Homeschooling Children with Autism: One Mom's Story

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autism

kiter's handsome sons sword fighting on the beach.

As you read this, you will likely be struck by Kiter's unique perspective on homeschooling. I certainly was. All three of her boys (Gavin,15; Conner,14; and Ki David,12) are on the Autism Spectrum, consequently she has what seems to be an empowered, realistic philosophy about both teaching and parenting. When I asked her if receiving her sons' diagnosis was emotional for her, she replied simply, "I knew what was going on long before I bothered to have a doctor verify it. It was never an emotional thing for me, just verifications of facts." 

All of your sons have autism?

All 3 of my boys are considered to be on the Autism Spectrum. They were diagnosed with different issues at varying ages. And some things have never been fully diagnosed. I really don't like lots of testing and labels. I just get enough info from the doctors to help me research ways to help my boys while trying to avoid labels. 

What made you decide to homeschool--was it related to your children having special needs? 

Yes, their issues on the autism spectrum was a factor. So was their high intelligence that was not being cultivated because they had other issues. Mainly, I just felt that homeschooling would be best for my boys overall; all things considered.

Do you borrow from any particular homeschooling methods?

None that I'm aware of, but from time to time people will tell me "Oh, you use the ‘such & such method'." I have never read up on different methods and ‘schools of thought' in regards to homeschooling. I just do what I think will work. Why? Because I don't think a stranger I have never met who knows nothing about my children will know what works best  for them, and because I like to do things myself.

We "unschool."  There is no testing or grading. I do not go by grade levels or curriculum or "what a 4th grader should know". I am fine if my boys don't read till 4th grade and if they never write in cursive. We do not "Radical Unschool," as we do require something be done in "The 3 Rs" (reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic). But aside from that, the boys choose what they want to learn and how. Even with the 3 R's, they choose what and how for the most part.

 

How severe are your children on the spectrum? What are their limitations/gifts? My middle son was considered "Moderately Autistic" until he was 7.  Now he just has a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome. My youngest has Sensory Integration Disorder and mild Asperger's, but honestly, he is more difficult for me to understand and know what to do with than when I was dealing with Moderate Autism. There are no limitations, only areas that will require more effort and coping skills. They are all very bright; playing chess when they were 3 and 4, and the older two doing basic Algebra in Kindergarten, but their social and emotional skills take more work and effort. Things most kids pick up on their own when they are 4 or 6, my boys need to be taught. Things like a child crying means they are sad, and what things are appropriate to say and do. Two of mine read and wrote "late" according to public school standards, but it was perfectly on time for them.

What are the challenges that not only raising but teaching children with autism raises? Probably having everyone focus on the fact that they have autism as being the most important or pressing thing about them. Honestly, the challenges are really not much different than parenting any child. All kids have a challenge of some sort and mature and learn at different rates. All parents have to find what works with their individual child and at what pace to expect things.

What are the rewards?  Thoughtful, loving, well-behaved children that are happy and enjoy life. Seeing the world through their eyes.  Not being held back in our lives or their interests & abilities. Not being made to fit a preconceived mold of what someone thinks we should be or they should act. Basically, the reward is FREEDOM.

What advice would you give a mother looking to homeschool her autistic child? Not to call them autistic. Not to define them with this one facet that makes them who they are.  Not to label them or limit your expectations of them based on what some professional says to expect as their limits. To enjoy them and let them progress at their own rate and in their own manner. 

Do you feel passionate about any issues related to autism, for example, the vaccine debate? Not really. [I'm] mostly about getting on with life and not dwelling on the why, and how that may or may not have been a factor in who your child is...I'm not passionate about it.