In previous posts I talked about both public school and home school as options to educate your child who has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. When my son, Max, received his diagnosis of autism, one of the first questions in our mind was, “How will we teach our son?” I can tell you that our decision to home school did not come easy. As a matter of fact, we debated for over two years before finally going the home school route. In looking back, I have no regrets. Yet homeschooling may not be the best option for every parent or child. It is an extremely personal decision that only you can make as a parent and as a family. In this post I am going to talk about how we made the choice to educate our son at home.
Max was nearly four when he was finally officially diagnosed with autism. As soon as the diagnosis was made I felt an instant pressure to find therapies and teaching methods to help him. We turned to the public school system first. It was an “enlightening” experience to say the least. We endured a five hour IEP (Individualized Educational Program) meeting to discuss Max’s needs. We went to the meeting armed with notes from his pediatrician, family psychologist, home aides, and therapists on what types of educational services he would need. We even brought an advocate to the meeting. We were met with such resistance from the school personnel that I felt that it was more of a battle than a “team meeting.”
In the end, after many letters and exchanges, my son received the services we requested. Unfortunately the services we did receive were not worth the fight. The speech therapist assigned to my son told us she could do nothing for my son because he didn’t talk. Well isn’t that the whole point of speech therapy is to help a child to communicate? Evidently this speech therapist had never heard of sign language, visual symbols, or other modes of communication. The occupational therapist we had through the school wasn’t much better. She would attempt to get Max to play ball and when he would turn away she would throw the ball at his head. Then she would say, “I guess he just isn’t interested.” If you think I am kidding about these things I wish I were. Maybe we simply had rotten luck. In our experience, the school services were woefully inadequate. It was as though they had never encountered a child with autism before.
Then came the search for a preschool classroom. One choice was over an hour away from our home. We said no to such a long bus ride for our four-year-old son. We visited another classroom closer to home. When we came into the classroom we saw a boy sitting in the bathroom on a chair. When I asked about this I was told the boy was being timed out. In the bathroom? Many of the children in this classroom were still not toilet trained and the teacher was using the bathroom as a place of punishment. If I was confused by this scenario imagine what the children felt. When asked if the children had recess I was told that there was no playground but that they did take a brisk walk around the school. When asked how they dealt with sensory problems I received a quizzical look. “What’s that?” the teacher asked. We visited a third classroom where it was lunchtime. A child with autism was sitting with an aide who held a chip over his mouth too high for him to reach. He was requested to say “thank you” before she would lower it to his mouth. It reminded me of how one might train a dog to bark upon command. I was appalled. As a former special education instructor, myself, I was dismayed at what we witnessed in these classrooms.
In comparison, Max’s older brother was attending public school, and was receiving excellent educational services. Max’s brother had a label too but of being gifted. The educational opportunities were vastly different for both of my boys. I felt like we were living in two different worlds and in some ways we were.
We then decided to look for private school options. We looked at a Montessori school as well as a Quaker school. The people we met were very kind but they were unsure that they could meet the needs of our son. When I called a third private school and explained that my son had autism, the person on the phone replied, “Well how autistic is he?” At this point I began to worry. Was there a place we felt good about where my son could receive the specialized education he required?
And then it dawned on us.
I had my Master’s degree in Special Education. I was an experienced teacher and especially for individuals with autism. I was already a stay-at-home mom. Yet I still agonized over this decision. As a parent you always ask yourself, “Am I doing the right thing for my child?” It would be a sacrifice. Re-entering the workforce would no longer be an option. We would remain a one income family. What about socialization? What if I experienced burn-out teaching my own son? What if things did not work out then what? Despite all these fears and worries, I felt a positive calm about our choice. I wanted to do this. My gut said that this was the right choice for us and I listened.
This is where our homeschooling journey begins.
In subsequent posts I will describe more about details of homeschooling including assessing your child, choosing goals, creating your own educational materials and much more. I hope that you will come back to hear more about our educational adventures and maybe share some of your own.
Here is some additional reading on educating your child on the autism spectrum:
For more information about homeschooling a child with autism please visit my personal blog: The Autism Express
Published On: September 13, 2011