You may have already read my 'why homeschool' post. So you know why, as a family, we have chosen homeschooling for our kids. And I'm sure most of my readers have read our autism story here. But now here's a question for you: why homeschool a child with Autism? What are the benefits? What are some of the drawbacks? Are there any drawbacks? These are the questions I want to look at in my next few posts.
I'll start by saying that choosing to homeschool is a deeply personal choice (and btw, I do agree that sending a child with autism to school can absolutely be the right choice as well), but I think when you choose to homeschool a child with any kind of special need, you choose to take on something much bigger, and much more challenging than when you choose to homeschool a typically developing child. But it's worth it, and here's why:
1. Generally speaking, children with Autism don't do well in social situations. Some children have impulse control problems which make interacting with peers difficult because they touch too much or stand too close. Some children on the spectrum have anxiety that goes along with social situations. Some children on the spectrum just don't know how to make friends; either they are too trusting and fall into the wrong crowd, or they are socially awkward and have nothing in common with same age peers.
Therapists will tell you that children with Autism need to be in school because they need to learn to interact with others, and spending 6 to 8 hours with their same-age peers 5 days a week is the best way to do that. Your well-meaning friends may tell you that too. The same therapists who tell you that your child needs to be in school so he can watch and learn how to be social are also the same ones who will tell you that children with Autism don't learn social skills the way typically developing children do--through imitation; they must learn social rules by being explicitly taught.
Even if the school was extraordinary and had a social skills therapy program that explicitly taught social skills to children on the spectrum during school hours, imagine what the child is going through and needing to process during their school day: anxiety over social interactions or sensory overload, confusion over classroom material or an interaction with a peer, multiple unpredictable events occurring throughout the day, interruptions to daily routines, etc. A child with Autism may feel a considerable amount of stress in school, making it hard to function "normally" in that setting and is probably in no frame of mind to be either taught social skills explicitly, or to learn them by imitation while at school.
I guess all that is to say why school isn't the best place for a child on the spectrum, but it doesn't really address why home is a great place for these kids. So here's why: As a homeschooler, your child has chances to interact with others in social settings all the time, with the benefit of having you as a 1:1 social skills therapist. No you're not trained in ABA most likely, but you are a normal person who is basically an expert at socializing. You can train your child on what to say and how to act in a variety of social settings while your at home. Then you can take your child to these places and be a source of support for them as they try out their skills. Not many schools can boast a program in which the child receives both in home, in school, and in the community support all from the same professional. But as a homeschooler, you can boast in just that.
It's up to you to provide your child with rich and frequent opportunities to socialize with people of all ages and backgrounds. It's up to you to teach them appropriate behavior. And that is what makes homeschooling a child on the spectrum a challenge. At least partly. It isn't impossible. But it takes commitment, and it really does take confidence in your own ability to parent your child as you feel is best.
So that's one reason. More to come in Part 2...