Homeschooling a child with autism is a challenging and rewarding experience. Learning at home helps a child on the autism spectrum learn without the distractions, sensory stimulation and possible bullying in a public school setting. These children are able to focus on their education, working on real understanding and retention of the material. School work can be geared toward the individual’s learning style and interests, allowing her to work at her own level rather than being held back or forced to move forward with other children in a classroom.
Understand how the child learns
Every individual learns differently. Some are visual learners, some auditory learners. Some need hands-on activities to understand a concept while others thrive on workbooks and printouts. Some need elements from all styles. Figuring out how the child at home learns will help the parent make the school sessions more effective and interesting. It’s pointless to spend hours trying to hammer a concept into a child’s brain when finding a different way to teach the subject makes the process quicker and less stressful for everyone.
Try different approaches. For example, when teaching addition, use a workbook or print some math pages out. Gather objects from around the house such as dried beans or macaroni, or a deck of playing cards. Use those to work the problems out, helping him see the problem. Find some free math videos online or some songs that teach addition facts. Work with all of the methods, looking for what helps the child the most. Try that approach with other subjects to see if it works as effectively. That will help decide how the child learns particular concepts.
Once the learning style has been determined, prepare the lessons ahead of time. Some homeschooling families choose to prepare lessons on the weekend, covering the next week. Some just work the night before to prepare the lessons. Gather the materials needed so that the day’s work goes quickly. A child with autism may not be very patient while waiting for the parent to make sure links work or pages are printed out.
Homeschooling takes less time than doing school in a public or private school setting. This is because the child is getting one on one attention, addressing issues immediately as they present themselves. The lesson doesn’t progress until the child has understood what he’s doing. This helps him move along quickly once the idea is grasped.
However, it is important to offer breaks frequently, especially when introducing new material or advancing to harder work as she progresses to a new grade level. These children can frustrate easily and decide to not even attempt to answer a question if there’s a possibility they will get it wrong. Offering breaks gives the child time to get away from the frustration, then regroup to continue working.
Breaks are especially effective if the child is involved in some kind of sensory stimulation. Some may need a quiet spot where they can calm themselves down. Others may need to swing or bounce on a trampoline to burn off nervous energy. A small snack may be helpful along with a glass of water to keep hydrated.
Allow the child to have some control
An autistic child is known for needing to control his environment, helping him feel more secure. Homeschooling is no different. Allowing him to choose the order in which he does the subjects or choose favorite activities related to the lesson can give him a sense of stability. As long as his choices are within reason and are educational, it’s not going to hurt to allow him to take part in his own education.
For some, having to spend time learning in any setting is a chore they would rather not partake in. Using rewards may motivate a child enough to get through the school day. One of the benefits to homeschooling is the ability to change the day to fit the child, so offering rewards is appropriate. The rewards should be things she already gets to do. However, she has to wait until after her work is finished. This could be playing video games, watching a favorite program or having a favorite snack. She may love art and would consider a chance to draw a picture a reward. The idea is to reward the effort, because it’s hard for a child with autism to stay focused.
For children who are lower functioning with more behavioral problems, breaks may need to be taken after every subject. For these children, small snacks such as dried cereal or crackers and peanut butter may be offered. Just make sure when using snacks to choose healthy foods, and break the portions into smaller amounts than would typically be given at snack time.
It is crucial to be flexible when homeschooling an autistic child. Each day can present challenges that are unexpected. They may have three days or three weeks of good behavior, and then a day happens where nothing gets accomplished. Expect the bad days and act accordingly. If the child is melting down and it’s obvious he isn’t understanding anything, it’s much better to take the rest of the day off and make it up another day. Weekends are great for making up work that didn’t get done during the week. Teaching when they are well-rested and in a more compliant frame of mind is much more productive than forcing them to sit and struggle through the day.
Make it fun
For any child, making learning fun helps them want to learn. Children with autism are no different. Be silly with the child, and be creative. Instead of just reading a story, act it out. Gather objects to make costumes and use different voices. She may or may not want to join in, but she will understand the story more and enjoy watching adults acting silly.
Bake cookies to help her understand math and science, while helping her work on sensory issues that deter her from wanting to work with the cookie dough. Use regular trips to the store for errands to help her learn about the different people she sees, incorporating social studies while helping her be more aware of other people and find ways to relate to them.
Support for homeschooling a child with autism can be found in many areas. If family members aren’t crazy about the idea of the child being homeschooled, there are many groups online for those who teach their child with special needs at home. Many families have found that this method benefits their children more than the traditional school setting and are willing to help encourage others. Many areas have local homeschooling groups and co-ops for families that homeschool, giving the parents the support they need while offering opportunities for the children to socialize and get some exercise while they play.
Many parents have found that having a child with autism in school does nothing to benefit the child socially. As with most aspects in life, a child on the spectrum has to be taught how to play, how to read social cues and what is considered to be “appropriate” behaviors. Getting together with other children while being supervised helps the child learn these important aspects.
Depending on how well the child functions, it may only take a few supervised outings before the child is able to play with the other children on his own. Small groups of kids are preferred by many with autism, who may feel too insecure in larger groups and shy away, preferring to play alone. Finding the number of children that works to help the child feel comfortable when setting up play dates will allow for effective social stimulation.
Teaching at home does not have to be like teaching in a school setting. The focus needs to be on how to help the child learn and retain what she are learning. How that happens is up to the parent and the child. It takes patience to teach an autistic child at home, but with some creativity, flexibility and knowledge of the child and his abilities, it can be done effectively.