Your child has so much to learn about the world. As a caring and devoted parent, you'll teach some of those lessons at home. But traditionally, parents send their children to schools to round out their understanding of the past and the future.
Homeschooling turns that model on its head.
A homeschool autism program puts parents in charge of a child's complete education. You'll teach your child about basic topics, such as grooming and cooking. You'll also teach your child about math, grammar, geography, and more. You’ll handle their education on all fronts.
Homeschool autism programs can be widely successful, and some parents believe their children get benefits at home that they would never get in a school. But running a program like this takes a significant amount of time and commitment. You must ensure you can handle this responsibility before you sign up.
What Is Homeschooling?
During the 2011–2012 school year, about 3% of school-age children were taught at home. These families have homeschooling in common, but if you think that they all follow the same plan, you might be surprised.
Homeschooling can involve:
- Private investment. Some parents purchase homeschooling kits from companies like Calvert Education or K12 Inc.
- Public school enrollment. About a quarter of students considered homeschoolers are taking courses provided by a public school. They may do all classes online, or they may complete a few courses within a classroom.
- Private school enrollment. Some private schools run online-only programs for their students.
Some parents run traditional classrooms on standard timetables. Children gather in a designated learning space, and they work on their lessons all day with a short break for lunch. Other parents break up classroom time with plenty of outings.
In most states, parents must demonstrate that their children are learning and progressing toward defined goals. Test scores and similar benchmarks offer proof that the lessons work. These requirements vary, and some have very lax rules.
Pros of Homeschooling Children With Autism
People with autism are entitled to an education, and they are often successful in completing this education. For example, 62% of students with disabilities graduated from high school during the 2012–2013 school year.
For some students with autism, that success comes in a traditional classroom. They have state-sponsored help in picking up key lessons, and with that assistance, they thrive. But many parents think the standard classroom is too limiting for their children.
Parents say public schools struggle to:
- Provide enough support. A child with special needs can get shunted to the back of the classroom. Harried teachers sometimes can't provide extra attention to students in need.
- Offer trained professionals. Some teachers in special education classrooms have no experience with autism, and they don't use teaching techniques geared to these unique students.
- Deliver appropriate learning experiences. Students must sit quietly in their desks for hours, which is tough for some students with autism.
- Provide resources. Public schools may not have the funds to provide aides, laptops, or text-to-speech machines.
A homeschool autism program is built around just one child's needs, and a parent can develop the environment accordingly. Restless children get breaks, and nonverbal children can use their tools. All educational opportunities are focused on the child, so ignoring needs isn't an option.
When parents of children with autism homeschool, they are satisfied. They tell researchers they've found a treatment plan that works and offers effective programming.
Worried parents may also appreciate the opportunity for enhanced protection. Growing children can be cruel, and for those with autism, each day in class can be a blur of bullying and teasing. Keeping the child home means reducing exposure to these traumatic experiences. For some parents, that's incredibly valuable.
Cons of a Homeschool Autism Program
While many parents enjoy homeschool programs, the drawbacks are real and severe. Sometimes, they outweigh any benefit a child might get from leaving a structured education behind.
Parents who homeschool must deal with:
- Reduced income. A child with autism can't study independently. Most need their parents to stay with them around the clock to manage lessons and answer questions. One parent must consider the work a full-time job.
- Pressure. Children with autism can succeed in a homeschool environment, but their success is not guaranteed. Parents must be motivated to do the work, and they must emphasize a child's progress. Without that motivation, a child may get a limited education.
- Social deprivation. Children in a classroom are surrounded by peers. Children at home are not. Homeschooling parents can use community learning projects (such as zoo visits or museum tours) to help children leave the house and commune with others. But trips taken during the school day ensure that students see only adults, not their peers. Social skills can lapse without a concerted effort.
- Legal oversight. In some states, parents must prove that they are teaching their children properly. Missing even one set of documents can come with severe consequences.
- Knowledge gaps. Some students with autism are quite bright, and they may know much more than their parents about specific topics. For example, your child may have a lifelong obsession with prime numbers. During math units, you may find it hard to add to that knowledge base. Midnight cramming sessions could be your new normal.
Due to these drawbacks, it might be wise to start a child in public school first. Measure your child's progress, and stay involved in each day's coursework. If you find your child isn't succeeding, and you feel you're up to the challenge of running a classroom out of your home, take the plunge.
Tips & Tools for Homeschooling Children With Autism
Each child with autism is different and deserves customized solutions. Some best practices apply to all parents who want to teach their children at home.
As you develop your homeschooling plans, be sure to:
- Remember your child's abilities. Some students with severe autism need strict, unchanging, visual schedules. They may also need many breaks to stretch and run. Don't let your vision of a "perfect" class keep you from supporting your child.
- Press for improvement. Students go to school to learn, not coast. Work hard to teach your children the lessons most critical for them. If your child has significant autism impairments, your lessons may revolve around life skills. Every moment is a teaching opportunity. The more you instruct, the more your child will learn.
- Work with a professional. Seek out help from a certified behavior analyst. Schedule time to talk through your lesson plan, and ask for advice on dealing with troublesome behavior or outbursts. You'll learn more about developing a new relationship with your child, and you'll become a better teacher for it.
- Form partnerships. Reach out to other parents homeschooling their children with autism. Schedule meetups for joint lesson plans if possible. Or just support one another through tough times. Outside connections always help.
If you choose to homeschool your child, plenty of organizations can help you to succeed. These are three of our favorites:
- The Home School Legal Defense Association: Visit the page about teaching children with special needs, or reach out to the organization directly with your questions and concerns. This organization deals exclusively with homeschooling issues, and you'll find plenty of advice and support.
- The Coalition for Responsible Home Education: Visit this intensive page covering current homeschool law, or scour the site for more information about developing and administering lesson plans. Take an eight-week education course that is made for parents who are new to homeschooling for even more information.
- ProPublica: This news organization covers homeschooling topics frequently. Visit this guide about homeschooling laws from state to state, and follow along to find out how your plans match up.
Don't forget to talk with your child's treatment team too. Doctors, therapists, and other professionals may have great advice for you as you plan for this new adventure for your family.
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Is Homeschooling a Good Option for My Child With Autism. (November 2014). Autism Awareness Centre.
Experiences of Parents Who Homeschool Their Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. (November 2011). Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities.
An Introduction to Homeschooling. Coalition for Responsible Home Education.
Homeschooling with Autism. (February 2020). National Council on Severe Autism.
Certified Behavior Analyst Offers Tips for Parents Homeschooling Children With Autism During the Pandemic. (April 2020). Seton Hall University.
Teaching My Kids With Special Needs. Home School Legal Defense Organization.
Current Homeschool Law. Coalition for Responsible Home Education.
Homeschooling Regulations by State. (August 2015). ProPublica.