Homeschooling autism and other disabilities can feel daunting so it's great to read real life stories from parents who have turned their child's lives around.
Can I just say, I absolutely love this article. So honest and so striking! A lovely read! Very, very well done indeed.
~ Simone, Courageous Homeschooling Facebook support group
And so many of us must feel just like Erika; after all school is the place you are meant to send your children to be educated and cared for.
But, especially when it comes to a child with special needs, you may well find that school is NOT the best place for your child.
Here's a couple of facts taken from Ambitious About Autism:
Let's start by finding out what having an autistic child really means.
There's a brilliant article here which reveals some very important truths like this:
Do read it - it's the best explanation I have ever come across.
If you want to know more about what is autism, there's another good article here.
"Today is exactly 1 year to the day that we made the difficult decision to de-register our daughter from school.
My daughter was having upsetting meltdowns in class due to the fact that the schools answer to dealing with her sensory overload was to send her out of lessons for a 2 minute break?? Despite the fact that she would have to return to the classroom chaos.
I tried to communicate with the school, finally spending ages researching the individual teachers email addresses and sending a group email explaining what was going on and the difficulties that my daughter was having. Apart from 2 teachers I never received any other replies.
All this time my daughter was calling me from school crying and distraught, eating her lunch some days in the toilets and was wearing ear muffs in class to try to reduce the noise. Kids were shouting down her ears and calling her weird. She lost weight and cried a lot.
We tried to encourage our daughter. She went to France with the school for the day but sat alone on the coach (which killed us). Nothing was going to change. Her form was so disruptive, the teacher could not cope. You cannot remove noise from a school and the offer to work in the library alone was ridiculous...How was that different to learning at home alone?
The final straw was when my daughter came bursting out of the school gate one Friday afternoon sobbing and in such a meltdown I could not calm her. She had held in her anxiety and stress for so long during a lesson with kids screaming and drawing on plug sockets that she exploded when she got out.
This was the moment I
realized that there was something very wrong. My daughter didn't fit into this
system and we sent a letter for her to leave. Don't get me wrong, I was
absolutely terrified. Me, teach, I hated school!
This was by no means the easy route to take but I can honestly say that everyday that my daughter shined a bit brighter or laughed, we got a bit more of our happy daughter back. She loves to learn, socialises with many different age groups and is thriving.
Home education is a taboo subject. We are not school haters and the option for my daughter to return to school in the future remains on the table.
Today my daughter is a very happy girl; she is more confident and part of a horsee riding school.
We are just so glad we were able to spot the signs of her issues and halt any further deterioration.
Happy days now and love learning with my daughter."
This is what Erika says about what pushed her into teaching her children at home:
"We would be sending them back to the place where they were desperately unhappy and we would be right back to the tears, the
anger and destruction and the Sunday night upset stomachs. The phone calls from school and the meetings with teachers where I'd come away feeling like the worst mother in the world."
After Erika's son was diagnosed with autism age 8 she had a meeting with her son's teacher.
This is how the teacher responded:
"He's just a naughty little boy who doesn't know how to play nice with others. Now, if you don't mind, I have a class of 30 other children who need my attention.”
"How her words have echoed in my head ever since. I don't think they will ever leave me." ~ Erika
You can see more facts on this page about home education and autism with Emma's story about teaching her autistic son.
"(When) our third son was born..we all knew he was going to be the most autistic of our three boys...(We had) numerous meetings with professionals discussing what our youngest would need in terms of educational provision (a quiet environment, with one-to-one sensory time frequently throughout the day, highly trained staff in the different therapies) and we started thinking there must be some alternative to school.
You see at this point, our eldest (age 12) was being let down and denied these provisions. Every single day there was some new problem we were being called to the school for.
We also had our middle son who had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, autism and moderate learning difficulties and...now at age 7 he was being moved to a new school into a bigger learning support class because he was seven.
As you can imagine for a child with communication difficulties who hasn't started talking until he was 6, who had barely begun to know
a few names of the 8 classmates he had had for three years, and despite the fact that children with autism need routine and continuity – he was being expected to cope with this upheaval.
And the state viewed this as the best way of meeting his needs???" ~ Erika
The National Autistic Society sites these reasons parents choose homeschooling:
For Erika the final straw came when:
"One late September morning my husband finds me having a full blown panic attack because I am terrified of going into my eldest son's bedroom because I honestly didn't know if he was going to still with us.
My beautiful boy, who lives for being helpful, thrives on praise and who just wanted friends, had been making plans to end his life as he just couldn't cope any more. Age 12 and suicidal – this isn't right."
"There are many different challenges you face not only as a parent of a disabled child, but when you are homeschooling autism it brings a whole new set of challenges.
You have different goals and needs for your children and that can make you feel out of step with other homeschoolers." ~ Erika
I'm sure that's true.
So I asked Erika to share some tips on how she goes about homeschooling her children with special needs.
“Just breathe. You can do this. School didn't work for your
children, like it didn't work for mine, so replicating it at home isn't
going to work either.
Just let all of you breathe, let yourself and your children discover who they are again and you'll see when they are ready and how best to go."
How right she was...
That way you can look back and see just how far both you and your children have come. It's also really important for your children for when you are no longer with them...So make friends with that horrid camera, not for you but for your children.
"Our middle son is now 12 and really coming into his own. Learning is extremely difficult for him as he struggles with retaining information so we have to repeat things (over-learning) but he switches off if he's done it before so I am always looking for new ways and activities to learn the same thing for him.
Giving him time to be himself, he showed us how to encourage his learning. Comics have been our breakthrough... Lego, YouTube,
stop-animation he is thriving on...
Our youngest son is nearly 9 – where does the time go? He is still non-verbal and driven by the need to satisfy his sensory needs. We have had to privately fundraise for an AAC device to help him communicate which he loves using.
He is like a sponge, he loves learning, taught himself to read. I always feel like I'm running to catch up with him (literally as well as educationally)!"
"Our job is to help our children become as independent as possible. This is the heart of home schooling with autism. You won't be around forever and you need to help your child to be as self reliant as possible, even if they can never live independently.
When I was asked by a Doctor how I knew I was doing a good enough job teaching my son I replied:
Thank you so much Erika for sharing your story about homeschooling autism with us.