Homeschool

Autism and an Unexpected Homeschooling Journey

Almost 21 years ago, I began a journey that I didn’t even realize I was embarking upon. All these years later, I know that it’s a good thing I couldn’t see into the future. If I had known all of the trials I would face, I might have chosen not to take the journey. I might have given up before it even began. And I would have missed out on so very many blessings along the way!

 

How long will the journey last? Many years–probably a lifetime.

Is it worth the uncertainties, frustration, and worry? Yes! Because it also comes with blessings, happiness, and reassurance.

I’m talking about the homeschooling journey that started almost 21 years ago with my autistic daughter. She was only 2 years old at the time. She will soon be 23 years old! I had no idea what I was doing back then. And I certainly had no idea how life-changing it would be. I had no idea how wonderful it would be…or how difficult it would be. I had no idea how it would shape not only who my daughter became and is becoming, but it also shapes me. I am not the same person, the same mother, the same teacher, or the same wife that I was 16 years ago. I hope I’m better.

My daughter is autistic, totally non-verbal, has very poor motor skills, and has many sensory issues. Sixteen years ago, I set out to get her ready for school. I knew it would take several years for her to learn what she would need to know to be ready to enter a kindergarten classroom. She would need to know her numbers and letters. She would need to know how to take turns. She would need to be able to sit in a desk and not disrupt the other students in her class. There were so many things she would need to know, and it was up to me to teach them to her.

Those of you who have autistic children know that many (perhaps most) autistic children don’t learn by “picking up” information from their surroundings the way neuro-typical children do. They must be specifically taught every. single. skill. Not only that, but the teaching must be systematic, extremely clear, engaging, and repetitious (but not so repetitious as to cause boredom! A tricky balance!).

It might take some autistic children days, week, months, or even years to learn things that other children can learn in minutes or hours or days. It’s not because autistic children aren’t smart. Many of them are extremely smart, though they tend to hide it well because of their lack of “normal” social behavior. Their lack of typical social behavior hinders their ability to communicate effectively. And communication is a huge part of teaching and learning!

So I set out all those years ago to get my daughter ready for school. I was ready to begin teaching her. I had no idea that I would learn just as much (or perhaps more) from her than I would ever teach to her. I didn’t realize how much I would love teaching her! I didn’t know what a huge challenge it would be or how rewarding it would be every time she made progress. I didn’t know that home would be the best place for her to learn and grow. I didn’t understand that she would be happier at home than anywhere else.

I had the (mistaken) idea that it takes an “expert” to teach a special-needs child. Sure I was teaching her the skills she would need to have in order to begin kindergarten, but I didn’t know anything about teaching an autistic child! I could only teach her a certain amount before she would need one of those “experts” to take over and make sure she learned everything she needed to know, right?

Wrong! As time passed, I began to really, truly love what I was doing. I began to understand that home was the best place for not only my other “neuro-typical” children, but also for my autistic child. I began to see that she enjoyed not only learning, but she enjoyed being with me. She enjoyed being at home with her brother and sister too. She enjoyed being part of the family. And she enjoyed learning in a safe environment where we accepted her and loved her just because she was (and is) herself.

So does it really take an “expert” to teach our special needs kids? Yes! And you, Dear Mom, are the very expert that is best suited for the job!

 

About the author

Wendy

Wendy is one of the owners of Hip Homeschool Moms. She married her high school sweetheart, Scott, over 27 years ago, and they live in the South with their three children. Hannah, age 23, has autism and was the first homeschool graduate in the family. Noah, age 22, was the second homeschool graduate. Mary Grace, age 16, is the remaining homeschool student. Wendy loves working out and teaching Training for Warriors classes at her local gym. She also enjoys learning along with her family, educational travel, reading, and writing, and she attempts to grow an herb garden every summer with limited success.

39 Comments

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  • Loved your article about homeschooling your autistic daughter. I have a 17 year old son with autism who I started homeschooling before we even had a diagnosis for him. We have 2 older children who were in public school however with our autistic son we just knew he would be better off at home. He had so many behaviors at the time that would’ve been very disruptive in a public school environment. After doing our research we knew the public school system was not equipped to help him. Especially not in the loving gentle way that he has ALWAYS needed…and still does today. The slightest misunderstanding and he has tears in his eyes because he thinks people are being mean when they’re not. We have never regretted homeschooling our autistic son. He has been such a blessing and we have learned more from him than I think he has from us. We eventually brought the rest of our children home to homeschool however it was really important for our 2 oldest to be in public school for a time. It allowed me to have the time to reach my son and to just keep up with him. He use to be very hyperactive along with his other behaviors. He is fully functional however his cognitive abilities have always been far behind what his biological age is so I totally understand about repetition and the time it takes for him to learn. Thank you for sharing this part of your life with everyone!

    • Jamileh, thanks for your comment! I’m so glad that you can homeschool your son! I love to hear about other families who homeschool their autistic children–especially teenagers. Years ago, people didn’t even consider homeschooling special-needs children, and it’s becoming more and more common now. Isn’t it amazing how much difference it makes in your son’s happiness and his ability to learn when he’s in an environment that is comfortable for him and where he knows he’s safe? And just like you mentioned, we often learn more from them than they learn from us!

      • Hi! After frustration with the iep’s and school system I have decided to homeschool my autistic 5 year old. I’m trying to figure out the process and right curriculum but I hope I can give him a bEtter education

  • How much over the years did you seek out help from “experts” for any types of therapy? I have a 12 yr old son with Aspergers and truthfully, I feel like I’m at my wits end. I did not realize he was autistic until last year and I still have not gotten an official diagnosis. But all the signs are there, I know he has it. I am very hesistant to seek out psychiatric help or therapy for him since there are so few Christian counselors and they are far between. I have always been homeschooling him and my three other children. I was very discouraged at the beginning of this school year but to make things worse, we had to move 2 hours away. I had to start packing in August and it took until November to get completely moved all while my husband had already gone ahead to start working at a new job. So basically, I have not gotten school started much at all this year because I’m just tired, we got out of the habit since all of our books were packed up for months (and half still are, we will have to move again in a couple of months to a permanent home). I feel like my Aspie son is even more negative toward school now as well as the rest of us. Did you ever have a year where you just didn’t get much accomplished? I know this has been long but I would appreciate any comments you have.

    • Michelle, I know this year has been a hard one for you! Yes, I did have a year like that a few years ago. We were building a house, and our contractor got very sick, so the job fell to me. I spent hours and hours on the phone each week out of necessity, and it was nearly impossible to do school. And we started building on August 15–right when we would have been starting school! After weeks of struggling, I decided to stop schooling completely until the house was built and we were moved in. It was a wonderful decision! After we finished building and moved in and got settled, we began our school year–in March! Since we homeschool, we just kept at it until we finished the year, and then we started the next school year at that point. It took us a couple of years to get caught back up, but that’s part of the beauty of homeschooling! It was ok if it took us 2 years to “catch back up.”

      Also, as far as consulting “experts,” I did have a friends who trained me to teach Hannah when I was doing the ABA method with her. Many autistic children don’t have to use a strict method like that, but Hannah needed it. After that, though, when I began doing “regular” school work with her, I’ve handled that myself. I just read the materials out loud to her and ask her questions orally. Then I write down several answers for her to choose from, and she points to the answer she thinks is correct. (Since she is non-verbal, she can’t answer orally. Also, her motor skills are really bad, so writing the answer would be very hard for her too. Pointing to an answer works well for her.)

      Probably the biggest part of your problem this year isn’t that you don’t know what to do or how to do it. You simply have too much going on and are under a lot of stress. If you can bring yourself to do it, I would either put school off for a while until you get moved in to your permanent home, or I would at least choose just one or two subjects to do and let the rest go for a while.

      If you want to email me further about this, just email me at wendy@hiphomeschoolmoms.com. I’ll be glad to help you if I can!

      Hugs to you!!

    • Michelle, I totally know exactly how you feel. This sounds just like what I went through this last year. My 10 year old daughter started the eval process for Asperger’s last spring…the entire process took about a year. I decided to homeschool last fall (2012) after my children had always gone to a private christian school. I knew at that point that my daughter was an Aspie but to what extent her learning issues were, I did not know. We had been paying out of pocket for much of the evals and therapies (speech/behavioral and occupational). When school started we were also buying a house and moving the 1st week of school. It was a very stressful time. My daughter became more aggressive, upset, and angry through this stage. It was a very stressful time. I gave up after 5 weeks and sent my daughter to a public school to get more evals and hopefully to benefit from some free services. Other than knowing in more detail what her learning issues were – which didn’t get done until the next spring – it wasn’t really a good thing to give up homeschool. Knowing what I know now about Asperger’s/Autism, I wish I would have just stuck it out. I think the key to homeschooling these kids is to not stress over the small stuff and simplify your school. When they get overwhelmed or have a change in routine it is going to be madness for some time. Simplifying the school component will make you and your kids more relaxed whether or not they have an ASD or not. I want to encourage you to not lose heart. After having experience with public and private school, I know homeschool for my children, both neurotypical and not, is the best choice. I have a post about my homeschool mess last year if you are interested in hearing more. As for the experts…I found that just going to some of the therapies and seeing how they interacted with my child was extremely beneficial. Keep your chin up! 🙂

  • Thank you so much!!! This is exactly what I needed to read. My son has recently been diagnosed with high-functioning autism. He has all the symptoms of dyslexia and then some, and it’s already a challenge. I have already felt the beginnings of bullying from medical professionals that he needs to be in public school. But I know in my mommy heart that what he needs is to be homeschooled, now more than ever! I feel like putting him (him particularly, not necessarily all kids like him) in public school would be like throwing him to the wolves.

    Anyway, thanks so much for sharing, because I needed this encouragement.

    • Crystal, good for you! I’ve had folks in the medical profession tell me for many years that my daughter “needs” to go to school. I saw for myself what being in school did to her, and I would go back and re-do those years at home if I could! You are absolutely right that sending him to school would be like throwing him to the wolves. I have seen a few special-needs children who do well in school, but I’ve seen so many more who are mistreated (either by teachers or other children) or ignored or worse. I also believe that, if you know in your heart that home is where he needs to be, then you’re right! Keep him at home! I’m so glad to have encouraged you!

  • Kudos to you Wendy. My wife & I homeschool our twins and while they are not autistic, they do have special needs in terms of the attention that they require. In my country (South Africa) there are about 40 kids to a class. My kids would never be able to function in that environment.

    • Wow! 40 kids to a class is too many for any children–and especially too many for special-needs children of any kind! I’m so glad that you and your wife chose to homeschool your twins. A loving, patient environment makes such a huge difference! Thanks for your comment!

      P.S.–I have an identical twin sister! Are your twins girls or boys or one of each?

  • A boy and a girl. The education system in South Africa is terrible. Many schools don’t have school books on time and there is at least one strike a year where teachers strike for up to 2 months. Some teachers are even killed during the strikes simply because they want to work. It is absolutely barbaric behavior.

  • I would like to share a few resources I have used with my son who has autism. They have been a great help to teach him and guide him into skills I felt were/are important for him to have.
    The first resource is – 1001 Great Ideas for Teaching & Raising Children with Autism or Asperger’s by Ellen Notbohm/Veronica Zysk with the Foreward by Temple Grandin…this book talks about everything from teaching your child academic skills to social skills and everything in between. They give you multiple ideas because, as we know, not every child with autism or asperger’s is the same.
    I also use a thick workbook called Social Skills Activities for Special Children by Darlene Mannix…workbooks may not work for all children. I think it only works for my son because of his age and because I sit with him and go through the lessons with him. We read and dialogue to be sure he understands. I try to keep it light and fun.
    I also, use Thank You for Calling. I believe I purchased it through Remedia. It’s great! It teaches telephone skills and how to listen for information. Again, this is something I sit and do with him to ensure understanding and so he doesn’t get overwhelmed.

  • Thank you so much for this encouraging post. So many make me feel like I am not “worthy” or “smart enough” to teach my child with Asperger’s. I get all sorts of empty advice about what I should and shouldn’t be doing for her education. I think the bigger issue with all these people who think our kids need expert teaching is that they truly do not understand homeschool or the role of the parents.

    We did use those “experts” for a few months but found it to be extremely costly in the $1000’s of dollars and most of it were things I could totally do. Going to these appointments were more beneficial for me I think than for my daughter. I learned a little bit different way of interacting with her which was huge with the new diagnosis. Since my daughter has Asperger’s (pretty high functioning), I feel it was hard going through the initial processes because she would act “normal” sometimes so it was hard to except that I had to teach and do things differently. Starting my first year of homeschool with this new “thing” was difficult. I know that our children are on totally different areas of the spectrum but it is still so encouraging to me to read what you have to say. Thanks again:)

    • Heather, thank you so much for your comment! I’m so glad to have encouraged you a little. 🙂 Yes, I have definitely found that we moms instinctively know best how to work with our children. So many “experts” and well-meaning friends and relatives just don’t understand that we know our children best and are much better capable of teaching them than anyone else. I hope you have a wonderful school year!

  • Wendy, thank you! I love reading moms who share their experience homeschooling spectrum kids. I’m a homeschool mom of an 18 year old who is, and always will be homeschooled. We did preschool and two years of traditional kindergarten, while we worked with him at home, too. But during an IEP it hit me, these folks are really struggling to find workable solutions, and none of them were specific to our son. We’re 14 years in and still loving it. So good to hear more parents out there who have had the same success! Thanks again for sharing it.

  • Im an American currently living in the Philippines and have been trying to adopt a little girl i rescued from abusive parents in the squatter district. I have tried several different centers for autism and it has just not been a good experience for her. She is on the low functioning side of autism…non verbal, poor motor skills, etc. I had decided to simply wait till the adoption was complete then bring her back to my home state where she could get better educational structure than i could provide….but your article was seriously inspiring. I had recently started search for homeschool materials or plans for autism…but most are designed for those that are verbal. May i ask what kind if any of curriculum are you using with your daughter?

    • Angela, I pray that you are able to quickly finish the adoption process and take your little girl home! I actually just use whatever curriculum I use with my other children (except for abstract subjects like higher math). The difference is in how I present the material and how I check for comprehension. I’ve found that the actual curriculum (as long as it’s something she seems to enjoy) isn’t as important as how it is taught and how she’s allowed to interact with it. For example, in history I read a paragraph out loud to her, explain anything that she might not understand, and then ask questions for her to answer. I write down a question and then write down 3 short answers on 3 little strips of paper. Then I read each answer to her and have her point to the correct one. If she misses it, I read the paragraph again, point out the correct answer, ask the question again, and give her another chance to choose the correct answer. That works for us, but of course you may have to experiment to find out what works with your daughter. Blessings!

  • I recently decided, maybe a little late, that it was time to homeschool my youngest. Both my sons have Asperger’s. The school is great and they have done very well with my older son, but they just don’t seem to be getting through to the 4th-grader. Also, he’s having problems getting along with the other kids.

    Part of me knows I’m the best one to teach him composition, which is where he struggles. Part of me thinks I can’t possibly do it. It will be so hard! He’s resistant, seriously lacks confidence, and doesn’t always know how to proceed. If I could get him to believe he could do it, he has a lot of the skills. However, if I ask too much of him, he becomes very stressed and acts out.

    Do you have any suggestions for overcoming confidence and stress problems relating to education?

    • The best way to build confidence and help him get over being so stressed is to simply plan some super easy work/activities for him for the first few weeks–and maybe even the first few months. Don’t worry about “wasting time” because no matter how slowly you take it, it’s still better than him not learning anything because he’s stressed and upset. Also, plan very short work sessions and increase to longer ones only as he seems to able to handle it. And when you do increase work time, make a plan. For instance, have him work for just 10 minutes for the first week or two. If he can handle that, the next week, go to 12 minutes. Stay there for a week or two, then increase to 15 minutes. Also, you may need to do his school work in several short sessions a day rather than sitting down to do all of his work at once. You can play around with the schedule to find out what works for both of you. 🙂

    • Michelle, its never too late. I’ve homeschooled our son for more than 14 years. I’ve tried it all. You described our situation perfectly. I watched our son’s self confidence soar, but in all fairness, it took a while before he trusted his own ability. Wendy had great ideas. I would add putting a lot of focus and time in talking about things he’s good at and things he enjoys. We also made a routine of starting with those subjects (or hobbies, even) before we tackled a tough subject. He was already in a strong state of mind that way. Hope that helps with a few more ideas to try.

      • Thank you both. I will try your ideas and expect it to take time. Building confidence will be my first priority. Then I’ll slowly show him that he can do even more 🙂

  • I love that you wrote about this!! What an answer to a prayer. I have been contemplating home schooling my daughter. She is on the spectrum, is for the most part non verbal, and does not use signs or picture boards yet. She is in a special needs preschool and it is helping her so many ways socially, but I am concerned that elementary school would not be as nurturing for her. I would love to be able to teach her at home, and have more flexibility for her therapy appointments, but I feel so overwhelmed at the thought. where do you start? can you really make a difference? Would someone else do a better job teaching her? The thoughts that run through your head never seem to come to a consensus. She is a beautiful, loving, fun girl, and she is so much smarter than people give her credit for. I just wonder how to teach someone that does not communicate. Would love more advice and specifics if at all possible.

    • If you would like to email me, we can get in contact with each other and maybe plan a phone call. I can type out some tips and information for you, but it would probably be easier and more beneficial for you to have a chat on the phone if you’d like to do that. I’m always glad to share whatever info I can to help other parents of special needs kids who want to homeschool! Also, just in case your email goes to my spam folder, go ahead and send me a PM on the Hip Homeschool Moms Facebook page. Be sure to address the message to me, Wendy. That way, if another team member sees the post before I do, she’ll be sure to bring it to my attention. Here’s the link to the HHM FB page: https://www.facebook.com/hiphomeschoolmoms.

      Blessings,

      Wendy

  • Hello Wendy,

    My son is 6 and has autism. He is non verbal. I am contemplating homeschooling him. He is in school and is in a special program for children with autism however there has been very little change in the passed couple years. I am a stay at home mom and though I have no training I feel that Aidan responds to me more than anyone else and I feel that I should give homeschool a chance and see how he responds. I just have no clue where to begin. He is home for summer break and I would like to begin now. He does not focus for more than a few seconds, maybe minutes. He spends his day wanting to line up toys, jump and run or slam things. Any tips, resources, websites etc.
    Thanks,
    Lily

    • Hi Lily,

      I apologize for taking so long to respond to your comment! I think it’s great that you are willing to begin homeschooling your son over the summer! If you can email me at wendy@hiphomeschoolmoms.com, I’ll be happy to help you come up with things to work on with your son. Also, I”ll try to find some of the resources I’ve used in the past with my daughter to see if they might be helpful to you. Please be sure to put something like “info for my autistic child” in the subject line so I won’t think your email is spam. You might want to send the email to my other email address too (hhm.wendy.hilton@gmail.com) since occasionally folks have trouble with their emails bouncing when they send them to my other email address. 🙂

      Blessings!

      Wendy

  • Hi Wendy,
    Thank you for this encouragement! I’m Grandma to a wonderful, beautiful high functioning autistic 5 year old boy 🙂 I am homeschooling him and am thrilled to be doing so. My daughter is a single mom, working 12 hour shifts and just cannot do it all. She knew from the beginning that she wanted to homeschool as she was homeschooled herself. Circumstances have made it impossible for her to do so, but I have been so richly blessed and am able to stay home with our little guy and do the schooling. I am a little nervous because of his autism but I have been around the block with trying everything until we figure out what works. I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your article and how encouraged I am by it and by reading comments from others. It does help to know we are not alone 🙂 God is faithful and I really needed to read some encouraging things tonight.
    God bless you,
    Terri

    • Hi Terri,

      Thanks so much for your sweet comment! I’m so glad it encouraged you! I think it’s wonderful that you’re able to homeschool your grandson and that you’re willing to do it. What a blessing you must be to your daughter and your grandson!

      I’m planning to write more articles about homeschooling autistic children in the not-too-distant future because I’ve gotten such great response from moms and grandmothers like you!

      Also, if you aren’t already a part of our Facebook community, you might want to join us there. You can find our page at https://www.facebook.com/hiphomeschoolmoms. You are free to post comments and questions right there, but I encourage you to join https://www.facebook.com/groups/HipHomeschoolMomsCommunity/ and ask questions because you’ll get much more response and info.

      Blessings to you and your grandson! And thank you for your comment. I hope to hear from you again!

    • Aw, Brigette, I’m so glad if I helped encourage you! I promised God years ago that, if He would lead my husband and me and help us know how best to take care of Hannah, I would freely share information and help with other parents however I can. Many blessings to you too!

  • hi Wendy, am glad to have stumbled on your website/webpage. I am encourag
    ed by your story and planning to homeschool my nonverbal autistic 5 year old son. In Kenya we really don’t have adequate special schools for autistic kids. Will email you for more details. Thanks, Lynn

    • Sure! I use the same kinds of books and materials with my autistic daughter as I use with my other two children. I sometimes use lower grade level materials, though. That’s mainly because the higher levels often call for more abstract thinking–which is something that’s not easy for Hannah. The main difference with Hannah is the way I present the materials and teach her and in the ways I assess what she has learned. In fact, I think I’ll do a post covering this in order to help others who are interested since it’s really too much to share in one comment. Please check back over the next 3 or 4 weeks, and I’ll get a post published that will help answer your questions. Also, I’m sharing here some links to the materials I’ve used with Hannah. These are affiliate links, but I used these materials for many many years before becoming an affiliate, and I can honestly recommend them to you and other parents too! Math U See Veritas Press Apologia Shurley English

  • Very inspiring. The experts are usually making money for nothing. I had an awful experience with an expert who had a special needs child. People romanticize school. I’ve never seen it be better for a special needs child.

    • I’m glad you were inspired! Yes, we parents are usually the best qualified and most motivated to do a good job educating our children–both special needs and those who aren’t.

  • I really enjoyed reading this article. You are a great writer and a wonderful, loving Mother and teacher!! It is a blessing to know you and your sweet family!! Glad to have you in my life!! Love you!!

  • Hi, thank you for sharing. It has been most helpful and is truly a blessing to our hearts. We have a daughter with a disability she is 13 unfortunately she is an only child and longs to be around other girls and boys. We live and are from the Bahamas where resources are limited and are faced with having to put her in school for the sake of socializing with other children with disabilities. Not complaining just explaining I know how hard it is. We realize we have to get creative in starting some things to incorporate typical peers as well as atypical peers. Like sport groups music etc. – Yes it is very hard and discouraging at times but we always remind ourselves of our lives before marriage and children whether biological or adopted and how non-adventurous it was we would still be stuck at home sipping on hot cocoa looking for a job maybe find a job and life still not be as challenging tiring adventurous and rewarding as it is now. As long as we all have life its not so bad I guess……..just wanted to share and thanks again…..

  • I cried a little when I read this. I always feel as though my 3 year old boy needs an “expert” to teach him, and perhaps he isn’t getting the best with me. Thanks for the encouragement, and thanks for taking the hard road that lead to so much reward.

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