My family’s homeschooling journey began in a different way than that of many other homeschooling families.
You see, when I began homeschooling, my intention was actually to begin teaching my autistic child, Hannah, what she needed to know in order to go to public school. Because of her severe autism, she didn’t speak; she had no idea how to wait her turn in a group; she didn’t know how to sit at a desk or table and pay attention in order to learn something; she couldn’t copy the actions of others in order to learn to dress herself or clap her hands or follow instructions. She simply would not have been able to attend school and participate in anything constructive or educational.
So I looked for someone to help me learn the best way to help my daughter prepare for school. I found a wonderful woman who trained me in ABA therapy. After being trained, I set out (with the help of several wonderful people: my mother-in-law, a teenager whom we paid to work with Hannah, a volunteer from our church, and Hannah’s speech therapist) to work with Hannah and prepare her for school. Our objective was to teach Hannah to learn.
At the time, I had absolutely no idea how life-changing that decision would be. In fact, I’m glad I didn’t know, or I would have been afraid to begin! Looking back, though, that was the beginning of our homeschooling journey.
Hannah stopped regressing and began to show signs of improvement as we worked with her week after week. We began with very simple things like how to sit quietly in a chair for a few minutes at a time and how to imitate simple movements and to follow one-step commands. In other words, we taught her the things that most other young children learn on their own. It took hours and hours of work (and lots of motivation!) for Hannah to learn the simplest of things. It was extremely hard work on Hannah’s part and on all of us who worked with her. But it was necessary.
After doing this program for about a year, Hannah was ready to try out the public school class for autistic children. She had a wonderful teacher who knew a lot about working with autistic children! I was pleased with her class and was excited to have Hannah’s mornings occupied so that I could work with her in the afternoons instead of all throughout the day. Only we encountered a problem.
Hannah’s behavior had always been particularly good–especially for an autistic child. The longer she was in the class for autistic children, though, the more negative behaviors she picked up. (I guess she had learned how to imitate really well by that point!) She became unhappy and started showing some signs of aggressive behavior too. School was not what we had hoped it would be. We were seeing many more negative than positive behaviors as a result of her school experience.
Of course that’s not the whole story of her public school experience. There’s simply not room for that in this article. That’s enough, though, to give a good idea of it. And it was enough for those of us who worked with Hannah on her ABA program at home to realize something. WE were the experts! WE understood that she could learn–both academics and self-help skills. WE had confidence in her and had literally taught her everything she knew up until that point! In other words, she needed US, not the public school system. She needed to be at home.
When her younger brother and sister were born, it was natural for me to teach them at home just as I was teaching Hannah at home. I like to say that we were “accidental homeschoolers.”
I learned through these experiences with Hannah (who will 19 years old in a couple of months!) and my other two children that homeschooling is, at least to us, the very best way to learn! I would never trade our homeschool experiences for anything! Hannah has made so much progress over these many years of homeschooling, but she still has autism. She’s still non-verbal, has trouble learning certain things–especially anything abstract, has very poor motor skills, and has extreme sensitivities to certain tastes and sounds. She is also a beautiful, wonderful, loving young lady who loves to read (not out loud since she doesn’t speak), is a computer whiz, loves music, and enjoys her life most of the time.
I hope that you can read about our experiences and be encouraged in your own homeschooling journey. Homeschooling a child with autism, or any child for that matter, is a difficult yet very rewarding experience!
How did you begin homeschooling? We would love to hear from you!