Home Schooling Your Child With Autism
There are many reasons why families decide to home school. There are also many misconceptions about homeschooling as well. What follows is meant to be a starting point for parents thinking about home schooling their children.
The first thing to know is that homeschooling is 100% legal and allowed in Manitoba. If your child is between the ages of 7 and 17, you must register with the Home Schooling office (a division of Manitoba Education). You are under no obligation to provide any more information than what is on their forms, and most folks suggest you keep it to a minimum. There is no financial assistance for homeschooling here, but there is also very little oversight from the government. The second requirement is to submit a progress report each January and June.
In terms of how you ‘leave’ school – you can do it any way you want. For us, we literally just didn’t send our child to school one day (we had been planning and setting up our home school for a few weeks prior), and instead sent a note that said we were withdrawing him, and please package up all his belongings (including all his school supplies) so we could pick them up at the office a few days later. We knew we were severing our entire relationship with the school, which is what we wanted. However, some will want to keep an ongoing relationship and this is fine too – in fact, you can work out an arrangement with your school to allow your child to be homeschooled for part of the day, and attend school for other parts. This is at the discretion of the school. So for example, you could have your child attend during the part of the day he/she has an aide, but be homeschooled the other part of the day. Or you could have your child go to gym class at school, etc.
For older kids/teens, they can attend math or science, but do English at home, or any other combination that reflects their needs.
Note: According to the the homeschooling liaison, school support funding from the province is proportional to the time the child actually spends at school. Every child in the system is eligible for the per-pupil grant, provided for each student enrolled on Sept 1, and a child with a disability also gets whatever level of special needs funding deemed appropriate by the school board.
In the case of a part-time homeschooler, the school would apply for the per-pupil grant and special needs funding. Based on such factors as the length of time that she is in the school, the degree of her needs, etc. the school would be given a certain amount of money if their request was approved. How the school would use that grant would be up to them. For a half time student, the grant would likely be adjusted to be half the normal amount.
So the idea of homeschooling for the time the student is not covered by an EA may not work – the level of support remains at the discretion of the school board.
Making Connections: Social Skills and Field Trips
Home schooling is popular in Manitoba and it’s growing rapidly. Families do it for a lot of reasons – some religious, some simply believe home schooling helps their children learn better, and some because their child has special needs that are not being accommodated in school. There are a number of ways to get connected with other home schoolers, and that is my NUMBER ONE recommendation – get connected, so you and your child can get out and be around other people you relate to and who understand what you’re doing and why. There are going to be some homeschoolers you don’t relate to at all, but you will find others who really “get” you and what you are doing.
There is a Winnipeg homeschool Yahoo group I would say is a MUST to join (sign up with yahoo.com if you aren’t already, and do a search for ‘Winnipeg Homeschool’ – you should find it that way, then send a message to the group moderator asking to join). There are also two Manitoba home school associations that can help you – The Manitoba Association of Christian Home Schools, and the Manitoba Association for Schooling at Home.
I purchased a book called Homeschooling Your Child with Asperger Syndrome by Lise Pyles and I would highly recommend it for anyone whose child has that diagnosis. If your child has a more general autism diagnosis, Amazon has a number of books on homeschooling and autism – including this one: Homeschooling the Child with Autism: Answers to the Top Questions Parents and Professionals Ask.
I purchased the Manitoba curriculum (it is massive, and costs well over $100 to get it printed and delivered, though you can download it off the internet for free). You will really need to make a curriculum based on your child’s needs and interests as you go along, but the provincial curriculum provides a guide. I would recommend (especially in the earlier years) that you pay closer attention to the general learning outcomes at the beginning of each document rather than the specific ones – considering what the “big ideas” are will help you match learning activities to your child’s developmental level.
For emerging readers, Starfall is a great online reading site. And if you want a literature-based curriculum with lots of crafts and activities, Lesson Pathways is a great resource (click the LA section to see literature-based curriculum – learning is based on a different children’s book each week, a great excuse to make that weekly trip to the library).
Charlotte Mason is a very popular homeschool curriculum/philosophy. We did not use it but her site provides lots of good information.
Planning Your Day
Start by deciding how you think the day would work best for your child. Create a schedule (but be flexible based on your child’s needs and how they change day to day). Generally you should start with an activity/subject your child likes most, to get them engaged. Throw the thing that is hardest for them in the middle of the schedule, and the things that are easiest at the end (when they are the most drained). Allow for plenty of sensory breaks, movement, and allow snacking or chewing gum WHILE doing their work to help keep them focused.
Also, do NOT feel like the homeschool experience needs to revolve around academic programming. If academics are important to you or your child, by all means go that route. But the beauty of homeschooling is that you are OFFICIALLY OUTSIDE OF THAT BOX that your child kept getting forced into every day at school. Resist the temptation to make your homeschool an extension of that box. Children learn in many more ways beyond reading, writing and words. Consider the possibilities of learning through physical activity, music, tactile activities, observation, nature exploration, field trips, trial and error, and construction.
Consider your child’s strengths and interests, and really think about what would be best for your child.
This means that perhaps big chunks of time (weeks, months) should be spent on social learning most of the time (social stories, field trips, etc). Or maybe life skills needs to be the focus – learning and practicing hygiene, cooking skills, how to go to the store and buy groceries, etc. Or maybe communication is the biggest goal for you and your child, and you want to buy an iPad and spend the day doing nearly all your learning/communicating on that.
What. Ever. Works. That was my motto – because now YOU are the one who gets to decide what is best for your child – YOU are the IEP.
If your child has any resistance, frustration or difficulty with doing a lot of writing or printing, then allowing your child to work online is something that can be an amazing tool. First, it eliminates the fine motor barriers many of our kids have, and second, they tend to ENJOY it – and why shouldn’t learning be fun? It also doubles as teaching computer skills which are becoming much more important than printing skills anyhow. This doesn’t mean you abandon the teaching of printing skills – but what it does mean is that you don’t have to make every subject (math, english, science, social studies, etc) double as printing practice! Once you eliminate the physical barriers (fine motor, holding the pencil properly, forming letters properly, etc) that are making so much of school hard for our kids, they are free to learn the actual CONTENT of the lesson. So do allocate some small amount of time every day to printing (we did one printing worksheet a day – not a long one, a small one, and 1 math worksheet every day to ensure he didn’t forget how to write letters and numbers), but let all the other subjects be about the subject content – this alleviates a lot of frustration.
Time4Learning has a complete curriculum (you answer a questionaire at the beginning to determine your child’s level) that your child can do online, including math, English, and so on. You pay a monthly subscription fee ($20 or $30 per month, depending on grade level). They test your child online and then create reports that show how your child is scoring on subject areas.
Another great site (especially for social studies and science) is BrainPop (BrainPop Jr for Kindergarten to Grade 3). You can also get BrainPop as an app for a tablet. They teach through movies, and then offer a variety of activities to deepen and test learning, including a little quiz for each section. All of their online activities can also be printed off to be done manually like a worksheet (there’s your printing practice).
Try to incorporate at least one (more is better) art/craft/tactile activity every day. Our kids often have sensory issues that make them alternately want/not want certain sensory experiences and homeschool is a WONDERFUL way to help gently introduce them to new sensory experiences in a safe, non-judgemental way, while also allowing them to avoid what they need to avoid. My son had a massive sensory response (near meltdowns) to sticky hands. We started doing really fun crafts with paper mache (newspaper in glue) and eventually he was totally submerging his hands in the glue. It helped that we were making a pinata filled with candy! Pinterest is a great place to look for an infinite variety of sensory activities on every topic imaginable.
Another great activity uses a roll of wide paper and lay a strip of it on the floor, have your child lie down on it, and trace around them. Then they get to draw on their clothes, face, colour it, etc. and the whole time they are down on the floor crawling around, which is great gross motor work to keep their sensory systems calm. The big roll of paper was used a lot in our house. (Scholar’s Choice is one good place to go for educational materials – show them the home school card you get from registering with MB education, and you’ll get the teacher discount.)
Purchasing and Organizing Materials
I would recommend getting one of those tall plastic ‘tower organizers’ sold at walmart or superstore etc, to organize all your supplies. We labelled each drawer clearly (use words or pictures) so our son could get and put away his own supplies. One drawer for school supplies (pencils, erasers, rulers, scissors, glue, calculator, etc), one for art supplies (paints, play dough, markers, crayons, etc), one for workbooks and worksheets, one for resources like puzzles, games, etc.
Dollar stores are actually GREAT places to pick up supplies – and not just the basics like pencils. They have the best selection of workbooks, puzzles, maps, and also fidget toys like slinkies and squishy things. Also consider BJ Super Toy Sales near Regent and Panet for inexpensive toys and learning materials.
Discovery Toys has some great games and educational toys like the Think it Through tiles – pricey, but they last forever and grow with your child.
Keep a large bin handy somewhere to toss all your completed work into. I did not make portfolios of my child’s work until the end of the year, then I went through everything in the bin all at once. When you do that, it really will AMAZE you when you see how far they have come. Make sure you have a camera, for your child’s use (photography makes a wonderful art unit) as well as to take photos of your child’s projects (which are too big or messy to put in your bin) and pictures of field trips for the portfolio.
Each January and June, the government requires that you fill out their one-page progress report form and submit it. It’s very brief, so a better indication of progress will be the records that you choose to keep. In case you ever decide to move back into the school system, a portfolio with samples of your child’s best work and an indication of what they can do would be a good idea.
Home schooling was, bar none, the best decision I ever made for my son, and I do want other parents – who may NEVER have thought they could do this – to know that I thought that too. But I did it, and I did it well. There are going to be some days when you just want to quit – there may even be entire weeks that feel like that, but when things aren’t working you just need to rejig your plan, be flexible in recognizing what is and is not working for your child, and retry.
Over time (I would say it takes at least a few months to really get the feel of what your child needs) you will start to settle in and learn to enjoy it!
Another example of a parent who home schooled her autistic son and wrote about it can be found at Day Sixty-Seven.