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    Default Homeschooling a Child on the Autism Spectrum

    Homeschooling a Child on the Autism Spectrum
    You would think homeschooling your second-born would be a given if you are homeschooling your first, right? But even though the special needs of my oldest had necessitated him getting his education at home, I didn’t really consider it for my active, happy five year old (who I’ll call “P”). Yes, he was quite speech-delayed, but he had a lot of ear infection troubles as a toddler, and our ped always attributed the delay to that. So with speech therapy and a half-day kindergarten program, we felt like we were right on track with P.

    Until we weren’t.

    Only three weeks into the school year, P became lost on a school field trip. He had simply wandered off from the group - - something we had dealt with multiple times in the past, and had again attributed to simple causes. Thankfully, he turned up just down the road from his group, but a couple months into the school year, the speech delays just weren’t improving much, and P was getting frustrated at not being able to communicate well with his peers and teachers. And following Christmas, we were having an unexpected sit-down with the school therapist who felt at the minimum he was likely to have dyslexia, and at the maximum, well...just might be on the Autism Spectrum.

    So, upon finishing the one and only school year he ever partook in, we brought P home to be educated at home with his older bro. To boil down the rest of our homeschooling story, I’ll break it down into some major highlights. (And when you read these, do NOT interpret them in any way as advice, but rather just personal choices I/we made which felt right at the time)

    • Because we were homeschooling, I never felt the need to go through an official diagnosis protocol. As his mom, I’m 99% sure he’s has ASD, but we’ve never applied for special services or even acted as if there were anything he couldn’t accomplish because of his unique differences
    • ASD affected just about every aspect of homeschooling P - - from curriculum choices, to schedules, to homeschooling styles, to my teaching/facilitation approach to preparing for graduation and life beyond
    • P was a highly visual learner and just about the only programs that consistently worked with him were multimedia curricula such as Time4Learning
    • The biggest struggle I faced with trying to help my son was trying to “get into his head”...even though he became a much better communicator, I have always struggled with trying to see things from his perspective. I’m a linear thinker (see bullet points here <<<<) , and he is SO NOT.
    • The biggest struggle P faced with me trying to help him was his fear of letting me down. Mistakes in P’s world are devastating, and I had to remind him every single day that I not only didn’t mind mistakes, but welcomed them because they meant he was trying something new (not always easy for kids with ASD!!)


    Now that P has graduated homeschool, and works full time (and I should say, to continue to give you hope, that the kid makes as much money right out of high school as I did when I graduated COLLEGE!) , I look back on this experience of homeschooling him so positively. Not that it wasn’t sometimes the original-9859-7292113.jpghardest, most frustrating of experiences, but because it simply made me a better person, and let me really, really get to know my sons (well, as much as mysteriously cool people are knowable, anyway). So now, I just want to share, share, share, all those experiences, and mostly create community with other parents in my shoes (or who soon will be). To that end, I want to tell you about a little social networking project I’ve recently kicked off. I’ve opened two new communities online for parents of homeschooled children on the spectrum. One on Twitter, and one on Facebook. These might eventually blossom into something more (I hope they do!) but for now, I’m happy just hanging out with other parents like myself and giving them encouragement and a reminder that it can be done, and it can turn out just fine.



    Please do feel free to follow those networks, but for now, let’s just chat. Tell me about your own experiences homeschooling your child on the spectrum, and what life is like at your house. One thing you’ll never get from me is judgment, because everything I learned about parenting/homeschooling a child with ASD was learned by mistakes and intuition. More of the former, and less of the latter. And even though he’s 19 now, I’m still learning every day. Which means I can learn from you too, so please do share!!


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    I have one on the spectrum and on who is ADHD and LD. I considered pulling out my son on the spectrum several times over the years, especially as he switched to bigger and bigger schools while moving up from elementary, middle, and eventually high school, where he is now. In the end, he did very well in traditional public school, while my non spectrum kid, did not. It was the opposite of what I predicted would happen.

    I think one of the most important considerations on homeschooling vs not homeschooling a child on the spectrum is services - the cost of providing therapies. Some districts are willing to provide quite a bit of help to a child with special needs. By willing, I mean either through offering, or through force, using a lawyer. The cost of some therapies can end up in the hundreds of thousands depending on the child. We have a family member with high functioning autism, who needed extensive assistance, and the district is paying about $10,000 a month for a special placement and therapies. Most individual families cannot afford that. It is an advantage of having the help of a school district. My own son had a lot of assistance early on, and I credit a lot of his current success to the non academic help we received from the school district. (OT, Speech, counseling, ETC)

    I think that having the option to homeschool or not homeschool as the years go on, is the best for a kid on the spectrum. There may be years when pulling a child out of traditional school is optimal, especially around the middle school years when things just get really tough socially and neurotypical kids can be beasts. Knowing that option was always available helped me a lot, as a parent. In the end, my son preferred to be at school, much to my own surprise.
    Mom to two boys
    14 year old/9th grade homeschooler
    Non homeschooled son heading to Reed College this fall, and proudly wearing his Reed/Atheist t-shirt.

    I spend a lot of time sitting in an ice skating rink - still

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    Quote Originally Posted by LKnomad View Post

    I think that having the option to homeschool or not homeschool as the years go on, is the best for a kid on the spectrum. There may be years when pulling a child out of traditional school is optimal, especially around the middle school years when things just get really tough socially and neurotypical kids can be beasts. Knowing that option was always available helped me a lot, as a parent. In the end, my son preferred to be at school, much to my own surprise.
    Some great insight there, because just knowing you HAVE that option could potentially be stress-reducing, I think. Like you say - - particularly in the middle school years. My son's key struggle is anxiety, and his anxiety levels were so high throughout the school years that traditional school was never something he wanted to attempt (we always took it a year at a time, though, and always offered each of our sons the option). But the fact that your son preferred school is fascinating to me and reminds me yet again that when you know one kid on the spectrum...you know one kid on the spectrum!


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    This is a hard post for me to write. I have rewritten it multiple times, mostly because it was consistently too long. It is still too long.

    We are accidental homeschoolers. DS had been enrolled in school since 18 months old, starting with a wonderful toddler program for a year until we moved and then we had a difficult time with preschools (going only periodically, we would try one out until it failed, then we would pull him out until there was space in another one.) Sometimes I am convinced that these poor school situations just compounded any issues DS had. After the third failed preschool attempt we kept DS home until kindergarten.

    Through a trusted recommendation, I found a social worker, who was a licensed professional councilor to help us. He suffers from severe anxiety, there is no question about that. At the same time I have done a ton of reading and I am wondering about ASD and SPD. She admits that these are not her speciality, and that we would need someone else for the official diagnosis. Collectively we look at the DSM 4 and 5 books and decided that he probably is not ASD. But the two descriptions are so different, that we are still up in the air.

    Also I am hesitant to put DS through the evaluation process on my own. Fortunately our insurance covered our work with the SW so we continue with her to work on his anxiety. She helps me understand how we can help him and how he can help himself.

    Then comes kindergarten and from day 1 it was a nightmare. DS does not react well to school. The teacher and administrators negotiated with us and him to help him find a way to deal with the classroom. It starts to work for a couple of weeks and then they take all of the special privileges away from him, with no warning to us or to him. They just say that he should have adjusted by now, so he gets no special treatment unless he is evaluated. Now he (nor us) trusts that they are going to do what they say or do and it just goes downhill. In the meantime we make arrangements for evaluation, half-way through the evaluations we pull him out of school at the 5 week mark. We continue with the evaluations as homeschoolers.

    In the end, the results are that he has SPD and he is on the lowest end of the spectrum for ASD. (In other words, he is high-functioning.) Honestly, I don’t know if the district psychologist felt sorry for him and put him on the spectrum so that he would have an IEP. An OP was recommended as part of the IEP. But we are homeschooling at this point and none of this would help unless he went back to school. DS didn’t want to deal with anyone at this time and I was fairly sure that we were moving the following summer and investing in time with a therapist, by the time we found one we could deal with, might be mute. So we worked without one. I did quite a bit of reading and came up with an OT plan on my own and researched plans to work on his anxiety. Not the best, but not the worst either.

    Where we are today:

    -DS has no interest in public school or any formal, organized activities with leaders/teachers, guidelines and the like. We have tried some extra curricular, but he doesn’t want to do it. I just find things for him to do outside the house that are less structured. Free play the pool or gymnastics center and the like.

    -He told me that he likes to learn, but does not like school (which means any worksheets or anything that resembles worksheets). As a result we have backed off using all curriculum, as far as he knows, and we only focus on the topics he likes. (Which is quite a bit.) He and I came up with ideas on how to learn without “doing school.” So if anyone asks, he doesn’t do school anymore, he just learns stuff. (Makes for fun conversations out in town when they ask where he goes to school and he tells them that he doesn’t do school anymore. )

    -I have spent this last summer observing closely to watch him develop his own routine. I have discovered he is really not a morning person. Even though he gets up early, he doesn’t want to do any serious thinking until after lunch. His best times are from lunchtime to 8pm. So I have arranged it so that we don’t do any thinking until after lunch. (This does not apply to field trips or getting out of the house. Those are completely different.)

    -We are working on sensory issues independently and I found a workbook a curriculum (so to speak) and lots of books on how to deal with anxiety. He is very cognizant of his anxiety issues and has come to me to help him deal with it. For the sensory issues, we just have to keep talking. We purchased ear protectors (that are used in construction) which he used extensively for a while but has slowly been using them less.

    -We are still concerned about his reaction to something new. Even if we prepare him for something, if something is not what he expected in his head, then it can deteriorate rather quickly. He does not do surprises well. Even birthday gifts can be a dice roll.

    -Food is a huge issue. I think that is my biggest concern. He is afraid to try foods and most foods don’t make the cut. Though I feel for him, as I also have food issues. But as long as his doctor is not concerned, I am not worrying about it. The biggest struggle is traveling. It is hard to accommodate his food issues and it has kept us from traveling beyond our usual stomping grounds. DS likes to travel, but planning the food is hard and limiting. Until it gets better I don’t know if we can travel outside of North America/U.S.

    So we are also learning from our mistakes. I keep trying things out and see what works. We try to keep the communication open with DS and let him have a say on how we go about it. He is open to suggestions and can let us know how he feels. It’s not perfect, but it is ok for now.
    Last edited by Mariam; 09-08-2015 at 09:04 PM. Reason: clarity
    A mama, who teaches college writing, as well as help her 11-year-old in
    choosing his own life adventure. Using Global Village School to support our desire to develop a sense of social justice and global awareness.
    I also share free and low-cost educational resources at
    http://chooseourownadventures.blogspot.com

  6. #5

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    Mariam - when you say that your son was put at the lowest end of the spectrum do you mean that the autism is severe (what could be called lower functioning) or that by low you mean fewer symptoms (which most would consider high). I am wondering if the terms low and high were reversed in your post.

    It is interesting that both Mariam and Topsy are describing anxiety and main reasons for their kids wanting to remain away from school. My son does not actually feel anxiety. In fact he had no idea what I was talking about, several years back, when I did a workbook with him that talked about being nervous. He simply didn't understand the definition of the word, had no idea what I was describing when I spoke about physical symptoms (feeling something in the stomach - butterflies). He had no idea what I meant and, at 17, still does not. Instead of feeling nervous, he stutters, and I can track his reaction to things by the amount of stuttering he does, but other than that, he does not feel anxiety. This probably helps a lot.
    Mom to two boys
    14 year old/9th grade homeschooler
    Non homeschooled son heading to Reed College this fall, and proudly wearing his Reed/Atheist t-shirt.

    I spend a lot of time sitting in an ice skating rink - still

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    Yes, sorry. I didn't mean to be confusing. I meant to say that DS is high-functioning. So much that it is hard to tell until there is a problem.
    A mama, who teaches college writing, as well as help her 11-year-old in
    choosing his own life adventure. Using Global Village School to support our desire to develop a sense of social justice and global awareness.
    I also share free and low-cost educational resources at
    http://chooseourownadventures.blogspot.com

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mariam View Post
    This is a hard post for me to write.
    But I'm SO glad you went for it!

    He told me that he likes to learn, but does not like school (which means any worksheets or anything that resembles worksheets).
    Oh boy do I know that one! To compound things, P has dyslexia, and traditional school work always made him feel like a failure. Especially because older brother is a true academic who loved everything "school-ish" and excelled in traditional subjects. Comparing himself to older bro was heartbreaking for him. Traditional college was absolutely off the table for him when he graduated. He did some non-traditional apprenticeship work the summer after he graduated, and has been working full time ever since. He needs to be active to keep his spirits up and his anxiety levels down.

    He is very cognizant of his anxiety issues and has come to me to help him deal with it.
    P is also. Anxiety has been the single most consistent part of his journey. When he hit puberty, the anxiety turned into OCD, and we actually had to resort to meds for a while. So now he deals with both, and he'll tell you that the anxiety/OCD combo is truly no fun.

    Quote Originally Posted by LKnomad View Post
    It is interesting that both Mariam and Topsy are describing anxiety and main reasons for their kids wanting to remain away from school. My son does not actually feel anxiety. In fact he had no idea what I was talking about, several years back, when I did a workbook with him that talked about being nervous. He simply didn't understand the definition of the word, had no idea what I was describing when I spoke about physical symptoms (feeling something in the stomach - butterflies). He had no idea what I meant and, at 17, still does not. Instead of feeling nervous, he stutters, and I can track his reaction to things by the amount of stuttering he does, but other than that, he does not feel anxiety. This probably helps a lot.
    I'm sure all our kids have a "tell" to clue us into their anxiety levels. Does he withdraw at all? My son has always preferred to be a loner. He needs a LOT of "him-time" alone in his room. Especially now that he works around people 12 hours a day...when he's home, he just wants to mostly hide away and let the world dissolve around him.


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    I'm been thinking about this post and my big question is "Why not evaluate?"

    DD's first dx was at age 3: pdd-nos. It's been several things since then, but everyone concerned settled on ASD somewhere around 4th grade and that's what we use when we need to discuss the set of quirks that place her in a recognizable category. The ASD diagnosis gave us so much more than it took, and I mean "we" to include her. When she was younger she'd ask "Why am I not normal?" and I'd say "You are? Why do you think you aren't?" and we were both left unsatisfied. ASD gives her a community with a voice. She happily identifies with the neuro-diversity community and focuses as clearly on her strengths as her weaknesses. Her friends come from this community. Her coping mechanisms and self-regulations skills are built on the awareness of her autistic traits. Without the diagnosis she would still feel like she was on the outside of the nuero-typical world, but would have no place for herself--no real understanding of herself.

    As for my husband and I, it has given us the words we need to research, as well as access therapies, respite activities and supports. It's given us a place to turn to when things were bad, and we didn't have a clear path forward. It's made us feel less alone and more understood, and given us hope and knowledge. Knowing for sure that the child we loved had autism, and not some confusing pattern of behaviors caused by our parenting or her schooling, or the environment or whatever, gave us access to a world of research and professional voices, and let us stop chasing down rabbit holes.

    One of the local home school activity groups we attended was packed with people who said they home schooled to avoid needing to have their child labeled. That makes sense to me when we're talking about unwarranted or unnecessary labels that little kids tend to gather when they are in inappropriate environments, with inappropriate expectations. ASD generally isn't that. This whole journey would have been so much harder, sadder, lonelier, and more confusing without the diagnosis. Ultimately, I think it would have been less successful as well.
    AtomicGirl--Mom, old enough to know better
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    Quote Originally Posted by atomicgirl View Post
    I'm been thinking about this post and my big question is "Why not evaluate?"

    DD's first dx was at age 3: pdd-nos. It's been several things since then, but everyone concerned settled on ASD somewhere around 4th grade and that's what we use when we need to discuss the set of quirks that place her in a recognizable category. The ASD diagnosis gave us so much more than it took, and I mean "we" to include her. When she was younger she'd ask "Why am I not normal?" and I'd say "You are? Why do you think you aren't?" and we were both left unsatisfied. ASD gives her a community with a voice. She happily identifies with the neuro-diversity community and focuses as clearly on her strengths as her weaknesses. Her friends come from this community. Her coping mechanisms and self-regulations skills are built on the awareness of her autistic traits. Without the diagnosis she would still feel like she was on the outside of the nuero-typical world, but would have no place for herself--no real understanding of herself.

    As for my husband and I, it has given us the words we need to research, as well as access therapies, respite activities and supports. It's given us a place to turn to when things were bad, and we didn't have a clear path forward. It's made us feel less alone and more understood, and given us hope and knowledge. Knowing for sure that the child we loved had autism, and not some confusing pattern of behaviors caused by our parenting or her schooling, or the environment or whatever, gave us access to a world of research and professional voices, and let us stop chasing down rabbit holes.

    One of the local home school activity groups we attended was packed with people who said they home schooled to avoid needing to have their child labeled. That makes sense to me when we're talking about unwarranted or unnecessary labels that little kids tend to gather when they are in inappropriate environments, with inappropriate expectations. ASD generally isn't that. This whole journey would have been so much harder, sadder, lonelier, and more confusing without the diagnosis. Ultimately, I think it would have been less successful as well.
    For us personally, an official diagnosis was simply not necessary. If services had been the bigger issue for our son, we most definitely would have gone that route. It certainly wasn't anything we were against, it just became pretty apparent after a few years in that ASD was what we were looking at, and we simply never needed anyone to confirm it to us. The issues my son has dealt with have been much more "symptomatic" - - anxiety and OCD in specific - - and he has been in treatment for those, but the overall ASD diagnostic just wasn't extremely needful in our case. He identifies with ASD and has no issues telling others he has it, but the identity, in his specific case, wasn't dependent on a professional diagnosis.


  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by atomicgirl View Post
    I'm been thinking about this post and my big question is "Why not evaluate?"
    I personally think that the label can be a very very positive thing. My sister was given an autism DX at age 30, after my son was DXed. We looked at him, then looked at her and said, Oh! Once she gained the label it helped everyone in my family to come to terms with her differences. I felt less frustrated and better to understand why she does the things she does. I also think it helped her understand a bit about who she was and that all the crap she dealt with in school was not her fault.

    For a child who flies above the radar it may not be necessary but for a child, who will become and adult, and may need assistance, the label is mandatory -especially if there is a possibility of needing SSI in the future. Getting a label later in life can make getting help harder. My son is one of those kids who is on his way to a bright future. Many of my friend's kids are not. One of my friend's kids looks like he will not be independent any time soon and he is 19. He is unable to hold down a job and needs help. Only a label will allow that.

    I'm sure all our kids have a "tell" to clue us into their anxiety levels. Does he withdraw at all? My son has always preferred to be a loner. He needs a LOT of "him-time" alone in his room. Especially now that he works around people 12 hours a day...when he's home, he just wants to mostly hide away and let the world dissolve around him.
    My son is very introverted. He prefers to be alone and is not one to try to gain friends. He needs a lot of down time as well. I think this is more personality rather than diagnosis. I know plenty of kids on the spectrum who crave interaction (and unfortunately for many fail at their attempts to socialize). I guess I am lucky to have a kid who would rather be on his own, he does not feel bad and left out of social events. At the same time, in the past year, I have noticed that he is starting to socialize more and more. All his socialization is around school work, however. The friends he is making are all in the very advanced academic classes he is taking. He went to his first party 2 weeks ago. A major milestone for him.
    Mom to two boys
    14 year old/9th grade homeschooler
    Non homeschooled son heading to Reed College this fall, and proudly wearing his Reed/Atheist t-shirt.

    I spend a lot of time sitting in an ice skating rink - still

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Homeschooling a Child on the Autism Spectrum