What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What To Do?
Guest Author: Crystal Bollinger
When Saleama asked if I’d try to write a guest blog about autism and homeschooling, I went through a mix of thoughts and feelings. It ranged from “sure I can do that because it could help someone and I would have liked to have had that for me” to “why in the world would I bother with that when I feel so inadequate ?”
Then I realized that’s exactly how it feels to homeschool any child and maybe that needs to be said.
My youngest daughter has autism and we’ve homeschooled from her kindergarten year. I was already homeschooling my other daughters so it was natural to eventually include Youngest in the mix.
She just finished grade 10.
These days her form of autism would be classified as level 2 supports in communication, and level 1 in behavior. Back when she was preschool age, we were under the older manual and they really did just call it PDD NOS, (Pervasive Development Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified), and severe delays in language.
Before homeschooling, she attended special ed preschool based at a university speech department. She went to a regular needs church preschool. She received private clinic speech and occupational therapy. We extended her preschool year one extra year. But when it was time to legally start kindergarten, we brought her home and that’s where she’s been since.
When I started the journey of homeschooling her, I could not lean on my own understanding because I did not have any. I had to, trust in the Lord and let Him make the paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6).
These days we are in high school with about 22 calendar months to go until her graduation. Most years were not some bloggy pretty, magazine cover worthy days or years to talk about. She was not cured of autism by being homeschooled. But it did give her the opportunity to learn in a least restrictive environment as long as I put in the work.
She’s motivated to get her lessons done and then go be herself. Most days we get school done with basic therapies in speech and cognitive training. She gets to go to piano, which she really likes to learn. She gets to help at our church on cleaning crew. She gets to be not only in special Olympics but in an accepting and loving Homeschool PE class (Gifted Athletes). Homeschooling a child with autism is not only about being home, but about getting into the community.
No, it’s not easy. No it’s not for everyone. No, our curriculum doesn’t look standard. But isn’t that the purpose of homeschooling? Everyone is on an individual educational path.
Yes, you’ll run into obstacles and at times you won’t feel supported. We had to change churches to get to a church that welcomes people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. But even that has been worth it when I hear my daughter in church on Sunday reading and singing along with the music and copying the key words from the sermons, and then being excited to go to special needs youth class.
Stay On Your Path
When I’m asked about curriculum, I’m not sure what to say. I’m not sure how she learned to read. I just know she did. I know I worked hard with math, but I don’t know what worked. I worked on cognitive training, and lots of hands on stuff, and taught it over and over. Some things were taught from books. Others from computer. Some from hands on. Then, one day something clicked. I modified what I used with the other girls. I waited until she could learn stuff. We took it as we came to it. Yes, some of the things used were not homeschool programs but were in the remedial education market. And yes, some things were taught best in context of what she liked to do such as cooking. Lots of fractions and ratios were learned while making cheese sauce and other favorites. She loves music and piano so why can’t her history lessons have a fine arts approach in the mix?
I listened to lots of speakers over the years with lots of ideas and true helps. I joined HSLDA (Homeschool Legal Defense Association) to have access to the special ed department. I went to lots of non homeschooling conferences on autism and transition to adult.
I have no idea what it will look like in 5 years. The idea of transition and vocational training is new to me. I know she can do some volunteer work at our church and maybe that will translate in a few years to other things. But isn’t that the same thing any homeschool teen does?
What about diploma? I’m with a cover school that has several paths. Youngest is somewhere between the LifeChoices path (their name for a general high school regular diploma non college bound) and a Modified special ed diploma (since her English classes are not fully at level in writing). But yes, she’s doing the work and meeting goals and earning that diploma with the classes we will do.
Is There Joy To Be Found?
What are the joys of it? Just being around her and letting her be who she is. It really is fun to homeschool on days when she wakes up ready to bake a cake for someone’s birthday, or go to the Alzheimer’s center and sing to the residents. Or go grocery shopping and let her do the work of finding food, scanning it, bagging it up, sorting at home. Those are things that we wouldn’t get to do as easily if she weren’t homeschooled because we can go during times of day that aren’t as busy.
Recently, she’s been learning about Jesus calming the storm from Mark 4:35-41. Of course in her way of learning that involves the fun of pretending to be one of the disciples who wakes up Jesus. So she calls out “1, 2, 3. Wake up Jesus!” (just like The Wiggles wake up Jeff). As she and I shared that passage together, I took note of Jesus’s words, which were “Let’s go over to the other side.”
In spite of the storm and rough waters and fears, Jesus knew where he was taking them and had all intentions of getting them to the other side. It will be like that with homeschooling your child with regular or special needs.
So, how will you know the right choices to make?
You’re going to get in the boat. Scary things will happen. When you call on Jesus, you’ll be amazed at how he will calm it down – so you can keep on keeping on.
Do you have a story or practical tip to share with our community? Visit the contact page and tell us about it.
Crystal Bollinger (along with her husband) has three daughters. Oldest and Middle were homeschooled from kindergarten through grade 12. Oldest is now college graduate with a job. MiddleGal is pursuing college degree via non traditional pathways. Youngest is still in homeschool high school and on special ed diploma track due to autism and lower IQ issues.