Monday, April 4, 2011

Homeschooling with Asperger's Syndrome

Before we married, my husband and I knew we wanted to homeschool any children we may have.  At the time, our reasons were primarily religious.  But now I can see great benefit in homeschooling for other reasons, too.  Particularly if the children are on the autism spectrum!

I certainly do not believe homeschooling is the "only" or even the best option for every family.  Parents who seriously personally struggle with self-discipline, self-control, and with lovingly instructing their own children should probably not homeschool.  But mere "fear" of not knowing enough, not having enough patience, not having the strength . . . those characteristics can, and will, all be developed along the way.  There are many, many step-by-step helps out there for schedules, curriculum and more.  So don't let a feeling of being unqualified stop you from homeschooling.  Reading, Writing, and 'Rithmetic are the basic necessities to focus on in the younger years.  Once you get into higher learning (chemistry, physics, and such), there are often co-ops, tutors, and other classes available outside of the home.  But I digress.

For the family with an autistic child, homeschooling has unparalleled benefits.  These include:
1.  Avoiding bullies and avoiding being made to feel 'stupid', 'weird', or worse, by immature peers.
2.  Time (hours and hours and hours of it) to pursue one's special interest and hobbies.  If desired, all subjects of the school day can be designed to revolve around the child's special interest.  Learning can be fun and interesting.  The child can truly become an expert in his field of interest without the gobs of wasted time involved in the typical school day.
3.  Ability of the family to introduce a wide variety of educational material in many forms.  This includes an incredible opportunity for various educational field trips.  Also enables encouraging the in-depth study of many different subjects, in hopes of the child finding more special interests along the way.
4.  Time for therapies and extra-curricular activities.
5.  Allowing the child to move at his own pace without being held back where they excel, or made to feel stupid in areas where they struggle.  One of my children is three years ahead in reading, and a year behind in math.  And that's totally okay and they are not in a 'special ed' class because of it.
6.  Avoidance of the battles for IEPs, after-school homework (there's plenty of time in a regular day to get all the sit-down schoolwork done, ya know), teacher meetings, school fundraisers, and all the other worries and hassles parents must suffer when their children are in school (glad to say I don't even know all that is involved).
7.  One-on-one instruction in a sensory stable (and diet-controlled) environment.  Less distractions.  Less trauma.  Less pain.  Less frustration.

At a recent live presentation, I heard a mom ask Mr. Robison (author of "Look Me in the Eye") if he was opposed to homeschooling for children on the spectrum.  He responded that he was NOT opposed to it, as long as the child was involved with a 'pack' of children . . . like in extracurricular activities or other homeschool group activities or classes. 

Isolation can be detrimental for a child on the spectrum, as he won't have the opportunity for practicing social skills in a group.  But in today's homeschooling scene, groups are very, very easy to find.  The argument about a lack of socialization holds very little water for the vast majority of the homeschoolers of this decade.  In homeschooling circles, as our packs of children are happily mingling together,  we parents heartily laugh at the absurdity of such an argument.  :)

In an autism parent support group I attended, the conversation revolved around how sullen, sad, lonely, and bullied their children were because of the peers in their schools.  It was absolutely heartbreaking to hear.  I came away more certain than ever that our decision to devote so much hard work, time, energy, and money to homeschooling was the right thing for us to do. 

My homeschooled children are happy.  Seriously happy.  NOT bullied by their peers.  Part of a pack of children.  Enjoying extracurricular activities.  And they have oodles of time to pursue their special interests.  Learning is fun for them and not considered geekish or strange.  It's life.  For our family, homeschooling is a very, very good thing.

Relationship Help for Women with Asperger's Syndrome

This year I attended a large autism conference.  There were many excellent talks led by various professionals in the field of autism, but the session that had the most profound effect on me came from a Q and A panel with autistic adults.  I'm still processing and trying to take it all in.

The women with aspergers shared that the most helpful book they have found to improve their relationships is "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.  Another book called "The Art of Talking" was mentioned, but I'm sorry to say I'm not sure exactly which book/author they were referring to as there are more than one with similar titles.

It seemed that these female aspies deeply valued being accepted by others, and they were frustrated by how often they are wrongly judged and misunderstood.

Reading and applying the relationship skills advice found in the above mentioned books could be invaluable helps in maintaining and deepening relationships with others.  If you don't learn how to communicate and show concern and care for others in the way they need/want you to, you will have very few good friendships.  If you are unable to reciprocate relationally in the typical fashion, others will feel they are the only one holding the relationship together.  A few maternal, committed types will stick by you.  Most folks will let the relationship go.  But you do have the power to sustain friendships if you realize it takes work and commitment to learn how.  There is hope!  Just don't expect it to be easy. 

The best success will come when you determine to learn absolutely all you can about communicating with others and making friendships flourish.  If this area becomes your special interest and new hobby, you could not only master the skills, but also then be able to teach others about the art of keeping relationships strong!