As someone who came through traditional brick-and-mortar schooling, I had been conditioned to view education through a particular lens. Degreed and licensed teachers are necessary for learning to occur. Only specially trained instructors can “break through” to disabled kids. Children at each grade level should be fairly close to each other in ability and, if they aren’t, they should be removed to a separate class or school so they can learn at their own pace. That’s where I started.
Now I understand that traditional school is its own bubble. Are degreed and licensed teachers necessary? Yes, absolutely, because they are experts at navigating the system on behalf of students and their caregivers. They serve a dual role of teacher and liaison. They understand classroom management. They have other teachers nearby to help them work through challenges. They have the resources of the school system at their disposal. Yet, there was a time when teachers in the U.S. were much more similar to homeschooling parents than schoolroom teachers. So, we know there’s a distinction to be made.
To answer the title question in no uncertain terms, yes, absolutely, you can homeschool an Autistic child, even in spite of ABA practitioners and “experts” who are sure they know our children better than we do. When I first started homeschooling, I had no idea what I was doing. I have taught all the way up through college and tutored in the past, but the idea of being solely responsible for my own children’s education was daunting. I figured Special Education teachers had some magic I didn’t have. They knew something… were something… that I couldn’t access. After all, I have no formal education in the field.
I scoured the internet for information on how to teach Autistic children and found lots of specialized resources that dealt mostly with learning theory and behaviorism. That couldn’t be right, I thought. But then, how do you teach an Autistic child? I found some Facebook groups and read a bunch of posts on the topic. As I read, I realized that these actual homeschoolers were saying something unfathomable to me at the time. Teach Autistic students the same way you teach any other student. If you want to get a curriculum, do it. If you want to let your child lead the way, go for it. Embrace your child’s interests and utilize them as pathways to learning. Wow, I thought. That sounds almost too easy. (That, of course, was rationality peaking through ableism.) As my understanding has evolved, I have come to realize that teaching is secondary. Learning is an experience that the child has. It’s not something that a teacher can demand or enforce. We can only facilitate it. I have also learned that it’s completely ok to go at my child’s pace. If a child is strong in math and needs support in reading, well, that child is strong in math and needs support in reading then. We don’t have to try to force a child to advance in a predictable way based on age or ability. We really, truly can teach to the level of our kids no matter what that level might be. We homeschoolers can genuinely tailor education to our children in a way that leads to unfrustrated success.
As a homeschooler, I am strongly oriented toward both Charlotte Mason and child-led learning/unschooling, so I found a Charlotte Mason-inspired curriculum and got started on the year. Turns out, those homeschoolers were right. The incomparable benefit of homeschooling is that, at home, we can teach our child rather than teaching to the test. We determine the pace and the material. We know how much to challenge without leading to burnout. And, we have extraordinary flexibility to give our kids the breaks and attention they need to excel. I have vowed not to talk about my children specifically anymore in this blog and I will honor that vow. Suffice it to say, homeschooling has led to gains at a rate unmatched by public school. That is not a dig at public school teachers who are truly a national treasure. Honestly, it’s a dig at our entire educational system in the U.S. It is outdated, clumsy, racist, ableist, and expensive for no reason. Children have a right to a suitable education that doesn’t steamroll them to oblivion.
If you are approaching a point where you feel strongly that your Autistic child needs the freedom and support of a homeschool education, I am here to tell you that you can do it and you can succeed. It takes effort of course and lots of self-education. Ready to go? Check out these links to get started. (Beware of ableism in the Facebook groups. It’s hard to get away from.)
Switching from Public School to Homeschool (Peace I Give post)
Can You Homeschool Your Autistic Child? (Blog post)
Learning Challenges: For SEA Homeschoolers Members (Facebook group)
Atypical Unschooling: defining our own norm (Facebook group)
Special Needs Homeschooling the Charlotte Mason Way (Facebook group)
Homeschooling Special (Needs) Kids (Facebook group)