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Teaching Children Who ‘AUT’ to be At Home

After homeschooling my autistic daughter for five years, I wonder … would Pamela have ‘met’ Stephen Foster, Mary Cassatt, A.A. Milne and Laura Ingalls Wilder in special education? Would she have gone to a sleep-over last winter? Would 35 children have attended her last birthday bash? Would her artistic gifts have bloomed in school, where she despised pencil and paper? Would she enjoy time with her peers? I may never learn the answers, but I do know Pamela blossomed beautifully at home!

Leaving the public school rights movements (similar to state school system in UK), parents like me choose to teach our autistic spectrum children at home! Homeschooling offers new recipes for inclusive one-to-one learning in an autism-friendly world. Keeping the same students every year, we target abilities and disABILITIES to cook-up unique programs. Homeschooling limits confusing changes in teachers, therapists and classrooms. When our kids grow befuddled, we tweak their programs, bypassing IEP meetings. Parents target language, self-help and social skills every day, not in weekly shots in artificial settings. Special diets run smoothly at home. Our children escape noisy, chaotic classrooms.

Skeptics fret about socialization, but veteran homeschoolers know otherwise. Most homeschool groups and youth programs (church, scouts, music, etc.) include autistic children, who can unveil their talents. Even low-functioning children join activities and still get individualized instruction. Support groups offer field trips, teaching cooperatives and special events. Running errands with Mum or Dad teaches eating out, shopping and banking. People sharing common interests mentor teens with flexible schedules, possibly sparking careers. Homeschooled children meet people of many ages and abilities, while evading the pressure cooker of clique obsession. They play with children at similar developmental levels when peers are too advanced. Yes, Pamela, you can attend parties, play dates and sleep-overs when homeschooled.

Homeschoolers create autism awareness through chats with children and parents, books, cooperative classes or disabilities workshops. We supply generic guides or specific pamphlets explaining our children. Autism simulations are a big hit! I have found fellow homeschoolers to be Pamela’s loudest cheerleaders.

Homeschoolers face winnable challenges. We support public schools through taxes, but some schools reject requests for services. Most sacrifice a paycheque, straining budgets. Teaching parents need more respite, especially with intense children. Total responsibility for our children’s education creates stress, but greater control provides relief. Uninformed busybodies threatening child-protective services heighten our anxieties. Some support groups discourage our kids, so parents create inclusive support groups. While some rebuke our meager credentials, homeschooled children equal or exceed national averages on standardized tests. Our unofficial credentials are intimate knowledge of our students, a cornucopia of resources and results.

Educational self-help resources skyrocketed in the 1990s. Programs for autistic children are often home-based: Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), Floor Time, Options, patterning, etc. Common elements include individualized home-teaching in a calm setting with involved parents, which sounds like homeschooling! Books cover teaching methods, curricula, laws, special needs children, IEPs, therapies, etc. Schools occasionally supplement home programs, while advocates help overturn denied services. Some homeschoolers hire therapists, particularly those who train us to be teachers. National organizations develop therapies for children and show parents how to do them.

Endless expertise flows from sensitive professionals and experienced parents. Tickets to immediate support are online: email lists spotlight autism and homeschooling. Some Internet sites trumpet special needs homeschooling, while others cover support groups. Asking other homeschoolers yields more information.

Sampling learning style creates success from day one. A calm atmosphere – rich in books, television, videos, outdoor play, self-directed projects, computers and field trips – lets us study our children. Formal evaluations, testing and reports plus materials written by autistic or perceptive authors provide more clues. We overlook stereotypes to ask:

• Like reading books and watching television?

• Like computer games, self-directed projects, field trips?

• Enjoy chatting with people about common passions?

• Melt in chaos, craving order and schedules?

• Despise dull routines?

• Remember details, losing the big picture?

• Need the big picture first?

• Learn with his sharp senses?

• Organize knowledge, targeting ideas?

• Have special talents: logic, maths, computers? Music? Art, graphics, puzzles? Motion, hand-over-hand learning, drama?

• Participate in the quiet pursuit of hobbies? Group activities? Reading and conversing?

What interests captivate him/her?

Understanding learning style helps parents match programs to our children. Generalizations suggest autistic children crave order and structure. They trust their senses and experiences, so abstract words trouble them. Some think in pictures, memorizing with their eyes. They focus so sharply on details, they miss the forest for the trees. Some are gifted in maths, art, music and hobbies. They want structure, hands-on learning and visual aids. They prefer traditional homeschooling (workbooks and textbooks) and orderly lessons. They memorize through sight reading, flash cards, maps, puzzles, timelines, charts, matching games, picture books, etc. The musically gifted adore song tapes. Their analytical natures desire facts and details, making computers patient teachers. They prefer quietly alternating easy and hard tasks in uncluttered environments. Homeschoolers peer beyond these generalizations. Assuming the classically autistic learning style may create problems. Asperger children with precocious language may be auditory, while active explorers can be kinesthetic. Pamela needs both visual and kinesthetic input. Some autistics despise structure, craving change and random learning. Potential unschoolers (child-led learners focused on interests and real life) desire choice and freedom: vivid books, computer games or self-directed projects. Whole-book methods and unit studies (doing theme-oriented projects spanning several subjects) enliven structured learning. Routine-loving children enjoy programs like ABA, Floor Time, patterning and Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH), while freedom-craving kids prefer Floor Time and Options. Our one-to-one schooling embraces individuality.

Autistic children learn best when interests become springboards for learning. Parents teach vocabulary, academics and reading through music, videos, television shows, animals (or other obsessions), etc. Combining flash cards and childhood songs with beloved objects animates colors, numbers, letters and labeling. Catalogues supply song tapes for grammar, geography, maths facts, etc. If music or exercise calms our children, we add it to the menu. As Temple Grandin notes in her tales of cattle pens, targeting goals by channeling interests inspires success through success. Sprinkling challenges with strengths and interests brightens dullness with fun.

Homeschooled children can receive therapies. Parents teach speech at home and in the community, borrowing communication devices from schools if needed. We solicit ideas and resources from speech language pathologists to complement their formal sessions. We learn tricks for fine motor delays from occupational therapists and develop sensory diets for ragged senses, disruptive behaviors and daily routines. We schedule desensitization programs like Auditory Integration Training (AIT) and Electronic Auditory Stimulation effect (EASe) CDs. Parents try noise filters and white noise. A peaceful home limits confusion and sensory overload. Parents develop tools to prevent tantrums: picture/word schedules, checklists, preparatory videos, calming activities, timers/clocks and social stories. Our children learn to cope in noisy public settings by gently introducing small doses. When signs of overload appear, our children leave and recover. We usually witness meltdowns so we investigate causes and design prevention.

Are you considering homeschooling? You can successfully teach and tailor programs to your spectrum child! You can fully include them in the community with assorted age groups. You can overcome the challenges of homeschooling and offset skimpy credentials through experience and self-education. You can do autism therapies at home and locate services. If homeschooling flops, your child can still attend public school. Homeschooling is a win-win for many spectrum children, so keep an open mind.

Filed in: Advocacy, Education, Featured, Living with Autism

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