Educating a child with autism is challenging
Traditional classroom methods are often unsuccessful, and many schools are ill-equipped to meet the needs of children with learning differences. Most children with autism also suffer from sensory issues, which can be easily triggered in a classroom of 20 to 30 children, with florescent lights, scratchy chalk, and all the sights, sounds, and smells that go with a day at school. Children who are perceived as different can also be easy targets for bullies, and many parents fear the physical and emotional scars that can result from the cruelty of other children.
Even special education classrooms have their drawbacks. The children in these classrooms are not included in many of the activities that are offered to the other children at the school. Some of the children may have more severe needs, which can monopolize the staff’s resources and expose other children to negative behaviors.
It’s no wonder that so many parents are turning to homeschooling for their children with autism and other special needs. The number of children who are homeschooled has gone up considerably over the past decade. Approximately 850,00 students were homeschooled in the United States in 1999. This number went up to 1.5 million in 2009, according to the National Home Education Research Institute. Not all of these students have special needs, but they do make up a significant portion of the homeschooling population. A 2008 study by Easter Seals and the Autism Society of America found that 70% of parents of children with autism were concerned about their child’s education, compared to 36% of parents of typically developing children.
Parents give several reasons for homeschooling their children with autism. Most feel that homeschooling allows them to customize the curriculum to their child’s learning style. Some parents are following a particular therapy, and they want to use the same methods when teaching their child academics. The home environment is familiar and easily adaptable to their child’s sensory needs. They can also schedule lessons to coincide with their child’s internal rhythms, allowing for naps and frequent breaks. Many also feel that the school environment is ill-equipped to teach children with autism social skills. With homeschooling, they are able to expose their child to social situations in smaller doses, with more support and preparation, and without the worry about bullying or other social pressures that are part of a typical school.
While there are many advantages to homeschooling, there are also drawbacks. It takes a great deal of planning, patience, and perseverance, and many parents feel they are already stretched too thin. Many families are already struggling financially, and may not have the economic means for one parent to quit their job. Textbooks, computer programs, and supplies are another expense that adds up.
The next article in our homeschooling series will focus on the pros and cons of homeschooling, and what parents should know about the legal, financial, and emotional ramifications.