This month, Tosh will begin homeschooling. Like every parent who makes this decision, I'm both excited and nervous. However, the scales tip more toward exited because I think he will really blossom. We have good supports in place and an exciting opportunity to create our own curriculum that integrates his AAC device. And, we can improve the consistency between all of his therapy and educational providers.
It will require some work up front, but in the long run it will be worth it.
Why homeschool? I know many parents of children with autism who have made this decision for a variety of reasons that include elopement, aggression, bullying, family beliefs/lifestyle and a better learning environment.
The thought of homeschooling can be overwhelming, which prevents many parents from thinking it's a viable option. However, it might be easier than you think.
Charter schools are a great option. That's what we're doing because they provide the hardest piece of the homeschool puzzle: curriculum.
What is a charter school? Charters are public schools that apply for a charter with state governments to serve areas that already have home districts. Because they are public schools, they are free and provide special ed services per your IEP. And, as I mentioned, they also provide academic expertise that includes curriculum and a teacher who meets with the family, usually once a month, to review work.
There are pros and cons to getting special ed services through charters. They don't have the big budgets of district schools, so they may not have all the resources you're used to. But on the other hand, what they aren't able to provide in house might be contracted out, possibly with your existing providers. This would allow you to integrate school and private therapies for better results.
Our charter provides its own special ed services, but has asked to meet with Tosh's private therapy providers so they can include their assessments and strategies in Tosh's new special ed and curriculum strategies. I'm thrilled about this because that lack of consistency was one of the reasons we left public school. Consistency among all providers working together to help Tosh achieve the same goals will make a big difference in his success. I've already seen how effective this is after sharing his private speech therapy assignments with his ABA therapists. They integrate the assignments into their ABA drills and I've seen improvement within just a day or two every single time.
How do you find a charter? First, do a simple Google search to find which charters serve your area. I used my county, "charter school" and "special education" as search terms and found about 20 charters to choose from. All had online information forms and responded quickly to my requests.
Tosh's charter has a local campus where he will receive his special ed services during the week. He will homeschool Monday through Thursday, but every Friday he'll attend school in a mainstream classroom at another location. The charter school is willing to let one of his ABA therapists accompany him to school on Friday, which means no more feelings of dread every time the phone rings during school hours.
As you put your curriculum and special ed services in place, you'll also need to structure your day, especially if you work full or part time. For me, this is absolutely required, because I'm a single mom and need to make enough time for work. Tosh currently receives 20 hours a week of ABA and 7 hours a week of respite care, so these are the hours I'll be working. I can also work after he goes to bed at night, and in the morning before he wakes up.
I'm also going to count part of his ABA sessions and all of his speech therapy sessions as educational time, because as his teacher, I'm able to better coordinate among all of his providers and make sure we are all supporting the same educational goals. Tosh will receive a more efficient education that provides a coordinated academic effort across all settings. I think this new arrangement will be very successful!
And if not, we can always return to public school. That's the reassuring thing about trying homeschooling - it's pretty low risk. And besides, like the proverb says, nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Heather Anderson is a blissfully happy autism mom and lover of life in Southern California who is on a mission to help autism parents rediscover their happy place.
Please join me on this beautiful autism journey. The Autism Oasis is a fun, supportive and educational community where your personal development is just as important as your children's. You are more than just a caregiver!