Homeschooling for autism

How homeschooling has changed our lives.

If you had told me at the beginning of 2019, I would be homeschooling my eldest child who is seven I would have laughed in your face, politely of course. “No, I can’t handle him at home with me seven days a week”, I’m sure would have been close to what I would have said to you. Besides, I have my own hopes/dreams that I am studying for and working towards, how would I fit in schooling my child? Fast forward and we are four months in to homeschooling and the whole dynamic of the way our family operates has changed. For the better. 

If we rewind to four months ago my gorgeous son was coming home from school with a stutter that was quite worse than it ever had been in the past. He was melting down (not the same as a tantrum) regularly to the point of it effecting the whole family. He was in what seemed like coping/survival mode where anything could set him off and we were all walking on eggshells. I was told by a teacher that was helping him at school with reading and writing that it was very likely he wouldn’t finish year 12. That he was back in prep as far as his learning was concerned. He was in year two at this stage. His workbooks were just illegible scribble. I was also told that if something happened in the playground at lunch with one of his friends socially that his teacher couldn’t get any work or feedback out of him often for the rest of the day. My heart was breaking, and I wasn’t sure what to do. But I sure did know one thing and that was, there must be another way and I won’t take anyone telling me my child won’t finish his education lightly or as gospel. 

If I rewind even further back to prep and year one, I was just happy that he was going to school at all. He had a diagnosis of being on the Autism Spectrum and we had struggled with different behaviours sensory wise and emotionally development wise in the past. So, for him to attend a mainstream school and stay there and enjoy it most days, well, I must admit I was happy enough with that. I didn’t realise just how much school was contributing to his behaviours at home and how much of a struggle school was for him. If I did, I would have acted sooner. 

A close friend was sitting at parade with me one afternoon and she mentioned to me that she was going to be homeschooling her girls next year. I felt a pang of jealousy ride over me. Oh what, I said! I couldn’t believe it but also thought it was wonderful. I then told her that my son still couldn’t write his name properly yet. She said, if I were you that would make me angry. “Over two years at school and they have not managed to help him with that”? I did get angry and I thought to myself, I’m going to investigate unschooling, homeschooling, distance ed, the whole lot of it. I’m going to do some research on this myself. I felt that my son regardless of his struggles with learning should be able to write his name. 

I wrote a post with my heart on my sleeve in the following week on a homeschooling group on Facebook. I could not believe it when within three hours there were about 25 comments from the most supportive and lovely group of people. I told them my sons struggles, they responded with empathy and first hand experience. So many parents had been where I had been. So many. I could not believe their positive and life changing experiences with keeping their ASD children at home and teaching them. 

I showed my husband and asked him to consider it for our son. I said the worst that could happen is I wouldn't be able to handle it and then our son goes back to school. But right now, school was not working. We talked about all our options, we discussed it in detail over the next week and then we made the decision. It was super scary, and I had no idea if I was doing the right thing or not. But I felt I didn’t have a choice. I pulled him out of school and in the four months that we have been home together my son has completely changed. If you ask the people closest to us, they will attest to this. 

He is more emotionally engaged with every person in our lives, he is more affectionate, he has had one very small meltdown after a big week of change, that is it, ONE! For any parent with a child on the spectrum they will know what a big deal this is. He is no longer having self-regulation issues, he can write his name, he has learnt over 40 new sight words, he is reading little reader books that we get from the library each fortnight. He is fun to be around because he is himself! Not the hard case that I had thought he would be. He is learning, he is engaged, he is relaxed and himself. His stutter has improved, the family dynamic has improved because I am no longer at my wits end recovering from his previous meltdowns. He still sees a handful of little friends from school on holidays and on play dates, he plays with the little kids neighbouring our house so much easier than before. He is just a pleasure. I would not have believed you if you had told me this at the beginning of the year. 

I love that he has more free time to be a child, I love that he has more time to play and be in nature. I love that he doesn’t hate learning anymore or compare himself to others. I love that I have my boy back who I knew was in there. He just needed the right environment to learn and be in. That unfortunately was not school. It makes me sad to hear of so many people being let down by the education system. If you don’t fit into a box and learn the way school teaches students, then so often you will go under the radar like my boy had and get through the years somehow but not well. How many adults do you know who made it through school but can’t read or write properly? I know a handful and it makes me sad, it affects how they see themselves and their self-worth forever. 

I understand very well that teachers do not have the adequate training needed for all learning disabilities and the time or resources and that this matter is a complex and evolving one. I don’t blame is teachers in his case. I know that they could not have given him the time he needed. I know this from the intense one on one work it takes at home for him to retain what we have learnt. I do understand that some schools offer great special education units and our school was too small to have one. But I also feel that for my son, even if he got help in a special ed class he still struggled with the noise of school, with the constant sensory overload, the social aspect where he was struggling to know how to engage with his friends and others he even struggled with the sensory feeling of wearing the school uniform. All his energy was going into just trying to survive the school environment. So back to basics for us is working. If you miss the basics of reading and writing and maths in early years, then it is near impossible for the rest of your schooling life to catch up. Unless of course you have intense one on one tutor or learning time. 

I believe homeschooling gives the child the opportunity that if they haven’t got the energy to learn then they can come back to work when they do. Quite often if he isn’t picking up something when I’m talking or can’t grasp a concept, I send him out the back to bounce on the tramp or play. To get the energy that children naturally have in huge amounts out! You can’t do this often in a classroom setting. Which results in children misbehaving because they want to get energy out or not being able to learn at their best. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity and knowledge that I have now to be able to offer this to my child. To see him thriving instead of surviving like he was. He can use the toilet when he needs to, eat when he is hungry which teaches him to listen to his wise body. He can play when he needs to and learn of course how we need to learn. 

I read this quote from a member on our homeschooling page that was said to support a parent doubting if she was teaching her children enough. It read – “A child attends primary school in Australia 180 days per year for six hours a day. There is 1.5 hours of break time each day. If you times 180 x 4.5 this equals 810 hours teaching contact time per year. If you divide 810/24 it equals 33.75 days per year.” Now that is something to think about. So much time is wasted at school on behavioural management and getting all the children on the same page. 

I want to thank my friends and family who have been supportive of my home-schooling journey because like everything in life once you go against the grain of societal norms people judge out of fear. They fear what they don’t know, and they love to make comments on issues that they do not understand. So, thank you to all those who have been incredibly supportive and loving. It’s not always easy, it’s lonely some days and I miss that school drop off’s and hello’s to everyone. But I am so happy for my child, to see him flourishing and for that I wouldn’t change this experience for anything. 

Please leave a note below in the comments if you have ever thought about home-schooling or unschooling. What have been your experiences
Sara Stace
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