There are a lot of good things about home schooling, there are also a lot of difficult things about it. Home schooling a special needs child, especially an autistic one can be particularly difficult. For us however, it was the only real answer as middle school with its overcrowded hallways, noisy lunch rooms, excessive home work and the lack of willingness on the part of the school to even consider any form of accomodations because they "didn't have the money" loomed in our son's future four years ago. I see this turning into a string of diaries if there's interest in the subject, but this one is going to focus on the positives and negatives of home schooling an autistic child.
On the positive side, there is the flexibility of curriculum, no bullies, lack of FCAT testing, one on one attention, fewer distractions, working around his bad days, and the ability to work other things our son needed for success into the day such as sensory integration therapy (which will be another diary), extra breaks, and life skills like cooking and cleaning. The biggest key to success is knowing your child, what they are capable of, what they are not capable of, how they learn best (hands on? video? textbooks? listening? a combination?), and how long they are capable of focusing on any particular task. I can't imagine trying to do this for a classroom of 30 kids, it's hard enough just with our two. One of the best ways I've found with my autistic child is to play to his interests. Mine likes dragons, politics, history, and drawing. These are his primary interests.
Our social studies project right now is learning about the Bill of Rights. His big project, aside from videos, books, and discussions on the topic is to draw a book about the Bill of Rights that he can use to teach his 8 year old sister about them. His book is titled "The Dragon's Bill of Rights", we've just finished the 2nd Amendment, and let me tell you, dragons with guns.. scary concept. But, he's doing all the drawing, writing up the text (though he's asked me to letter it because he likes my handwriting better) and we're making copies of the pages so he can keep the originals in his portfolio of artwork. And I guarantee when he's done he'll know the Bill of Rights better than Sarah Palin or Christine O`Donnel. He should have learned this, at least some of it in elementary school, but they didn't seem to do much social studies, science or much besides reading and very basic math in his special needs class in public school unfortunately. In a lot of ways we're still playing catch up, but we are making progress.
We get most of his school work done in about 3 or 4 hours per day, with a few short breaks, though even a lot of those are learning breaks. He may not consider a video about the life and art of Andy Warhol school work, but that's art appreciation. Folding laundry, doing dishes (which he has a step by step list for), cooking, budgeting, shopping, learning how to deal with store clerks, how to take the bus; this is all part of his education. Many kids seem to learn these skills by osmosis through watching their parents do them, in my experience with autistic kids, this doesn't happen nearly as easily for them, at least not for mine. He can watch me do something 100 times a day, but if he's not doing it, and being explained step by step how to do it forget it, he will get overwhelmed, forget things, and it will be a mess. And so we practice, and I have lists and reminders hung all over the house.
One of the biggest negatives is the lack of a break from eachother. We offset that by tag team parenting and schooling with the kids. When one of us is getting overwhelmed, the other will take over so the first can have some quiet time, whether that's getting out of the house for a while, going into another room to read, or putting on the headphones and cranking up the music. Another negative is the cost of the materials at times, or not being able to afford a course you really want to do, also the research into the courses, and difficulty figuring out what will work and what will not for our child. I'm also not very good at organizing, so that is also a challenge, keeping all the finished work neat, dated, and organized can be a problem for me. Notice most of the negatives focus around me and not him?
This is a LOT of work! I spend a good part of Sunday figuring out vocabulary lists and spelling lists and what we need to accomplish in the coming week, all while keeping it flexible enough to allow for bad days and emergency changes. There are a couple of things that are must do several times a week, reading, math, vocabulary is a big one because of his language delays, it's something we really focus on every week. Luckily our math unit this year is relatively simple from my point of view, we're doing a Dave Ramsey course on personal finance and it's pretty much self contained other than fielding questions and reviewing some concepts (like how to figure out compound interest). Vocabulary I use lists online that are available to high school teachers, SAT lists, and sometimes I take words out of units we're working on or reading (I did this especially when we covered Edgar Allen Poe).This means I write up word lists, analogy or multiple choice questions for the word lists, and the tests as well. But, he's using previous vocabulary words to define new ones, and his speech and understanding of what he's hearing and reading is expanding so I know it's working.
Another big negative, especially in the beginning is lack of support. My parents and my in-laws were both very wary of the home schooling thing, especially at first. They kept talking about lack of socialization by keeping him home, that he wouldn't develop 'normal' relationships with other kids, that he wouldn't learn what he needed. I think a lot of it came from not understanding what's going on in today's schools and not really understanding his disability.
In five years in public school never did he have a 'normal' relationship with other kids. There were some kids who tolerated him, and tried to be nice, but he never knew how to deal with it, and those friendships never lasted long. Without being there and being able to see what was happening I didn't know how to help him with those. Also with schools cutting back on recess, on specials, and cracking down on talking in the lunch room, there wasn't a lot of opportunity for socialization, and what did occur mostly seemed to be other kids either bullying him or picking on him. Every day he'd come home angry, in tears, or just completely withdrawn and getting him ready for school was almost always a fight because he never wanted to go. Now he has a few almost normal relationships with peers, mostly online a few in the neighborhood. He's able to talk to other kids his age, at least boys anyway. He has no idea how to handle girls, but I guess that's pretty normal for 15. And when he runs into problems, I can steer him in the right direction because I can see what's going on and explain what he missed, usually in body language, or going on and on about some obscure video game or more commonly, about dragons. He's learning to be a bit more cautious and tolerant during political discussions with adults as well, though he gets angry at the tea party/republican viewpoint sometimes and has trouble staying polite. God help them if they start praising Glenn Beck, we're still working on that filter between brain and mouth. Tact is not something that comes easily to him.
But, this year, finally we're getting full support from family on our home school endeavors. My mother in law saw him for the first time in four years last month, (she lives several states away and we keep in touch but don't see eachother much) and was just going on about how smart he is and how much he knows and how much better he seems to be doing. He can hold a conversation now, he doesn't have as many melt downs and when he does they're not as severe, he's reading and more interested in other people, he's not as afraid or withdrawn in social situations. Some of it probably has to do with him growing up, but I like to think some of it is because he's in an environment where he's learning rather than memorizing facts. He's learning to think for himself, to look for answers, and to ask questions (took me two years to get him to ask questions). Sometimes it will take us an extra 20 minutes to get through a video because he'll ask me to stop it so he can ask about a word or concept he didn't understand. Before he would just nod and smile as if he understood and then after you'd ask him about something in the video and he'd have no clue, as if he hadn't watched it at all.
Overall, as difficult and challenging as home schooling my son is, for us it's the best possible education he can get. He's learning, he's reading, he's making huge advances that he was not making before. There are still a lot of things to work on, and we only have three more years until graduation. We may not be able to get to everything a typical kid in public school would, but he'll know how to find the answers he needs and wants to know. And a lot of that is because of what he didn't learn in the special needs class in public school; honestly he didn't even know fractions or decimals coming out of 5th grade because they only ever did addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. He also emerged from public school hating to read because they told him so often he couldn't ever comprehend it. How they expected him to manage in middle school I have no idea. I can't see him succeeding in the middle school environment I grew up in, and from what I understand it's even more intense now. I loved school, I loved to learn. I still do. I'm glad I was able to pass that love on to my son, even if I had to pull him out of school to do it. In the end, the rewards of home schooling far exceed the difficulties.
Update: I've been rescued! Thank you, and thank you all for your support and comments. I'll definitely be doing another diary in the future about home schooling or about sensory integration, or some other facet of raising an autistic child. Thank you all again.