hinder their ability to concentrate on other subjects. If left to their own devises, children with autism will often engage with their object of interest to the exclusive of everything else. Ordinarily this could greatly hinder a child’s acquisition of new knowledge and skills. Yet, in the homeschool environment, such intense interest can be advantageous.
Because new information and experiences can often be challenging for children on the spectrum, transitions are easier when they are guided by previous knowledge. Using the child’s interest can also be beneficial when trying to get their attention. Parents can take the time to explore with their child and in doing so they can open up the world to their child, step-by-step.
This is fairly simple to integrate in the homeschool environment. You can begin by engaging the child in his or her favorite subject. Allow the child to explore it as much and as long as they desire in the beginning. Then slowly start adding other topics that interrelate to the child’s topic of interest. Try to teach new subject matter in context with what interests the child and soon the child’s interest in other topics will expand.
For instance, your child may have an intense interest in trains. He may know intricate details about trains beyond what the average person generally knows. However, he may not how to write his own name. Instead of focusing on the overall task of writing, you can integrate this task with the child’s love of trains. You can show the child how to write the word train using basic hand-over-hand techniques.
As the child practices writing the word “train” you can tell him how to pronounce the word and allow him tell or show you about his love for trains. This will peak his interest in writing. He may start writing the word on his own thereafter. As he develops an interest in writing the word “train,” you can slowly begin to add other letters and words to his repertoire while giving him plenty of opportunities to practice writing his favorite word “train.” In fact, this can serve as a reward or reinforcement tool as he continues to learn to write. This same concept applies to other aspects of learning-it is about making education work for the child.
Individuals on the spectrum tend to naturally gravitate to technology. The use of tablets such as iPads and Androids are paving the way in special needs education innovation. They are being used in many school environments but often to a limited degree due to funding, time, and other issues. However, parents can readily implement these tools in home education to help make learning more effective and enjoyable for their child.
There are now an abundance of apps for individuals with autism and other special needs. Parents can select from a range of augmentative and alternative communication apps that aid in improving speech and communication through images, videos, and audio-based content. They can also use traditional educational apps to successfully teach skills like reading, writing, math, social studies, and science when other methods are not as effective.
Apps seems to provide another layer of motivation and stimuli that is not inherent in other educational approaches and techniques. Many individuals on the spectrum are tactile-kinesthetic learners, which makes the touch screen functionality of tablets more interactive and engaging. Apps tend to hold the attention of children with ASD for much longer periods of time. Apps also give ASD individuals the repetition they need to retain information.
Teri Brogan, MS.Ed is a blessed wife and homeschooling mother of two children. Her 10-year-old son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of three, which makes her family’s homeschooling journey especially interesting. She also teaches college-level health science students and in her spare time maintains her blog Natural Homeschooling where she shares helpful ideas about autism homeschooling and many other diverse topics. She is also the author of the book Recovering from Autism: Our Family’s Journey of Hope and Healing in which she details her son’s journey.
This article was featured in Issue 39 – Working Together to Communicate Better