I began homeschooling my son soon after he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, at 6 years old and in his second year of schooling. I quickly realized that his school knew even less than I did about Asperger’s, and while I soon educated myself through free courses available to me and through the internet, I also knew the school had no strategies in place regarding my son’s needs, and I did not have enough knowledge at the time, or the personal skill to negotiate that pioneering road with the school. And so I looked at alternatives.
Skepticism, Hurdles and Possibilities
It happened that I knew a couple of families who were homeschooling, one for different reasons, and another because of the same issues as I was now facing. The social resource of networking cannot be underestimated, and speaking to these homeschooling parents, I quickly realized that home education was a practical option, and unlike expensive private schools, it was possible to fit into my budget.
Figuring I couldn’t go too far wrong teaching the academic basics to a 6 year old, and that one-on-one attention and the ability to teach to his strengths and natural learning styles could only benefit my child, I made my decision. This is not to say I did not face opposition and/or skepticism from friends and family. Actually, as skeptics go, mine were reasonably mild, and I brushed aside the hesitance of the doubters, including my son’s Remedial Teacher of Learning and Behavior–his special needs co-ordinator in school, who told me I would never be able to cope–and pressed onwards.
The first hurdle was to convince the government that I would be able to provide an equitable alternative education for my son at home. Successfully achieving this, my first task after being given his exemption from enrollment in a registered school was to choose a curriculum, and since I had no previous experience teaching, I chose a prepackaged one. I figured it was a leaping off point, that I would learn what worked for us and what didn’t, and that we’d go from there. That was exactly how it worked out. I found the program far too regimental and too much work book-based, but it was an indicator for our future direction.
The Teacher Is Taught: Less Writing, More Doing
Challengingly, my son was highly distractible, which meant constant interaction from me to keep him on task. This was time consuming and pretty exhausting (read “frustrating”) but a breakthrough was a homeschoolers’ conference I attended, which included a workshop on special needs education. There I learned that while many children with ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, etc, will struggle with handwriting, this sometimes resolves naturally at around 11 years of age, with physiological maturity. Thus it seemed logical not to force something which might come naturally later, when it was not, in fact, the focus of the particular curriculum area where one might be requiring answers.
I also discovered the principle of learning styles, and observing my son, it was clear he was a very visual as well as kinesthetic learner, which means he learns well by seeing and being able to do, to touch, manipulate, make, and that in merely speaking to him, information does not really sink in. I learnt that having to write answers and thoughts down was like a barrier to accessing his real and amazing knowledge and understanding.
This illuminating new awareness made both of our lives considerably easier–not only did my son not have to struggle with writing unnecessarily, but the tension eased for me as educator when I no longer had to constantly keep his attention from wandering–because when he was fully engaged in learning, he was not distractable.
I got my hands on, or rather, made sure he got his hands on, math manipulatives (anything tangible that can be used for counting and other mathematical processes) whenever we were learning new Maths concepts. Instead of work books, we accessed many of the wonderful educational games available online, mainly for free. We’d combine manipulatives and games by playing games with manipulatives.
Similarly for grammatical concepts, we would either play online or board games, or play verbal games–anything that didn’t involve writing.
It turned out that he grasped these concepts with ease once they were taught to him in a delivery style that gelled with the way his brain worked. Although some concepts were just naturally foreign to him, and to this day remain a challenge, such as the notion and measure of time. I believe these troublesome issues will only be resolved with maturity and repetition.
The Potential and Flexibility of Home Education
Across all curriculum areas, the teaching possibilities are endless–your imagination is your guide and the internet your tool.
Homeschooling is flexible like that and is therefore ideal for adaptation to the wide spectrum of differing needs, from dyslexia to giftedness to a mix of the two. Moreover, it is a wonderful way to produce individuals who think for themselves and are not compelled to fit into a mold. Its potential is infinite.
And though I, for various reasons, don’t currently homeschool, if I were to look into the crystal ball of my future, it could be that, with two children on the autistic spectrum and many years of educational challenges ahead, home education would again be found in its blurry depths.
Local homeschooling groups
Numicon for math manipulatives and interventions.
Diane Flynn Keith’s http://clickschooling.com/ for daily recommendations by email for entertaining websites that help your kids learn.
Math Snacks at mathsnacks.com for those who don’t particularly like math, another way to look at math concepts.
Wacky Web Tales at http://www.eduplace.com/tales/ for parts of speech practice.
Science Kids at http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/ have games, experiments, quizzes, projects, lessons, videos and more, all in the name of awakening interest in science
Reading Eggs at http://readingeggs.co.nz/ for early readers.