I remember when Grasshopper was ready to start kindergarten. His endless amounts of energy, excessive talking, obsessive behaviors, and constant business had worn me out. I was excited to be sending him off on the big yellow bus. For me, it meant I could possibly regain my sanity. At the time, I naively wrote his behaviors off as being a little six year old boy. He was my oldest child, I had no point of “normal” to reference for his behaviors. What I didn’t know at the time, was his behaviors were a result of being autistic.
Little did I know how sending him to a public school setting would intensify his autistic tendencies.
Our Public School Experience
The very first day of school I was called to come bring him home. Yes, the first day of kindergarten. I mean what can a kindergartner possibly do that was so bad he needed to be sent home? I was shocked to say the least. At home he was a sweet, smart, fun, loving little boy. At school it was a different story.
Suddenly he was in a classroom with about 20 other kids. He was expected to sit when told, participate in various activities with classmates, focus, pay attention, and so on. Plus, he was more than likely experiencing sensory overload.
And so the disruptive behaviors began. He ran from the room, down the halls, had meltdowns, threw himself to the floor, under the table, banged his head, shouted hurtful (sometimes threatening) statements. Everyday I worried I would be getting the call to come pick him up. Anxiety levels were running high for both of us.
I was at a loss, the school staff was at a loss. He started seeing the school counselor, but they couldn’t give me any indication what was going on. It was pretty clear there was something. Something about my sweet little boy was setting him apart from the other kids.
What exactly was different about Grasshopper was still a mystery. It was perfectly clear however that public school wasn’t working. It was pretty obvious that he needed his education outside the classroom setting.
Special Needs Diagnosis
For various reasons we waited a year before we had him tested for giftedness and numerous other learning disabilities. He was diagnosed with ADHD, Dyslexia, and Anxiety. A few months later he was diagnosed with Autism. Our son is autistic. Suddenly, so many quirky behaviors made sense.
I had been homeschooling Grasshopper for two years before we finally had the autism diagnosis. We already had the dyslexia, ADHD, and anxiety diagnosed for almost an entire school year. So, I had been homeschooling him as a special needs child for a while before learning he is autistic.
It’s interesting to me that after he was diagnosed as being autistic people started questioning my decision to homeschool. Apparently there wasn’t a need to question it with dyslexia and ADHD, but homeschooling an autistic child suddenly needed to be questioned.
I was constantly asked if I would continue homeschooling him even though he was autistic. For me, the thought of sending him back to public school never crossed my mind. I mean I had just finished our second year of homeschooling and he was thriving at home. I may not have known he was autistic (although I had suspicions), but I was teaching him and he was learning. If anything, the autism diagnosis strengthened my resolve to homeschool.
The question however made me realize that a lot of special needs parents do feel inadequate to homeschool their autistic children.
Homeschooling an Autistic Child
If there’s one thing I can tell you about autism, it’s that each autistic child is different. What works for me may not work for you. In order to give you proper perspective, my son is on the high functioning end of the spectrum. That being said, it’s still a constant struggle for him.
One of the biggest struggles for an autistic child is social skills. I think that’s why so many might assume that an autistic child should attend public school. You know, the dreaded socialization questions. But, that’s a whole other topic I’ll leave for another day.
Homeschooling in general is an extension of parenting. So we work on these social skills through various activities. During read alouds I’ll ask questions like how do you think they’re feeling now? Why are they feeling that way? Asking these questions will help build social awareness. It’s for this reason that I’m also using a literature based curriculum this year. Reading books is a great way to help your children learn empathy. And, let’s face it. Our autistic children need to learn empathy!
Our autistic children process information differently. More often than not they are very bright individuals. They can create and problem solve in amazing ways. Finding what areas our children thrive in and letting them study those things will be a tremendous encouragement to them. They are smart, we need to find the areas where they shine and let them go for it! The flexibility to allow them to study where their interests and strengths are is a big homeschool advantage.
Homeschooling and Social Skills
When we send our autistic children to public school we have no idea what scenarios they encounter each day. And, since our child may or may not be able to tell us what is going on it can be hard to gauge if their experiences are positive ones.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not here to bad mouth the public school system. The schools have some amazing people on staff working with the children. I will say however, that even the best teachers cannot prevent all bullying. There’s also only so much they can do to prevent sensory overload. So, while they might be doing the best they can, it still might not be a good fit for our autistic children.
On the flip side, with homeschooling I have more control over which activities we participate in. I choose which will be good for Grasshopper to participate in, and which ones I know will be too much for him. We still have opportunities for socialization through our homeschool group and church. He spends time with other kids and has plenty of opportunities to work on his social skills outside of a public school setting. Plus, if something comes up I am right there to help guide him through it.
Using Outside Resources
Depending on your state, you might still be able to receive special education services through your public school even as a homeschooler. Here in Minnesota, I know I could put Grasshopper on an IEP and send him to school for special ed each day. I am choosing not to utilize this option at this time; but, I know it’s there if I needed it.
We are also looking into outside therapy, and have him participate in autism social groups. These professionals can be a great resource to helping our children. We should be utilizing them.
Simply put, homeschooling doesn’t mean you’re taking it all on yourself without reaching out to professionals.
Homeschooling Your Autistic Child Is Possible
So, yes you can homeschool your autistic child. Despite what the critics might tell you, it can be done. Not only can it be done it could very well be the best thing for your autistic child.
Public school can be extremely stressful to an autistic child. All of the sights, sounds, smells, and number of people can be over stimulating to them. And of course being over stimulated can lead to sensory meltdowns. Now, I’m not saying you’ll be meltdown free at home. I am saying you have more control over your child’s learning environment.
Is homeschooling your autistic child easy? Absolutely not. But, like I said before, homeschooling is just an extension of parenting. Homeschool or public school, we are still parenting an autistic child. We still have to help him learn to manage, cope, reach goals, and learn social skills that are often a challenge for a child with autism. The challenges (and yes the joys) of raising an autistic child are still your reality no matter where they attend school.
Is it easy? No, but if you feel it’s what’s best for your family it can be done. It will take sacrifice, but it will be worth it in the end. Plus, the rewards of seeing your child succeed in spite of their challenges makes all of these things worth it.