The Advantages Of Home Schooling An Autistic Child
By Peter and Susan Forbes Winter 1995/96
We "found" Lucas in Pakistan. At least, that's how it's termed in Dari, the African language we were studying at the time he was born. We were in Pakistan as relief workers among the refugees of war-torn Afghanistan in the border city of Peshawar. Lucas was born in a mission hospital a few hours away. He was two and a half and had a younger brother by the time he first came to America in 1989.
It was back here in the States that we pursued the possibility that something may be "wrong" with Lucas. It was our own reading that lead us down the road of autism.
We've done our time in "the system" of child development services. I will share the salient lesson from this experience: The only role more important than an interested and discerning advocate for a handicapped individual is the Lord Himself. And by "advocate" I mean, inmost cases, "parent". Parents cannot implicitly trust the professionals. It is true that the parents are the experts about their child.
We allowed Luke to be in public school three years. My thinking about putting him in public school at the time had to do with his autism. Since autistic individuals have difficulty with change it seemed it would be less confusing to separate places and roles rather than trying to transform "home" into "school" and "mumma" into "teacher" at certain times. We felt that if he went in a certain place ("school") he would understand that was the place where he was to "learn". He could relate to another person ("teacher") who would "teach" him. I read the book There's a Boy in Here and felt that the boy Shaun in that story was more like our Luke than others I had read. Shaun related that he had pulled together all his resources for school and had tried really hard to act like the other children and that accounted for his degree of success. For the time that Luke was in public school, I think this reasoning was accurate. By the third year, it was apparent that he was figuring out how to zone out at every opportunity. Unless he had serious one-on-one, he was not benefiting.
Last year ('94-'95) was our first year at home. He has made the transition well. I tried it out a few days in the summer before I took him out. I felt assurance it would work so I took the plunge. We have had many trying sessions but I would not go back to public school.
Luke is fairly 'high-functioning" but his condition "in the spectrum of autism" definitely makes learning a major difficulty. He has quite good language abilities for a boy with autism. This has been one of the major benefits of schooling him at home. Here he can talk freely without disturbing the rest of the class. When he gets bursts of speech on a certain topic, I sit back and enjoy the language production. We can talk about what has stimulated him. It is not inconvenient. It is a delight. Language on demand is still difficult for him but his spontaneous language is dramatically improved.
Here are the advantages of homeschooling our autistic son:
1.) The freedom we have to vary his program to meet his needs, moods and interests. In public school, they would attempt to adapt curriculum to meet his needs are at least give it lip service. At home if something isn't working we can change it right away---not a year later. If he needs a break I can give it. If he has a fascination with a certain color or animal I can indulge him.
A buzz-word, in education of autistics at least, is employing "multi-modal" approach. That means multi-sensory. At home we have all the freedom in the world to draw, act out, sing or feel lessons in whatever way we want to try.
2.) The opportunity to work one-on-one or one-on-two. My thinking is. "The train doesn't go unless Luke is on it." So I get him on board before we move forward. In public school, the train has to move for the others in the group, no matter how small the group and Luke gets to stay behind and mind his own business which he'd rather do anyway.
3.) The opportunity to integrate what we cover in all of life. Since I know exactly how we approach math and science, I can use the same terms when we come upon words and concepts in the rest of life. Since I know exactly what his life experiences have been I can relate them to social studies and science. We may even have manipulatives and pictures that remind him.
4.) The privilege of exposing him to God's Word and works on a daily basis. It is difficult to know what Luke comprehends of God, but last year he memorized 36 verses that we consistently review. He's quite good at it. God's Word is being sown in good soil.
I remember now what it used to be like when Luke would come home from a full day of school outside the home: an expressionless face, no interaction. He was essentially non-verbal. He appeared to need to get home and pursue his little interests (objects, activities) with no distractions. We, his parents and siblings, were all like toys and furnishings in his life. Now he makes some eye contact. He can express his needs and often his feelings
The mystery that is autism still runs deep. We see it in his eyes. But we are blessed by Luke. He is who God made him - a "light bringer." We trust he is not yet, however, who God is making him to be.