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Homeschooling and Autism: How Our Homeschooling Journey Began

My family’s homeschooling journey began in a different way than that of many other homeschooling families.

Homeschooling and Autism Pinnable Image

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! 

Photo credit: “Stairway to Forest” By lkunl, published on 22 January 2014
Stock Photo – image ID: 100228979 http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

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  1. I always learn a lot from the posts on homeschooling for a special needs child and wonder why we don’t see more of them. In my case, and I’m guessing maybe others, it’s difficult or embarrassing to bring up again the painful experiences that lead to a decision to homeschool.

    1. Hi, thank-you for this article. I am contemplating homeschooling my only son who also has autism and speech delays. He works hard and grows socially, emotionally, and academically every year (although at a different pace than his peers). He has overcome a large amount of autism related sensory issues, learned a lot of appropriate classroom behavior, and done well academically based on early reading fluency and memory skills. Now we are at an age where he needs greater comprehension and understanding skills (prediction, sequencing, inference) to tap into his lessons. Unfortunately I feel that the school has only one solution and that is to move him into a special classroom/ resource setting. Naturally I disagree and don’t want him to loose his connectivity to his class, but without the mainstream teacher having support and the aide additional training he is at times out of focus. I am happy to teach him and often am his friend/ playmate. My glitch is me. I need personal time for me and his school day provides that. I have no relatives within 2,000 miles of where I live and since the move is recent, no deep friendships. If I could design/find a part-time home school I would be involved in heart beat. Any feedback on any part of this, is appreciated. Even so, I am searching into all local charter and homeschool programs. How do moms keep themselves in balance?

      1. Heather, I was definitely exactly where you are years ago when I first considered homeschooling my daughter! It was a hard decision. For a couple of years, Hannah attended public school for about 3 hours each morning, then I picked her up around 11:30, and we homeschooled for a few hours each afternoon. I don’t know if something like that might be possible to work out where you are, but it worked well for us for about 2 years. After that, as Hannah got older, I found that the teachers’ expectations of Hannah were so low that she began “living down” to them, and it was necessary to take her out of public school completely. Again, it was a difficult decision, but looking back I can say with absolute certainty that it was the best decision. As far as how we keep things balanced, we don’t always. I found, though, that by putting Hannah to bed a little earlier, I was able to have some time in the evenings. Also, my husband is great about letting me go to the coffee shop or the library or somewhere else for a few hours every couple of weeks or so. Sometimes those moments are what keep me sane!

  2. Hi, I really thank you for this article . I just removed my 6 yr old son from public school in March of this year. He is autistic,( Asperger) it was not good for him in the public school setting. I was called to the school two to three times a week, with what the school call behaviors and outburst. The aggression and behaviors began to get worst. My son began coming home displaying the same behavior at home and started to become aggressive with his younger siblings. My son is normally very sweet, happy boy. He loves to read and act out stories an help others. Talking with the teachers they could not pin point his behaviors. I began asking my son what made him act out , he would say the teacher yelled at me. I’ve noticed since that sounds ,different pitches of your voice bothers him . I was going to home school him in the beginning of the school year but I let fear stop me. I felt the school was better equipped. My husband and I prayed about the situation and we knew that we were to home school. My son has not been as aggressive since being home schooled. He is getting along better with his siblings. Seeing your article encouraged me to press forward that I can be successful with homeschooling and that parents are the best teachers because we know our children at a deeper level.

    1. Kelly, I’m so glad to have encouraged you! And I think it’s wonderful that you took the plunge and began homeschooling him. I’ve homeschooled my autistic daughter for 18 years, and it has definitely been the very best choice for her. It hasn’t always been easy, but we’ve made it, and you can too.

  3. I want to thank you for your post, both of my children have an Autism diagnosis, among other medical problems. The stressors of public school and what they have been through is just not a positive one but like you said that’s a different story. I have been researching Home schooling for this year, but I don’t know where to start, what to do. The kids love the idea of Cyber school and I have applied to the Liberty University program and I really hope God’s direction is to lead us there. I really feel blessed to have 2 unique children, they are there own people and I love watching the world through there eyes… I just hate how negative the world treats them sometimes…. Thank you again this article is exactly what I needed today.

    1. I’m so happy to know that my article was an encouragement to you! I agree that online classes often work well for children on the autism spectrum, and I hope that works out for your family! If not, though, it is definitely possible to teach our students using textbooks, unit studies, or other materials and resources, so try not to be worried if the cyber school doesn’t end up being a good fit. It is discouraging when people treat our children negatively, but it’s my hope that people will become better educated about autism and will come to respect (and admire!) them and treat them well. Thank you so much for your comment! It’s so encouraging to me to hear from other homeschooling parents who are blessed by what I share.

  4. I have been wanting to homeschool my son with autism since he was grade 1 but for some reason there’s always hindrance in pursuing this desire. I beleive despite of many opposition from friends and family about the issue of socialization, Homeschool is still the best education for my son. First, my son only need a structured set up socialization because he dont normally naturally mingle with other kids to play. He needs to be assited in a structured set up. My son wont work well in a big group set up but thankfully he can with smaller group with minimal assistance. Finally he was now on his grade 5 when i totally decided to pull him out from his school where he is not receiving the right program for his level. I now recently homeschooled my son, wether i dont see any progress and I know the road there would be diificult, I have to make a step of faith. With God’s guidance and help I know I’m not alone and I know someone will backed me up and support me. Thanks to all homeschool journey mom blogger where i can pull out inspiration and encouragement to pursue homeschooling my son woth autism.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! It’s not easy homeschooling any child–especially a special needs child–but it’s definitely worth the extra time and effort to see our kiddos grow and thrive and have their needs met!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have just started to home school my 6 year old daughter who has special needs. She has similar challenges as your Hannah, with difficulties sitting still and following directions, and speech delays. Yours is the first site/blog I’ve come across that specifically addresses home schooling for a child with special needs — so I’m glad I found it! The biggest challenge I have right now is finding play groups for socializing. My daughter does seem interested and seems to enjoy other kids. How did you handle this?

  6. This article is coming at a very important junction for me as I sit here trying to decide if it’s time to pull my autistic son who just started 5th grade from public school as he seems to fall in a gap that I have finally realized is there for children who fall on the spectrum where he does. This article I believe many have just given me the push that I needed to let me know that homeschooling him will be what’s best for him.

    1. Jesica, I know how you feel! It’s kind of scary taking control of our children’s education, and it can be even more scary to be responsible for educating our special needs kids! But I’m so glad you saw the article when you did and that it encouraged you. I can honestly and truly say that it was the best thing I ever did for my daughter, and I would make the same decision again if I had it to do over. Blessings to you and your family! You can do it!

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