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Why Homeschool A Child With Autism?
Our Five Main Goals

Hope and Krissy
Timberdoodle Autism Center

One of the biggest advantages to homeschooling is that you already know what is most important for your child to learn, and can easily work on it. Nobody walks into a room full of people and recognizes and discriminates (cognitively or not) against those who cannot read well or do advanced math. However, people intuitively react to the person who can’t carry on a conversation or who puts their hands where they ought not to be.
The school’s picture of a successful day is much different from mine. It seems that often the schools are primarily looking for a child who sits quietly and doesn’t cause trouble, ideally while learning new academic skills. Even in an autism-specific classroom, their view of social skills often seems limited to making peer-friendships and giving rote responses to common questions.
Neither of those answers satisfies us. We are looking for ways to help children with autism become a pleasure to have around and a blessing to their community. (family, church…) Is that a big goal? Yes! Will we get there? Not anytime soon, but at least we are headed in the right direction. Practically, that involves teaching a child five primary things.

Communication Tools
Communication skills
The big one, and pivotal in every other area. Many of the behaviors associated with autism are a direct result of having no ability to communicate with others. If I was unable to comprehend any type of communication, from gestures to words to facial expressions, I can't help but think that tantrums, tuning people out, stimming and many other 'autistic' behaviors would become the only possible escape. Whether you teach it with sign language, flashcards or an ESL program, find a way that works for your child and keep plugging away at it, day in and day out. A simple outline is to begin with those words he will most use in daily life and go from there. Once the child sees the value of communication your job gets easier. Keep raising the bar though, always being encouraged and encouraging, but never completely content with a less than complete grasp of language.

Service ToolsLife skills for service
A child with severe autism may never be great at interpersonal skills, but there are many services he can perform that will be an inherent blessing to those around him. Start with rote jobs like laundry, picking up toys or cleaning the table right now. You may be surprised by how much he is able to do with some training. As he masters those skills, keep looking to add others, remembering that not only will his ability to complete simple chores take a load off your shoulders, but it will also give him some purpose. We find that this can make a huge difference in attitudes as well as making free time more fun for him. Of course, while he is learning to meet the needs of others around him, he also needs to learn to meet his own needs. From manners to motor skills, many different aspects of self-care can be filed in this category.

Thinking Skills Tools
Thinking skills
Of our five primary goals, this is the one we feel is most frequently and utterly overlooked by schools. It can be easy to tap into a child with autism's inate ability to learn by rote, and rather than using that gift to teach them how to think, simply begin to help them memorize everything you think they'll need to know. But then the child learns only one skill - memorizing, rather than developing a true ability to think things through and problem solve. Teaching thinking skills can be challenging initially, but with patience and persistence you'll help him to apply the same brilliance which he currently uses to escape or entertain himself to more productive pursuits, from puzzles to construction, games, sudoku, and more.

Behavior ToolsEliminating inappropriate behavior
While this is really done by teaching appropriate behavior (“Do that in the bathroom!”) it is still a primary concern for many children. We get used to and even enjoy the odd noises and bizarre gestures and mannerisms, but no one else really does. We need to be able to discern those oddities which are most socially unacceptable, and work on eliminating them by replacing them with acceptable alternatives. Krissy went through a phase where she really wanted to know everybody’s name. However, instead of asking, she would stand in front of the person and guess. “Pastor John Piper?” (Especially embarrassing when directed to a lady!) Rather than directing her not to say that, it is much more productive to teach her an appropriate way to get the information she was looking for.
Academic ToolsAcademic skills
While this is intentionally last on our list, it is important! The child who can’t read, complete worksheets or do puzzles is going to have few appropriate hobbies and will find it unnecessarily difficult to get through the day. We taught Krissy to read early on, and that effort has paid off many times over as we can now write lists of things for her to do, label the items she is to use, leave notes reminding her of the rules, etc. We have even labeled our cleaning sprays – one reads Floor Cleaning Spray and another labeled Not For The Floor!
Krissy at the lake

We’ve seen first hand that when these elements are addressed within the context of the real life adventures of being a family, the child’s growth is phenomenal. Yes, it is a tremendous amount of work for everyone, but it is worth it!