Homeschooling a Child With Autism: Tips & Resources
written by: Lisa King
• edited by: Sarah Malburg
• updated: 5/26/2014
Children with autism process information differently and sometimes struggle in a traditional school setting. Many choose to homeschool a child with autism to give them undivided personal attention.
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New Research Development on Autism
Recent studies suggest that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder have a significantly higher number of brain cells than children who do not have the disorder. The prefrontal cortex which is located behind the forehead is responsible for “higher order" thinking skills. This region of the brain is where our emotions, complex thoughts and problem-solving skills come from. This new finding may rule out earlier theories that mercury in vaccines or other influences in the environment is the cause of autism because the majority of neurons or brain cells are developed before birth.
Autistic children have difficulty with communication, social skills, and processing information. Because these children's brains are structured differently, they process information in a way different from most people. Below are several tips, curriculum suggestions and information on laws that will make your homeschooling journey a success while helping your special needs child reach his or her maximum potential.
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Structure and Organization
Autistic children may find it more difficult to learn in a school setting than at home because of the many distractions surround them. These children in particular need structure, and a designated area free from distractions such as noise, visuals that do not relate to the curricula being taught, and even smells. Even simple photos hanging on the wall can send their mind wandering in a different direction. Before beginning to homeschool, make sure to designate a room in your home that is free from distractions and used specifically for learning.
Structure and organization is extremely important for autistic children because it lowers confusion, anxiety, and behavior problems. Stick to a strict routine with daily schedules, calendars or picture lists so the child knows what is expected of them at that particular time and what they will be doing next. When preparing a schedule it is important to consider your individual child's strengths, weaknesses, and skill level.
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Visual Aids and Teaching Tips
Some children with autism have a lot of difficulty with language skills; their minds are unable to process spoken or written language normally. They process information through what they see. For this reason using a variety of visual aids and demonstrations is necessary when teaching any subject. Using picture flash cards is ideal. For example if your child is learning about nouns and verbs, you could use a picture of a cat, dog, boy jumping, girl singing, or a woman cooking. Use photos that contain a picture and the word. Frequent use of real life visuals is also ideal.
When teaching math, manipulatives should always be used. Using pizza or pie cut into equal pieces is a great way to teach fractions. Online educational games are also very beneficial for children with this disorder because many autistic children enjoy computers, art and music. If a child has difficulty controlling a mouse, roller balls are available and are easy for special needs children to use. Using tools children are interested in can create success in learning. Make sure to end an activity before the child becomes frustrated or bored.
Reading at least 20 minutes a day is necessary for all children. When reading, touch and feel, audio, and picture books should be used. During reading, instruct the child to point to the pictures and name the objects. Repetition is a must. It may be a good idea to read the same book over and over again for a few days before switching to a new story. Traditional reading methods generally do not work for autistic children. Evaluate different methods of learning until you find one that fits your individual child's needs.
The majority of children with autism have trouble relating and communicating with others. Many are unable to speak or write, that is why it is crucial to pay close attention to a child's gestures and body language to understand what they are trying to communicate. Make a list of inappropriate and appropriate behaviors using pictures whenever possible. Don't forget to frequently reward your child for good behavior.
Autistic children may behave in a way that is socially unacceptable. Parents and caregivers can act out a variety of social situations to demonstrate appropriate behavior. Puppets get a child's attention and generally work well for role-playing. Another technique is to have the child watch videos and listen to stories that teach a moral.
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My personal belief is that autistic children benefit the most from an Individualized Education Plan and that the curriculum chosen should help meet this plan. Therefore, buying curriculum or enrolling in an online education program may not be the best choice. There are a variety of programs and curriculum available that are geared towards children with autism. "Teachh" is a government program that uses several techniques and methods to assist autistic children. "Time for Learning" is a good online curriculum that allows children to move at their own pace with several games, stories, and activities. However, they do charge a fee of $20 per month. Sample lessons are provided so you can evaluate the program to see if it would meet the specific needs of your child. For additional information on curriculum for autistic children check out "Polyxo's" website.
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Legal Issues and Available Services
The legality of homeschooling special needs students varies by state. Some states require nothing more than a notification while others require mandatory reporting and testing periodically. Contact your district to find out the rules and regulations in your individual state before making a formal decision to homeschool.
Special needs children who are being taught at home are still entitled to speech, occupational and physical therapy. Some districts will have the parent bring a child to a specific location such as the Area Education Agency for services. Generally an IEP is created to help the parent follow certain educational guidelines when homeschooling. The main difference is that some states may require testing to see if the IEP is being met while others may not.
Homeschooling a child with autism takes a lot of work and patience. However, the reward comes when you see that your child has reached their maximum potential and you realize that you helped make this possible. Additional tips for teaching children with autism may be found in the resources below. If you have any of your own experience or advice to share we would love to hear from you.