7 Reasons Why I Homeschool our Autistic Children
Last year was our first year homeschooling both boys full-time. I had been homeschooling Jojo for a couple of years full-time already, and homeschooling Aidan part-time for four years or so. That full-time dive for both of them at the same time was scary as hell. But hell, if I didn’t dive in I don’t think I was ever going to do it.
There was this brief period of time when my sister and I were in middle school that our mom homeschooled us. I couldn’t really tell you if I found this exceptionally short homeschooling stint to be influential in my decision to want to teach the boys at home. Actually yes I can, it had nothing to do with my decision to homeschool, but I felt some background was appropriate and providing some familiarity on the matter might make my opinions land more factually, lol. I kid (hence the “lol” or perhaps it was because I found it funny and I literally…laughed out loud? You’ll never know and I won’t tell).
A lot went into our decision to ultimately keep the boys home, but that is a post for another day. This share will be a pros/cons list sans the cons….so just a pros list. This is for those who are on the fence but not quite ready to make the leap. Y’all might be looking for that little push. This is for those who hadn’t even considered homeschooling but just want to read a little something about it. I guess I could also do a cons list or post…but nah. There are cons, I just won’t be discussing them here.
A lot of you have been considering homeschooling for years. Many of you have been thrust into the role of teacher because of Covid and you think to yourself, “self, this ain’t so bad,” and you think you want to keep going. So many of you worry about how to homeschool a disabled child? Not gonna lie, it is challenging, and I will get into the specifics of how we homeschool our boys…but on another post…cause this one is about, the pros to homeschooling (*insert awkward wink*).
What kept me from homeschooling was me doubting my abilities as an educator. I simply didn’t think I was qualified enough to prepare my children for their future and adulthood. “They need specialists and therapists,” I reasoned. Over time, I realized that the progress they had made was because I was the one teaching them “behind the scenes,” before and after school, and between therapy sessions. And I was pretty good (hi-five to myself…toot toot my own horn). I was the one who was attending every Autism and Special Needs seminar and conference, reading every book, and who conversed with every “professional,” trying to learn all I could to help my boys. I was far more qualified than I had given myself credit for, and chances are, so are you.
Important Note: this post is for those who homeschool with no attachment to the school district. This isn’t hybrid learning, half/half, etc. This isn’t for those who do online public school. Also, it’s incredibly important that you check your state’s laws for homeschooling.
I know you’re thinking, “enough of this already.” Okay, okay…let’s get after it, shall we?
Seven reasons why I chose to open and run the Hammond “Straight Outta Bed” Homeschool:
You are free to homeschool when you want, for however long you want, and teach how you want. This is important for our children whose engagement can ebb and flow throughout the day. Typical school is often overwhelming for our children with the long hours and constantly being forced to engage in a manner that isn’t comfortable to them. And then they come home and “explode.” It’s because they’ve spent the entire day keeping their true selves bottled up and when they come home, they unload it all because home is their safe space and you are their person. And because you understand them and you’ll know what to do, they can be free to be who they are…unwind from the day and let loose.
You can assess where your child is and their engagement level and determine if only a few hours a day are necessary. Actually, I know that you will determine that only a few hours per day is necessary. Your child doesn’t need 8 hours of instruction, they’ll often become bored, disengaged, or overwhelmed. Hell, you too. A few hours of meaningful instruction per day that caters to your child’s specific needs will be enough.
Right now I teach four days per week (Fridays are off for Aidan; Mondays are off for Jojo)…and pre-Covid, Thursdays and Fridays on my husband’s off days were designated for field trips. Oh, that’s another thing, you can field trip whenever and wherever. Awesome, right? Yeah, it is.
2. You’re the boss. Literally.
You are the district, school board, etc. You are in charge of their curriculum. The homeschool laws vary from state to state but from what I gather, most states still allow parents to choose whatever curriculum they want, even creating their own. Here, in Texas, we simply have to teach five subjects the state deems necessary, have a curriculum, and use the proper materials that correspond with the curriculum (texts, worksheets, etc.). Basically, there needs to be some sort of plan we’re following, have some actual materials they would use for learning, and make sure we at least taught the subjects they want us to teach. Your state might be a little different. Be sure to check with your state’s homeschool laws.
There are so many different curriculums out there, it’s overwhelming. Many cost money (a lot of money), many are free. You can find some at bookstores, online, and curriculum swaps/sales at local co-ops. I have even found some good workbooks at Wal-Mart or Dollar Tree. Because of our boys’ needs, I have mixed and matched different curriculums and material. I’ve taken Easy Peasy (a free online curriculum), used it as a foundation, so I can get an idea of what a year of planning looks like and I then expanded upon it, changed some things, and brought in different resources, materials, and other things to learn. I often adapt curriculum to suit our boys needs.
3. As the Boss, you choose how and what they learn.
Being in charge of what they learn and how they learn it is incredibly important. We know our kids, and we know what they need. With the schools, they focus primarily on the academics; as they should, given they are a school. But where they fail our children is that oftentimes our children need more functional learning than academic.
Our family is choosing to place a lot of emphasis on life skills for our boys, integrating their mandatory subjects in with meaningful skills they would need in the future. For example, in Texas there is a math requirement. One son has a firm grasp on math skills and the other, doesn’t (not yet), but we teach them both skills they would need in the future to help take care of themselves. My youngest who understands math also learns couponing, how to shop, creating a budget, etc. These are life skills, and it’s also math. My oldest who doesn’t yet understand math is a little more challenging, but we still try…he will get it one day, I know it. He is learning to clip coupons and use scissors, but we have that falling under ‘Art,’ it’s a life skill, but simply clipping them isn’t math. Right now, with him we are working on recognizing numbers.
For our kids it’s important they learn academic subjects but it’s equally, if not more, important they learn functional life skills. Homeschooling provides the opportunity to focus on these.
4. Community learning.
Note: the following was pre-Covid, we have severely limited our time in the community or we have made sure to do things that are in wide open spaces with minimal crowds. We have still gone to museums, we just make sure to go really early in the morning on weekdays so there are much less people. This information is still useful as I don’t see us being under a Covid fog forever. But should you go out into the community, be safe during this time.
I touched on this earlier with the field trips, but if your children are anything like mine, and they are if they have an Autism diagnosis, they struggle with social interaction and/or being in public. With homeschooling you can create opportunities for your child to be in the community learning how to interact with the world. There’s not much of that in the public school, even in special education. If anything, the school liked to hide my children or keep them away from the others. I am now able to go to the zoo, museum, restaurants, etc. during school/work hours and while these places are not entirely dead zones, there’s FAR less people there than would be if we went on a weekend or after school or during holiday breaks. This allows my children to get out in the community and build up their tolerance. I have my speaking son say “hello” to at least 3 people there and my nonspeaking one I’ll have him do the same with his device.
There are homeschool co-ops, which are communities of other homeschooling families that get together to teach each other’s children, play with one another, go on field trips, and more. These have been amazing for us. There are several co-op groups where i live and we take advantage of each. The classes they have are smaller than those in the school setting and the teaching is individualized. My boys thrive in these environments. Our children with Autism need to learn the skills necessary to interact with the world, school just overwhelmed my kids. With homeschool I’m able to control their exposure, basing it off their needs, strengths, and weaknesses.
5. Everything can be a teachable moment.
I have found myself using any and everything around me to teach my boys something. I like to think I did that before I started homeschool, and I probably did but now I’m on overdrive. I guess because I’m doing the teaching, I’m inspired by our environment. Their chores are now more than chores, they are life skills. I treat them as such because they’ll need these skills in the future. Sorting laundry isn’t just because you need clean clothes, it’s recognizing colors, it’s measuring detergent (math), following directions, time management (starting a load and then working on something else). Everything we do at homeschool is purposeful. It has to mean something for their future or we don’t do it.
6. No standardized testing.
At least not for those in Texas homeschools. Check your state’s laws.
I loathe state assessments. Teachers are teaching to a test. My kids’ public school would spend roughly two months going over material to pass a state test. They weren’t learning anything else. They we’re doing times tables…in Science class. My boys were taking adaptive tests for the state. They too, were learning things they didn’t need to be learning, all for a test. For our kids, every single thing they learn needs to matter, it needs to have a purpose. Their lives depend on it. Literally. It takes more effort on our part to prepare our children for a world without their parents or guardians. Schools consistently drop the ball here.
It’s true freedom when you homeschool. Most of the reasons I mentioned all highlight the most important aspect of homeschool, freedom. You aren’t bound by the system to teach your child material they don’t need nor understand (yet). You go at a pace your child is comfortable with. You can do one subject per day, per week. If you want to only teach three days a week, go for it. If you want to take a trip to an Amazon Fulfillment Center (which is definitely a thing, check that out), on a Tuesday, go ahead (after Covid, though).
The freedom to teach a few hours a day or a few days a week has its benefits for therapy purposes as well. I don’t know about you, but in my experience most of the therapy times tend to be booked up around the late afternoon/after school hours. With homeschool, you get your pick of any slot during the day, your schedule is that free.
You are in full control of what your child learns, how your child learns it, and how they are to be assessed on their retention of the material.
Homeschool is freedom. Pure and simple.