As any parent knows, raising a child is rewarding but does not come without challenges and tough decisions. Parents of children with autism face additional challenges such as understanding their child’s unique needs, teaching important life skills and providing an education.

While public school systems in Virginia are required to provide education for students with disabilities, including ASD, the public school environment isn’t a fit for every student.

Other education options for children with autism include private school, such as the Sarah Dooley Center For Autism in Richmond, private tutoring, homeschool, or a combination of methods.

Is Homeschooling Right For My Child?

There are a variety of reasons parents consider homeschooling a child with autism including:

  • Tailored instruction to fit the needs and interests of their child
  • A quieter and more structured environment free of distractions
  • Safety concerns – such as bullying or issues riding the school bus
  • Flexible scheduling
  • Trying to eliminate certain behaviors that might be a result of the school environment

Learning at home is very different than learning in a classroom and there are many factors to consider when evaluating homeschooling as an option for your child.

You Are Parent And Teacher

Parenting is a full time job, and so is teaching. Being both a primary caregiver and an educator is very demanding.   It is important to think about why you want to homeschool and ask yourself if you are up for the task.

Of course there are many successful homeschool parents who truly enjoy educating their kids at home. Don’t be afraid to reach out to parents or friends you know who homeschool and ask what a typical day looks like.  Find out how they get everyday chores done, or care for siblings, while also teaching their child at home.  How do they structure their classroom?  There are also many resources online that can offer guidance.

Outside Resources & Therapies

If your child receives outside therapies from their public school, such as speech or occupational therapy, they may be able to continue even if they are no longer enrolled.

Every state and school system are different and what services they offer homeschool children will vary. Contact your school system to discuss what services you can continue to receive and what services you will need to schedule elsewhere.  Consider what additional costs or appointments you need to schedule and think about how they will fit into your homeschool schedule.

Keep Structure And Regular Class Times

Of course homeschooling does provide a level of flexibility but it is best to keep a regular schedule with set class times. Children with autism need routine and structure. Knowing what to expect on a day-to-day basis can help them learn more effectively and prepare them for future education outside the classroom.

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Giving a child hours to complete classwork or not adhering to regular deadlines won’t benefit them later when other teachers expect assignments to be completed in class.

You will also need an organized space dedicated to learning and free from distractions. Some parents choose to convert their dining room or a guest bedroom into a classroom.

Even though your new classroom is at home, don’t forget children with autism often get distracted easily, so taking phone calls, watching TV, folding laundry or washing dishes during class time can derail your educational efforts.  Make class time more about learning and focusing on your child.

Don’t Forget About Evaluations

Every state has different laws regarding homeschooling. In Virginia you will need to submit documentation to your superintendent to show your child’s progress. This could be in the form of a standardized test, written evaluations or portfolio for example.

Before you get too far down the homeschool path contact your superintendent’s office and find out what they will accept.  School districts have different guidelines and superintendents have the authority to decide what is acceptable documentation, so it is best to be prepared before you start.  See more about evaluations from the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers.

Don’t Forget The Life Skills & Socialization

A large part of educating a child with autism is teaching them important life skills including communication and basic safety issues. Life skills are essential for independence and must be built into any homeschool curriculum.

Socialization is also very important. Children with autism have to learn the social skills that come naturally to many other children.  Provide your child with opportunities to interact with others as part of their education.

Many areas have homeschool groups which get together for field trips, form sports teams, share ideas and provide support to one another. Finding a group you and your child are comfortable with can go a long way towards making your homeschool journey even more successful and rewarding. And consider extra-curricular activities your child enjoys such as gymnastics or art classes outside the home.

Will My Child Let Me Teach Them?

Playing the role of parent and teacher can be hard, and children, just like their parents, have different personalities.

Some children work very well with their parents at home and benefit from the homeschool relationship while others better from trained teachers in a setting outside the home.  As an example – have you ever seen your child behave better for another adult than they behave for you?  When it comes to education, it isn’t uncommon for children to respond better to other adults than they do with their parents.

Only you can decide if homeschool is a good option for your family, and it is important to recognize what works for one family might not work for another.  If you’ve tried homeschooling and aren’t sure it is working that doesn’t mean you’ve taken a step backwards, it might mean it isn’t the best option for your child – or even for yourself.  As most parents of children with autism can attest – sometimes you have try different approaches before you figure out what works and education is no exception.

If you are considering alternatives to public school for your autistic child, the experts at the Sarah Dooley Center For Autism would be happy answer your questions or provide more information about our philosophy including educational, speech and other services.

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