Homeschooling a Child with Asperger's (Part 2)
The incidence of children with Asperger's Syndrome is increasing. But parents across the country report that homeschooling their Asperger's children offers the breathing room they need. Homeschooling helps parents apply the advice of experts, many of whom encourage three approaches to help Asperger's children overcome the many challenges they face:
1. Biological interventions.
2. Educational interventions.
3. Social interventions and therapies.
In the February 2009 HSLDA Struggling Learner Newsletter titled, Homeschooling a Child with Asperger's Syndrome, we focused on the biological interventions. In this newsletter, we will focus on educational and social interventions. Part 3, the final section due out later this summer, will address recommended supplementary therapies for children with Asperger's Syndrome.
Should You Homeschool Your Asperger's Child?
Homeschooling a child with Asperger's Syndrome offers the prospect of tremendous benefits. Because the Asperger's child often acts in an "odd" manner socially, and many times just doesn't fit in, he daily experiences harassment and bullying in school. Since his sensory system is overloaded with the noises and transitions of the school day, every ounce of this child's concentration and energy is expended in just being in the classroom, so that there is nothing left for learning.
What are some common roadblocks to homeschooling your Asperger's child? It is not uncommon for your doctor to discourage you from homeschooling your child with Asperger's Syndrome. Your child's doctor may be very familiar with Asperger's, but not familiar with homeschooling. Thus, he may feel that keeping this child home all the time doesn't sound right (as if homeschoolers do that). Dr. Tony Attwood, a clinical psychologist, well-known expert on Asperger's Syndrome and author of Asperger's Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, is on record as being an advocate of homeschooling. He states, "I have always found homeschooling to be a positive option that has literally saved the lives of many children."
Parents who have successfully homeschooled their Asperger's children have found the strengths and weaknesses in various educational approaches:
1. Computer-based instruction
Asperger's children tend to like structure and predictability. They are also very easily self-taught, in many cases. For that reason, parents have found that computer-based instruction works well for these children. If a child is working close to grade level in most subjects, then using computer-based instruction for all, or part of the child's education, has been found to be quite successful (Time 4 Learning is just one example).
2. Unit studies
Unit studies examine a topic in depth. Since this is exactly what Asperger's children tend to want, it suits their style of learning. Unit studies often work very well for kids who resist learning about anything but their very special topic. Parents start with the topic of interest and then branch out into other topics. The children like the absence of abrupt transitions, since all subjects generally are connected to the central study topic (i.e. trees, mammals, electricity, etc.) Parents often recommend doing this four days per week, allowing one day of the week for the child to pursue his own interests entirely (with the exception of TV and video games).
3. Traditional curriculum
Traditional curriculum tends to overwhelm an Asperger's child with details. The need to write in workbooks frequently becomes a big point of dispute between child and parent if this type of curriculum is used exclusively. Video classes offer instruction done by a teacher, however, Asperger's children are often language or auditorally challenged, and too much of the information is given verbally. This type of learning needs to be carefully monitored by the parent.
1. Real-life social training
Social situations are often an enigma for these kids, because they have difficulty reading non-verbal cues, and knowing the proper social response to various situations. There are many good resources for parents to learn how to teach these important social skills to their child at home. Some parents use books such as Social Skills Activities for Special Children by Darlene Mannix, or Navigating the Social World by Jeannie McAfee, for social skills material. The social story concept, developed by Carol Gray, is a formula-based written story to work through social situations. These stories can be found in her book, The New Social Story Book, or her website for sample stories and guidelines. Parents can use the CD sets and DVDs that demonstrate various social settings, and give methods for the child to interact appropriately at Model Me Kids and SocialSkillsBuilder.com. As with all videos, the parent should watch it first, to approve all content.
2. Group work social training
Good social skills groups designed specifically for children affected by Asperger's Syndrome can be helpful because the leaders really understand the issues. These groups of like-minded children generally meet once a week and under the direction of the leader practice different social scenarios and rehearse proper responses. However, one needs to be careful in selecting a social group to make sure that it is made up of like-minded children, and not a mixture of children with other behavior challenges. Parents would not want a social skills group whose original purpose was to rehabilitate bullies. Parents have found that good social skills groups are hard to find. Thus, many of them take on this education of social skills as part of their homeschooling curriculum.
Homeschooling is hard work and not without challenges, but wonderful things can happen for our Asperger's-affected kids that might not happen in any other way.
> Homeschooling the Child with Asperger Syndrome by Lise Pyles (excellent resource!)
> Choosing Home: Deciding to Homeschool With Asperger's Syndrome by Martha Kennedy Hartnett
> Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support (very thorough website)
This resource is provided by the Home School Legal Defense Association's Struggling Learner's newsletter as a service to the homeschooling community.
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