by Andréas RB Deolinda
There’s a common saying in the autism community: “no two people on the spectrum are the same”. As a result, interventions and teaching strategies should be specific to each child.
Often mainstream teachers are not trained to support students with different needs and their teaching approach is generic for the whole classroom. As a result, some parents become concerned that public school systems will not adequately support their children with autism; turning to homeschooling.
Hurlbutt (2011) identified themes that influence parents’ decision to homeschool their autistic children1. The general consensus is parents feel they’ve found a treatment plan for their child and that school systems are not able or willing to adopt these methods. Other reasons were highlighted by Simmons and Campbell, (2018) including: “dissatisfaction with educational placement, negative interactions with education professionals, social-emotional responses of children to traditional school, safety of the child and stress placed on the family”.2
However, there are some concerns about the homeschooling approach, especially when it comes to developing children’s social skills. In addition, Simmons and Campbell, (2018) found some parents are not using evidence-based practices, meeting minimum teaching hours, or covering enough content.2
So, which teaching environment is better for children on the spectrum? School or home? Well, only the parents can choose what’s best for their child. For those considering homeschooling, here are some tips that could improve the educational experience.
Homeschooling Tips for Parents
1. Set up a designated learning space
Most children with autism do well with organization and routine. Having a clear set-up teaches the child what is required and when in that space
2. Reduce any distractions
Autistic children who are sensory sensitive or easily distracted may not focus in a busy, noisy environment. Remove any toys (apart from those used educationally) or background noise that could take that attention away
3. Be aware of your child’s limits
Children don’t typically sit and learn for longer than their mind is able to focus. Knowing how long your child typically remains engaged allows you to gauge the duration of time he/she is able to work and, as the educator, you’re able to figure out how much work to include
4. Use your child’s special interests to your advantage
Many children with autism have special interests, fixations or obsessions. Their interests could keep them engaged and interested for longer. For example, if your child is fascinated by trains, they could be used as an educational tool or train toys could be incorporated for examples/analogies
5. Stick to a schedule
Consistency is key! Your child needs to develop a sense of when it’s time to work and when it’s time to play. Being consistent teaches your child this distinction
6. Work with your child
Encourage collaboration. Work side-by-side with your child and welcome his/her ideas; this method also allows you to teach your child turn-taking and working as a team
7. Have movement breaks
Physical exercise is crucial for children with autism. Movement activities can build their motor skills, keep them active, and soothe the child by supporting his/her sensory needs
8. Encourage socialization
To support your child’s social skills development, he/she will benefit from being surrounded by other children at times. Group learning also encourages communication skills development as children learn to engage with others
9. Ask for help!
Although you are your child’s superhero; even superheroes need a backup team to save them from getting into a rut. Don’t be shy to ask for help when it is needed it or consider involving tutors in your homeschooling program
Homeschooling can be a really effective way of learning for children with autism—if it is done well. Remember that, while learning from home, a child may need additional support from a therapist who can further support his/her development.
For any parents reading this article, my advice is to keep going! Raising a child with additional needs is a long road, but it is so worth it when progress starts to be seen.
1. Hurlbutt KS. Experiences of Parents Who Homeschool Their Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. 2011;26(4):239-249.
2. Simmons, C.A., Campbell, J.M. Homeschool Decision-Making and Evidence-Based Practice for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Dev Phys Disabil 31, 329–346 (2019).
About the Author
Andréas RB Deolinda, BA, BSc is an advocate for children with special needs, especially those on the autism spectrum, and serves as an Editorial Assistant for Autism Parenting Magazine. Her passion is centered around writing and impacting the lives of children with special needs through education.