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Considering Homeschooling Your Child on the Autism Spectrum?

Some Helpful Hints and Suggestions For Parents
By Karen Hurlbutt, PhD
WebMD Feature from “Exceptional Parent” Magazine

With the increase in the numbers of diagnosed children on the autism spectrum, schools are being challenged to provide proper educational services for these children. In Educating Children with Autism, the National Research Council (2002) recommended that educational programs for students with autism include three basic components. These are direct instruction of skills, behavior management using functional behavioral assessment and positive behavioral support, and instruction in natural settings. There are also a host of strategies and methods available today, and some of these include Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), sensory integration, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), social stories and other cognitive behavioral interventions, auditory integration therapy (AIT), TEACCH methods (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication handicapped Children), gluten and casein-free diets, and supplemental vitamin therapy (Heflin & Alaimo, 2007; Simpson & Myles, 2007).

Many parents have identified a therapy, method, or program they have found to be effective for working with their child, however, have experienced the school as being unable or unwilling to provide this treatment. More and more parents of children on the autism spectrum have become frustrated with the school system and have been exploring homeschooling as an option. Ray (Home School Legal Defense Association, 2002) indicated that homeschooling may be the fastest growing form of education today because of parents’ frustration and other concerns. Schools typically have 20-30 children per general education classroom, which can be very over-stimulating for a child with autism, and general education teachers may be struggling with teaching all of the children in the classroom. Unfortunately, many teachers have not received training in working with children on the autism spectrum (Simpson, 2004) and are ill-prepared to have them in their classrooms.

Many times, students with autism are placed in self-contained special education classrooms, often with children who may have more severe needs. Parents may be concerned about the negative behaviors their child may be exposed to, and the possibility of their child exhibiting them him or herself. Additionally, bullying is a significant concern in schools today, even though many schools have adopted a “zero tolerance” philosophy (Hoover & Oliver, 2008).

A study completed by Easter Seals Society and the Autism Society of America in 2008 revealed that 70% of parents of children with autism were concerned about their child’s education, as compared to 36% of parents of typically developing children. Only 19% of parents of children on the autism spectrum felt that their children were receiving education to adequately prepare him or her for life, compared to 56% of parents of children without disabilities (Samuels, 2008). Parents are obviously concerned about the educational programming of their children on the autism spectrum and are turning to homeschooling for a solution.

Some benefits to homeschooling include the following. Gusman (“Homeschooling Children with Autism: 5 Reasons Why it Works,” 2006) shared five reasons why homeschooling may be best for children on the autism spectrum. These include: instruction which provides for optimal learning and maximized progress; the environment can be adapted at home more easily than it can be at school for the child’s sensory difficulties; flexible scheduling is more easily arranged at home, and less time is wasted on non-academic tasks; better opportunities for more positive socialization are provided through homeschooling; and the child’s interests can be incorporated into their schoolwork and studies.

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