How to Select an Autism Homeschool Curriculum

This is the time of year that I get the most requests for advice on how to homeschool children on the autism spectrum.  Sometimes it is from parents who have decided to start this journey from day one of the new school year, and other times, it is from discouraged and disappointed parents who have encountered too many roadblocks in their child's traditional school situation to justify continuing to send them to their existing school.  Regardless of the exact situation, it is likely that any parent would feel quite a bit of anxiety at the prospect of bearing the responsibility of their child's special needs education.

So for everyone...

Step 1:  Relax!

Most homeschool "experts" encourage new families to take at least a month off after leaving the traditional school setting.  This is time for both the student and parent to decompress and unlearn some of the bad educational habits picked up from an unhealthy learning environment.  For my son, he left school after an extremely stressful 6 weeks of constant punishment and meltdowns over a terribly executed ABA program that sent him to the corner behind a taped line for 90% of his day.  He needed a full month to stop crying and self-injuring every time he "made a mistake".  We all benefited from the renewed sense of safety and security of a newly peaceful and calm 11 yr old boy!  From this point, I could embark on...

Step 2: Connecting

I have personally found that connecting to other special needs homeschoolers has been an invaluable part of our success over that past 4 years.  I jumped right on Twitter the week we pulled Jackson out of 6th grade.  I started this blog the following week, and joined up with Hip Homeschool Moms shortly after that, then linked them all to a Facebook page a few months later.  Just those 4 simple acts have helped me feel a part of a much larger community of passionate and dedicated parents who are committed to providing their children with the best possible educational experience!  I have also connected locally with other homeschooling families of both autistic and neurotypical children.  These friendships have grown into my closest relationships since my college days of actually living with my favorite people.  Shared pain and shared victories have a way of helping us all through the roller coaster that is parenting - of ALL abilities and gifts!

I encourage you to set up a few of your own social media accounts.  Here are mine:

Twitter
Blog
Facebook
Hip HomeSchool Moms

Step 3:  Schedules

Even before you select your curriculum and materials, you need to develop an outline for your daily schedule.  I would recommend expanding it from wake-up to bed-time, not just for your expected school day activities.  Homeschooling autism includes so much life skills work, that even breakfast is a learning moment that shouldn't be over looked.  Within a year of homeschooling our son, he was able to shower and get dressed on his own!  That would never have occurred so quickly if I had not been so deliberate about teaching him...often times for up to an hour at a time (and who has that luxury when trying to shuttle them to the bus at 7:00 am).  Prior to this, he was still taking nightly baths, with me pouring a cup of water of his head...sometimes getting hit in the face, sometimes not...

The first year I homeschooled, my son's schedule was broken up into 15-30 minute blocks.  I created blocks for Language Arts, Math, Social Studies and Science even before I found the materials for each subject.  Once I found the right flow to our day, I was able to insert academic work very easily.  Here are Jackson's daily schedules for 6th-9th grades:
I have used worksheets, clipboards, white boards, notebooks, chalkboards, & iPads to display the daily schedule, as my son needs a visual roadmap to follow along with, and even check off activities as he finishes them.  Once you create a loose outline for your day, you will begin to get a sense for how much work you will reasonably be able to accomplish in a day, weeks and months time.  If your child can only sit for 10-15 minutes at a time and do work (which would be an awesome accomplishment!) that will help you choose the best curriculum for him.  If your child works best with an iPad and/or on the computer, then that will also direct your choices.  Don't invest in any materials until you have a general daily plan.  Otherwise, hundreds of dollars of good ideas will collect dust in the corner as you struggle to manage your day.  At this point you should feel confident enough for...

Step 4:  Curriculum and Materials 

I use both the words "curriculum" and "materials" here, because in the 4 years that I've homeschooled, I have never bought an official, pre-packaged curriculum.  I prefer to buy individual materials (books, workbooks, worksheets, games, puzzles, experiments, arts & crafts, downloads, apps, software, etc...).  I am of the mindset that homeschooling should not break the bank or tax your family financially.  It can be done with a very modest budget and no one should be intimidated by the perceived cost.  The $500 curriculum packs are an option, but definitely not the best option for an autism program because most kids on the spectrum have very uneven academic development.  Investing in a "4th Grade Language Arts" curriculum will likely be a waste of money as your child might be at 4th grade for reading, but a 2nd grade for reading comprehension, 5th for spelling, 3rd for vocabulary, and even 1st for handwriting.  I relied heavily on the following resources during my 1st year of homeschooling.  They were very inexpensive, required no long term commitment, and I simply printed a weeks worth of work and was able to readjust if the materials didn't work.  


Once I gained confidence in both my and Jackson's abilities, I added more resources and activites including:

New York Times
Books on CD
Devotionals
Piano
Painting
Daily Chores
Treadmill

Some other curriculum and materials that other autism homeschoolers recommend are (in no particular order):

Online/Computer Based:
Easy Peasey

Traditional Materials:
Life of Fred
Math-U-See
Beast Academy
Singapore Math
Saxon Math
Horizons Math
Teaching Textbooks
Timberdoodle
All About Spelling
Spell and Write and Read 
Handwriting Without Tears
K12
A Beka
Sonlight

At this point, you are probably pretty overwhelmed with the choices and possibilities in front of you. This leads perfectly into the final stage of the process to beginning your homeschool journey...

Step 5: Be Flexible 

Unless you are willing to throw out everything you've just read and try something totally different, homeschooling might be a rough road!  Trust yourself and your child.  If something is just not working, no matter how many mommy bloggers swear by it, then pitch it and don't think twice.  Your kid needs exactly what your kid needs.  Don't waste precious time and energy forcing a program that is not the right fit.  If you all have to go a few weeks glued to the TV while you try, and try, and try again to find better materials, then you lose a few weeks, and not a few years, which is what many of us feel was lost to our children while in public school.

Many blessings to you and your family as you begin, what I hope, are the best years of your family's lives!  And just think, your days of making lunches at 7:30am are over too...it's the small things that usually make me the happiest, that and this guy...

  




Comments

  1. Thanks Allison for making homeschooling with these tips. Thank you for giving me hope and cheering me up on homeschooling. By the way, you can also buy curriculum materials in MSA.

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    1. Good sharing, Kumon’s learning method takes students through a structured programme involving specially developed worksheets. Kumon constantly evaluates and revises the worksheets of all its programmes to ensure there is nothing hindering smooth progress, read more at:
      http://kidbuxblog.com/kumon-help-unearth-kids-potential/

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  2. Wish i had read this WAY earlier!!! my Son is on a 2nd-3rd grade math, understands 6-8th grade science but is barely at a 1st grade reading level (comprehension is excellent though). we bought a $1000 curriculum plan and realized very quickly the reading/history was way beyond his levels. kept the math and science and art electives and sent everything else back. now struggling to find a good computer based program to teach him to read (he does WAY better with programs like that) any suggestions from any one would be greatly appreciated :)

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    1. Head sprout or Starfall are both computer based programs you may want to look into. Hope this helps! :)

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    2. Hooked on Phonics looks pretty good.

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    3. Hooked on Phonics looks pretty good.

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  3. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this blog. I pulled my 8 year old son out of an ineffective ABA program last year and began to homeschool him. While it's been a tremendous success for both of us there are always moments of insecurity. Your blog has definitely been a comforting presence for me as I feel I'm not the only one homeschooling an autistic child. Thank you again and so happy to see your son grow into an independent young man! :)

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  4. Whoa...stumbled on your page. Thank you for this blog. Just what I needed. We too are in the FCPS district and just pulled our son out because he was not thriving even remotely. He was becoming more anxious by the day. Either way...I am so lost. I have no clue how to educate him but God has given me peace that I have done the right thing.

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  5. Seriously considering OHDELA, an Internet school based in Akron, Ohio. My son, who's developmentally delayed (mildly autistic), is finishing the 7th grade in special ed in a public school. He keeps having meltdowns--puberty may have something to do with it--and he acts up primarily in school, not so much at home or at church. He's smart, but his expressive language needs work. But he no longer requires occupational therapy and he's starting to write some nice cursive!

    I bet he'd do better with homeschooling, what say you?

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    1. How is he doing? I am pulling my daughter for 2nd grade. Her expressive language is delayed as well and she has meltdowns at school too. They are struggling to understand her diagnosis. They say she is very smart but fails to recognize her struggles.

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  6. Parents who are looking for a special school for their autistic children should consider Rebecca School in New York. The school offers several programs and curriculum to educate autistic children and help them grow by developing their strengths.

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  7. This information is God sent. Thank you.

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  8. So if you didn't purchase a curriculum, how is it considered being approved thru the school district? I don't want to get in trouble legally

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  9. You are allowed to choose a curriculum or create your own. You just have to prove that you are doing the work. I keep a folder of some of her work that shows she's making progress, and also a calendar with notes of what we do each day. As long as you can prove she is progressing, that's all the state wants to know.

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  10. Kids with autism often cannot make connections that other kids make easily. Most of them have ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorders, this is where kids have trouble understanding what emotions look like and what the other person thinks. There are heaps of way for this to be treated. Homeschooling will be one of them. It will help them understand emotions or things where they are having challenges. There are natural ways in treating autism. It will help them in continuous treatment. Natural solutions are used by Naturopathy experts. These are proven and safe. Dr. Sundardas is a Naturopathy expert based in Singapore that would like to help. You can check our website at www.naturaltherapies.com or email us enquiries@sundardasnaturopathy.com so we can discuss natural remedies and share clientele.

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  11. I think it's great what you were able to accomplish but what people who are single parents who have to work a full time job. This is an easy feat for you how would you be able to do this if your a single parent household?

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  12. I think it's great what you were able to accomplish but what people who are single parents who have to work a full time job. This is an easy feat for you how would you be able to do this if your a single parent household?

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    1. My parents are married, but were both working when I was being homeschooled. I have no idea how they'd have done it if I was younger or less independent, or if their jobs weren't somewhere a kid could hang out. As it was, they both had university jobs and I spent most of my time (starting at 11 years) on the library computers researching whatever I was interested in. As I got further along I started reading university books - I was reading medical journals at 15 or so. The more direct instruction happened when my parents were off work, but I didn't tolerate too much of that, so they had to leave it mostly self-directed.
      If you have to homeschool because your child is struggling, you figure it out. You don't have to be a stay-at-home parent to homeschool, at least if your kid doesn't need constant supervision or help.

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    2. My parents are married, but were both working when I was being homeschooled. I have no idea how they'd have done it if I was younger or less independent, or if their jobs weren't somewhere a kid could hang out. As it was, they both had university jobs and I spent most of my time (starting at 11 years) on the library computers researching whatever I was interested in. As I got further along I started reading university books - I was reading medical journals at 15 or so. The more direct instruction happened when my parents were off work, but I didn't tolerate too much of that, so they had to leave it mostly self-directed.
      If you have to homeschool because your child is struggling, you figure it out. You don't have to be a stay-at-home parent to homeschool, at least if your kid doesn't need constant supervision or help.

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  13. Thank you Allison for writing this blog. My daughter is 4 yrs old and I have been in charge of her speech therapy for the last year. I plan on homeschooling as the special education in our area is less than to be desired. Seeing how happy your son is gives me so much hope for the future. Thank you for taking the time to help and encourage other parents new to homeschooling autism. God bless you and your family!

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  15. Thanks for sharing this! You have made some really good points here. I completely agree with you that children with Autism should be homeschooled. I have recently read an article on HOMESCHOOLING A CHILD WITH AUTISM which is also really useful for parents of autism child.

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  16. Thank you for some great information! I am in the process of determining if homeschooling is the right choice for our son. Struggling to get him help at his school and his anxiety level is so high. Your description of your son so reflects mine. Thanks again.

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  17. I highly recommend Simply Classical by Memoria Press. Completely customizable to your child's different abilities in different subjects. They also offer a health, safety and manners curriculum designed just for our non-typical kids.

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  18. Reading Makes Your Child Smarter

    Reading is known to have numerous benefits. It increases your world knowledge, enhances your vocabulary, and works to improve your reading comprehension abilities.

    But did you know that reading can actually make you smarter?

    In fact, reading not only can make a child smarter, the very act of reading can even help to compensate for modest levels of cognitive ability in children by building their vocabulary and general knowledge! This is a finding reported by researchers Cunningham and Stanovich in a report titled "What Reading Does For the Mind".

    The simple fact here is that reading can make your child smarter, and that learning to read early on is directly linked to later success in life.

    1) Did you know that your child's vocabulary at 3 years old predicts his or her grade one reading success? [1]

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    But how do you teach a young child to read, and isn't that the job of the school and teachers?

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    I can understand if you find that hard to believe... In fact, I had a difficult time believing it myself as well... that is, until I saw the videos they posted documenting the reading progress of the their children - not to mention all the videos other parents have sent in showcasing their children's reading progress after using the Children Learning Program. After learning more about their methods and techniques, it became clear how it's possible to teach young children to read effectively.

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    1. Vocabulary Development and Instruction: A Prerequisite for School Learning
    Andrew Biemiller, University of Toronto

    2. Early reading acquisition and its relation to reading experience and ability 10 years later.
    Cunningham AE, Stanovich KE.

    3. Double Jeopardy How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation
    Donald J. Hernandez, Hunter College and the Graduate Center,

    ReplyDelete

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