Thursday, February 26, 2009

Autism and Homeschooling: Why?

...this is a repost from my personal blog...but it seemed relevant here.

Over the years, I have witnessed an exodus of sorts when it comes to the education of friends' children. More and more parents of children with autism and Asperger's Syndrome are choosing to homeschool. We are the well-kept dirty little secret that your school district doesn't want you to know: often our children can be better served at home than in the school system.

I would have never said such six years ago. I was a died-in-the-wool PTA, room mom, get into the system and change it, agent. But one horrific year with my son's classroom (through no fault of the teacher) and I became a true believer. I figured I couldn't do a worse job than the school, and I might even be an improvement. Besides, my son hated school, to the point I was literally dragging him there. Something had to give.

And now? I homeschool all three of my children, and this is our 5th year. Two have been diagnosed with high functioning autism, they are 7 and 10 respectively. My oldest is going on 15, and though she has never been diagnosed, she has many of the deficits of Asperger's, and is also academically gifted. Her father is a computer engineer, and is most likely also on the Spectrum. (he was never tested, but off the record, our psychologist said so) So, you do the math...

In any case, bringing my children home has worked out wonderfully for us. Homeschooling has allowed me to tailor each program according to what works for each child. My 14 yr old, who went to school for 6 years benefits from a very academic program. She enjoys the structure and it works. My middle guy, at 10, is the one I walk the line with. He isn't unschooled, but his academic structure would, at first glance, seem more relaxed. It is still very scheduled, however. But we benefit from frequent breaks, sensory diet and multisensory approaches. I can choose activities that he enjoys, and we keep work periods short and focused. He can take a break for pogo stick or OT work, as needed. My littlest one, at 7, is the one that learns best through games and Mom Time. She needs one-on-one (as does my son) that she wouldn't get in a classroom. She often has to be taught a concept repeatedly before she gets it.

My middle guy is also dyslexic, which makes it interesting, and I am thinking my littlest may be, as well.

As for socialization...which is a joke anyway... but still. We have found with regular play dates, activities and park outings, my children do just fine. There is more time for preferred subjects (my 14 year old taught herself to both play the piano and knit, because she had more time than if she was traditionally schooled.) We have more time (and funds) for field trips and activities. While other kids are sitting in a classroom, mine are out learning in the world.

There is a park day we attend and have for years. The attendance is large, with many different ages and multiple abilities. There are several kids from all ages that are on the spectrum in varying degrees. It is a very welcoming group. Truly, it was the best decision we ever made for our family.

When my son ended 1st grade, he barely read, was behind in math, his writing was still reversals (though he is left handed, so that made it worse). I would literally dress him like a doll and drag him, kicking, to the public school. He would sit under the teacher's desk, or make games. His aide was useless, only serving to keep him from eloping from the classroom. His work was all sent home. I was already homeschooling, and my son was in the school system!

He is now in the 5th grade, and reads at grade level. His math is also at grade level, or just below. He is above in Science, History, Geography. His writing and penmanship has improved 10 fold. and most importantly, he loves to learn. I have found that learning is a broad term for what we do every day. Mythbusters is learning and exploring Science. Going to the Arboretum is a chance to discuss the environment and botany, as well as the food chain. In fact, every activity has inherent learning in just have to find it.

The most important thing to remember about homeschooling? It isn't something you do. It's something you live. And there really is no wrong way to do it. You can, and your child can... and if it doesn't work, keep tweaking. Also, what your state standards may find important, you may find doesn't mesh with your family. That's ok. I have found that as we go, my kids pick up information I didn't formally teach. And the one thing I want to equip my children with? The ability to find information.

The freedom I have found, as well as the free time away from IEPs, discipline meetings and just general headache is now energy I can pour into helping my son love learning. Less time is spent arguing over what the schools think he needs and more time is given to what he actually needs. We have personalized his goals, and we make sure he reaches them. There is no fighting with autism experts who insist my son is meeting goals that are either too broad, too easy or just plain wrong. I am in control. And my children are the better for it.

That, to me, is success.

T. Tina Cruz is a writer, wife and mother of three children. The two youngest children have high-functioning autism and the oldest has undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome. She advocates for autism awareness and education, as well as acceptance. She views autism as a growth process and the opportunity to connect parents for support as a privilege. She is the editor of the Special Needs channel at Typeamom. Her personal blog can be found at Send Chocolate.


  1. I have a daughter with severe disabilities but who is cognitively OK for the most part...did the same as you. I am homeschooling and there is no way that they can do better at school. They are scared of my daughter...think she's going to die any minute! Socialization is a problem here, though. Good for you anyway.

  2. I wish that I could homeschool Bacon. He just won't tolerate it, and for right now he seems to be doing okay in our district where they are great with kids on the spectrum.
    I am so jealous of parents that can do this - I mean that have the gumption to do it and can tolerate it all - and proud to call them my friends.
    I also know that the minute he doesn't like it or it "all falls apart, he will be out of there and on to somewhere better - we have a school about an hour from here just for kids with Autism and Aspergers, that does cost a fortune, but I will sell my right and left leg and kidneys if i have to to get him in there.

    Thanks for sharing. You rock. And roll.

  3. Hi im a teacher in an independant secondary school in England. We have had great success here because we have a nice mix of autistic kids and ones who well could go either way some days. I think the big issue is trust here. Parents need to have faith that school understands their kids and that concerns are listened to. At the same time its important they take a little bit of a step back.
    we have one parent here who writes pages and pages in her sons home contact book questioning every minute detail of his day.
    Home school i feel shealters too much and sets a false reality of what the world is like. Dont get me wrong im not saying that these kids should be just let loose and have to learn the hard way to deal with the unpleasant aspects of peoples misunderstanding but in many ways the only way to learn is to make mistakes. Learning however is only going to ocur in the right environment and with adequate support. We have a great speach and language therapist who comes in twice a week and she works with our kids on social skills deconstructing incidents that have gone on during the week.
    If students are homeschooled then socialisation is limited and there is less oportunities to learn (correct me on this if you disagree)
    I wrote on this blog a while back giving an example of a boy who wanted to bring in his pet rats and show his class. He couldnt understand why they became so hostile when he kept on shoving a picture of them in front of their faces.
    From what i can gather from your kids they are bright and its not a matter of the education they are getting its a matter of the setting. I admit if home schooling is your only option then you make the best of it but id recomend working with teachers and ensuring they get the support in i.e speach and language therapists.
    interested on what others think?

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  6. I think the current school system is really what creates a false reality of what the world is like. It really is a factory for churning out workers. But more and more, that's not what the world needs.

    My child is 5 and in Montessori preschool. It's clearly been the right thing for him. If there were a Sudbury school locally, I'd have him there in a heartbeat. Because I know how he relates to learning and to life, and what works well for him.

    Sure, there are parents who will try to micromanage and second guess every little thing a teacher does. But there are also plenty of us who really do have a sense of what is best for our child. And more and more, I think, school as it has been instituted for the past 100 years, is not it.

  7. I moved Califmom's comment and made it a post, with her permission. Here is the link:

    What's the Point of School?


  8. In my opinion, you have to do what works for your individual child. If you're fortunate enough to have a school that can cater for your child's needs, your child enjoys school and gets something from it, then that's great. However, if you feel that the school system is failing your child, then I think that homeschooling is a great option because it can be tailored to your child/children.

    I don't see how socialization is an issue if you are having playdates, trips out etc. You certainly don't sound isolated!

    Dr Chun Wong
    DAN! physician

  9. I work as an aide or "parapro" in well-performing public elementary school. Our school has 14 spectrum kids out of the 290 in the school, varying from non-verbal to high functioning. We have a dedicated Autism spectrum program, including 2 full-time teachers and about 9 paras. I have seen several children benefit vastly from our program and efforts. I believe we perform a great service to our students and their parents for reasons that I cannot fit into a brief post. Parents make great teachers, but children on the autism spectrum require a lot of support, sometimes more than parents have time to offer. I suggest you research the schools in your area, it's a big step, but maybe you could move to an area with a good program. If you have the time, then by all means I encourage you to take on your child's complete education, just be absolutely sure to include some kind of structured social activities on a regular basis.


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