Autism, Education and Hope for a Bright Future Starts at Home
My son David has autism. When he was little, his autism was described as “worst-case-scenario” by developmental pediatricians. Over the span of a decade, David has had consistent and intensive therapies, I changed his diet and followed through with chelation to address heavy metal toxicity. He is now considered to be middle to high functioning and is doing quite well.
Homeschooling with Autism
Despite his many health challenges, I managed to keep him on track academically. His behaviors and sensory issues impacted his learning, however, I saw these things as challenges rather than a reason to throw in the towel. Because of the challenges associated with autism, many parents find that public schools cannot adequately provide supports for children with autism and choose to homeschool. I myself, homeschooled David for one year and was able to get him back on track and prepared for the fantastic private school he is in today.
I chose to homeschool because I am my son’s best teacher. I know him better than anyone, I know when he needs to take a break, what his strengths and how to keep him on track when he gets overwhelmed. At a recent autism conference, Keynote speaker, Temple Grandin, said, “Don’t wait for the state. Don’t wait for the schools. Teach your child skills. Teach them to read and write if you must. Don’t wait.” I took her speech to heart. Sometimes, it does not serve us or our children to wait for the state or schools to provide adequate supports. As our child’s best teacher, it is up to us to find creative ways to teach our beautiful children.
My degree is in education and for a couple of years, I worked for Denver Public Schools (DPS) in Special Education. While employed by DPS I learned a phonics song1 that I used to teach David to read when he was completely nonverbal. This song allowed me to teach the alphabet phonetically and I transitioned from the letter cards used in the song to word cards. At seventeen, my son can now spell better than most adults.
I also learned a variety of ways to teach math. Touch math can be very effective and materials can be handmade or printed for free online. I also learned that some kids will engage in math if given manipulatives. David was obsessed with airplanes when he was little so I found a math game with airplanes. We used the toy airplanes to learn addition and subtraction and eventually transitioned to adding and subtracting airplanes on a sheet of paper.
As years went on and David gained new skills, I adapted my approach to meet his needs. David does not like to write paragraphs so I would cut up white printer paper and cover the text above and below where he was writing to keep him focused. When he was learning algebra, he did each problem on a white board and erased it when he got it right, this helped him avoid being overstimulated.
As he entered adolescence, I printed out a copy of a life-skills chart2 and put it on my refrigerator, we have used this chart to teach him skills that will translate to job skills later in life.
What I have learned is that the value of a parent’s input is critical to teaching children with autism. Homeschooling a child with autism allows our kids to have access to one-on-one instruction, it allows us to be their teacher, their mentor and their ally. It is our job to build them up and help foster the knowledge and independence they will need to access employment and volunteer opportunities when the time comes. Homeschool can provide the structure and supports needed to enhance learning.
Real Help- Real Solutions
Over the years I have learned how to navigate the school system and I have also learned how to tackle insurance company denials for therapy and how to get the right resources in place for our family. If you want to learn more on teaching academics, please read my book on autism titled, The Autism Helpbook,3 and chapter six covers education. The book has chapters on legal matters, adolescence, insurance, self-care, therapy options and much more!
Whether I am giving a presentation on the book or mentoring families, my mantra remains the same, Never give up! If your child is struggling with academics today, that is not permanent, there is always hope and a way to make things a little bit better.
Never give up!
Sarah Carrasco, Author of the Autism Help Book