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The Top 5 Reasons We Decided To Homeschool Our Autistic Child

5 Reasons We Decided To Homeschool Our Autistic Child

People choose to homeschool for many reasons. My husband Matt homeschooled his daughter (my neurotypical stepdaughter) and she was almost grown up and ready to leave home when we Samara was conceived. I didn’t know anything about homeschooling when I first came into their home but I could soon see the positive outcome for my stepdaughter.  So, naturally, we wanted to homeschool Samara as well. Some of the reasons we wanted to homeschool before she received her autism diagnosis at age 2 still stand, and there some additional advantages that we are including on this list.

1.) Morals, Values, and Safety

We aren’t a “religious” family, but this was a big one for myself. I hate to sound like an old person here but let’s face it, schools are not what they used to be. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and I didn’t even approve of some of the things I experienced in school. Sadly, bullying, violence, drugs, lockdowns, pedophiles, security guards and police are a reality in today’s schools.

2.) Anxiety, Sensory Issues, and Emotional Dysregulation

Children cannot learn if they are constantly in a state of fight or flight. As a kid, I spent almost all my school days struggling with anxiety. I had auditory processing issues and most of the time couldn’t understand what my teacher was saying to the class. WORDS WORDS WORDS, I could hear them, but not put it together to make sense of it. As a result, the teacher would call on me to answer a question and I just broke down into tears. This outburst, albeit too much for me to ever control, was ultimately humiliating. Too many visual and audial distractions and being forced to be still can be excruciating for some kids. At home, you have control over the environment, lighting, noise, or including the right kind of sensory input for your child. *Check out some of these cool additions for your homeschool.

3.) Socialization

Wait? What? Yes, she doesn’t go to school because I would like her to learn to socialize and schools do not teach children how to socialize. Schools teach children how to sit at desks, be still, and only speak when spoken to and follow orders. Then they turn them loose by themselves on a playground to explode with no adults to role model and expect them to treat each other kindly. At best there’s a playground monitor to escort your bloody nose to the nurse.

When you homeschool your children get the PH. D. of socialization. They have you, the parents, to role model how to treat one another, and maybe older siblings too. There often times are homeschool groups that have park days where your kids can go play with other homeschooled children every week. Many homeschool groups also have outings (field trips), co-ops, and library days. Older children learn to role model for younger children and so there is a lesson in watching out for others and learning to interact with all ages.

Since they aren’t at school all day they get to go out in the real world and learn to navigate daily social skills and appropriate behavior whether it’s at the grocery store, post office, library or the museum.

Now you may be wondering specifically about autism and social skills. Many parents worry about socialization for their autistic child because autism involves difficulties in communication and relationship building. Homeschooling is actually the most ideal situation for an autistic child for some big reasons.

  1.  They can learn the foundations of communication, like nonverbal communication, visual referencing, experience sharing, emotions, etc., from one on one interactions through play and activities with you at home. These are not taught in developmental preschool or elementary school and are needed before one can successfully have social interactions and friendships.
  2. You are available to provide a safety net and help guide them through interactions if necessary.
  3. They can have positive social interactions which will help them feel more confident. In my experience homeschooled children tend to be more aware, kind and understanding of others differences.

4.) Curriculum and Special Education

When you homeschool you can pick a style of curriculum that works for your child’s learning style, unlike the public school system which dictates what is used and its used for all the children regardless of learning styles. This also means you can tailor to your child’s natural interest which is a very important part of self-discovery and figuring their strengths and passions. How many of you graduated from high school still unsure of what those were? I know I did.

All children learn different things at different times and in different ways so you can meet your child where they are at, whether they are neurotypical, autistic, or have a learning disability. There are also many online resources if you need additional help with occupational therapy or speech strategies.

Best of all you have the freedom to be flexible when sickness strikes, anxiety days happen or its a beautiful day for a nature hike. FIELD TRIP!

5.) Learning is fun!

Yes, learning is fun. Learning is a lifelong process and it SHOULD be fun! At home, a child is free to explore areas of interest and learn in ways that are exciting to them. Whether its one of those cool monthly science boxes, exploring the backyard wildlife, reading,  or games and apps.

Are you homeschooling or planning on starting? I’d love to hear your top 5 reasons in the comments.

* This post contains affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase it is no additional cost to you, however, a small kickback is given to us so you help support the Guiding Autism Blog. Thank you.

Autism Diagnosis: 5 Things I Wish I Had Known

Everyone handles the day of diagnosis differently, shock, devastation, denial, grief,  blame, or relief. For myself getting that diagnosis gave me direction. I wanted to understand these changes in my child and how to help her. In the end, she has taught me more about myself than I ever bargained for, but that’s another story. On with the list.

  1. Early intervention is a double edge sword

When we get the diagnosis and the doctor tells us about the importance of early intervention for the best possible outcomes, it tends to create panic and your internal maternal clock starts ticking to a new time clock. Parents immediately go into crisis mode, if they weren’t already from dealing with confusing behaviors. We throw our child into many hours of therapy. Our role as parents is transformed into the role of advocate and we run our child to this therapy and that therapy, day after day, after day.

Now I want to note here that depending on where you live this may be variable. I Live in Arizona and they have a program here specifically for autism that was intended for children who were at high risk to be institutionalized. Our daughter was diagnosed with level 3 autism and because of this, she was eligible for 40 hours a week of in-home ABA therapy, 1 hour a week of music therapy, 1 hour of speech, and 1 hour of occupational therapy. They are also able to get behavioral health services if necessary. Many children are able to increase speech and occupational therapy hours based on need. Now before you pack your bags, close that tab on “the best places to live in Arizona” and think about this further.

This is where it gets interesting and I want you to really think about this one. Autism is a communication disorder. Children can have difficulty with speech as well as social interactions and relationship building. Who do children typically bond with, model from, and learn speech, social and relational skills from? Parents. I was spending 50 hours a week at work, and my child was spending another 45 hours in therapy. Even if one parent can stay home full time this is 45 hours your child spends away from you and away from learning those skills.

Now you may think, but the therapy is what will help my child. I can’t possibly help my child. I’m not trained like the professionals. That brings us to number 2 and 3.

  2. Professionals don’t know what’s best for your child.

Compared to the general public, professionals are the second most knowledgable when it comes to autism. However, there is only one person that knows what’s best for your child. It’s YOU. Yes, YOU.

I know you didn’t go to college and read textbooks about this stuff. Regardless,  you don’t need a Ph.D. or a Masters to know what’s best for your child. I know its hard to believe in the early years when every day may feel like you’re walking on eggshells and you feel like every inborn or learned resource you had about parenting is failing. We aren’t even going to discuss what your relatives think here cuz that’s a different conversation entirely.

There will come a moment, probably after you start therapy, that your gut will kick in and tell you what’s right. When someone holds your child down to stop them from stimming perhaps. Or when you see them getting more agitated and anxious when one flashcard becomes one too many flashcards. When they take away their “positive reinforcer”, usually a favorite item, to withhold in exchange for behavior modification. You’ll know. Follow your gut.

Wait, professionals are the SECOND most knowledgeable? Yes. Who’s the first most knowledgable about autism then? AUTISTICS! I highly encourage you to join a group that accepts parents looking to learn more about neurodiversity. Here are a couple on Facebook that I recommend.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/askautistics/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/embracingautismgroup/

3. Even more than therapy, she needs you.

If I had it to do over I would go back and skip that 40 hours a week of aba.

Now I don’t want to negate the importance of getting help altogether. You most likely do need guidance.

  • I would have asked more questions to the SLP about the “why” behind speech therapy.
  • I would have asked the occupational therapist more specific questions about how to help my child at home.
  • I would have spent a great deal more time in actually autistic groups
  • I would have sought out an intervention that focuses on helping my child communicate beyond scripts, focuses on relationships, thinking independently, regulating emotions and includes me as a part of the process.

*Here are some recommendations:

RDI: www.rdiconnect.com

DIR: Floortime http://www.icdl.com/dir

If these aren’t possible, or for additional learning:

The RDI Book : https://amzn.to/2GB7nuE

Theraplay: https://amzn.to/2GB7nuE

I Love You Rituals: https://amzn.to/2tfJP6J

Engaging Autism: Using the Floortime Approach to Help Children Relate, Communicate, and Think by Stanley Greenspan https://amzn.to/2tfJP6J

4. Don’t worry about the milestones.

Your child is on their own trajectory of growth. Think about when you were a kid in school. Remember the kid who was so smart? Maybe that was you? 😉 The kid that was always in trouble? The kid that was always struggling and couldn’t keep up?

Chances are the trouble maker was bored to death. The kid doing well just happened to be on a typical trajectory for his grade and age. The child that was struggling wasn’t struggling because he’s not smart. He was just learning different things on a trajectory that was different from what the educational system had planned for him. Yes, even neurotypical children learn different things at different ages. Our schools and doctors have these milestones that kids are supposed to fit into but guess what? It’s not set in stone. Every child is unique and your child is no different. Your child is capable of learning and growing in every way.

Don’t compare your children to milestones, other children, grade levels etc. If you’re still on the Parenting.com email list of milestones do yourself a favor and unsubscribe. Someday you may want to return there when things feel calmer, but for now, you just need to focus on your child and meet them where they are at. Keep working on what they need help with. Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses along the way. Enjoy every moment. Don’t miss their childhood worrying about what tomorrow may or may not bring. Save tears for tragedies, this is not one of them.

5. Not all of what you see is autism.

I think this one is really important too. Its taken me a great deal of time to sort this out.

Comorbid conditions are common amongst autistics and can include:

  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Sensory problems
  • Seizures and epilepsy
  • Intellectual disability
  • ADHD
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Tourette syndrome
  • General anxiety disorder
  • Clinical depression
  • PANS/PANDAS
  • Anxiety
  • Auditory Processing Disorder
  • Apraxia

I have a really good resource for this one as well. Another blogger that goes by Autistic Mama. She is an actually autistic mom raising her neurotypical and neurodiverse children.  I highly recommend signing up for her newsletters.

Along with the fact that comorbid conditions can create confusion about what autism IS, what you also see in your child is simply your child. Their personality, their joy, frustrations, interests, all them. They are a whole person, just like anyone else.

I hope that you found this blog post helpful and insightful. If you’ve been on this journey awhile what were your top 5 things you wish you knew when your child was diagnosed? If your child is recently diagnosed what one thing did you take away from this article?

 

* This post contains affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase it is no additional cost to you, however, a small kickback is given to us so you help support the Guiding Autism Blog. Thank you. 

 

The Parental Role In Autism

The Parental Role In Autism

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When you bring home that newborn baby it can be so joyful and so overwhelming. People jest about not having an instruction manual for their new bundle of joy, yet they manage. They use their own experience as a human being on the planet, combined with their parent’s techniques from their own upbringing (some good, some bad) and cobble together their own style of parenting. It’s never perfect.

When you have a child with autism, however, all those things you know about taking care of a child no longer seem to fit. You can feel lost, helpless and alone. However, when you get the diagnosis there are people to help. They all come to your aid, the doctors, the many therapists, the teachers. They all know what to do. You sit back watching them “work” with your child. They all mean well. Your family life is a whirlwind of rushing them to therapy, maybe to school, another therapy, and back home to another therapy. You kiss them goodnight and it starts all over the next day.

Samara was in 45 hours of therapy from age three to age six. That’s more than a typical adult’s work week. Where did I, her mother, fit into all that? I watched and I learned, as best I could from a distance. Most therapists would actually prefer you’re not even there for sessions, but I wouldn’t leave her alone.

You lose your parent-child relationship and your role becomes that of the advocate. Advocate and child, does that sound right to you? Your job is not to teach your children anymore, its to make sure they get to all the therapy they need whilst avoiding any collateral damage.

I feel that there is something severely wrong with the way we are approaching “treating” children with autism. Children with autism need one thing, their parents. Parents need one thing, guidance. Guidance on how to navigate a child that’s mind works differently from theirs. They need to be able to resume their typical role as a parent to their child. The child needs to feel safe, loved, and nurtured like any child.

I had a support coordinator from DDD tell me once that we didn’t need any habilitation hours for Samara because “habilitation is for parents who have given up on their children, and you’re clearly capable of teaching her things.” At the time it made me very angry. However maybe, in a way, she was right.

Lately, I find myself in a predicament. Through the RDI program this past year I have learned to connect with Samara in a way I  hadn’t been able to before. I AM a good guide and teacher for her. As a homeschooler I have always valued the idea that Samara will be free to learn and grow at her own pace, not by someone’s pre-determined timeline. That she will not be burdened or pressured, or bullied. That she will be allowed to maintain her passion, her spark, to learn.

I find, however, that another bully is still present, THERAPY. I find myself highly resentful of the “help” that we felt so privileged to receive back when she was only 2 and newly diagnosed, feeling helpless to help her. Although we have abandoned ABA therapy she is still going to occupational and speech therapy. Here she is put back on an expected timeline of development. No longer really free to develop at her own pace. She is made to do tasks whether she is developmentally ready or not and it breaks my heart. This is not what I want for her.

However, when you have a child with special needs and someone puts “medically necessary” on anything, you are required to follow through for fear of being accused of not giving your child what they need. The fact that you continue to work on these skills with your child yourself doesn’t seem to count.

In fact, when I had a discussion with an agency recently about RDI, she balked at me about RDI “just being a parent lead program”. As if parents aren’t capable or the best teachers for their children. I think its time we put our kids with ASD back into the most capable hands to help them, or at least for those willing to take on that challenge, with their parents.

I would love to know how you feel about your relationship with your role as a parent with your autistic child. Do you feel therapy is helping or hindering fostering your relationship and connection?

Misery and personal growth

Misery and personal growth

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A year ago I found out I had spent several years in pursuit of a movement I never knew existed. It’s called Minimalism. I stumbled across it quite accidentally. I googled something like, “how to live like a poor person.” I know, that sounds kind of wrong. I was looking for some special budgeting tips because I felt I had to be missing something. Anyway, I ran across The Minimalists and also Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. I began following The Minimalists podcast and starting really trying to refine what I had already been seeking.

Something that kept coming up concerning personal growth and discomfort was bothering me, however. The idea that anxiety and discomfort is somehow a pathway to personal growth. Like the minimalist Joshua Becker,  I too am an introvert. I have spent a large majority of my 45 years fighting who I am. Putting myself into situations to somehow better or “fix” myself. Why don’t I like parties like everyone else? Why is talking in front of people so terrifying for me and yet others are uncomfortable but seem to get better with practice? Why is holding a conversation with another person so complicated?

Well, I finally reached a point where I learned that it’s ok to be this way. It’s ok to be me. Not all of us are wired to be a type A and we don’t all need to be that way. I don’t need to torture myself emotionally to try and be something I am not. This realization actually came after a couple years of my daughter’s autism diagnosis, which comes with much similar controversy, neurodiversity and such, which is an entirely different rabbit hole that I won’t go down here.

Since that realization, my pursuit has been one of comfort. I currently have the perfect job for me. I work one on one with people but have to make very little conversation is required,  while still fulfilling my need for social interaction. Yes, introverts do still need social interaction. I improve my client’s physical health and mental well being, fulfilling my need to help others (I’m an INFJ). My work environment is quiet and relaxing. I work the hours I want and its very low stress.

So now that I am not torturing my psyche on a daily basis does this mean I am no longer growing as a person? Of course not. There are many ways to grow as a person in life. Trying new hobbies, exploring new places, working on my writing, expanding my knowledge as a therapist, focusing on my health and on and on.

That being said I will close with a quote:

Knowing others is intelligence. Knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is a strength. Mastering yourself is true power. -Lao Tzu