Monday, October 27, 2008

Asperger's Syndrome and Homeschooling

I recently joined a discussion board (www.wrongplanet.net) for adults and children (and their parents) who have Asperger's Syndrome (AS). One note from a mom who has a 9yos who was recently diagnosed with AS and has begun homeschooling him caught my attention. I replied on the board, but thought there might be others who could use the encouragement as well, whether or not you are homeschooling a child with AS:

[My son] is nine. He is of above average intellegence but is lazy when it comes to learning or at least how I am teaching him. How do I find a way of inticing him to learn? He hates to read, and his handwriting and spelling get worse every year. I am on my third week and I feel like I am failing him. Anyone with any suggestions please HELP!

Don't give up. Three weeks is really a very short time considering the transition for him. Start with doing things he likes and finding a way to tie it to learning. Is there a topic he enjoys? Study it together. Read aloud to him, ask him to narrate a story to you (you can write it down, or record it to transcribe later). If he's lazy at reading, find a topic he likes and reward him for reading books on the topic. If necessary, get simpler readers that are "below" his age level, just to get him interested in reading. Sylvan Dell has some great science and math books that are colorful, fact-filled, and engaging.

Remember to give yourself and your son a break. If he has been in an institutional classroom for the last four or five years, then (a) his teachers probably experienced some of the same frustration with his learning style, (b) he probably experienced frustration with their teaching style, and (c) homeschooling is a completely different way of doing everything. The transition is not going to be a really easy one for either of you, but it will be so worth it.

The great thing about homeschooling (for all children, but especially Aspies) is that you don't have to teach every subject "on grade level." Grade levels and what is taught in classroom environments are based on age, average performance across children within that same one-year window, and the agenda of the particular school system. Since you have a smaller number of children than the classroom teacher, you don't have to follow what the school is doing. And since your agenda is to not only raise a competent adult, but to love your son, the way you do things will look totally different from a classroom environment.

When you homeschool, you can tailor the "scope and sequence" and pace of each subject to (a) your child, (b) yourself, and (c) your family life. For instance, your son may be stellar at math, doing calculus at age 9 (we actually reviewed a calculus book in the July/August 2008 issue (pg. 66) that was geared toward nine-year-olds). But, his handwriting may be closer to an "average" kindergartner. And perhaps he reading is "on level" but he's bored with the books he's offered. When you homeschool, you don't have to teach to a test, nor do you have to hold a child within range of the rest of the "class," so he can move on from calculus to quantum physics, read everything there is to know about trebuchets of the Middle Ages, and continue practicing drawing his letters with his five-year-old sibling.

Remember too that there is no one-size-fits-all curriculum—not in institutional schools and not in homeschools. Your child is an individual and so are you. Learn about teaching styles and learning styles, and find a combination that works for BOTH of you. There's no such thing as "getting behind." Each day, you try to take a step forward. Some days you have to back up and cover ground already trod. Some days you get sidetracked chasing rabbits, taking care of someone in need, or resting. And some days you'll play leap frog and cover lots of ground.

That's living life together as a family, and is greater than any "book knowledge" he will acquire.
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