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Homeschooling Children with Autism

Instructor: Zach Gospe
Homeschooling can be daunting. Homeschooling an autistic child even more so. This lesson reviews the instruction to RELAX as a tool for homeschooling an autistic child.

Homeschooling an Autistic Child

There are many reasons to homeschool a child: a desire to have more autonomy over your child's academic access, a desire to spend more quality time with your child, or a desire to meet a need that you do not feel is currently being met with available schooling options. When the decision is made to homeschool a child with autism, it is typically made for the same reasons. However, meeting the needs of the child not currently being met in other schooling options is often the core reason parents choose to homeschool a child with autism.

Children with autism require more one-on-one instructional time than typically developed children. They need constant behavior management strategies in place while learning. Finally, children with autism benefit from learning in environments that feel natural and safe. While traditional schools can supply these requirements on some level, they are not always able to meet the individual needs of each and every student in a special needs program. It is at this point, when a child's needs are not being met, that a parent may begin to consider homeschooling.

The most important thing to remember when considering homeschooling an autistic child is to RELAX: Resources, Engage, Listen, Academics, and eXercise. These five components of homeschooling your autistic child will guide you through all you need to be a success in this journey. Let's break each of these components down now.

Resources

Having the right resources for homeschooling is important. Your first stop for resources should be your state Department of Education (DOE) website to view the required curriculum concepts for your child's grade level. The DOE website is a great guideline for what should be taught in a year and at what ages. If your child is not on grade level, that is fine. Don't worry about keeping up with grade levels from the DOE, just use the state curriculum as your guide to ensure you don't skip any important concepts as you teach.

Another important resource for you to have is your local Autism Association chapter. You will find many great tips and tools to use when you get in contact with the Autism Association. Some parents try to re-invent the wheel, but remember, to take the pressure off you, use what has already been learned by others so you have a shorter journey to what works for your child.

Homeschooling resources are prevalent on the Internet and amongst practically every community. Resources for teaching can be downloaded free, purchased in sets, or purchased piecemeal as you like.

Engage

In this scenario, engage refers to interacting with others. Homeschooling can be isolating if you don't make the effort to get out of the house. It is important to engage with other like-minded groups of people both for your personal well-being and for your child's. Social interaction is an important part of life in general, and children are no different. Engaging with others offers educational value in many ways: problem solving, relationship building, cooperative work, and exposure to different ideas. All of these are important to develop a well-rounded properly developed student. Try not to overlook the importance of regular activities with other homeschoolers.

Remember, engagement with others can be in the form of play dates or educational settings. Often, homeschoolers like to get together to have joint lessons so their children can engage in collaborative work with others. Consider your talents; what could you offer to teach in tandem with another homeschooling family (or two)? Engagement in academic settings and in unstructured social settings is important to your child's overall development. This is true for autistic children as well as typically developing children.

Listen

Listening to your child's specific, moment-to-moment, needs is especially important when working with autistic children. Be willing to adjust and be flexible with the day's schedule. Does your child need more stimulation? Less stimulation? A change of environment? A break from it all? When homeschooling, you have the ability to really become tuned in to your child's educational needs, and you have the unique ability to accommodate every need he/she has with each day. This is a definite advantage to a typical classroom (even a special needs devoted classroom). Make sure to listen.

Academics

Follow the DOE website for guidelines for what academic concepts your child should be learning. However, don't stress if your child is at different levels in different subjects. It is common for autistic children to excel in some subjects and struggle horribly in others. For example, a child may be a math genius but not be able to spell at all. This is okay. Follow the guidelines for academic progress for each subject starting from where your child is. Focus on your child's best subject and try to fit as much secondary curriculum into this field as possible (ie: if your child loves science, but not English, include writing up science experiments in your curriculum. This incorporates a disliked subject into a much loved subject).

eXercise

Exercise is an important part of every day. Schools offer physical education programs to encourage student movement on a regular basis. Autistic children can find calming benefits from regular exercise and time spent away from stress-inducing desk work. Try not to underestimate the importance of exercise for your child.

Lesson Summary

Students with autism require one-on-one instructional time, constant behavior management strategies, and a learning environment that feels natural and safe. When deciding to homeschool your autistic child, it is important to remember to RELAX:

  • Resources
  • Engage
  • Listen
  • Academics
  • eXercise

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