Friday, August 13, 2010

Homeschooling your child with ASD/ ADD/NLD

Many people come to homeschooling with different backgrounds and reasons. For me personally, homeschooling was not something I planned on doing. Through a chain of events I decided homeschooling was a valid option that I needed to explore.

One of those reasons happened to be that my son who was Diagnosed with ASD, was really struggling in school. This was after having 3 years of the *professionals* coming in to my home and teaching my child skills. He had all the smarts that he needed, but that social piece was drastically missing. I thought my journey started with his Diagnosis, but the real journey started when I had to reflect on what I truly wanted for my son in comparison to just *skills* .

So, I did my research. The Book, Apprenticeship in thinking, by Barbara Rogoff, talks about the parents being the first Guide to their child. This is a social fact. When Autism is not an issue, parents spend the first few years of the child’s life with them, teaching them, loving them and guiding them to understand their world. Yet when Autism comes into the pictures, the professionals want to wisk our children away to *help* them fit into the world……at a very early age.

Below is a list of some key developmental milestones that typical children develop between the ages of birth to five. These are the foundations upon which meaningful cognitive, communication, social and behavioral development is built.

1. Learns that actions can be coordinated with others, but not controlled by them; and that coordinating actions with others is better than acting alone

2. Repairs breakdowns in coordination with partners

3. Interprets and uses non verbal communication to have meaningful exchanges with partners, including facial expression, gestures, and voice

4. Communicates with partners mainly for sharing experiences and learning about how others interpret the world

5. Monitors interactions to ensure partners have understood what has been communicated

6. Enjoys being with partners that change their actions and routines; does not like doing the same thing over and over again

7. Takes turns appropriately and at the correct time in a wide variety of interactions

8. Understand that perception is dependent on position and person's unique experiences

9. Recognizes that everyone can have different perceptions of the same item or event, and that all perceptions are equally important

10. Pretends on his/her own with a partner, and can coordinate his/her imagination with partner's imagination

11. Understands that friendship is consensual, acknowledges others' similarities and differences and desires to be liked and accepted

12. Develops more than one solution to a problem, and more than one way to approach tasks

13. Thinks about actions before taking them, and can determine what actions are appropriate for the current setting

14. Understands teasing, offers of support, and degrees of agreement

15. Accurately interprets when others are upset, as well as regulates the degree of emotion tied to different experiences

16. Transitions with little preparation

17. Carries out familiar routines and tasks from memory

18. Uses the knowledge of negative consequences to adjust behavior

19. Takes pride in accomplishing challenging task

20. Understand and regulates own emotions based on the current situations, and recognizes that others may have similar or different reactions to an event based on their personal experiences

As you can see these are the developmental foundations neuro-typical children come to school with whereas children with autism do not. So when children with autism come to school they are already 5 years behind however, they are being asked, just as their typically developing peers are, to manage the school setting's academic and social demands but unlike their typically developing peers, they are also trying to survive in the setting without the benefit of the developmental milestones their peers had prior to starting school.

As I reflected on the past few years of a home program with my son ( a home program only means I was partially involved, a team of therapist spend those hours with my son) I realized I allowed the focus to be short sighted. By first grade, my younger son with ASD was a huge behavioral issue. He did not have that co regulation ability that typical children have before entering school, yet he was expected to be able to handle the demands. At the beginning of second grade, even though I felt something was incomplete  with the * methods* I was told he needed to go into a special school for children on the spectrum. Because I felt so incompetent with my own child, I agreed. Two years he attended that school….but it was after the first year that I realized that he needed to be home with me! Even though my son was getting good grades, he still did not understand the social world. He was having a terrible time making sense of the dynamic communication needed to function and excel. My son needed to have the ability for his own theory of mind! I encountered a program called Relationship Development Intervention. It bases its philosophy on typical development….and I understood through this program that Autism was not a disorder of behaviors, but instead a developmental /Theory of mind disorder that needed a *DO Over*. This included that the child first needed to understand the Guide relationship through parents first. My son had all the skills to perform any activity, but did not have the basic *why bother* that typical children have….the sense of intruistic understanding for relationships.

I say all this to encourage any family who thinks they can’t homeschool their special needs child….if you think that you, as the parent are not equipped. I heard all the time that the professional community can do a better job. I was blessed, because I found the Relationship Development Program, to feel competent in homeschooling my son. Fast forward three years, and he no longer tests on the spectrum because of the work within our family. The founder of RDI was a homeschooling Dad, and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for children and education. We were also blessed with two more children since that DX, and one of those children is also on the spectrum. He was DX with Severe infantile Autism, but has never attended school….because I knew what I was able to do through the right program. I was told he would never talk, and that he would be institutionalized. He is now 9 and doing great with no communication issues. We also did some Biomedical treatments with him as that was a co-occurring condition alongside his Autism. 

When it comes to helping your child with Autism, please know that you are exactly what your child needs. The reward of restoring your child’s developmental path is huge! I encourage you to take that step of faith if you feel that calling and are afraid… I was scared too, but I never regret the progress I was able to see in my children because of homeschooling and RDI.

Kathy Darrow

Mom of 4 ( 2 on the spectrum)

RDI /Homeschooling Mom and RDI Certified Consultant

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One moms reflections