Your child will go to school for at least 13 years of his life.
He will be “being educated” for roughly 35 hours a week.
That’s almost a full-time job.
This is hands down one of the most critical decisions you will make for your child and it should not be taken lightly. His time – wherever it is spent – as well as the people he is with, will absolutely shape the person he becomes.
When making this choice, at no point should you consider what you think others expect or what seems “normal.”
Yes, I blog about homeschool on this site but homeschool is not for everyone. We have found that at certain stages in life, homeschool was not for us. If you cannot or do not want to homeschool your autistic child, that does not make you less of a parent. This post is not about judging other parents and it’s certainly not about criticizing choices only you and your spouse can make.
So how do you choose the right education for your autistic child?
Let’s talk about options…
You are entitled to certain rights when your child is in the school system. These rights are surrounded by many acronyms…
LRE: You child is entitled to go to school in his Least Restrictive Environment. This means we want his day to look as much like a typical child’s, so far as it is beneficial for him.
IEP: This is the Individualized Education Plan that you and a team from the school (principal, general ed teacher, special ed teacher and any relevant therapists) put together to help your child function fruitfully in school.
PT, OT & Speech: You have the right to receive (if your child qualifies) Physical therapy, Occuppational therapy, and Speech. There’s a catch; you only qualify if the struggles your child has disrupt his school day. For instance, we struggled a lot with food and received feeding therapy from a private OT – the school was not going to provide help with this because it didn’t directly affect his performance at school.
We have had some good therapists through the school system, but by and large, they can only do so much. You will be restricted as to how much therapy you are allowed to receive. Although there are resources such as a sensory room and other “as needed” supports, your child will not, per se, be in his most conducive environment to learning consistently throughout the day.
Then there’s the choice of environment…
The unit or a typical classroom: You can choose to place your child in an autism unit with other autistic children or you can place your child in a typical classroom and request the help of an aide. There are many pros and cons to both sides. We found that although the unit provided us with some peace of mind, it was very overwhelming for our son. He picked up behaviors from other children (as I’m sure the others did from him)
When we moved him to the typical room with an aide, the environment was still overwhelming for him (in different ways) and he really did best work outside of a classroom environment with the help of his aide. The aide is with your child throughout the day and functions as a bridge, helping your child to be more successful in school. Needless to say, it is critical you have a good & close relationship with this person.
We have not actually been to private school, outside of pre-school. From my understanding, you have some rights based on where you live but you are limited. Most of your success will depend on your relationship with the school and the teacher.
With homeschool, you are able to custom fit curriculum, learning style and organization of day. Many of the struggles your child has faced in the school system will be eliminated simply because of environment. You can work to your child’s natural motivations, which is critical.
In my beloved book, Autism Breakthrough, Raun Kaufman states:
Even the best, most dedicated, most talented teachers cannot possibly customize their teaching to every child’s individual motivation when they face a roomful of students, each of whom has sharply divergent interests.
Based strictly on your ability to custom fit your child’s environment and curriculum, I do feel homeschool is the best choice. That says nothing about me as a teacher of my children or my children as students; if every school was able to provide a 1-on-1, custom designed education for each child, they would do it in a second. Even if you have multiple children, your ratio is certainly better than the typical 20:1 in schools.
“But I’m not qualified…” you might think. There’s about 100 arguments that come to my mind right off the bat against that statement but I will sum them up into one:
The second your child was conceived, you became the expert.
No degree, no amount of time in the field, no therapy certificate takes away the fact that you know your child on a level no one else ever will.
Should you take sound advice and educate yourself? Absolutely. But don’t ever rule homeschool out based on your insecurities.
Whatever your choice is, one thing remains clear – you are your child’s advocate. Your role in his life – whether as parent only or parent/teacher, remains the absolute most valuable. Don’t ever forget that or feel like someone is more qualified to do the job of helping and teaching your child.