Homeschooling & Autism

https://www.facebook.com/livingandparentingneurodiversity

Homeschooling is a beautiful and gentle way to create a specialized, self-paced, asynchronous, child-centered, delight-directed, rich learning environment that teach your autistic children in the way they learn.

An environment where they are loved, respected, celebrated and grounded. Where their autistic support needs are met. Where the accommodations they need to thrive are in place and adapted as they grow, change and mature.

Where you can nurture the love of learning and produce lifelong learners and independent, unconventional, atypical dreamers, thinkers, artists, philosophers, musicians, inventors, writers, scientists, coders, engineers, doctors, therapists – free to be their authentic selves.

Where character development and academic development are equally important because you educate the whole child. Because your child is already a person.

You have the flexibility and freedom to custom fit their education around their:

  • Neurodiversity
  • ND Support Needs & Accommodations
  • Special Interests
  • Temperament & Personality Profile
  • Intelligence Styles
  • Learning Styles
  • Sensory Profile & Sensory Diet
  • Academic ability
  • School exit of choice (NSC/ IEB / GED / Cambridge/ American High School Diploma)
  • Career Interests & Pathway.

That’s why we do it!

So who am I? I am just a mom (autistic adult #ActuallyAutistic) that have been homeschooling our two au-wesome autistic children for close to a decade. As I am trying to forge my own way, my hope is that the milestones and markers I found along the way may also proof useful and helpful to you. I am also a Social Worker and Trauma-informed Art Therapies Counsellor with many years of experience, but I have been homeschooling full time for a very long time.

Numerous books have been written on neurodiversity and autism, there are so many websites, blogs and Facebook pages of #ActuallyAutistic Advocates who are much better equipped to guide you into empowering your child to thrive in this alternate reality. As well as an amazing array of multi-disciplinary professionals and autistic experts that specialize in this field, like Social Workers, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Occupational Therapists and so many more from various international and South African organizations.

Click on this link below to read the full version of my “Autism (Asperger’s) – Helpful Info & Tools
for Autistics, Parents & Homeschoolers
” online for free on ISSUU:

See a list of autism resources here https://lifeonandrainbow.wordpress.com/resources/ and this list of autism resources in South Africa https://lifeonandrainbow.wordpress.com/rainbow-nation/ and also my own contribution in the form of my website here https://lifeonandrainbow.wordpress.com/ and my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/livingandparentingneurodiversity/ and here are some great books for you to read https://lifeonandrainbow.wordpress.com/2020/12/15/book%e2%99%a1worm/

Image credit: hellobetterday.com

I’ll use the terms Neurodiversity and Autism interchangeably. Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that includes Autism. It is often referred to as ND, our Neuro-Tribe, and we are called Neurodivergents. Neurodiversity also means people with Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD/ ADD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, OCD, Tourette’s, Tic Disorders, Developmental Language Disorder etc. Some have comorbidities like Depression, Anxiety, Gender Dysphoria, Alexithymia etc.

Special Note: Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder includes Aspergers, since the new DSM-V Aspergers Syndrome is no longer a separate diagnosis. Also functioning labels are harmful to the autistic community. We are all autistic. Autism is not a disease and it does not have to be cured. I am definitely against all ABA therapies. Autism is a natural occurring neurodiversity. For more info on why ABA is harmful see: https://lifeonandrainbow.wordpress.com/aba/

As you all know, “When you met one autistic person, you met one autistic person.” So, this is definitely not one size fits all. But rather a process to find the right fit for your precious children, to help them thrive, experience the love of learning and find joy in their homeschool journey. When neurodiverse children are accommodated, when their support needs are met and they can live and learn in an autism-friendly environment; then they can truly thrive, fulfill their potential and live their dreams (in their own unique neurodivergent way… happily stim dancing to the beat of their own drum).

One of the ways our kids learn.

Bringing Them Home & Autistic Trauma

Often when we finally decide to bring the children home, things may get worse for a while before it gets better. And that’s okay.

One of my absolute favorite autistic advocates is Kristy Forbes, she is just an amazing storehouse of riches. She has an excellent blogpost on School Trauma: Tuning into the language of behaviour, see it here: https://www.kristyforbes.com.au/blog/thelanguageofbehaviour?fbclid=IwAR2BFohvsSk5QTg-Icv5khtgz_cSWVMBmMM5-aALGMtIBJb_HSehMF-5Iqg

For many of us, when we withdraw our children from school after prolonged challenges within that system, we expect that our children will begin to do better at home.

This isn’t always so. Our children do the best they can, in survival mode. Survival mode can look like a child who smiles through each day, who wants to be at school because they love being with their friends (many children with a PDA autistic profile are socially motivated) and who reports that the incidents the teacher has called us about “aren’t that bad”.

As parents, we hang in there. We take our cues from our children and what they convey about their experience. And, when for whatever reason that compels us, we withdraw our babies and bring them home; we begin to see changes we weren’t prepared for, we often begin to sink into profound guilt and self-blame.

When a person is no longer in survival mode and the ability to relax is available to them, change takes place. That change can often be the processing of distressing experiences and the emotions that our brains and bodies have stored away while in survival mode.

This is called trauma.

{Quoted from https://www.kristyforbes.com.au}

Give them time to heal. Give them time to deschool and rediscover the love of learning. Time to find themselves again and the freedom to be themselves without the exhaustion of constant social masking. The homeschool environment is actually fantastic for autistic kids and they will soon find their equilibrium and thrive. I am not saying everyday will be moonshine and roses, no toxic positivity here! There will be challenges, you are home educating a disabled child with special needs after all. But this environment, your choice to create a safe space for them to delight in learning – it will be your gift to them.

Autistic Support Needs

There are some things that all autistic people have in common: we all have autistic support needs. We all need accommodations in order to thrive and be joyful, just because we are living in a predominantly neurotypical world. Most of us struggle with things like Executive Functioning, Sensory Regulation, Mood Regulation, Interoception, Alexithymia, Context Blindness, Social Masking, Meltdowns, Shutdowns, Autistic Burnout, Face Blindness, Time Blindness, Misophonia, Selective Mutism, etc. Autism is not a disease and therefore needs no cure, but it is a disability and some of us have more support needs and some of us have less. Ableism hurts us. Gaslighting hurts us.

Accommodations

Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities defines reasonable accommodation as ‘necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.’
With respect to the right to education, reasonable accommodation means ensuring the specific support needs of learners with disabilities are provided for so that they are able to equitably participate in learning alongside their peers.

{Quoted from: http://www.included.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/2546_IESA_EU-Factsheet-08_Reasonable-Accomodation-WEB-1.pdf}

See this great article on Accommodations for Autism: 21 Best Recommendations for Learning https://thehomeschoolresourceroom.com/2021/04/12/accommodations-autism/

While I can’t list every single accommodation under the sun, I’ve covered some of the most important. I’ve broken them up by categories: sensory, language, social/behavioral, executive functioning, and learning accommodations. Since not all autistic children experience the same range of disability in each area, you can pick and choose which will work best for you & your child.

{Quoted from https://thehomeschoolresourceroom.com/2021/04/12/accommodations-autism/}

Most autistic people thrive in a quiet, structured, neat, ordered and predictable environment. Once again, we are not all the same, especially those that have both Autism and ADHD.

Image credit: @neurodiverget_lou

I personally LOVE the Autism Checklist of Doom form The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism compiled by Shannon Rosa and Autistic Science Person. It is a great list! See printable version here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/14a3Jm0b9gPoPpDsGCi89J7JVKPbxrJCu7LxmDHiL2-Q/edit?usp=sharing

This checklist is for all autistic people, whether they can speak or not, and whether they have intellectual disability or not. That doesn’t mean every item will be appropriate for every autistic person; you can look through it and see which things might apply. The list is also not meant to be comprehensive; we will probably add more items in the future—and welcome feedback—but we had to stop somewhere.”

{Quoted from http://www.thinkingautismguide.com/2022/01/autism-checklist-of-doom.html?m=1&fbclid=IwAR2uYMZkxret_yHI5JJWrMFGtqYHWKBcyDiqB7wSbJTs_ZI_v32t1_xbvGQ}

See this great advice and short presentation from The Neurodivergent Teacher and Reframing Autism:

Reframing Autism: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQw9hdH-1bnx8lvH50UjDUg

The accommodations your child need will be specific to them and will depend largely on their Neurodiversity, Comorbidities, Sensory Profile and Sensory Diet. Figuring out what your child need to thrive is essential in creating an environment that accommodate their autistic support needs.

How do you do this?

  • I recommend getting a formal diagnosis, although self-diagnosis is valid (a lot of people just don’t have access to a diagnosis or cannot afford it) it will empower your child and validate their support needs in a society that are unfortunately predominantly neurotypical, prejudiced and ableist.
  • You gather as much information on autism that you can from various sources, this is called psycho-education. When you know better you do better.
  • You find the Autistic Community (usually online but if you a lucky a local support group) and your child’s Neuro-Tribe.
  • You listen to autistic adults. Professionals are great but the lived experience trumps academic expertise. I believe we need both. A great Facebook group to join is “Ask Autistic Adults – Resource for Parents of Autistics: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2138776736451241/
  • Strongly consider getting your child the medication they need to function. Forget about stigma. You wouldn’t deny a deaf person a hearing aid.
  • You brace yourself for the teenage years because puberty is extremely disruptive for autistic teens. Get your child the help and support they need. Prepare your child for puberty and realize that they need neurodivergent sex education. See more info here: https://lifeonandrainbow.wordpress.com/autistic-teens/
  • Determine your child’s Sensory Profile and Sensory Diet. All autistic people struggle with sensory regulation (hyper or hypo sensitive) this will empower them to self-regulate and minimize and manage meltdowns and shutdowns and prevent autistic burnout. It also helps with PDA, since it is triggered by anxiety and sensory overwhelm/ disruption.
  • I would strongly recommend getting help from some professionals that specializes in Neurodiversity (and not ABA). Like The Neurodiversity Center https://www.neurodiversitycentre.co.za/ and benefit from their training https://training.neurodiversitycentre.co.za/

I think the moment our children are diagnosed with autism we as their parents become Autistic Advocates in our sphere of influence. It just happens. We have to fight against ignorance, ableism, prejudice, stigma and harmful stereotypes. We do our little bit to make the world a better place for our all neurotypes.

Image credit: unkonwn

Autism-friendly Homeschooling

Homeschooling is all about educating the whole child. The Charlotte Mason method is based on Charlotte’s firm belief that the child is a person and we must educate that whole person, not just his mind. So a Charlotte Mason education is three-pronged: in her words, ‘Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life’.

{Quoted from https://simplycharlottemason.com/what-is-the-charlotte-mason-method/}

My personal homeschool philosophy is based on the Charlotte Mason Method and an individualized, delight-directed, faith-based, child-centered approach. This can take the form of whatever your child needs to learn, it may be eclectic homeschooling, living books, online homeschooling, boxed curriculum, blended learning. What works for someone else may not work for you and your unique child. There is not ONE right way to homeschool – no matter how passionately someone believes their way is the only way. YOU HAVE TO FIND THE RIGHT FIT FOR YOUR CHILD.

Read more about different approaches to education here: https://cathyduffyreviews.com/homeschool-extras/approaches-to-education or take this Homeschool Philosophies Quiz: http://eclectic-homeschool.com/homeschool-philosophies-quiz/ to find your preference. If you need more help then I recommend Dynamis Learning, see: http://www.dynamislearning.co.za/curriculum.php

Charlotte Mason and her approach to education is widely followed and loved in the homeschool community. There are a lot of homeschool curricula and resources that are based on Charlotte Mason’s Method and Philosophy. This approach is also very efficient when you have to create an “Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life” that is truly child-centered, self-paced, delight-directed and that cultivates the love of learning that produces a lifelong learner that can think and learn independently. No wonder that this is also a wonderful and efficient way to create a rich and autistic-friendly learning environment where you have the freedom to tailor fit it to your unique child’s neurodiversity, temperament, intelligence styles, learning styles and career pathway.

For more detailed information on the Charlotte Mason Method see: https://eunoiahomeschool.com/2018/09/03/the-charlotte-mason-way/

There are a wonderful rainbow of curricula options to choose from when you are creating a custom fit education plan. What worked for us may not work for you. And that’s okay. Take your time to look around, try out different curricula and see what fits. Some places to look for curricula options and reviews:

  • https://cathyduffyreviews.com/ – Cathy Duffy has been reviewing curriculum for the homeschooling community since 1984. She also reviews other resources she believes are important for those interested in homeschooling, education, the origins debate, and related political and spiritual topics. While we stretch beyond homeschooling, our primary goal always remains the same: To help families successfully educate their own children!
  • https://www.thehomeschoolhub.co.za/thh-curricula-directory.html – For homeschoolers, by homeschoolers. Hub Curricula Directory. A unique showcase of some of the best homeschool curriculum & resource providers available to South Africans.

This works really great for primary and middle school (if you follow the US pathway) or up to grade 9 (if you follow the UK or SA pathways). Homeschooling high school may proof to be a bit more challenging.

Image credit: Tony Attwood

Homeschooling High School

Homeschooling your autistic teen doesn’t have to be the mountain that you die on.

Yes, it may prove to be challenging and you may have to re-evaluate the way that you homeschool. But it is just a different phase and you can equip yourself with the knowledge and the skills that you need to facilitate it effectively. Be aware of Autistic Burnout and make sure your child has the support and accommodations they need to thrive. Puberty is very disruptive for an autistic teen’s mood regulation, sensory regulation and neurochemistry. They may be more vulnerable to comorbidities like depression (self harm, suicide ideation) and anxiety; and struggle to come to terms with their sexuality (sexual orientation) and their gender identity. Read more here: https://lifeonandrainbow.wordpress.com/autistic-teens/

Hopefully by this time you have already succeeded in cultivating the love of learning and your child is an independent learner that already have an idea of their career aptitude and career path. A vision and a long term goal will motivate them to learn and work towards reaching their goal.

There are different Matric Pathways available to homeschoolers in South Africa. See detailed info here: https://eunoiahomeschool.com/matric-pathways-sa/

There are currently 4 pathways to a matric (NQF 4: National Qualifications Framework Level 4) qualification in South Africa:

  1. NSC (National Senior Certificate) of the Department of Basic Education.
    • South African High School Diploma OR National Senior Certificate.
    • For University bound students (need to pass with endorsement).
    • Need to apply for Matriculation exemption (if student DID NOT pass with endorsement).
    • NOTE: The IEB exam is also used with some CAPS aligned online service providers and mostly private schools. The IEB uses the South African national curriculum which is regulated by the Department of Basic Education. The IEB NSC is quality assured by Umalusi which is the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education. The IEB NSC is also an internationally bench marked qualification and is equivalent to Cambridge AS level.
  2. American High School Diploma (Standard & Honors Pathways)
    • The US school leaving certificate based on the US national curriculum.
    • Equivalent Foreign Secondary Qualification.
    • For University bound students (need to pass the Honors Pathway option).
    • Need to apply for Foreign Conditional Exemption.
    • The Honors American High School Diploma is equivalent to a Cambridge A level.
  3. GED Test
    • An alternative US school leaving diploma.
    • South African Matric equivalent.
    • Do not qualify for matric exemption per USAf’s requirements.
  4. Cambridge Certificate
    • The UK school leaving certificate based on the UK national curriculum.
    • Equivalent Foreign Secondary Qualification.
    • For University bound students.
    • Need to apply for  Foreign Conditional Exemption.

High School is usually a more formal phase of homeschooling, depending on your school exit. The exception being if your child will do the GED as a matric, with the GED you can freestyle your homeschooling and then just study for the GED exams. See more info here: https://eunoiahomeschool.com/2021/08/27/the-ged-as-a-homeschool-exit/ Although the GED is a NQF level 4 matric equivalent, (without matric exemption) in South Africa, it is possible to bridge the gap, see info here: https://eunoiahomeschool.com/bridging-the-gap-ged-to-degree/

Once again your choice of school exit will be determined by your child’s needs, their abilities, their career aptitude and the career pathway they want to pursue. Some children want to study a competitive degree at a university, some want to travel the word or be an entrepreneur or a freelance artist or writer or a chef.

Here is more detailed information on homeschooling towards the American High School Diploma: https://eunoiahomeschool.com/the-american-high-school-diploma/

Here is more information on homeschooling with Cambridge: https://eunoiahomeschool.com/homeschooling-with-cambridge/

Another way that our kids learn.

Finally, what has worked for us over the years were a combination of different things. I had to adapt, grow and evolve with the kids as they grew and evolved through their different developmental stages. My 2 kids are both autistic but their temperaments and interests couldn’t be more different. I had to adopt different approaches and use different curricula to fit their individual profiles. We have done boxed, eclectic, blended, online, living books, delight-directed, asynchronous… whatever they needed.

They are both working towards the Honors Pathway American High School Diploma. For high school (gr. 9 to 12) we use an accredited online school in the US, Acellus Academy https://www.acellusacademy.com/special-needs/. They are excellent for autistic children because it is self-paced, structured, and a very user friendly online platform. All tests and exams are done online at home. They have a wide choice of interesting subjects as well as AP level (university) subjects.

See more info here: https://eunoiahomeschool.com/2021/08/16/how-to-graduate-high-school-with-an-accredited-ahsd-from-acellus-academy/

For me the way forward is pretty clear. Allow more space to follow interest focused education. To use those interests as a platform to connections, future employment or at the very least, future happiness.

{Sourced from Facebook page: @Neurodive}