Summer is Over; Where to Now?
Many families who have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) explore alternative educational options. Several options exist today, including: private schools, charter schools, homeschooling, public schools and ABA clinics.
In this article, we will discuss why homeschooling is becoming more and more popular for kiddos on the spectrum. Alternatively, we will also look at the pros and cons of sending your child to public school and how Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy can fit into either decision—homeschooling or mainstreaming.
Even with supports in place, parents ponder, “Can I homeschool my child with autism?” More often than not, parents of children on the spectrum are very knowledgeable about ASD. In fact, their knowledge usually surpasses those of typical school teachers and administrators. Since the idea behind an “individualized education plan” is to create a specific program that works best for an individual student. Interestingly, that’s exactly what homeschooling entails. Homeschool families have the flexibility to choose how, when, where, and what to teach their child, making it a superb option for students who would benefit from a customized approach. The bigger question for most families is whether they feel capable to handle their own child’s education. The answer to this is personal to each family, but certainly, there are plenty of curriculum tools, online and local support communities available to ease most any family into homeschooling a child with autism.
There are several pros to homeschooling. These include: fewer distractions and fewer stressors, no bullies and a safe haven learning environment, all aspects of education can be individualized, appropriate socialization can be modeled by parents and taught as part of the curriculum, and a flexible schedule allows plenty of time to go to therapies and take frequent breaks.
The downside of homeschooling is that only some states offer special education services to homeschoolers and not every family has the availability or financial ability to homeschool. Another significant detriment that families face is that homeschooling can be overwhelming or emotionally draining on the family. Moreover, social interaction with others can be limited for both the student and the parent(s).
Mainstreaming in Public Schools:
Can children with autism really attend regular school? Sure they can, but it is important to have accommodations in place that support the special learning needs of a child on the spectrum. While education is obviously the chief goal of any school, a child’s social, behavioral, and health needs must be taken into account as well.
Even accommodations that prove helpful for one child, though, may not be appropriate for another. That’s where Individualized Education Plans or IEPs come in. The IEP is a written document outlining how to tailor an educational program to a child with special needs. It is usually created as a cooperative effort between parents, teachers, and educational specialists. By law, schools must create individualized educational programs for every child with autism.
Depending on where the student with autism is on the spectrum, the amount of mainstream classroom time he/she receives may vary. Some may be assigned part-time to a traditional classroom and part-time to a special classroom. Some may be assigned full time to a traditional classroom with a support, or a shadow (a person who would be working with a child on the spectrum in the classroom). Others may be assigned full time to a special needs setting.
The biggest benefit to sending your child with autism to public school is that some therapies may be available for students meeting the criteria for them within the school for free. If social skills training is available, students will have many opportunities to practice with peers. Additionally, dedicated autism classrooms may be available that contain access to specialized software and other supports for learning.
On the other hand, if a school and/or teachers don’t have training in autism, they can have difficulty teaching students effectively. Even with an IEP, it can be challenging for teachers to meet the educational needs of individual students. More often than not, students who are struggling in school usually have difficulty communicating those struggles to parents. Safety issues for students with ASD also is a big concern, such as: bullying, wandering behaviors, or logistical confusion in larger school settings.
So—what’s the best educational approach for students with autism? Because autism symptoms fall along a spectrum, no two children with autism are alike. That means that there is no one “right” approach to educating a child with ASD.
There are some strategies that are often beneficial no matter where your child falls on the spectrum. For example, children with autism benefit from a regular daily schedule. They often need extra time to switch to a new subject or activity. Many learn best with a visual schedule and with visual instruction. Most students with ASD need to be taught all of the social skills that other children seem to pick up naturally by being around other people – how close to stand to someone, how to engage in conversation, how to play with a friend, etc. It is also important to know that by minimizing distractions in a room or teaching area, students are more likely to be able to stay focused on the lesson at hand. It also helps to find ways to link educational lessons and topics to what your child is already fascinated with.
How ABA Therapy can help with Homeschooling and Mainstreaming:
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy is an evidence-based practice that is most effective when taught in the child’s natural environment—home, school, and social settings—where everyday tasks and behavioral interactions become valuable teachable moments. ABA therapy can provide a scientifically proven method of teaching social and communication skills to children with autism that are either homeschooled or mainstreamed. While ABA also develops many of the skills that attract parents to home schooling—flexible minds, adaptability, motivation and self-initiative, it can also be a good reinforcement of tools needed for a positive school and work environment. When these skills are taught in a natural home environment, they are more easily generalizable to school, work and other environments. ABA therapy is also commonly performed at ABA clinics under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analysis (BCBA) or at a student’s home as an outpatient service. Depending on where your child falls on the spectrum usually determines how many hours of ABA therapy is recommended to best suit his/her needs. Many mainstreamed students utilize ABA therapy after school hours to support their communication and behavioral needs.