I’m an autistic 19-year-old junior in college named Rebecca Giles. I was homeschooled, and I feel that this allowed me to achieve far more than I could have in an institutional school environment, because homeschooling is more adaptable to each student’s individual needs, strengths, and interests. Homeschooling was uniquely right for me as an autistic student, equipping me for success by giving me an appropriate learning environment, allowing me to learn in the ways I learned best, letting me progress at my own pace, and most importantly, freeing me to explore my interests in depth.
Homeschooling gave me a learning environment appropriate for me.
In school, I would have been made to sit still for hours and hours. Nobody should have to do this, especially not autistic students who need to move and fidget a great deal to calm and regulate themselves and help themselves focus. With homeschooling, you can work in a tree, on the floor, or while pacing back and forth. Homeschooling reduced my stress by allowing me to learn alone and in a quiet space. I could concentrate on learning rather than on handling social interaction. I did not have to deal with the sensory overload of a crowded school, the trauma of bullying, and the stress of interacting with teachers and classmates. I learned to love “school” rather than hate it.
Homeschooling freed me to learn in ways that worked for me.
Like many autistic people, I have auditory processing difficulties and struggle to learn anything by hearing. It is hard for me to process voices when there are background noises, such as the faint buzzing of electrical equipment. I cannot follow a list of verbal instructions. However, I am a voracious reader. With homeschooling, I learned by reading; kids in school must learn primarily by listening, even if that’s not how they learn best.
Homeschooling freed me to progress at the pace right for me.
A common autistic characteristic is uneven skill development. All people are better at some things than others, but for autistic students the differences can be more extreme. I’m glad I was homeschooled because that meant I wasn’t pressured to progress at the same rate in all subjects. I was free to be a 14-year-old who did fifth-grade level math and twelfth-grade level language arts.
Homeschooling freed me to have an interest-based education.
Because intense, highly focused, unique interests are a common trait of autism, I believe that an interest-based education is essential for autistic students. Homeschooling gave me the freedom to focus on learning what I considered most important for me: art. This was an incredible gift. Because homeschooling allowed me far more time to focus on my interests than I could have if I had attended a typical school, my artwork could develop much faster. The extra time spent on painting paid off; at age 16, I won a full-tuition merit scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
If your autistic student is not interested in a lesson that you consider essential, try finding more ways to connect it to her special interest. Connecting all subjects to art gave me a love of learning. I wrote essays about art and art history for my composition courses. For science, I independently did internet research on the physics of light and biological light perception because my artwork focuses on light and its relationship to color. We made history memorable with art projects, such as illustrating a poster on the Incan civilization or sculpting a pharaoh’s head. Math was very challenging for me, but the plentiful brightly colored illustrations in my math textbook enabled me to endure it.
Institutional school systems are not designed for those with autism or those who do not fit the conventional mold of what a student “should” be. These beautifully atypical individuals often see their voices and gifts stifled and crushed by the school system’s inflexibility. When given the right environment, however, a student’s autism can become much more of a blessing than a disability. Autistic traits such as exceptional memory, intense interests, strong focus, great attention to detail, and a one-of-a-kind worldview can all be assets for your student—especially when she’s given a learning environment that works with her, focusing on building up her unique strengths rather than fighting with her weaknesses. Homeschooling, because it is so flexible and easily individualized, can empower your autistic child to use her strengths to succeed.
Copyright 2020, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.
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