Engaging your autistic child in your homeschool activities

Autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder, is characterized by social and communication challenges. Each child on the autism spectrum is unique, with varying strengths and challenges, and hence their learning needs also differ. When homeschooling autistic children, it is especially important to create an engaging and enjoyable learning environment, This will have a profound impact on their educational journey. Here are the best homeschooling tips for a child with autism. These tips mean more fun for kids with autism.

Some of the things I say may sound new to you. You may have had so many years believing that society’s way of teaching children is the right way that it may take you time to break free of those limiting beliefs. There is not one best homeschool curriculum. There are different ways to handle special education. And educating a child with autism (really any child) needs to take their emotional needs into account as well as their educational needs. 

Via Pixabay

Create a Consistent Routine with Plenty of Diversions

Children with autism generally prefer consistency and predictability. By establishing a routine, you provide a framework that can help reduce anxiety and enhance focus. Make a visual schedule of the daily homeschooling activities that include academics and leisure, and stick to it. However, gradually introduce changes to help them adapt to new situations better.

While this is great for many children on the autism spectrum disorder, it can also cause problems down the road. Please don’t stick to the schedule at the cost of fun, spontaneity or teaching your child the benefits of breaking out of routine. Many children have difficulty when they attend public schools because they are so set on their routines that weekends become difficult. It is better to teach them when they are young that the world changes and everything around them changes. 

For fun, plan days when you break out of your routine. The younger you begin this, the easier it will be for your child to adapt to changes. Traveling is a great way to teach these lessons in a fun and engaging way. If you go to the same beach year after year, restaurants close down, new shops are opened, and even the beach and condo change from year to year. 

The most important thing here is not to create such a consistent routine that your child can’t handle the slightest change. One way we accomplished this was by going to Disney. Rides malfunction, are closed for maintenance and even are shut down for good. My son loves Disney and wanted to go, but he also had to learn about change. Disney is a constant state of change. We would prepare him for those changes before our trips, but he eventually learned that change is inevitable.

If you figure out your child’s interests and how you can create that routine with diversions, it will make everything else seem smoother. You will thank me for this tip years from now! It is just a good idea to help your child navigate the changing world we live in.

Incorporate Their Interests

If your child has a particular interest or passion, try to incorporate it into their learning process. For example, if your child loves animals, integrate animal-based themes into math problems, reading materials, or science experiments. This will make learning more engaging and fun, encouraging them to participate actively. 

We use Disney products, materials and even trips to spark our son’s interests and he learns many times without even knowing it. Find out their interests and you have opened new doors for both you and your child. Parents of children on the autism spectrum get to adopt hobbies you didn’t even know you wanted to know about! 

Use Hands-on Activities

Many children with autism are kinesthetic learners, which means they learn by touching and doing. Using hands-on activities can make learning more concrete and less abstract. Some therapies may also help. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a widely recognized treatment for children with autism. It uses behavioral principles to encourage positive behaviors and reduce harmful or interfering ones. While homeschooling, parents can use techniques derived from ABA therapy to create an optimal learning environment. 

Not every child benefits from the same therapies. Just like neurotypical children, special needs kids are all different. They all have their own learning style, go at their own pace, and this is one of the many reasons homeschooling works so well for autistic students. We did not participate in ABA therapy because I chose a different, more holistic, and family approach to homeschooling. However, I have known families who swear by it. 

Hands-on activities can include anything that makes your child sit up and say, “I love this.” Slime, putty, play-doh, and bubbles are all great activities that engage the senses and keep hands busy. We also love painting. 

Incorporate Movement

Regular physical activity can be highly beneficial for children with autism. Incorporate movement breaks in your schedule to help your child refocus. These could include stretching, jumping jacks, or even walking outside. Not only will these breaks help them physically, but they can also enhance cognitive function and mood.

Don’t forget the power of dance and music to engage your child. If you haven’t found dance or music that your child loves, try different styles of music. This can be fun for you too, and you may find that you like music you never thought you would.

Use Multisensory Learning Techniques

Utilizing a multi-sensory approach can make lessons more engaging and memorable. This could involve the use of visuals, textures, sounds, and even smells. For instance, if you’re teaching about fruits, you could let them touch, smell, and taste the fruit while learning about it.

Autistic kids do very well with multisensory activities, especially if you have a sensory-seeking child. However, sensory avoidance should not mean that you do not use a multisensory approach. It just means that the way you go about it, needs to look different than the techniques I used.

Sensory avoidance means that you may have to work a little harder to incorporate the five senses into your studies, but the benefits of you doing so, will definitely pay off.

Leverage Technology

Kids generally love interacting with technology. Use educational apps, online resources, and games tailored for kids with autism to make learning more fun. Technology can also provide opportunities for virtual field trips, interactive science experiments, and more. 

For example: If your child doesn’t love workbooks, online learning may be the answer. We found a great math program called Teaching Textbooks that works wonders for our son.

Our son absolutely loves movies, and in fact, he has used movies to teach himself many words, such as “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Star Wars.” LOL

But seriously, we have used that love of movies to help him learn about the real world around him. The Little Mermaid is set in the ocean – visit an aquarium and the ocean, learn about plants and animals of the ocean, read the original Little Mermaid and compare it to the movie version, have a movie night and serve foods and snacks that relate to the movie. We have done this without movies. 

Take your child’s love of video games and apply the same concepts.

Provide Positive Reinforcement

Encouragement and praise can go a long way in boosting your child’s confidence and motivation. Use a reward system with incentives that your child finds motivating. This could be extra playtime, a favorite treat, or a sticker chart. Remember, the goal is to celebrate effort as much as achievement.

Furthermore, your individual homeschool program can include anything you deem helpful to your child. Celebrate often, or if your child has a sensory processing disorder and celebrations create sensory overload, celebrate in ways that make sense for your household.

Social Skills Training

For kids with autism, social interaction can often be challenging. Therefore, include social skills training as part of your homeschooling curriculum. Use role-play, social stories, or games to make these lessons enjoyable. Moreover, encourage virtual playdates or safe in-person interactions with peers to enhance social skills.

We were blessed to have a large family, so our son learned these skills naturally as the fifth child out of 5. Additionally, my husband and I both have large extended families, so our son was able to visit with many family members when he was younger. It wasn’t always easy, but those interactions with large groups definitely helped. 

A word of caution: We get discouraged as parents when assessing progress. There is a variety of reasons that you may not see movement in social, mental, physical, or educational skills. Your child’s progress doesn’t have to be a sprint. Too often, we don’t see their slow little steps, and it seems as if they take 5 steps back before moving two forward. Make sure you measure their progress over years and not days or months.

Dine Out

Dining out can provide so much in the way of learning. Trying new foods from different cultures, learning that not everything is made the way mom makes it, and interacting with a waiter and waitress all allow for a natural way to learn and engage in the world around you. If you have never dined out with your child, read my tips for how to incorporate dining out into your life.

Use Unit Studies and Create Learning Tailored to Your Child

Forget about grade levels for a while. What are your child’s interests? Make learning fun by tailoring learning to your child. Grade levels went entirely out the door with my last child. He is currently 18 and is doing 5th-grade math, reads at a 2nd-grade level, and loves art, baking, decorating cupcakes, music, and movement. Yesterday, while reading out loud, he stopped and asked me a question about what he had just read – that is the first time he has ever done that while reading!

I know many people who stop homeschooling their children at a certain age. Take your child’s needs into account when homeschooling. Jack-Jack learns differently, and he has just really started to take off in the educational area of his life. Why would I stop teaching now when he is finally engaging? This is the beauty of homeschooling. 

Set Your Own School Year

Parents of kids in public school have grown so accustomed to the school calendar that they forget that they can set their own schedules when homeschooling. This is a beautiful thing.

You are in control of your own schedule. Take a vacation in September or October, bake cookies and decorate all of December, and use the months of April and May to visit the playground often before school lets out. 

If you have never homeschooled before, you, as the parent, may need to break free of the traditional schooling rules that are so ingrained in us. The best educational experience for your child is not what the public school sets; it is your schedule set to your needs and your child’s needs.

Practice Patience and Flexibility

Homeschooling a child with autism might require you to be patient and flexible. Some days might be more challenging than others, and that’s okay. Modify your approach based on your child’s individual needs and responses. Remember, every day is a learning experience for both of you.

In conclusion, homeschooling is not just about academic growth, lesson plans, and issuing a high school diploma; it’s also about nurturing personal and social development.

Your homeschooling efforts can help foster a lifelong love of learning in your child, equipping them with skills and knowledge that go far beyond the classroom.

Remember to make learning a journey your child enjoys and looks forward to every day. With time, patience, and the right strategies, homeschooling can be an enriching experience for you and your child with autism.

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